Saturday, September 16, 2017

#EdCampLongmont 2017

There's nothing like showing up on a Saturday morning with a large group of educators who just want to collaborate and learn and "talk shop" with each other! Welcome to #edcamp!

It's hard to synthesize all of the learning & thought-provoking conversations that occurred throughout the day, so I'll just share a snippet from each session here:

1. Sometimes, kids need more structure. It is easier for us, as adults, to discriminate what information is important, switch gears, and make the appropriate connections...but students don't always follow our same train of thought! Being clear about this can help our kiddos know what is expected of them and then they can focus on the learning. This is so important for me to keep in mind because I tend to be pretty flexible, and I need to remember to accommodate a variety of learning styles.
Challenge: How can we create structure & clear expectations while facilitating a classroom that is student-led & honoring students' desire to learn in their own individual ways?

2. What are the different purposes for social media (personal, professional, academic, etc) - do students think about using their accounts in all of these different ways?
Deep thoughts & possible conversation with students: Who are YOU as a person and how do you convey that online? Do you have more than one account on a given social media platform? Why or why not? What are the pros & cons of having one account or multiple accounts? How does that affect the way you communicate? What about who your audience is? Does that change the way you portray yourself online? What are the similarities and differences to how you portray yourself online and in real life?

3. I'm still trying to up my game on Schoology. I never used it in my classroom, and while I am getting better, I continue to do a lot of playing around to find what I need. It was great to hear about tips & tricks (& also frustrations) from other teachers!
Question for the masses: What is your best tip or trick on Schoology?

4. Honestly, I just took some time to reflect and catch up. There was nothing on the session board that was calling to me, and it was nice to synthesize all of the information from the morning. It's okay to slow down too!
Challenge: How do you build in time for reflection?

5. Although I am an ed tech specialist now, there is still a big part of me that is a music teacher. This last session felt like coming home. We reflected on how easy it is to feel alone when you teach certain subjects, the challenges of finding relevant PD, and dreamed about organizing a music edcamp for ourselves and our colleagues.
Music teachers: What kind of PD do you find most relevant?

In addition, it is always super fun to see old friends, make new friends, and be around people who are so excited about education!

So...when's the next #edcamp?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Work, Work, Work...What About Life?

This post is cross-posted on Mari, Meagan, & Aubrey’s blogs.

Mari is a middle school Science & AVID teacher and Blended Learning Specialist in San Diego, CA.
Meagan is a middle school Math, AVID, & Technology teacher and the Team Technology Leader in Hesperia, CA.
Aubrey has been a music teacher & Summer Learning principal, and is currently an Educational Technology Specialist in Boulder, CO.
Teach kids all day, then bring grading and lesson planning home at night. Does this sound familiar? If you asked a room full of teachers, I’m sure nearly every head would be nodding - this is the story of our lives! According to an NPR article, “Attrition is high, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen some 35 percent over the past five years — a decrease of nearly 240,000 teachers in all." Budget cuts, paperwork, behavior challenges, and ever-increasing demands add extra stress to our already stressful jobs.

Work/life balance has always been struggle for all three of us. We have this tendency to work many hours past the required hours of our teaching days. It’s very common for us to get into work early, leave an hour after our days finish, and spend a large portion of our nights working on lesson planning, grading, blogging, or various side projects. If you’re thinking this sounds like some “Woe is me” story – it isn’t.

In the end, the underlying issue is that we love what we do. We love being teachers, working with students, developing lessons and, yes, even grading and reviewing their work. Education has never been just a “job” to us – it’s a major part of our identity. It’s our passion. And we spend a large portion of our days working on various projects because we enjoy it. However, we began to realize that it isn’t healthy for our work/life balance or the relationships with those around us to work the majority of the week.

Enter the idea of Work Rules. We each began to create boundaries for ourselves, unique to our specific situations, and write them down. We were amazed (and horrified) at how challenging it was for us to try to define some limits to our work! We also included reminders of what we could do instead of work [behavioral therapy concepts - you can’t just extinguish a behavior without developing a replacement behavior] and why we were doing this in the first place. Then we gave permission to hold each other accountable, which has been key to changing our habits.

Aubrey: I’ll be honest, there is no silver bullet to finding and maintaining balance. I still bring more work home than I would like and don’t always follow my “work rules”. That being said, I have noticed a definite difference in my mindset as we’ve gone through this journey. A night without work is becoming something to be celebrated, rather than a reason to feel guilty. I find myself asking, “Does this really need to be done at home, or could it wait until tomorrow?” more often. And I am slowly getting better at setting limits for myself, such as only bringing one project home (instead of everything that needs to be done) or setting a timer for how long I work (once it goes off, no more work for me)! The accountability and camaraderie has been huge - for picking me up when I am struggling, for spurring me on to do better, and sometimes just to have a place to share how hard this is! In this ongoing journey of living LIFE to the fullest, I am grateful for friends who are not afraid to ask the tough questions and provide gentle reminders when needed. It’s not always easy...but it is worth it!

Meagan: A couple of months ago, I really began to reflect on my work/life balance.  Around this time, Aubrey and Mari shared their idea for “work rules” and…it was amazing!  I quickly began to develop my own set of rules in hopes of developing some balance in my life.  As Aubrey mentions above, I still struggle with maintaining balance and following these rules but I can tell that there has been a definite shift in my mindset.  Although I have always been a good time manager, I’ve started to balance when I will do “work-work” (site/district) and when I will do my “side work” (blogging, presenting, etc).  I’ve been able to use much of my time at school to finish my lesson planning, grading, and projects which has opened opportunities to work on my “side work” projects at home.  Before, I was doing both and it was clear that this would not last forever.  I have also tried to set aside one day of the week where I do not do any “work-work” and at least one night where I do not do any work related to education.  I’ve definitely broken these rules several times but it has been helpful to have friends who check-in and encourage me to keep with these goals.  I still have a long ways to go on truly creating a work/life balance but…you have to start somewhere, right?

Mari: It’s been a constant battle for me to find the right work/life balance because teaching is both my passion and my job. However, I began realizing that in order to be the best teacher for my students, I also need to take care of myself. Prior to creating the Work Rules with Aubrey and Meagan, I felt guilty if I didn’t work all weekend and most weeknights. That pace was neither sustainable nor healthy for me. Now, I give myself all of Sunday off from anything education-related, and use this time to recharge, relax, and pursue fun things (like napping!). As both Aubrey and Meagan said, there are times the rules have been bent or broken; while I’m routinely committed to my Sundays off, I haven’t always given myself a few work-free weeknights due to school commitments or interruptions/distractions during my prep period. I’m so grateful for our group. Not only do they keep me accountable to my work/life balance commitments, but also they encourage and push me to be a better person!
We are on a journey together - far from perfect, yet always growing. Frequently just before or after work, we check in with each other to see what the day looks like and what our work/no-work plans are for the day. This keeps us centered throughout the day and into the evening.

What steps are you taking to balance work and life?

