Summer Reading

Again, it’s been too long since I last posted. But since spring break, the school year gets wild and crazy, then summer hits, and it’s time for a different type of work. I always look forward to summer for so many reasons, but one of the biggest is the TIME and opportunities to reflect. John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.” How do I reflect as a wife, mom of 2 boys, daughter, and as a principal of a large middle school in a progressive school district? I do this by reading and writing and pondering after I read. During the school year, I may get through one or two educational books…if I’m lucky! I most definitely have the desire, but the energy and other priorities usually take precedence. So summer is filled with a “to read” list a mile long, and I never get through all of it. So far this summer, with only 3 weeks left before teachers return (eeeekkkkk!!!!!!!!), I have read 3 nonfiction books about education and one young adult fictional book. Of all of these books, George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset has been my absolute favorite. I want the entire world of educators to go read it! I’m even going to do something totally out of my comfort zone and write an Amazon book review, because, get this, the author himself (rock star!!!) asked me to on Twitter. Now, THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of “social” media.

 

Liam book

This is my warmup to that book review, with some additional details that I found quite powerful, and I wanted to share in the best way I knew how. This is an excerpt from the final pages of this amazing book, but don’t fret, this is not a spoiler alert.

“We have always celebrated our top academic students and touted them as being successful, but sometimes they walk out of school only being great at the game of school and not much else. We can be so much more as educators, a fact that Erica Goldson shared in her very powerful high school valedictorian speech in 2010:

I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent then my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition, a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared. We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special. Every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation rather than memorization, for creativity rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.”

I share this with you to not only capture your attention, as it did for me majorly, but to make you really think. How can we get out of this cycle of crazy that our educational system is currently STUCK in due to accountability gone wild? Please don’t ever misunderstand me on this, I believe accountability is important. But our current testing system is absolutely ridiculous for children. ABSOLUTELY. I don’t know how it is in other states, but in North Carolina, testing is out of control. Need an example? I am honored to serve in a diverse middle school full of 850 hormonally driven teenagers that simply want to be amazing. The state of North Carolina mandates that all state tests must be given in the last 10 days of school. Ok. Sure. No problem. The good part about this expectation is that the importance of tests keeps our students’ attention span in these final days. (I know some states have their “end of year” tests in March or April, so I’m definitely thankful for this piece of our legislation.) BUT, my typical 6th grader takes 4 tests in those last 10 days, and each test is minimally 90 minutes in length. The average 8th grader has the same number of tests. Ok, cool. What if your child receives accommodations under an IEP (individualized education plan for exceptional children)? They still take that same amount of tests – and the SAME tests, but with certain accommodations. What about an honors student in the 8th grade? Check it. Our honors/gifted students have 7 state tests in the final 10 days of school! Yes, I said 7. How does this work for the success of a student ranging on average from age 12-14? Would you want YOUR child showing his/her knowledge on this many tests in the final days of school? And don’t even get me started on 3rd grade… 9 year old children. This was not the purpose of my post today.

My purpose is to share with you a book that can truly change your mindset about how to create innovative mindsets in today’s education systems. I’ve beat my head against the wall so many times about how to do this when we have such standardized measures and practices that occur because of current accountability systems. I’ve always wondered how you do what’s right for individual children in a personalized world with standardized measures. How do you allow students the opportunity to really learn? Not just recite and “do tests” as the incredibly insightful Erica Goldson shares. This book will teach you how to think differently. Gouros himself states, “If we only teach students the curriculum, we have failed them.” But he goes on to say, “I believe you’ll find that small change may be enough to get things moving in a new and better direction.”

This book is structured into 3 parts: Innovation in Education; Laying the Groundwork; and Unleashing Talent. Without going into too much detail, I want you to know that there is some philosophy, as that’s important. BUT there are so many concrete and relevant ideas and suggestions! This is why I love the book so much, as to have these “real” ideas is a rarity. I felt like my educator toolbox expanded after reading this, and that was a wonderful feeling. I cannot wait to initiate these mindset changes beginning August 17th! Couros says that the book is “not meant to give answers but to provoke questions.” Yes, it makes you think and ask, but it also gives so many ideas. If you’re an educator, please read it. I promise I’m not getting any kickback, (LOL) I just want to share a great resource. And, I sincerely hope all of my sons’ educators read this book, which is why I have the picture of Liam, my oldest and going into 4th grade, with the book. Liam and Luke are my inspiration every day to be a better person and better educator, so I want them to have classrooms where their teachers don’t teach them how to take a test. I want their teachers to help develop their passions and grow in their learning and challenge them to think and create, and create, and create.

