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!

 

Advertisements

New Beginnings: First Steps

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”.

http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6163/6231641551_541c96e583.jpg

 

Since I was announced as the next principal of Alton Darby, the question that seems to come up most is “What is the first thing you are going to do?”. I love that question for a few reasons. I think it’s funny that sometimes people will ask the question and they stop themselves short of saying “…with all that power?“. They see the principal as the decider who makes sweeping changes.

The truth is the “power” does not lie with me. The power lies with US — the students, parents, teachers, and community members that represent Alton Darby. My mission and my responsibility is to empower these representatives and to synthesize our voices into one vision for learning so that Alton Darby continues to be a reflection of the values, goals and dreams of its community.

The other reason I love this question is because it gives me a chance to talk about my vision for where we can go as a learning community. I believe that leaders need to be transparent in their beliefs. Being transparent helps to foster a culture of trust within the school community. So when someone asks me what I want to do as principal I tell them, “I want to discover the dreams, goals, and passions of the students, teachers, and parents of Alton Darby”. I feel that I can effectively lead when I have a deep understanding of what my learning community values and what we want to accomplish. I choose to share this message because I want everyone to know that I believe in building relationships and creating learning environments that are safe and welcoming to all.

So, what is the first thing I will do as principal?

Listen.

Listen to teachers.

Listen to parents.

And listen to students. I can’t wait to start having conversations with students so that I can find out what they love about Alton Darby and what they feel we need to focus our attention on in order to help each student reach their goals and discover their passions.

I am thrilled to being my first steps as the next principal of Alton Darby Elementary, and I look forward to continue sharing what I am learning about educational administration.

Creating Opportunity #EDAD688

I feel strongly about using Twitter for professional growth.  Each day, I run across dozens of great ideas shared by amazing educators across the world.  Being involved with Twitter really has changed me professionally.

http://earthandindustry.com/files/2010/02/twitter-screen.jpg

Every now and again, someone will share something short and to the point (which is the point of Twitter) that really changes my thinking about teaching and learning and what I can do to help improve learning experiences for students.

This quote made me have one of those moments:

Screenshot 2014-01-24 18.33.13

This quote really resonated with me in two ways.  First, this quote is something I’m realizing more and more the older I get:  If you have an idea, go for it.  It may be a risk, but isn’t it riskier to never know what might have happened if you didn’t try?

Second, and more importantly, this quote made me begin to think of how we can teach the kids we work with how they might be able to create the very opportunities they are waiting around for.  How many of our students are secretly wanting to start some sort of club?  How many are wanting to do a big project, but need more likeminded folks to help out?  What could we share with students to help them get going on their own big idea?

I’ve just started thinking about how I might help students advocate for opportunities.  Right now I have more questions than answers, but I might just start listening a little more closer to what kids are asking for to see how I might help them get there.

In Case of Emergency, Read This Book #EDAD688

I originally posted this story to HZN165. It’s one of my favorite stories from teaching, so I wanted to share it here, too.

Helping Kids Through A Bad Day

This afternoon, I was running 10 minutes behind the time I was supposed to be working with some students on responding to their reading through writing.  I had made a commitment earlier in the week not to let anything stop me from meeting with these students since that kept happening.

As I was getting nearer to the classroom (walking at a pace that is probably not allowable in an elementary school), I saw a student outside of her classroom showing signs of being frustrated.  Now, it’s not unusual for this child to get upset easily.  That’s just who she is.  So, against what I wanted to do, I stopped and asked, “Is everything okay?”

She blurted out her frustration and said, “I’m going somewhere else,” and headed down the hallway.

That’s usually not a good sign.  Not just for this kid.  For any kid.

I followed her and tried to get her to tell me where she was going, but all she said was, “I need to get outta here.”

At this point, I wasn’t quite sure what to do next.  I was worried that talking about what happened would upset her even more.  It turns out, a few kids in her class were reminding her not to use so much lip gloss in that kid-reminding-another-kid-sort-of-way (think poor choice of words and a negative tone of voice).

So I turned to the emergency, never-fail, guaranteed to make a kid laugh book, The Blue Day Book for Kids: A Lesson in Cheering Yourself Up, by Bradley Trevor Greive.  

I told her I have the perfect book for you.  She was interested and wanted to see what I was carrying on about.

It worked.

She loved relating to the different examples of blue days (and the funny pictures of animals, of course).

So if you ever find yourself in a situation where your child is too upset to think about anything but being upset, I highly recommend bringing out The Blue Day Book For Kids.

It works like a charm.