Monday, September 4, 2017

Gentle Reminders

It's a holiday weekend, and I am taking the opportunity to rest, relax, and spend time with family! Rather than writing a fully crafted blog, I'm just going to share a few gentle reminders that have been playing through my head (for myself!) this week...

Love the people around you well.

When you ask someone, "How are you?", really mean it. Then listen to their answer.

When someone asks you, "How are you?", don't be afraid to answer honestly. Masking our emotions is not a healthy behavior.

Use your words to build up rather than tear down.

Extend grace. Remember that everyone has a story. Don't be too quick to judge.

While being kind to others, don't forget to be kind to yourself too.

What would you add to this list?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

"My" Kids

If you talk to me about my teaching, you will often hear me refer to the students as "my" kids. I'm not trying to be possessive or claim ownership (I know they are all "our" kids) - it's just my way of sharing the place that they have found in my heart! Any kid that comes into my classroom becomes one of "my" kids, no matter how long they are there. But, being a music teacher, I often get to work with students for 3-4 years. When that happens, they really become "my" kids!

When I found out I would be leaving my music-teaching job, my mind turned to how to best prepare them for a transition them to a new teacher. Some of the things I was able to do included:

  • Assuring them that the school would hire an awesome teacher for them!
  • Having honest conversations with them about how a new person would be different, and that's okay, as well as how the new teacher will have different strengths and weaknesses than me, and they will learn a lot that I couldn't teach them!
  • Giving students the option to write letters to me (for closure) or the new teacher (to introduce themselves & share their perspective on orchestra) instead of our regular end-of-year reflection assignment.
  • Telling students that they can still contact me if needed - they have my email!
  • Advocating for a student to be on the interview committee, to hopefully create instant buy-in to the new teacher from at least one student (and the rest would follow).
  • Leaving notes for the new teacher, especially a few ideas for kids who might just need a little extra love :-).

The best part of teaching, for me, is developing relationships with "my" kids. Stepping away was (and still is) hard. Intentionally preparing to "pass them off" was hard. I don't regret it - they have an amazing new teacher and I'm loving where I am at now - but I still miss them.

This week, I had the opportunity to see many of "my" kids as I was out in the schools. It was both refreshing and bittersweet at the same time. The smiles and hugs and "Ms. Yeh!"s made my day. Yet these kids aren't really mine anymore. They have moved on and settled in with their new teacher. I love this - it's the best thing I could hope for them. But, selfishly, it makes me a little sad, too. More than anything, it has reminded me of how special our time with students is.

Teachers, you get to create something so precious in your classrooms. 

The culture, the relationships, the routines, the inside jokes, and the atmosphere - the classroom environment is something to be treasured. I always found that, while my classes were similar, I had a unique bond with each group that could not be replicated anywhere else! I could teach that same class again, but it wouldn't feel quite the same. That's the beauty of teaching a class full of individuals, with their own hopes, dreams, and quirks.

I know that days can drag on, lesson plans and grading can seem endless, answering certain parent emails/phone calls can be arduous, and behavioral issues can be challenging. But, please, don't lose sight of how special these moments are. "Your" kids deserve it!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

#Goals 2017-2018

As the school year gets underway, I see many posts about my friends' goals for the year. It's a bit like New Year resolutions for teachers, actually - August/September brings a fresh start and the chance to refocus! I have been thinking along the same lines, but have struggled to define goals for myself because I am still really learning this new job! In many ways, though, that has pushed me to what is most important. Here are some of my goals for the 2017-2018 school year:

1. Encourage

Couldn't we all use a little more encouragement in our lives? One thing I want to commit to, no matter where I am in life, is being an encourager! In this specific role, I am constantly giving teachers gentle pushes to think differently, to change, and to move beyond their comfort zone. Along with that needs to come the support and celebration when they do that! Because, truly, change is hard. And we need to celebrate even the small moments that add up to bigger change. Beyond my work, though, this is just the kind of person I want to be. Somebody who notices others, who lifts them up, and who spreads joy.

2. Learn

Being a learner is another lifelong skill that I want to develop! Being in a new job gives me ample opportunities for learning, as does the ever-changing field of technology. But it's more than just the content. One of my favorite things this past week has been the ability to go into several different classrooms and see what is going on - this is a luxury I never had as a teacher! It is amazing to see so many teachers with different styles, and there is something to be learned from everyone! I always want to keep a growth mindset and never become too comfortable with where I am at. My new role has brought the need to learn and grow to the forefront of my mind, but this is another trait that I want to develop in all areas of life.

3. Lead

Of course, everything circles back to my #oneword2017: LEAD. Leading from a new position can be hard. I still feel unsure about so many things, but by the nature of my job, I am being placed in a position of leadership (the same thing happened this summer). My natural tendency is to sit back, watch, and listen at first, but I'm not sure I'll have the chance to do that. In that case, I want to be willing to step up and lead as best I can! The good news: I am much more comfortable with this than I was a year ago - being a principal for a summer will do that to you. I hope I can lead in many ways - both those that are obvious and up front and those that are less seen, but no less important. I want to lead in my work, but more importantly, I want to be someone worth following in the way I live my life and interact with people.

As I look back over these goals, I almost think this post could be renamed #lifegoals. Leading, learning, and encouraging are not limited to my job, but traits I want to develop wherever I go! These objectives may not be the type that go in my formal evaluation, and they don't quite meet the criteria for SMART goals, but they are some very important things I want to focus on this school year.

What are you focusing on this year?

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Any time there is a change, it offers a chance for reflection. My current transition from being in the classroom to being in more of a support role is no exception. People always ask, "How's the new job going?" As I have thought about the changes I am experiencing, four main themes stick out. I would caution against thinking that one role is "better" or "worse", because really, they are just two different sides of the same coin of giving the best experience we can to our kiddos in school!


At first glance, this is probably the most obvious difference. My days are no longer ruled by bell schedules and passing periods, and I don't have to plan my bathroom trips around plan time! While the flexibility is nice, sometimes it can be daunting. I have a lot of projects to work on, and it's up to me to prioritize, decide how much time to devote to each task, and structure my time well. The summer is a particularly slow time, and I really appreciated the days where I had meetings to break up the big chunks of work time. Sitting in an office all day, working independently, is a shock to the system after teaching! Of course, now that the school year is starting up, I am having the opposite problem - lots of meetings and professional development to lead, and very little work time! I know it will continue to ebb and flow as the school year gets underway.


Classroom teaching is such an independent job. Sure, I had my music team, and my district orchestra team, but we would come together and plan and then go execute, with our own kids, in our own classrooms. It was pretty clear what each of our roles was, and there wasn't really the opportunity to divide and conquer. For the first time, I am working closely with a team, and I love it! The support, the camaraderie, and the thoughtfulness about our work are all top notch. I also appreciate that my team is comprised of people who are not afraid to push my thinking or probe deeper. For the first time, I feel like I can honestly look at my strengths and weaknesses and see how they fit together into the whole. It takes pressure off to not have to be strong in everything, which is sometimes how I felt as a teacher!