My pet peeve: counting down the days

A week ago, many folks in our surrounding area were mourning the end of spring break. I saw all kinds of posts on social media with countdowns until summer. I saw MANY teachers doing this as well as parents. I’m not blaming you for doing this as it seems to be an acceptable countdown, almost like the countdown to Christmas. But I would like to invite you to look at this countdown in a different way. (Also, for my social media pals, I posted this on Monday, the first day back from spring break, but so many of you commented on it, that I felt I should do a blog on it and add some additional detail).

Please don’t count down the days until school ends. How do you think that kid feels when he/she walks into your classroom or school, and he/she sees that you cannot wait until summertime, when you are no longer teaching him/her? Granted, you aren’t doing this to personally attack any individual students; I’m sure of this. But what kind of message does this convey to your kids? Would you want to walk into a classroom and know that your teacher was SO ready to be done with this school year? As a principal, how would the teachers feel if I walked into every school day and counted down how many days I have “left” to work with the staff until summer hits. How would the staff feel if they knew I could not wait to have a quiet building with no teachers all summer? #moralekiller

My perspective has changed so much this school year as I serve a community that needs so much more from our school and staff. Our students NEED to be at school. They DESERVE to be at school. Our students deserve teachers who don’t want summer to get here. Our students deserve teachers who will mourn when their classroom is empty. Teachers deserve a principal who wants to be at school EVERY day, and who has no idea how many days exist until summer break. Approach each day with excitement and gratitude toward the learning and loving opportunities you will share with them. Approach the rest of this school year with a rejuvenated and determined spirit. Many of our kids NEED to be back with us each day for reasons they struggle in sharing. And they need to be with us EVERY day because we offer love and structure and high expectations. We have an urgent need to fill up every second we are with kids to ensure that we are helping them learn and be productive people. 

Don’t count down the days. Make the days count.

Our greatest challenge as a low performing school right now

Since I last posted, embarrassingly too long ago, it seems that discussion is increasing across our state regarding our almost 600 state designated low performing schools. I’m so thankful that people are becoming more aware of the intricacies of this legislation and how the legislation itself is not helping our students learn any better than they were before. But the matter remains that nothing has changed since my last post in January. My school is still a state designated low performing school. Since posting last, I have had a meeting with 2 staff members from NCDPI on our region turnaround team, and these 2 are former turnaround principals. They are both incredibly supportive. We met in February, and then these same 2 members visited our school in mid-March. They will then be giving us formal feedback via a report soon. They may return for one more visit before the school ends. Maybe our situation is different from other school districts, as it is understood that there are different “layers of support” being offered. I just still can’t help but feel that this legislation is most frustrating because it doesn’t help children. At all. The A-F grading scale does not help children. At all. Who does the grading scale help? I still don’t know the answer to this.

Recently a reporter from WUNC came to Concord Middle School to learn more about the reality of being in a low performing school. She spent the entire day with us gathering feedback from teachers, administration, and most importantly, students. She published her news story on March 28, 2016 (Easter Monday). I found the most powerful part of her story was hearing from our students. She asked our students what grade they would give our school. They told her a B. She then informed them that the state had designated us as an F school. The kids were genuinely shocked. Then a few students went into additional detail simply about their experiences in our school. The part that hurts our students the most? Recruitment and retention of excellent teachers. We have many good teachers at Concord Middle, and I’m thankful for each and every one of them. But we still have a huge issue. How do I recruit excellent teachers to Concord Middle School when we are a state designated low performing school? How do I recruit excellent teachers to Concord Middle School when they would get paid the VERY SAME amount if they worked at a high performing school just a few miles away? How do I recruit excellent teachers ANYWHERE in the state of North Carolina when teachers have been so terribly disrespected by our General Assembly with legislation that grades schools to no benefit for students? How when the same legislators got rid of one of our best teacher pipelines in the nation when the NC Teaching Fellows Program was dissolved? (Of which I’m proud of to be a NC Teaching Fellow!!) How do I recruit excellent teachers when the pay is embarrassing? And they don’t even get paid for their masters degrees if they went to go pursue their own education, with their own salary, and demonstrate the importance of life long learning? How can I get the EXCELLENT teachers that the students of Concord Middle School DESERVE? Our students deserve the BEST teachers. And I feel like my hands are tied behind my back because I am not able to provide those teachers to our students. This is a heart breaking and helpless feeling.

