New Beginnings: The Pizza Conference

I am honored to continue serving my district as the next principal of Alton Darby Elementary. The goal of this blog was to document my journey to the principalship because I wanted others who might have been interested in educational administration to see what the journey may be like if they decided to take it. Now that I have accepted a position as principal, I will shift my attention to the transition period that has already begun to take place. I am excited to start documenting these reflections through a blog series called “New Beginnings”.

As I continue to learn more about the Alton Darby community, I have been looking for opportunities to have conversations with students, families, and teachers. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a special group of stakeholders: the students.

I wanted to make sure that students were the first stakeholder group I met with because they are at the center of the work that we do each day. With the help of the Alton Darby staff, two students from each classroom were invited to have lunch with me to have a discussion about the future. Kids have such a unique perspective on most things in life, and I wanted to find out their thoughts and feelings about their school since “school” is such an important part of their life right now.

We grouped the kids together – 1st and 2nd graders, 3rd and 4th graders, and then just 5th graders – so that we could have a small group setting for each conversation. I kept the framework of the conversation open and I asked two questions:

  • What do you love about Alton Darby Elementary?
  • If you were the principal and you had all the money you wanted to spend on Alton Darby, what would you do?

I could have held the conference all day!

Each child’s response was so genuine and honest that I wanted to know more. Collectively, the students’ answers to both questions demonstrated a strong sense of community at Alton Darby. They remarked how nice and friendly everyone is at Alton Darby. “The school is filled with positive energy,” said one 2nd grader. “The related arts teachers let us use our imaginations,” said another. “The teachers push us to learn something new,” replied a 5th grade student.

Here’s what I loved about what I heard. Even though students were divided into different groups and met at different times, they all made the same positive comments about the Alton Darby community. Alton Darby Elementary’s reputation of being a student-centered learning community that believes in building positive relationships with all its members was affirmed by the members of the community whose voices are the most important ones. I believe that is a credit to the work students, parents, and staff members have put into building meaning relationships throughout the school community.

Now, the responses to the second question (What would you do if you were principal, etc.) were just as interesting to me. Again, each student group generally gave the same replies. One comment that came up over and over again was that students really want to have more physical activity. And if they were given all the money they wanted to spend on Alton Darby, students would have amazing playground equipment. They also suggested expanding the gym so that there was more room for more groups of students to do activities. One student really wanted a disco ball in a room where kids could work.

While I don’t think we can count on a disco ball or rebuild the gym, I did want to make sure I was sending a message to these students that I want them to Dream BIG. Giving kids opportunities to dream also gives them opportunities to explore their passions and dreams. As teachers and family members, we have the amazing opportunity to support students their learning journey and to do what we can to support their goals.

This was my very first Pizza Conference and I am looking forward to having more in the future!

 

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“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

This is a quote from Maya Angelou and even though she may have intended it for something completely different, it made me think about how important it is for educators to share their skills and ideas with others.

Much of the work we are doing in schools in Ohio this year is to satisfy new mandates and new initiatives. Many of us are finding it hard to stay innovative and to be willing to take on new ideas because we are busy with the minutiae or we are tired from being busy with the minutiae.

However, I don’t think any of that is going away anytime soon. So, instead of continuing to complain about it, we need to move on and find more sources of inspiration and innovation. That’s where sharing becomes so important.

We need to be sharing our ideas, lessons, books we read, thoughts we have – anything that is important to us because it spurs further thinking and ideas in others. There are so many ways for educators to easily share their ideas – Twitter, Google+, blogging…it’s all there, we just need to access it.

And don’t let your own ideas stop you. When I first got connected through Twitter and started blogging, I was reluctant to share because I thought, “Who is going to think this is a good idea?”. I realized that I needed to change my mindset to, “I hope this helps someone get an idea that will help kids.” That shift in thinking helped me realize that it was important for me to add my voice to the collective conversation.

I love this quote from George Couros about realizing we are the experts. I think it speaks to the importance of sharing our knowledge with others:

When we look at change, we have to realize everything we need is often already within our own organization.  We just have to figure out how to unleash this talent. Isn’t this the culture we want in our classrooms?  It has to be modeled from the top and the way that we view every individual part of our organization.

So, make it a point to start sharing more of your ideas with others. If you haven’t connected on a social media platform yet, get connected. If you have accounts, start using them.

I need your ideas to help me continue to grow as a teacher.