This is another pretty obvious one, but a big difference is in the scope of the work I am doing. While I was often involved in school-wide or district-wide initiatives when I was teaching, the majority of my focus went toward the kids in my class (which is absolutely how it should be). Now, I am working on projects that are district-wide or even wider in scope! This point definitely has pros and cons - I love seeing the bigger picture and setting up sustainable systems, but I do miss those little sweet moments that only come through seeing kids day in and day out. Overall, though, it is exciting to work with a wide variety of people who see things not just as they currently are, but as they could be in the future.


My last observation is difficult for me to write. In my new position, there are great systems of support. I have both the resources I need and the interpersonal support to navigate challenging situations - and it's because there are systems set in place to provide this framework. This is so different than how I felt as a teacher, where I felt like I had to fight for everything. And that makes me so sad! It shouldn't be this way, but I know my story is not unique. Often, whether teachers feel supported or not depends greatly on the specific person or people who are in leadership at the time. We need great leaders, to be sure, but nobody lasts forever - how can we set up good systems to act as that safety net, regardless of what particular person is in that role? This is my challenge as I step into a role that is supporting educators in the district - finding ways that I can help create sustainable systems of support. Of course we want amazing leaders, and of course I want to help people the best I can in this role, but if the entire system is dependent on me (or the leader, or whomever else is in a specific role), we really have done ourselves a disservice. True systemic change extends beyond one person. I'm grateful for the systems that have been set in place that I am benefiting from now, and I want to leave the same legacy for others.

Whether you are in a new role or returning to the same position, the beginning of the year is a great time for reflection. What are you noticing and focusing on this year?

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Friday Five - Revised!

Friday Five: The Original

Last school year, I really made an effort to increase my connection with my students' families, which can be tough when you have 250+ students! I sent out a monthly newsletter and utilized the email lists to send not only announcements, but updates on what we were learning in class as well. One of my favorite things that I did was implement a "Friday Five".

I heard about the idea on social media, and it seemed so simple - every Friday, call or email five families, sharing something positive about their student from the week. Kids do cool stuff all of the time - I figured it wouldn't be hard to remember five good things and quickly pass them on! It got a little tricky to track it and make sure I was choosing different students every week, but once I got my system down, it worked well. Every week, before I left work on Friday, the last thing I did was my Friday Five.

I received so much great feedback about this! Parents were very appreciative of hearing from the school about good things, not only when things were going awry, and students would shyly (but proudly) come up and tell me how happy their parents were with them. I always felt good ending the week on a positive note, and it truly helped me deepen the connection with my students' families. Plus, it cost me nothing!

Friday Five: Take Two

This year, I am in a non-teaching position, my office is not at a school, and I will have much less consistent contact with students. I want to continue some form of the Friday Five, but obviously it will have to look a little different! As I pondered this, I really had to back up to the core purpose of my Friday Five. There was nothing magical about the day (Friday) or the number (Five), but it was a chance to acknowledge others' good work, build relationships, and spread encouragement. Those goals are not limited to students - we can all benefit from them! This has helped me shape my new vision for Friday Five this year.

I want to take time each Friday to acknowledge something that somebody did well or that really helped me out that week. Maybe it will be one person, maybe it will be five - I haven't quite figured that out yet. It might be a teacher, it might be one of my teammates, or it might be a student/parent if I have been in their classroom! The structure of this is much looser, but the heart of it remains the same. Spread encouragement and joy. Recognize what people do well. It's so easy to get sucked into complaining, and this is one huge way to combat it with focusing on the positive moments!

Friday Five:The Challenge

How will you encourage others this year? How can you build a habit of focusing on the positives rather than the negatives? How can you continue to connect and build relationships, no matter where you are?

Because, in the end, it's not about the structure -
it's about the people!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Give and Take

The morning...

This morning, I had the privilege of helping out at my district's New Educator Orientation (NEO). It was so exciting to see all of the new teachers and feel the energy in the room! For a little over an hour, our IT team worked with teachers to get them set up on their new Chromebooks and logged in to many of the websites and apps we use regularly.

I left NEO feeling so energized! As I was reflecting on why, I went through a list of reasons in my head. The people piece definitely fed my social side, I enjoyed meeting new people, and I actually didn't find myself feeling that nervous standing up in front of the crowd, which felt like a victory. But more than anything, I really appreciated being able to help someone out. To make someone's day better. To make something easier for someone. To remove a little bit of their stress.

The afternoon...

Fast forward a couple of hours, and I was feeling stressed out with everything that needed to be done to kick off the school year. Our team is launching a number of projects, and I know that all of us are feeling stretched as we try to cover everything. I came into an afternoon meeting sat down, and took a deep breath.

One of my teammates asked me how I was doing, and I shared that I was just feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything. Her immediate response: "What can I do to help?" I felt so encouraged and blessed by her response (especially knowing that we are all so busy right now) - her desire to make my day better. To make something easier for me. To remove a little bit of my stress.

How much better would all of our lives be if we took a moment to put aside our own worries and open our eyes to the world around us? It doesn't take much - just a little gesture to help someone else out can make their day!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Start of Something New

For the first time in five years, I will be in a different position to start the school year. I am stepping out of music teaching (for now), and taking on a new role as an ed tech specialist for the district. Starting this new adventure has seen me going through the usual waves of trying something new...from excitement to insecurity...from feeling overwhelmed at the amount of learning that needs to happen to feeling comfortable in my new role...and from being hyper-observant and sensitive to just enjoying myself!

As I have been experiencing this, it's been a great reminder that every year, we have hundreds of students who are starting at a new school, in a new grade, and sometimes even in a new city or state (or country!). Transition can be challenging - how can we help our students with this change? Here are three things, based on my experience, that can make a huge difference!

1. Ask questions!

Asking questions can really go both ways. On one hand, it is obviously important to give new students the chance to ask their questions! Some of this can occur during regular classtime, but especially for those who are more introverted, it is invaluable to have a backchannel as well. This might look like notecards to write questions on, an invitation to email or leave a private comment on a learning management system, or even just a quick individual check-in. Giving them the opportunity to ask questions will help ease their concerns and build their confidence as they learn the ropes.

On the other hand, it is also important to ask them questions and give them the chance to share! Since they are probably spending lots of energy fitting into their new environment, it can be refreshing for them to get to share a bit of their background and experience, and you might just learn something from them as well!

2. A little encouragement goes a long way!

New students are confronted with uncertainty all day long. Encouragement is important for all students, but a little affirmation can make a huge difference for those who are wondering how they fit in. Be on the lookout to give these students a little extra boost to let them know they are welcome and valued. It doesn't cost you anything!

3. Trust.

Everybody likes to be treated with trust. Some people feel like you must earn it first. I would rather go with the philosophy that you have my trust, until you give me a reason to not trust you any longer. There is a certain security that comes with knowing you don't have to try to prove yourself. Sometimes, our new students come with a long file behind them that can affect how we view them. Make an effort to give them a fresh start - you never know, if you treat them with trust, they may just rise to the occasion!