I have 65 certified staff members. So far this year, I have had 11 resignations. One of these was a planned retirement. Several positions remained open for approximately 2 months… 8 weeks… almost a quarter of the school year. Students had a substitute teacher, who is not the same as a certified and consistent teacher in the classroom, for almost a quarter of the school year. I still have 3 openings currently… and these openings have occurred since December. I am literally unable to find someone amazing to fill these positions because my students deserve amazing. Yes, people have applied. Yet they are mostly not qualified to teach. Ok, I can give some a chance at an interview, because desperation will do crazy things to a school administrator. The interview is just ok. I think, “Well, maybe if we just give them the chance, they can prove themselves.” Or, I think, “Well, it’s better than nothing.” Or, “He at least knows the content. We can teach them the classroom management, right?” (As 25 hormonal teenagers look at the teacher like hungry animals begging for that adult to simply STAY.) Desperation does crazy things. So we wait. Hoping a rock star will move into our area and need a teaching job. And we wait some more. We decide, well, let’s go back to that one person… let’s try another interview. Maybe they are not good interviewers. And we try to reason it out. And we hesitate. And we think, “Gosh, I would have never even dreamed of hiring that person in another school.” You walk by the classroom with a different sub every day because that’s simply the nature of substitute teaching, and you see the kids desperately look at you, and wonder, “Will anyone ever come teach us math?” And your heart breaks. THIS is the reality of a low performing school. This is the reality of not being able to recruit and retain excellent teachers. Almost all of those 11 that resigned were new staff members to our school. I am thankful every day for those that choose to stay. But how do you keep the others? How do you tell them that it’s WORTH IT? How do you tell them that our kids deserve SO MUCH MORE than what our legislators are giving them? Please know that I recognize that not all legislators are anti-public school, but those that support education are most definitely in the minority. Please also know that I understand how our State Board of Education works, and honestly, they are a wonderful group of people that truly have the best interest of children at their heart. I also understand how NC’s Department of Public Instruction works. Our state board and DPI are at the mercy of our legislators. It’s almost the same as our children… our children in schools across the state are at the mercy of our legislators. What can we do to recruit and retain excellent educators at our lowest performing schools? I welcome any feedback!

What is it like being designated as a low performing school?

I am currently the principal of what our state of North Carolina deems as a “low performing school.” Based on our EOG proficiency and value added analysis, we are an “F” school that showed no growth last year.

When I began at my school on July 1, 2015, I knew the situation. My superintendent was very clear with me about what I was “getting into” as some folks would word it. Then we received the official designation in September as part of new state policy. We are still in process of figuring out the ins and outs of being a low performing school and it is now almost February. We are halfway through the school year, and all I’ve seen from this designation is additional paperwork and demoralized teachers and staff.

I must admit, I am so disappointed in how the low performing schools are being “supported” as low performing schools. I know that some of these requirements are from NCDPI and not necessarily from the State Board of Education. As the “new kid” at the school, I’ve asked myself many times, “Why are we a low performing school?” Concord Middle has had 4 principals in 5 years. It has never performed GREAT in those last 5 years, and has traditionally had low proficiency. We serve a community that has the lowest of the low (for our area) and students that are not able to get home reinforcement of school learning. We are not Title 1 as we only have 73% free and reduced lunch. We are 1/3 Hispanic, 1/3 black, and 1/3 white. Our kids are amazing. They have so much to offer the world, and they just need a school that will allow them to reveal that potential. With all the leadership transition, what does one expect when they have had 4 different hiring expectations in 5 years? I often feel like our staff has PTSD from all the change. There is so much emotion in our school surrounding change because it has been so constant for those that have chosen to stick around for whatever reason. Becoming a low performing school does not happen in one year. It’s a process.

We will be having a meeting in mid-Feb with the NCDPI transformation team to learn of additional “support” for our school. But I honestly have low expectations for that meeting. Thus far, our additional requirements as a LPS have been simply to re-vamp our SIP and submit it to NCDPI and now additional evaluation requirements. Neither of these requirements will improve student achievement at our school. I wish someone would ask our low-performing schools/LPS principals, about the reality of our school. I wish someone would ask, “What do you think we (SBOE and NCDPI) can do to help your school help kids learn?” My local board has asked us that. But my local board doesn’t have much control in these requirements. Our local board and school district have been incredibly supportive within the parameters that they have. Perhaps if there was a less experienced principal at a LPS, then these requirements would help?  To be perfectly honest, and please know I don’t “pull this card” often, but I am former NC Principal of the Year. Not that I know everything, as I most certainly DO NOT, but I do know some things. I know that these two requirements will not help kids learn. They have created huge pockets of time taken from me as the principal and my school leadership team to submit paperwork just to be compliant with the rules. When none of that paperwork changes our day to day instruction. What does change day to day instruction? Excellent teachers. Excellent leadership throughout the school. I worry that these new evaluation requirements will decrease teacher morale of my strong teachers and encourage them to leave my school because being in a LPS is just “too much” compliance now with no purpose. I worry for OTHER schools that if there is a good principal there, that these additional time suckers will encourage that good principal to say, “Peace out, I’ll go to a school that is not ‘low-performing’ and doesn’t have these additional requirements.”  If I had no integrity, I could easily say the same thing. But I won’t. I care too much already about our kids and our staff and our community.

