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!


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.

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.

Core beliefs should drive you to improve each day.

“If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.” -Winston Churchill

Last week, I had a conversation with a teacher about our student support process. We are both on our intervention team and the teacher was feeling frustrated about what to do next with a student case.

This was a great conversation for me because the teacher was giving me feedback on a process I helped to develop. I was stunned at first – I was under the impression that our intervention process was working well and we had great results for students during the previous school year. How could this be an issue?

But I quickly ignored those thoughts because this was someone whose opinion I trust and I didn’t want to miss a word.

After I listened, I reminded them about a conversation we had a couple of weeks ago about something similar. I told them that the structures we put in place to support students should be the floor and not the ceiling. If what we do is the very best we can do for a kid, then who cares what the process says is the next step?

I’ve been thinking about my conversation with my teammate a lot since then. While I believe structures and protocols are important, I also believe we often build our own barriers to solutions for the sake of protocols. I believe we need to consider protocols and processes the starting point for our conversations about a student and then use what we know about the student to help him or her be successful.

However, just because something is a core belief doesn’t mean I’ve mastered it yet. This is something I need to continue to reflect upon and improve, and it drives me to want to be a better leader each day.