What classroom practices do you employ to welcome new students? How can you help them feel at ease right away in this new school year?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Confessions of a New Administrator: 6 Takeaways from 6 Weeks of Administration

Summer Learning has come and gone, and I'm left reflecting on the experience. It is so hard to come up with an answer when people ask me, "How was being a summer school principal?" I struggle to consolidate the thousands of moments into a neat, tidy answer! So here's my best attempt: 6 takeaways from 6 weeks as a summer school admin.

1. Communication is key!

If there's one thing I got practice in this summer, it was communicating. With kids, with parents, with teachers, and with district personnel! Clear communication was essential to proactively avoid issues and make sure we were all on the same page, plus it helped cut down on fears of rumors or hidden agendas or any of that negativity that can eat away at school culture. One thing I resolved at the beginning of the summer was to keep my staff in the know, and from comments I heard, I think (hope!) I did a fairly good job of that.

Communication also included having to be the messenger for things I did not agree with. Newsflash: this is hard. It's hard to be honest when sharing an unpopular message while not throwing others under the bus. Through being open in the rest of my communication, though, I hope I was able to share these things in an authentic yet respectful way.

2. Prioritizing is life-saving!

On the first day, I'm pretty sure I had a deer-in-the-headlights look all day long as everything was coming at me. I didn't have filters to sift through it all and everything screamed, "URGENT! TOP PRIORITY!" No one can run at that level of stress and anxiety forever - we have to learn to prioritize!

If I were to characterize the biggest change in my practice from the beginning to the end of Summer Learning, I would say that I did a much better job of figuring out what really needed my attention right away and what could wait for a few hours or a few days. I thought a lot about what was urgent vs. what was important and how to make time for the important things that may not be so urgent. I also grew more comfortable with the fact that while one person might think something is hugely important and urgent, my role as the principal was to hold all of the needs in balance, and sometimes that one thing had to wait.

3. Fight to spend time with the kids!

Why did most of us become teachers? Because we love kids! And that certainly didn't change as I became a principal! It was easy to get caught up in the to-dos needed to make things run smoothly and completely miss out on the moments with students. I had to make it a daily priority (see #2) to get out of the office and spend time in classrooms or meeting kids on their way in or out. It was worth it!

Sometimes it was challenging to feel like this was the best use of my time. That might sound crazy, but if I was in a classroom where a teacher was rocking it and had everything under control, it was easy to think, "What am I doing here? Why do they need me?" The truth is, they didn't need me...but I needed the reality check of what was going on in the classroom, and the kids (and teachers?) really did appreciate seeing a principal who was involved in their learning. They can never have too many positive adult examples around!

4. Conflict is a reality, and that's okay.

Let me be honest for a second here - I don't like conflict. It's hard, it's messy, and I'd rather avoid it. But it's a daily reality in our jobs, and even more so in a position of leadership. There are so many people I was working with, and all of them had different perspectives on any given issue about the school! And most of the time, those perspectives were born out of a really good place of wanting the very best for the students and the school! There are just many views on how to get there.

As the principal, I had to be willing to stand up and make decisions that I knew would disappoint some people. I was the one who talked to parents when they were upset. I got to defend my teachers (it's amazing how much easier it is to step into conflict when you feel responsible and protective of your people). I'm certainly not advocating for creating unnecessary conflict, but I grew much more comfortable in handling things when they came, not taking it personally, and focusing on the issue and the solution rather than getting stuck in the problem.

5. Structures make the world school go 'round.

One of the hardest parts of being a principal is that so much of my job was proactive. When things were going well, it was evidenced by, well, a lack of problems. Usually, that meant that good structures had been developed and set in place so that things just ran themselves! Often, I didn't even notice that the routine was working or that it was making a difference, because it "just happened".

Most mornings, I went out and played violin for the kids as they walked into school, and often, they came in and glanced at me and went straight to breakfast. One morning, I had a lot of paperwork to do and thought, "Oh well, they're hearing the same songs every day anyway, they probably won't even notice if I skip it today." Boy, was I wrong - I heard about it that day! This is a frivolous example, but it struck me because it demonstrated how much the simple routines meant to the kids, even if they didn't show it.

When good systems were set up, people did what they were supposed to, and everything ran smoothly. When a kink in the system appeared, it quickly devolved into chaos! Systems thinking is a skill I need to continue to cultivate, and I saw the importance of it and the impact it can have on large numbers of people this summer.

6. Get comfortable with living with ambiguity!

One of the most immediate differences I noticed, moving from a teaching job to an administrative job, was that I couldn't plan my day. As a teacher, I figured out lesson plans and I had the structure (see #5) of class periods, lunches, and recesses to guide my day. As a principal, all of that was thrown out the window! Although a lot of my thought-work was proactively planning, my day-to-day was reacting to whatever went on! I never knew if it would be an easy day or a hard day - it just depended on what happened. This was quite a shift in thinking!

I also had to get more comfortable with ambiguity in general. So many situations came up that did not have black and white answers! I had to live in the tension of the "where we are aiming" and the "where we are now". I had to balance the needs of different teachers and different students and various subgroups of each, none of which was clear-cut. I also had to be comfortable letting go and letting people find their own way - some more quickly than others. Although it was tricky at times, this was the beauty of leading and learning - the messy, trial-and-error process that results in growth.

Disclaimer: If I were to add #7, it would be that a positive attitude works wonders, especially in a leadership position, because it affects everyone you meet...but that wasn't so much a new learning as something I was able to keep up from my teaching 😃. Find joy in every day!

I am so grateful for this opportunity, and I know these lessons learned will follow me wherever I go, including in my new role in the district. What would you add to this list as top takeaways from beginning in administration?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Confessions of a New Administrator: Week #6 (The End)

It's hard to believe summer learning is now over!

How can I sum up my thoughts and reflections in a quick blog? When I think back to the beginning of the summer, I was in a completely different place. I have learned and grown so much, and I feel so much more comfortable in the role than when I started. I was actually sad for everything to end yesterday - even in six short weeks, we had developed a school routine and culture that won't ever quite be the same again. 

I'm still processing a lot of the experience and will probably blog later with more reflections, but this final week made me think quite a bit about leading vs. managing. I found myself dreading the last day, not only because it would be full of goodbyes, but because I realized I would be busy in some of my not-so-favorite ways.

When I'm a principal, I love leading out by spending time with my staff and students. Interacting in the hallways, being in classrooms, and helping problem-solve issues are some of my favorite activities. Even the work of visioning, thinking through what needs to happen to prepare for the next week, and setting things up is enjoyable - it's a process that is full of optimism and dreams! I also don't mind the discipline part (most of the time), because it is really reaching kids where they are at.

My good morning welcome ritual with the kids

On the last day, I knew I would be doing a lot of managing. We had several programs in the building taking care of their final follow-up. I'm so grateful for these partnerships, but it meant that I was doing a lot of coordinating and making sure all of that went well. Parents were invited to an open house, which was also fun, but included a lot of showing people where to go and making sure kids were signed out if they left with their parents. At the end of the day, there was the packing and double-checking the inventory lists and rooms to make sure everything looked good, and then finishing up final paperwork. I don't want to sound like I dislike the mundane tasks, but I would rather be engaging and enjoying the stuff that makes up education rather than making sure everyone and everything is in the right place at the same time. I know it is important, it's just not as enjoyable!