What would help me as a seemingly good principal at a LPS right now? Incentives to get excellent teachers to my school. One year contracts for EVERY teacher in my school as part of being a LPS so that we all know that our performance right NOW as a teacher matters. This would encourage those that love it to stay and those that do not love it to go. I need an experienced educator to sit with me and problem solve. I don’t need a team to monitor plans and evaluations. I need a problem solver. I need financial support for additional technology so that teachers actually have up to date resources to engage our students in powerful instruction. I need my good teachers to hear SUPPORT and affirmation for making the CHOICE to teach at our school, not additional requirements that demoralize that choice.

I am scared that we will not grow. I am scared that we will not see success as quickly as we really need to. I am scared I will disappoint others. I am scared that working at a LPS will illuminate every fault I have as an educational leader. I am scared that I will not help our students learn. But all of these fears were the same fears I had on July 1, 2015. Becoming a low performing school has not created these fears nor exacerbated them. They just are.

I want to help our children. I want them to see success. I want them to see growth. I want our good teachers to see that same effectiveness and growth and success. I don’t know how long it will take, but it will not happen in one year, and we will not improve with these requirements as our stimulus. We will improve because we want to do what is right for the children in our school. We will improve because we WANT to, and we have the right team to make it happen. We will improve because our district cares and wants to support our students. We will improve with TIME and consistent expectations for students and staff.

Honoring the GOOD

As school has opened for students this past week, I’ve really been pondering the idea about accountability for expectations for students and staff. At times, I don’t think this is really rocket science, but it blows my mind how some educators don’t consider the “good” people in the business. Let me preface this with this is not a direct reflection of any one state or school system; this is a compilation of thoughts I’ve had personally and professionally and through conversations with other educators.

Why do we punish all for the good of a few? We do this in education ALL the time, and it officially drives me bonkers. We do this to children and to adults. As a principal, if I have 5 teachers that are tardy every day, do I address the entire staff or just those 5? Of course you’re going to answer: just those 5! But this does not happen in the reality of many of our educational environments. Why? Because it’s more efficient to just send a blanket email or announcement. Why do I (being any teacher) have to submit ALL this documentation for issue A? Because someone incompetent messed up, so let’s have everyone submit this information to cover our bases when just a few should be submitting.

I absolutely love the educational author Todd Whitaker. He has written MANY awesome books. But the book that has rocked my world the most as an educational administrator is What Great Principals Do Differently (and a close 2nd being Shifting the Monkey). In both of these books, Mr. Whitaker discusses this concept so well. He says that when we (being administrators) make those blanket announcements and statements that the good teachers in the building are the ones that feel the brunt and weight of the responsibility. The good teachers ask themselves, “Did I do that?” And then they stress BIG time. One of these “good teachers” is a close friend of mine. She/he is feeling incredibly disheartened right now because of all these blanket mandates and blanket expectations and requirements that were created to help keep the mediocre and bad teachers accountable – NOT the good teachers. Yet who is stressing over these? The good ones. The mediocre and bad teachers wouldn’t be where they currently are if they did actually stress out about something… but they are mediocre and bad for a reason. Why don’t we just address the ones that are the issues? Yes, it’s harder. Yes, it’s a yuck conversation. But here’s what motivates me… we need to address those mediocre and bad teachers to HONOR our good ones. The good ones DESERVE the respect to allow them to do their thing. If I’m doing a good job, please honor me and allow me to keep doing this rather than having me jump through hoops for those that are not meeting the expectations. Yes, we do this to students all the time. An entire class returns to the classroom for lunch. I ask the teacher what’s up? Teacher responds that someone’s cell phone is missing, therefore the entire class is on silent lunch until the student finds the cell phone. This really does happen… but it’s just not right. Yes, it’s easier, and yes, it may get the cell phone found more quickly, but how do the other 29 kids in that class feel that just had to have a punishment for the sake of a few? Think about your GOOD students when making those class expectations. How are we honoring our good kids when setting up these parameters for learning and safety?

My point… please consider your good people when making decisions that will hinder many when only a few need those tighter parameters. Don’t punish the whole for the good of a few. PLEASE. Respect those that are making the good decisions, and there are FAR more making good decisions than there are in the alternative situation. Honor our good teachers and our good students.