All packed up and ready to go!
As the last day approached, I was sharing this with a friend (@msventurino), and she said something that stuck with me all day: "Enjoy it with those kiddos. I know you won't have a ton of time to be with them while you're tying up loose ends, and I know you'll make little windows of time." That became my focus - finding little windows of time to really engage in the midst of the management. It certainly helped the day feel better, and I was able to really soak up the relational time (which is what I will miss the most)!

In the end, through all of the leading and managing, it was an amazing experience. I got a sweet note from the parent of a 1st grader that was the best encouragement and affirmation I could ask for to end the day.

"Thank you for opening your school to (student) this summer. I've never seen her so excited or engaged to attend school. This is a testament to your leadership. She loves to remind me that her summer principal has the best name. Thank you for being such an ideal example of leadership and compassion."

Thank you, everyone who made Summer Learning 2017 amazing! Even as we all go off into new adventures, I know that the memories and the lessons learned will stick with me!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Confessions of a New Administrator: Week #5

This week has been the smoothest yet, and full of #eduwins! I'll share a handful of them below:

  1. We had constructed a safety plan for a student to help him regulate & stay safe in school. He had a couple of days without any issues, but the real victory came when we had to put the safety plan in place and it worked like a charm!
  2. A different student was having a very rough morning, and I was called to the classroom to help support her. After encouraging her that just because a mistake happened in the morning, it didn't mean the whole day had to be bad, she begrudgingly made it back to the group. Later in the day, she was in the office, beaming and turning in a LEARN ticket (our PBIS system)!
  3. Another student has spent quite a bit of time in the office and also suspended due to his behavior earlier in the summer, but I haven't seen him this week. I pulled him aside to check in with him, and some of his comments included:
    "School is more fun when I am good."
    "My friend told me, it's like you're a different person, you're nice and more fun to be around."
    "My friend [who he often got into trouble with] and I talked, and we decided that we're going to keep being good next school year."

    (I know it's not necessarily that easy, but it was encouraging to hear him realize the benefits of his improved behavior!)
  4. Yet another student has had a number of behavioral issues this summer, and I haven't quite been able to figure out the function of her behavior or how to reach her.  She has a contract about being able to go on field trips based on her behavior, and unfortunately, she missed the last one.  She had a great week and was so close to earning her field trip, but once again, I got a call asking for support because she was being defiant. I decided to try something new and actually give her what she wanted (a break from everyone) if she asked appropriately.  After a bit of time, she followed the teacher direction to take at least one step into the room, ask politely for a break, and wait for the teacher's answer before taking her break. That was the first step, but the next question was if she would actually come back to the group after the 5-minute timer went off.  I swung back by the classroom just as it beeped, and...she did it! Yes! She kept her field trip :-).
  5. One of the parts of my role that is new to me is doing teacher evaluations. It has been so much fun talking with teachers and hearing about their perspective on the summer. I was especially encouraged by one who shared that she feels like she has grown professionally this summer, especially in being willing to give up control in the classroom and let the kids figure things out themselves. Yes! Even if nothing else happened this summer, I think that moving people along that spectrum from being more teacher-led to student-led would be worth it!

Of course, it wasn't a perfect week. I still had kids get into fights and one teacher walk by a [hidden] wasp's nest and get stung 17 times (she's okay, though). Nevertheless, I've really been able to see the gratification that comes through those times where you feel like you've really reached someone! These are the moments that keep you going through tough times, and I am so grateful for how many we had this week!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Confessions of a New Administrator: Week #4

This summer, I am getting my first hands-on experience at being a building administrator for my site of about 300 1st-5th graders.  I know that summer school is different than the regular school year, but much of the "blitz" I am feeling reminds me of being a first year teacher (and what I expect being a first year administrator may feel like).  One of my personal commitments in blogging is to be honest, open, and transparent (while protecting privacy) about my experiences - and I'm sure that, someday, I will smile looking back at what I was feeling at this time.  Hopefully it can help someone else learn, too!

We have the week of the Fourth of July off, and here's Confession #1: I'm ready for a break!  This has been a wonderful experience and I'm enjoying it, but I will always jump at the chance to rest, relax, spend time with family & friends, and invest in other parts of my life that get put on the back burner when school is in session.

As with any job, I have experienced some of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the past four weeks.  This week has me reflecting on the best and worst parts of my job as an administrator.

The Good

The best part of my job is that I get to see so many great things happening in the school on a regular basis!  I love welcoming students in the morning and being a friendly face at the door.  My favorite practice of late is playing violin or cello to the kids as they walk in, mixing pop/movie music with classical music, and seeing how excited the students are to hear what is coming next (this feeds the music teacher in me)!  I love being a professional problem-solver and figuring out how to make everything run more smoothly for my staff.  The best days are when I get to spend lots of time in classrooms, absorbing the atmosphere and great instruction that is going on.  I love seeing happy and engaged kids, and I love seeing teachers work their magic with the amazing ways they reach students.  I'm filled with pride as I do a walkthrough of the school and take note of the learning, the inquiry, and the care that fills each room.  I love when students call me over to show off their latest creation.  I love making positive phone calls home about how awesome students are, and I love handing out prizes and stickers as a part of our PBIS system and seeing the students' excitement when they are acknowledged for doing the right thing.

I also like working with students who end up in the office for their behavior.  Maybe it sounds strange, because I often end up with kids (or parents, or teachers) when they are at a low point, when things didn't go well.  In these moments, I really feel like I have an opportunity to reach in and make a difference.  I like helping kids think about how their actions affected others, and seeing the connections go off in their brain to hopefully help them make better choices in the future.  Many times, kids who end up in the office are scared and upset - I love making it a supportive place for them that acknowledges that sometimes life is hard, and we need to develop strategies to manage it (there are still clear boundaries and consequences, but they are not handed out in a punitive way).  This is different from the smackdown discipline that is portrayed in the media in the principal's office, and I love changing the narrative about what it means to be sent there.  I love the success stories and when students that I see in the office all the time come back to share what a good day they had.

The Bad (which is not 100% bad all of the time...I'd rather call it The Hard Stuff)

It's not all sunshine and roses, though - there are hard parts of my job too!  One of the worst parts of my job is having to deliver bad news.  If a student makes a poor choice, I have to call the parents and tell them, and that hurts.  In the situations that are hard to handle, were no one knows what to do, I end up having to make the decision (even though I don't know what to do either)!  The stakes are higher, the responsibility is greater, and the ripple effects have the potential to reach farther than when I was a classroom teacher...and I feel that weight!  As a leader, part of my job is to protect the school, staff, & students.  That means that sometimes I take the brunt of someone's displeasure or anger so that someone else doesn't have to.  I am happy to take it for my team, but it's not always fun in the moment.

We don't like to talk about it, but I've learned about threat assessments, suicide assessments, connections with law enforcement, connections with housing & human services agencies, etc.  This is the reality - these things come up regularly.  Some of my kids' stories are heart-breaking, and I hold that when I interact with them.  I hear from families who are struggling and I just wish there was more I could do to support them.  I also see situations when kids have to bear the brunt of their parents' decisions, and it makes me sad for them.

The other situations that make me sad are those where I feel like I can't quite reach a kid.  As nice as it would sometimes be to have a simple formula for everything, kids are people who get to make their own choices, too.  There are times where I can't get a kid to open up and share what's going on, when I can't get a student to acknowledge that they did something that affected others, or when I think we've had a successful resolution only to find that kid back in my office a day (or an hour!) later.  I want to solve every problem that comes my way, but the truth is, sometimes kids just respond better to other people or need supports that are different than what I can provide.  This doesn't mean I stop trying, but I also have to acknowledge that I'm not Superwoman and be willing to seek other options to figure out what is best for a kid...not just best for my ego.

The Ugly

I'm just going to sum this one up by saying school/district politics.  They exist everywhere, and the "higher up" you go in leadership, the bigger picture you have of what's going on, who is jockeying for power, and the different moving pieces related to federal, state, and district funding & regulations.  The most frustrating part is when I am mandated to carry out something that I do not personally believe is best for kids or for the school in general (these mandates come in big and small varieties).  There are times I stand up and fight it, there are times I have to implement it, and there are times I choose to just let things settle and only deal with it if it becomes an issue.  No matter what I do, I will face criticism from somewhere...often from those who only see a part of the overall picture.  I've never loved politics, and figuring out how to be ethical, strategic, compliant, and kid-centered has been a challenge when those priorities are sometimes at odds with each other!

In the end...

...I love what I'm doing, and I wouldn't trade it for the world!  Some of my daily good, bad, & ugly is similar to when I was a teacher, just on a larger scale, but some of it is completely different than what I have experienced in the past.  I'm looking forward to taking a week off to recharge, but then jumping back into the fray to finish out our summer program!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Confessions of a New Administrator: Week #3

This summer, I am getting my first hands-on experience at being a building administrator for my site of about 300 1st-5th graders.  I know that summer school is different than the regular school year, but much of the "blitz" I am feeling reminds me of being a first year teacher (and what I expect being a first year administrator may feel like).  One of my personal commitments in blogging is to be honest, open, and transparent (while protecting privacy) about my experiences - and I'm sure that, someday, I will smile looking back at what I was feeling at this time.  Hopefully it can help someone else learn, too!

After Week #3, I am looking around and realizing that this new role I have is starting to feel...almost normal?  How can that be?  I don't think my days are any less hectic, but I am learning to adapt to my new role!  Even after just a few weeks, here are some of the changes I am noticing in myself:

  • I am much more comfortable switching gears - instantly!
    I may peacefully be doing paperwork in the office, in my "organizing" mode, and have an unhappy parent walk in, necessitating a switch into "mediator" mode.  Or I may be working with a student who was sent to the office, in "discipline/support" mode, and hear a call on the radio that a student ran off, forcing a momentary change into "searching" mode.  I may be enjoying a lesson in the classroom, going into my more comfortable "teaching" mode, and then have a visitor show up and transition into "outreach" mode.  I've learned not to get too attached to what I'm doing at any one time, and to be ready for something drastically different in the next moment!
  • I am much more comfortable NOT knowing.
    Wait, the principal's supposed to have all of the answers, right?  Wrong.  Often, I come into a situation in the middle of the story and I have to jump in and proceed without knowing all of the background.  This happens with students, parents, and staff.  I tend to be a person who likes to gather the details and then make a plan, but that is just not feasible in many situations.  I'm learning to move forward with confidence, even without knowing exactly what is happening all of the time.
  • I am much more willing to trust my gut.
    With so many different situations coming my way, how do I decide how to handle them all?  If situations are easy, my teachers handle them on their the time they get to me, they have usually escalated.  Related to the NOT knowing, I usually haven't seen these kids through the whole day to determine their triggers or really understand why they are behaving in a certain way, but I still have to do something about it.  I have really been trusting my gut instincts about what supports might help these kids, and more often than not, it has worked out well!  This goes beyond discipline, too...especially in a 5 or 6 week program, I don't have the time to develop long-term relationships (at least for now).  In all of my interactions with students and adults, I am really trusting my gut to tell me what is needed in each situation!
  • I am getting better about not living in fear.
    I know this is an ongoing lesson for me - it is so easy for insecurities and fear to rise up and dominate my day.  Being in a position where I am expected to step up and move past that has forced me to really step up and move past that!  When a parent comes storming into the office, upset, it bothers me less than it used to - I can take a deep breath, smile, greet that parent, and trust that we can work toward resolution (or at least a place were we can be civil with each other)!  When someone makes a suggestion, rather than immediately wondering if they think I'm doing a bad job, I can smile, thank them for the suggestion, and appreciate that we are all trying to make this school the best that it can be.  When I have to make a hard decision, rather than wallowing back and forth and worrying about the consequences, I can take a minute to think about it, look at the facts, and then decide and move on.  I'm not perfect at this, but I have really noticed that these interactions do not stick with me in the way they used to - I spend less time worrying about the future and more time focusing on the present! 
I love being an administrator and watching the magic that happens in the school environment - support staff being incredibly efficient and flexible, teachers bringing out the best in their students, students being so excited about learning.  But another cool part of this journey has been for me to take a moment and reflect on how it has changed me.  Sometimes it feels like we give so much to our work and relationships, and it's good to remember that they give back too!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Confessions of a New Administrator: Week #2

This summer, I am getting my first hands-on experience at being a building administrator for my site of about 300 1st-5th graders.  I know that summer school is different than the regular school year, but much of the "blitz" I am feeling reminds me of being a first year teacher (and what I expect being a first year administrator may feel like).  One of my personal commitments in blogging is to be honest, open, and transparent (while protecting privacy) about my experiences - and I'm sure that, someday, I will smile looking back at what I was feeling at this time.  Hopefully it can help someone else learn, too!

Week #2 of summer school brought the most important thing: STUDENTS!  

They started last Monday and we had a full day, complete with tie-dye and presentations from the local library.  My days have been moving at a fast and furious pace, but the weekend has been helpful for me to reflect!

14 loads of tie-dye later...

I won't lie, Monday was hard.  

It was so exciting to have 300 kiddos walk in, but there were of course several first-day wrinkles to smooth out, such as making sure kids were in the right place, answering parent questions about transportation and teachers and forms and everything else, and ensuring our guests who were running the tie-dye and library stations had everything they needed.  None of that was a big deal, but then we had a couple of large-scale incidents (the kind that require a lot of paperwork and calling in outside agencies for follow-up) that really threw me off.  My thought process:
"Uh oh, this is not good, this is a big deal.
Everyone is looking at me.
Oh, wait, this is my job to figure out what to do. 
I don't know how to handle this! 
But I'd better figure it out!"
Between these incidents and other smaller-scale discipline issues, I was worn out by the end of the day.  I realized that I had spent a lot of time stuck in a "what a principal should be like" mindset and didn't spend a lot of time being myself.  As a result, I didn't feel very good about the way I handled discipline or how I connected with people.  I went home feeling discouraged and wondering how people actually handle this job on a daily basis.