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I won’t sleep a wink tonight…

Tomorrow is the first day back for teachers. I’ve been very difficult to deal with all weekend. Thankfully, my husband is amazing and patient and somehow understands. Although we’ve had all summer to prepare for tomorrow, I’m still not ready. My dad made a good point earlier this evening when calling to check on me and receiving perfunctory answers, “Carrie, you ARE ready. But you will never feel like you’re ready enough, no matter what you do.” As always, Dad, you’re right. And thankfully, he, too, understands that I’ll be back to normal in a few days. This is my 6th school opening as a principal. It’s the 2nd school I’ve worked in as a principal. Tomorrow will set the stage for the rest of this school year with our staff. Tomorrow is my first day with “my” students. In a week, teachers will be feeling the very same things I’m feeling tonight. I often don’t think teachers realize how nervous principals can get with teacher workdays. Do teachers realize how hard their administrative team has worked all summer to simply get ready for this week? I’m more nervous about what I’m wearing tomorrow than I am for the first day of school. Thankfully, I suppose, we made it easy by wearing our staff shirts the first day back! Ha! (But I’m still nervous…)

What’s the plan for tomorrow? We didn’t want to overload too much information, but we had to be intentional and start it all off right, too. Many teachers will be mourning the end of their summer. Many teachers will have difficulty getting out of bed. Many teachers, like my husband, are NOT excited about sitting in meetings all week while constantly searching for relevancy. I’m thankful that my husband reminds me of this every year. I even showed him our schedule to inquire about his thoughts. Did it make sense? Does it look purposeful? Is it too much? (He said, yes, but he always says yes). So tomorrow we are starting off with a home cooked breakfast sponsored by our PTSO. While staff are eating, our lead teacher has prepared a scrolling slide show of staff and their summer pictures so spur conversation. We will introduce our 15 new staff members. Yes, I said 15. (And we still have two more open positions, but that’s a whole other point of anxiety.) Then we will have a bonding activity. I’m sure some will roll their eyes, but we are bringing out the competition. Staff have been randomly organized into teams of which they will be competing in specific “missions” around the town of Concord in a scavenger hunt. Some of them are educationally related and some are not. I’ve done this activity once before, and it was a blast. I hope it will be tomorrow, too. It’s a great way to get to know folks quickly! After that fun, I will facilitate some discussion on our vision for this year. Where are we going and why? We will have some key tunes and clips and conversations between colleagues and data points. We will talk as a staff. We will hopefully laugh as a staff. We then will go over a few items in our staff handbook, a few technology related items, eat lunch, then off to our district convocation. It will be a packed morning! What I really hope our staff understands is that I’m trying to model what should happen on the first day of school. I’m not drilling our staff with the entire staff handbook, rules, regulations, or lunch schedules. I am making it available to them for those who want to peruse that information. But I want to spend time on relationships and vision and why. That’s what I would want if I were a student in today’s classrooms on the first day of school. Let’s NOT read them the entire syllabus and go over all the grading policies. Why is that necessary on day one? It is totally not. So I want to model our “first day of school,” too, all while being incredibly nervous and excited! We will get to the nuts and bolts later in the week, but for now, it will take some time to get readjusted. So let’s model the expectation and practice what we preach.

Priorities

I heard twice today that folks have been reading my blog (one of them a former student, and this really struck me and made me question if my writing style and grammar were appropriate!! haha!). It honestly made me very nervous. I suppose I didn’t quite think through that part of this commitment. People are actually reading what I have to say. Scary thought! And then that motivated me to post an update. The last three weeks have been a whirlwind of tasks and emotions. Changing schools is exciting and amazing and wild. I absolutely love the new community I’m serving. I loved the former one! But they are so different, and this excites me. I’ve said often that I’m not very strong at prioritizing tasks. There are simply so many things I want to do that it’s really hard for me to rank them in order of importance. But as I’ve made this transition, I’ve been trying so hard to prioritize. I wrote a huge to do list for each week until school starts. I’m already behind (shocker). But I’m trying to streamline the tasks into what I see are my priorities at this time.

Priority 1: Building relationships. Always number one for me. So this looks like a lot of meetings right now. I offered the opportunity for current staff at my new school to have some good old fashioned “FaceTime” together. Before doing this, I asked the staff to complete a google survey just answering some very open ended questions, from where’s your favorite vacation spot to what the best professional development has been that they received to how long your commute is (and many more questions). As I meet the staff members, I review their responses in the google survey, and then we talk. I simply ask them to share their story. I ask some questions in relation to their story or their google form, and we just chat. I absolutely love this time. I have learned so much about the staff and their passions and their experiences and their desire to make our school awesome. As I said before, this is optional, but every slot I offered has been filled, with additional requests from others. It’s humbling and wonderful. I’m also working on building positive rapport among our administrative team. Our administrative team ROCKS, and we are each very different, yet our goals for student success are the same. My terrific husband and I hosted a dinner for our admin team this past weekend, and it was great just to get away from school and get to know one another’s families better (even if I forgot to get the baked beans out of the oven). We have spent a lot of time together just working through seemingly menial tasks, such as writing and editing the teacher handbook, but the dialogue and debate and challenges that have occurred have been powerful. We have also gotten to know one another better through the countless interviews. Speaking of which…

Priority 2: Hire rockin’ teachers!!!!! Our school has experienced a lot of administrative and teacher turnover in past years, so we have many openings to fill. This is a great challenge, but one that is definitely difficult after July 1. We have screened, interviewed, and checked references constantly this last 2 weeks. Interviews are time consuming but invaluable. We really pushed one another to find good interview questions that are relevant to our environment. I used to use the “same old, same old” interview questions, and although they were good, some adaptations had to be made for the us. Some schools ask interview questions that deal with data, sample lessons, and content specific questions. We are not doing those types of questions. We are asking questions that are challenging and deep and heartfelt. We ask some of the following:

– Please rank the following in importance and why: planning, discipline, methods, evaluation.

– How do you define success?

– Describe to us a time when you received hard feedback from an administrator and colleague and what you did with it.

– What’s your favorite tv show? (One of my personal favorites as I simply love people’s reactions when we just ask!) What’s the last book you read for fun?

– What are some passions you have outside of school? (They describe). If you had to create a ________ (based on passion) at our school, how would you pitch this idea to the leadership team?

– 2 specific scenarios involving student disciplinary behavior and parent conference

– Do you feel you should teach students of poverty any differently than other students, and how or why?

– If you could have ANYTHING for your current school, what would it be and why?

And several other questions. We really feel like we have a good read on our candidates with these questions, but I know some would scoff at them. It would be neat to share favorite teacher interview questions at some point with all of you!

Priority 3: Setting up structures and expectations for all. This is where that work with the teacher handbook is referenced. We are also working on guiding principles for our PBIS program, and talking through the disciplinary policies and processes. This work is hugely important, and I feel makes a world of a difference to students and staff.

Priority 4: Positive public relations. For some wild reasons, our school has a bad rap right now. This breaks my heart as our students are amazing. So it’s time to get the word out and share this with everyone we know. I’m starting this PR with our staff by already starting and consistently sharing a weekly update. Today in meeting with a parent, I asked her for suggestions on how to get the word out in the community. We brainstormed the advantages of Facebook versus the old fashioned paper. At this point, anything will work. We just want to brag, brag, brag on our kids and ensure everyone knows about their potential. We need to remain consistent and diligent in this task.

I will share that I feel very accomplished today. I finally set up my voicemail inbox and returned some phone calls. I also found my desk. HUGE.

As of now, these are where I’m investing time for our school. I’m sure the priorities will shift once we build on these successes. Every principal starting at a new school needs to organize her work or else the myriad of tasks will consume her. I’ve felt that many times, where I will go to work on one thing, get interrupted, as everyone comes into my office now (and I’m just fine with that – it’s all about PR!), then I will start working on something else, then realize I never finished the first task. At some points, it’s almost hilarious. But I don’t want this chaos to result in not being prepared for a great school year. Here’s to finding peace in the chaos!!!!!

A Principal Leaves Her School

Sunset

It’s now become official that I am leaving my beloved school, Mooresville Middle School. I recently accepted the position of Principal at Concord Middle School in Cabarrus County (a neighboring school district). My family is not moving; my commute is just increasing. I have great peace about this decision, but at the same time, it is very difficult to let go emotionally to a school that I’ve led in some capacity for almost 8 years. I’ve posted snippets here and there on Facebook, but I wanted to reflect more comprehensively on this change. I suppose I wish I could have been prepped better on the “why” behind these emotions, so this is my attempt at doing so for others. But you must keep in mind, I’m “blue” and lead with my heart.

Collage

When I first started working at MMS in January of 2008, Liam was 6 months old. Although I had served in a different school district as a central office administrator, being an AP was a completely new experience. I was terrified everyone would know I was a rookie, and to top it off, this was the middle school I, myself, had attended. But I learned, and made many mistakes, and the teachers were more than gracious and patient. After 2 years, I became the interim principal as there was a mid-year change. I jumped in thinking I knew what I was doing. Well, I didn’t. I now think that no AP really knows what it is like to be the principal. I have tried SO hard to communicate and model for my Assistant Principals, but it’s still different when you’re sitting in the Principal’s office, and the school is officially “yours.” So, again, the staff broke me in with my first principalship. We struggled and we celebrated. We cried and laughed. I often compare my experience as a school administrator as being the very same as a teacher in the classroom – it’s just bigger. I still believe this. You model as a principal exactly what you expect in your classrooms. Here’s a significant difference. My “students” are the adults in the building. As a principal, you truly deal primarily with the adults. Therefore, my “kids” don’t leave every summer and I don’t get a fresh bunch in August. With some turnover each year, I still have the same core group of students “come back” with me. I make this point because in almost 8 years time with 85 staff members, there are deep relationships among the adults that are created. Granted, not all of them are warm and fluffy and positive. Some are hard and difficult and come with very challenging conversations and frustrations. Yet, most of them are positive, because we mostly serve one purpose, and that is the education of children. We may not always agree, and we may have some serious philosophical differences, but we have a common goal.