And then came the turning point of my week.  

I had sent an email out to my staff, thanking them for a great first day (and including updates & changes to make things flow more smoothly the rest of the week), and one of my teachers wrote an encouraging email back.  I didn't realize how much I needed that affirmation until I saw it!  Her words just gave me a little spark of confidence and a reminder that, despite the chaos and issues of the day, there were many things that went well.

Never underestimate the power of goes a long way!

The rest of the week went so much more smoothly!  

I returned on Tuesday with a renewed sense of identity, and promised myself that I would handle discipline in a way that felt like me, not some fake sense of what it "should" be.  And you know what?  The kids responded much more positively!  They can really sense it when you are not confident!  We were able to put some positive supports in place for students who needed a little more, and I was able to spend a lot more time in classrooms, which is exactly the way I wanted it.  There were still plenty of bumps in the road, but I felt much more confident in my ability to handle them.  By Thursday, most of our logistical challenges were worked out so we could just focus on the kids and the learning!

And even though I have been exhausted and my head has been spinning, trying to keep track of everything that I'm supposed to remember throughout the day, I've loved it.  I love working at that fast pace and I love being able to support both kids & adults when they just need a little extra.  As a principal, I feel like I handle the big problems and the little problems (my teachers handle the in-between ones)!  When things escalate past the classroom level, they get to me and I get to deal with them - these are the big problems.  The small, silly things that just take time, like getting a new roll of tape or sorting out T-shirts also become my job so teachers can just pick up and go.  I am learning a lot about how to support a diverse group of people and prioritize the many things that come to me in a day.

What will next week bring?

Well, for one, we have our first field trip tomorrow (for all students), which will be another great adventure to be sure!  I can't wait to see our students continue to learn and grow as we dive further into the program!  For a peek into our last week, see the pictures below:

1st grade tested the strength of different kinds of paper
and recorded their observations!
2nd grade built mazes for hexbots and tested their designs!
3rd grade had to build a bridge to get the car across the river
using spaghetti and marshmallows!
4th grade designed, built,
 and launched their own rockets!
5th grade worked on collaboration & teamwork by going
through the design process to plan a picnic!

Here's to another week of Summer Learning fun!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Confessions of a New Administrator: Week #1

This summer, I am getting my first hands-on experience at being a building administrator for my site of about 275 1st-5th graders.  I know that summer school is different than the regular school year, but much of the "blitz" I am feeling reminds me of being a first year teacher (and what I expect being a first year administrator may feel like).  One of my personal commitments in blogging is to be honest, open, and transparent (while protecting privacy) about my experiences - and I'm sure that, someday, I will smile looking back at what I was feeling at this time.  Hopefully it can help someone else learn, too!

My #oneword2017: LEAD

We've been planning and hiring for months, but this week, it felt like summer school really started.  Monday and Tuesday were mostly meetings & planning days for me and my clerical support, and today marked the first day with teachers & other staff there.  Here are some of the random snippets from my thoughts of the day!

  • My mind is spinning - I have SO MUCH INFORMATION coming at me from all angles, all the time!  More than anything, I feel like I don't have the experience to process things as they come, decide what is important/less important, or prioritize, so it all just feels important and in my face.
  • At the same time, I love the craziness.  I thrive on the high-energy, fast-paced environment.  It's been great confirmation of my decision to pursue this path!
  • I don't particularly like being up front.  It's so intimidating to have everyone there looking at me, waiting for me to start a meeting or explain some of the information.  I know I don't have to have all of the answers (and it's a good thing!), but I really have to push out of my comfort zone to be assertive and take the lead in these instances.
  • People have amazing ideas.  My staff has been able to fill in the things that I hadn't thought about, and collaboratively, we are developing better and better plans!
  • I hate saying no or disappointing people.  Why can't we just please everyone, all of the time?  I'm learning that this is, unfortunately, a fact of life that comes with the territory sometimes - and I can't take it personally.  Life goes on.  Perspective is a beautiful thing.
  • Office staff/clerical support is so, hugely important, and I am lucky to be working with an amazing person this summer!  Leadership can be lonely, and she has become my go-to person to bounce ideas off of, especially since she has been doing this much longer than me.
  • While it can sometimes be intimidating, I wish people would just be honest with me about how they feel when I ask them.  If somebody says they are okay with it, I tend to move ahead with that as the plan, but it's hard when I hear through a back channel that they are actually really frustrated or uncomfortable with the decision.  Maybe this is a part of my learning - not to take everything at face value, and to learn how to ask the right questions to really get at the heart of the matter and help people feel comfortable sharing where they are truly at.
  • A little encouragement goes a long way!  I am so grateful to my staff members who said something positive to me today - it helped me remember that, even though I have a steep learning curve, there are things I am doing well too!
  • When you are a teacher, your "big day" is when students show up.  As an administrator, my "big day" is when teachers show up.  A lot of my hard work in terms of planning and prepping is finished now, and I am moving into more of a fluid support role to be very present with my teachers (and their students next week).  I am putting in a lot of hours right now, and when I get home, I just need to stare at a wall and decompress, and then put my thoughts down on paper to get them organized...but I'm sure things will fall into more of a routine when we have a regular schedule.
The great news is that I'm loving it.  Really, truly, I am...even in the midst of feeling completely overwhelmed.  That's gotta be a good sign, right ;-)?

Can you relate to any of these?  What advice would you give a new administrator?  

Friday, June 2, 2017

Find the Force #7 (Genius Hour #7): Wrap-Up!

It's amazing what happens when you give students a stake in their own education.  That's what our Force Projects are all about (you can read more about our journey at Find the Force #1#2#3#4, & #5).

It’s hard to believe that our Force Projects are over - but the end of the year always is a whirlwind!  I had students complete an evaluation at the end to gather their perspectives on the project to aid in planning for next year.  Here are some of the insights they provided:

*Disclaimer: I’m a bit of a statistics nerd, so the first part of this is very numbers-heavy, with the second part being more anecdotal comments

My thoughts: Overall, they liked it, but this wasn’t quite as strong as I would have liked.  I know that several students commented that they enjoyed the project, but missed the time playing.  Others shared that they felt like some people just used this time to mess around, so it was frustrating to them.

My thoughts: This proved to be an interesting bit of self-analysis, as the students had quite a bit of loosely structured work time.  I would agree that the majority used it pretty well, but there are a few groups I would definitely not rate as high as they rated themselves.  I wonder if they felt like they could be honest on this, or if they worried about it affecting their grade (despite my assurances that it wouldn’t)?

My thoughts: We put a lot of effort into choosing a topic, but as with any new project, there is a learning curve, both for students and me.  A lot of the comments were about wishing they knew exactly what their project would entail before they chose what they would work on.  While I fully understand the sentiment, part of the inquiry process is making a goal and then figuring out what steps you need to take to get there.  I know from talking to my students that they learned a lot about time management, sequencing, and how complicated different projects were!