Cart

So as I told my staff in one of my final whole faculty moments, when I see the memories I have in this school, it’s the adult faces I think of. Yes, I love the children, and no one should ever doubt that, but they leave our school in a short two years. And as a principal, unfortunately, I only have the opportunity to develop deep relationships with a few children every year. When you have over 1000, the reality is that I just don’t have the ability to be with kids as much as I’d like, and to cultivate those relationships as I did when I was an AP or a classroom teacher. So back to the adults: I see the first month of school at MMS and attending a funeral for the mother of a teacher. I see his daughter clinging to him as they walked into the church. I see his teammates crying as they look at him. And I see my mind opening to what it really means to be a school administrator and how personal it can be. I see teachers coming to me in absolute joy about something that happens in their classroom. I see teachers coming to me angrier than ever about something that happens in their classroom. I see a teacher showing me the ultrasound of twins in the hallway in the middle of a class. I see another teacher telling me she thinks she just had a miscarriage and needs to go to the doctor immediately. I see a teacher telling me how she got engaged this past weekend. I see a teacher telling me how she is the primary caregiver for her parents, now, and she simply cannot stay for the meeting today. I see a teacher in her home after surgery. I see this same teacher at a local children’s hospital with her daughter as they try to figure out what’s wrong. I see runs around the outer campus of the school with my former SRO. I see golf cart rides around this same campus the first year we moved there so I could learn the perimeter. I see a teacher return from her honeymoon full of joy and anticipation of this next chapter. I see a teacher walking down the hallway to tell me his wife left him last night. I see this same teacher years later happy and comfortable in his own skin. I see interviews of many of these teachers… their first impressions… their suits and anxiety as they try to get a job. I see teachers coming to me with a resignation letter. I see myself trying to not be disappointed and believe it’s what is best. I see teachers’ status on Facebook frustrated with CECAS slowing their work down. I see teachers in parent conferences trying to help the family. I see 2 teachers coming to my office at 5:30 on a Friday just needing to vent. I remember another teacher picking up dinner for me one late night. I see our staff come together for another staff member who is experiencing chemotherapy. I see baby showers… many baby showers. And I know I’m missing many things, but these are the memories I have as a principal of MMS. So, when I made the decision to go help another school that I feel needs me MORE, I see the adults in the building. I see how they love kids. I see how their attitude and presence and knowledge is so important to children in our school. And after having these “students” for 7.5 years, it’s them that I find hard to leave. As I packed up my office items, and walked the hallways to find the cart with my two boys running with me, I think of them growing up in these hallways. Most especially Liam, as he loves this school and feels completely comfortable here. I recall the many laps in the hallways during my maternity leave with Luke. I wanted to get some exercise, and it was cold outside, so the best solution was coming to school at night and walking the hallways, up and down, up and down, and up and down. I know my new school will have new “students” for me to get to know, but I will forever cherish the adults at MMS. They have made me a better educator for any school. I tried to articulate this to them, but I believe I failed because of my emotions. But my hope is that, again, even though there was a lot of “hard”, there was more joy, and more gratitude for the experiences and learning with them. On to the next adventure!

Boys running  Boys cart

More school administrators needed!

Recently I was asked in a research study interview, “How can you encourage more teachers to pursue school administration?” This question really caused me to pause. I often say that everything you do as a school administrator is exactly what you model as a classroom teacher, but it is just on a different scale. So to me, this question could very easily be asked to a teacher, “How can you encourage more people to pursue education as a career?”

I firmly believe the answers are the same… as they should be. You encourage others to pursue your chosen pathway and passion by leading by example. You remain positive about the career choices you have made, and your enthusiasm and love for your career is what will encourage others. As a teacher, I remember thinking that one of the greatest compliments I could ever receive was to have a former student choose to become a teacher. I still agree that this is amazing, as it so rarely happens these days when educators are not looked upon as favorably. In my 5 years of teaching, I have about 5 former students that have chosen education as their career, and it greatly humbles me. So as a school administrator? When I work beside teachers that choose to go into school administration, I feel the same kind of honor and pleasure. So to answer the original question… a school administrator needs to love what she does. She needs to lead by example. And she needs to be open and transparent about the joys and agonies of her job (and the joys outnumber the agonies by FAR). Therefore, this passion and transparency will empower others (some, not all) to look at school administration as a viable and fulfilling role in education. In the last 3 school years I’ve had as a principal, I have had more and more administrative interns pop up around our school. At the time, I really did not think anything major as they simply just came to me and said, “Hey, I’m entering the MSA program at so and so, and I will need your assistance.” So I just said, “Awesome! Let me know how I can help!” And there it went… Now that I’ve been asked this cool question, I can only hope that these folks thought themselves willing and capable as school administrators because perhaps my passion inspired them. There are days that I worry that my passion is not overflowing. But those are all the days that I have to really challenge myself to remember my purpose and why I do what I do. We need more amazing school administrators, so if you are already one, please remember that more people are watching you then you realize. And just because you may not have an immediate impact on children as a Principal, you most definitely have an immediate and direct impact on adults. How are you encouraging those adults to become leaders in education?

Teacher Evaluations

I am currently involved in a small conference/thinktank with the SREB in which 7 states are gathered together to only discuss teacher evaluations. Each state is analyzing the current status of their evaluation rubrics, the process, and the validity of both. It has been incredible to be a part of these conversations, but it is so interesting to me the patterns that are emerging among the states present. One of the more prevalent themes has been the need to consistently train and educate administrators completing these evaluations. The evaluations themselves aren’t always the issue; it’s the person completing the evaluation. Now I love me some school administrators, but I definitely agree with this issue. There are some (the minority thankfully) administrators out there that are truly embarrassing in their approach to such an important process.

I understand that every state has its own way of doing things when it comes to training. And I can only imagine what rolling out a statewide training for teachers and administrators looks like! So please know I don’t have the answers on that realm – only acknowledging the need. But I had a huge idea today… why don’t our graduate programs that train our future administrators offer an entire course on teacher evaluations? Maybe some do, but not many in North Carolina. The state rubric in which that college operates can be the focus of that course and education and training. The course could offer mock lessons to observe, and then role play those conversations in which the administrator provides feedback to the teacher. The future administrators could really dissect the state rubric and analyze what specific descriptors really look like in the realistic school. The course could discuss various walkthrough instruments and really analyze the effectiveness of formal and informal evaluations. WHY IS THIS NOT DONE?!?! As I said it aloud today, it made so much sense. Why leave this big training up to our state department? In our state, it is required that an administrator have a masters in school administration, thus graduating from a certified program. So let’s take one of those courses that is completely not helpful at all, say, curriculum development, and replace it with teacher evaluation. Now, don’t get me wrong. Curriculum development and theory are important, but it really doesn’t apply to my job for an entire semester’s worth time to equate to the time I spend on it in my everyday job as a school administrator. We don’t really write the standards – they are written for us. So how many school administrators need to know the theory behind curriculum development? Not many. Now, what would be helpful in talking curriculum is the importance of formative assessment and pacing and essential questions and methodologies. But, that’s another topic. Sorry.

When I look at my main “responsibilities” as a school administrator, I admit, it is very challenging to list them by priority. But I do know that teacher evaluations are a significant responsibility that I do take very seriously. To me, this is one of the best ways to practice instructional leadership. This is one of the best times to interact with teachers. This is one of the best opportunities to help teachers become even better on behalf of kids, which is one of the reasons I am an administrator. So when looking at the percentage of time that I dedicate a week to teacher evaluations (formal or informal)? Wow. It’s sad. Especially when this is honestly one of the favored parts of my job. And one of the most important. Perhaps 10-15%? Maybe 20% near the cycle deadlines? That looks so atrocious when typing it!! As I reflect back on my learning with having 7 Assistant Principals now in 5 years as a Principal, every Assistant Principal needed guidance from me on the teacher evaluation process in some way. It’s intense when you are completing your first evaluations, and you are sitting next to that teacher having a very personal discussion about teaching and learning. None of their MSA programs taught them anything about this, and the state’s training was incredibly different pending when  you attended.

One idea that really bothers me about teacher evaluations is that so many school administrators see it as an “evaluation” only. I believe we need to open up our eyes to our purpose when facilitating this process. We need to see them as opportunities to practice instructional leadership. We need to love this part of our job rather than get frustrated at the deadlines and requirements. I challenge all administrators to alter their perspective on teacher evaluations. I also challenge anyone that can share an opinion about local MSA programs and how the course requirements could be more aligned with the actual job. Just saying. Would that make too much sense?