My thoughts: This is another question I was curious to see the responses to.  This was a true #20time project, where students were given approximately 20% of class time to work on these projects (including their blogging, required reflections, etc).  The project stretched out over the whole year, which was a challenge for some of them in time management.  In the comments, many shared that it felt like they had longer than they actually did, but that the end of the year snuck up on them (can anyone else relate?!?).

We used blogging as a way to reflect on this project. How did that work for you? Do you think this was a good use of time?

  • I liked being able to blog because it helped me stay on track and I liked being able to see what other people think about my project. 
  • I liked the thought of blogging because it helped with sharing your ideas. When you just speak it to a person they may not remember it or not understand the full idea of what you did. 
  • Blogging was so fun, it makes you feel famous even with a orchestra project. It was a way to bring in some of your personality into your reflection but still got us thinking about why we did the project and what we learned. This was a ok use of time because I would sometimes want to practice cello but have to look through blogs. I think if we did just a little less we could still use the blogs but get more time to play. 
  • It helped me reflect on the project, but I don't like writing so I didn't care too much for it. It was fun reading other blog posts however. 
  • No because I never really wrote anything and i change the project so much so i had to rewrite from the beginning to the end every time there was a new project so I would say not really. 
  • Yes, it helped me plan everything I wanted to do and needed to do. Like adding more detail or needing more topics. 
  • I did not really like blogging our project. I would have much rather written a paragraph of what we have done. 
  • I didn't really like blogging that much, because I felt like we could of been working on our actually project rather than a blog that I didn't feel worked for me. 
  • I think it was a good use of time but I would have liked to blog even more because I feel like we did it regularly but not enough. 
  • It worked pretty good. At first I didn't like it that much but then I started to figure out more about how cool blogging actually is.

My thoughts: I tried to pull a representative sampling of the responses I got for this blog.  In general, the positives associated with blogging were that it helped them reflect and stay on track, they enjoyed sharing their ideas with the world (authentic audience!), and that they were able to get feedback on their projects.  The negatives were that it took some of their work time, they had trouble knowing what to write, and they got bogged down by technical difficulties.  Overall, one of my goals was to include more literacy in my classroom through these blogs, as well as engage a more authentic audience.  While this was probably the least popular part of the project overall, I still think it served its purpose, and I would do it again (with some tweaks). 

We connected with other students (in our class and in other classes) through blogs, comments, etc. Did you find this interesting? Do you think it was a good use of time?

  • This was a good use of time because I could tell people what I thought and people could tell me what they thought. This was a good way to improve our projects because we knew what our peers thought.
  • I liked the way it helped get more ideas on what you were doing. It was a good use of time because you can see what other people were doing even if you weren't in their class.
  • It was really cool to give people feedback, and to get some in return. This was not a waste of time, as it helped us shape and change our projects and make sure they were in tip-top shape!
  • I thought the idea was cool, but most of the comments and other things weren't that helpful, so I don't think it was the best use of our time. We could have used more work time.
  • As I said before I did think it was very interesting to see what other kids were doing in other classes, because people can come up with such different ideas that I would have never even thought of before. So I thought it was definitely interesting and very cool. I don't think that this was a waste of time, I think you should definitely do this portion of the blogging for next year students because it was definitely very cool.
  • No, I didnt really want to know what other people were doing.
  • I did not find this interesting. I didn't really learn anything, and it was more of a chore to grade other people.
  • I liked looking at comments on my blog and commenting on others but sometimes people that were supposed to comment on mine never did or were not thinking deep about my Force Project in their comments.
My thoughts: Again, I tried to pull a representative sample here - I always want to be honest about the successes and challenges on this blog!  Overall, students seemed to like the commenting and feel that it helped them reflect and improve.  Some of the most-mentioned positives were that they enjoyed the social component, they liked seeing what others were doing, and it helped them improve their own projects.  Negatives mostly revolved around the varying quality of comments and blogs, feeling like they did not learn much or get meaningful feedback from the commenting.  They did enjoy connecting with @msventurino’s class, and thought it was fun to hear from people in a different state!

Final Thoughts:

There are always things to improve on, but overall, I would say that this first go-around at a #geniushour was a success!  The students’ comments helped give me ideas for how to tweak it in the future, but the basis of the project will largely stay the same.  I will end with a few of my favorite student quotes from their final blogs:

  • “Some final reflections I have on this project is that it was very fun and I enjoyed it. It was very challenging to learn a new instrument and it was fun to learn it it. I made a lot of mistakes on this project that will help me learn for in the future.”
  • “I just want to say I had a lot of fun with this project and this blog is going to be difficult for me to let go.  But for me, our actual presentation was okay. To be honest I loved the process more than the our actual presentation.
  • “I thought the force project was awesome, I had a fun time making it. I really enjoyed this because I actually enjoyed doing homework.
  • If we would've just done normal orchestra throughout the year I would have learned no where near the amount that I learned. I feel it is important to not just know how to play a note, but also know the music. These force projects taught me good music!

Whew, this might win an award for my longest blog post ever!  I hope the reflections and student comments are helpful to anyone else looking at doing a similar project.  I’ll close by saying, “May the Force be with you!” and add this tidbit from one of my 7th graders…


To see some of their projects (the ones that can be shared in this format), click here!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Adventures in Leadership: Pulling the Pieces Together

As I prepare for the beginning of summer school (Monday for admin, Wednesday for teachers), I have spent a lot of time thinking & planning this week.  Information is coming at me from all angles!  Along with the expected communication about students, IEPs, 504s, Health Care Plans, enrollment, staffing, curriculum, field trips, scheduling, food services, security plans, shopping, supplies, transportation, evaluations, etc, I have also been in communication with...
  • Parents (answering all sorts of questions)
  • Outside organizations (many of whom will partner with us this summer in one way or another)
  • Businesses (who are willing to donate to us)
  • Candidates (I am still short four staff members...)
Needless to say, there are a lot of emails flying around!  It hasn't felt particularly overwhelming to me, but as I have started to put together an agenda for our one and only staff meeting that will take place next Wednesday, I'm realizing just how much information there is - and it's been hard to put all of those puzzle pieces together!
  • What does the staff need to know?
  • What would I want to know if I were in their shoes?
  • How much information is too much? I don't want it to be overwhelming!
  • What about team-building - how can this not just be a laundry list of details?
  • How can I tie this all together in a way that makes sense and helps the meeting flow well?
  • What about all of the puzzle pieces that we don't know yet?

With all of this flowing through my mind, I think I've come up with a workable plan.  The meeting will still include a lot of logistics, but I am also working on developing systems of communication and a staff "hub" where information is stored so everyone knows where to find it later!  And I am bound and determined to make time for at least one team-building activity, even though it feels like we don't have time for it.  If we say to put relationships first with the kids, why should it be any different with the adults?  As we move into the summer, I'm sure I'll fall flat on my face a couple of times, but hopefully everyone will be gracious as I learn!

My closing thought: Being a principal is like putting a puzzle together, trying to take lots of disjointed pieces of information & different perspectives and put it together (even with a few pieces missing) to form a great environment for everyone!