Design a Better Wheel

“Don’t reinvent the wheel”,  is a phrase that I’ve heard educators say throughout my career. It’s a phrase I’ve used throughout my career. We might say it when we are trying to prevent someone from wasting their efforts on a mundane task. “Don’t recreate the wheel designing your lesson plan, go to Teacher-Pay-Teacher and get something all ready to go. “Don’t recreate the wheel designing your upcoming unit, just search Pintrest.”  My opinion is that we have overused and misused this phrase. I think it almost becomes “don’t put forth too much effort” or you could substitute it with “that’s just too much work.” It’s a motto that encourages us to cut corners. If we continuously cut corners we are weakening ourselves. If an athlete is training for an event and continuously takes shortcuts, skips workouts, and fails to consistently put forth effort, will their performance suffer? 

I am also realistic. If someone has a template use the template. If a teammate has a form you need, copy and paste. Just don’t water down your content. Don’t bore kids. Don’t accept average or aim for mediocre. Your students aren’t average, they are extraordinary. 

In today’s world of education, public education is not the only game in town. However, we must strive to be the best game in town. There are too many others options and too much competition. More than ever we must dedicate ourselves to our craft. Don’t put off the work. Don’t settle for the convenient or the easy. Take the challenge. Tackle things  head on. Dive deep. Don’t settle for shallow ideas. Go with the elaborate ideas, ditch the simple. Raise your standards. If facilitating amazing learning opportunities for students was easy or systematic, it would be packaged. Like I’ve heard Jon Gordon say, “do the work.” Design a better wheel!

Ten Days Out

kevin

In ten days, the teachers in my district will report to school for what will be my first year as principal. I’ve had a productive summer. Although I served as AP at my school last year, I met with nearly my entire staff individually. These meetings were a great investment. I feel like I know my team much better than before. We facilitated a successful meeting of our school leadership team.  As a team, we identified our wildly important goals for the year. We decided to focus on deepening parent partnerships and fostering a more positive school experience for students. We have a good plan that I cannot wait to implement. I’ve added, revised, and marked items off of my personal to-do-list. I hope that I have focused on the “right” tasks. Things seem to be continuously coming together. There is much still left undone but I am confident that everything will turn out fine. I feel an almost eerily calm. I’m not  afraid or nervous. Granted, this feeling may change any moment but right now I am good. An anxiety attack may strike the night before our staff “back to school” meeting or on the eve of student orientation but right now I think a huge blessing is that I don’t know all the things that I don’t know. I almost feel guilty for not feeling stressed or nervous. Ultimately, I know that we do our best work and are more effective when we are not stressed. I think my peace comes from my love for what I am doing. Here’s to that I am able to continue to channel my inner Buddha throughout the school year! Ahhhh uhhmmmm!

Man-Meditating

 

 

First Day Revisited 

For way too long, I had the wrong idea of what the first day of school should look like. My previous vision of the perfect first day was Harry Wong meets Denzel Washington’s character in Remember The Titans. I thought our job on this day was to lay down the rules, teach procedures, and share expectations. Joy was optional or an added bonus. There was a time in our profession when teachers could show to others how good they were by their ability to leave their doors open as their classes remained working silently, like good little worker bees. It is up to us, the teachers of today, to put that out-dated model out of use.
Rather than bombarding students on the first day with potential consequences and the like, let’s capture their hearts and minds. Start off the year with a bang on the first day. Don’t start the year off in a boring fashion, engage them from Day 1. Give students a taste of the future excitement that is to come. Maybe a STEAM Challenge or a collaborative icebreaker? Give them a taste for the excitement to come. Make it your goal to have them bouncing out the door with positive anticipation as they leave. We want them overflowing with excitement that will be shared with their parents and peers. Throughout the first week, keep the momentum going and begin to share your goals for the classroom. Share your expectations, give kids the opportunity to establish class guidelines, just be sure to accomplish it in a manner that isn’t monotonous, predictable, and enthusiasm-draining.

Begin to build your community. Allow your students to not only get to know each other but also get to know you! Have discussions…play games. You are starting a relationship with these students that will at least last 180 days but could hopefully have a lifetime impact.
I’m sure you have seen the viral picture of the little boy on his first day of school vs his second day of school. Whatever happened on the first day, sucked the joy out of him.

It is our job to make school exciting enough that kids want to come back everyday. They need to keep that first day of Kindergarten excitement! Pounding rules and procedures won’t give them that excitement. Instead infuse them with your enthusiasm and passion for learning. Help them rediscover their love for learning this year!
We are going to start the year off by sharing how amazing the next year will be.

Resources:

Minute to Win it Games
Minute to Win it Teacher Pay Teachers (freebie)

25 STEAM activities
Play-dough to Plato STEAM activities

Meagan and TJ Parrish

Focus on what they can do

We must focus on what kids can do, not what they can’t. Math may not come easy. Reading doesn’t come “natural.” Our brains are designed for spoken language, not written. Sitting still might present a challenge in itself.  Schools must be a safe place for kids. A place that excentuates positives and builds off of strengths. We cannot be a place that constantly reminds them of their weaknesses. The struggling learners know they struggle. Many times they do everything they can to hide their struggles. Embrace them, don’t alienate them. I love Rita Pearson’s quote below about focusing on the positive, powerful words.


I was reflecting on deficit thinking and how to combat it in my school when I was reminded of a former student who I hope I did not fail.
The story goes like this, I was approached by a teacher who had a student with a pair of wireless headphones to school. The problem was that the student nor the teacher could figure out how to make them work with a Chromebook. She came to me with the issue. When my Google search became difficult because I couldn’t figure out the brand of headphones, I too was stumped.

Later in the week, I saw a 5th grader wearing these same headphones. I asked him they were just for style. He told me that they were functional. I dug deeper. “You mean, you figured out how to hook them up to your school Chromebook?” “Yes,” he replied. He then explained how he accomplished this. I had a good idea. I directed him to the first teacher’s classroom and had him to run tech support.

I look back at that story with mixed feelings. I helped a kid help out another kid.   He had an opportunity to make a difference. What I did not do however was follow up with the young man and set him up for more opportunities to help others using his skills. As a student, he struggles. School and motivation do not come easy for him. Now that the school year is over and he has moved on to middle school I feel like I missed a huge opportunity to put him in more situations like that one. I’m afraid that in his memory bank there is (hopefully) that one example that stands against countless other days where we concentrated on him showing up to school late and the fact that reading is difficult for him.

We need to seize opportunities to make kids successful. We need to build off their strengths and help them grow confidence. Remember, “plus 2 says, I ain’t all bad” and we need kids feeling they are awesome.

Asking Yourself Tough Questions


After nearly 40 years, instead of searching for the right answers I’ve learned the immense value in asking the right questions. I’ve found it’s a wonderful tool to inspire personal growth. Questions can be used for us to take a critical look in the mirror. If we can become aware, we can strategize, we can grow, and ultimately we can become better.

If we ask ourselves the right questions, we can trigger very authentic reflection.

Do the kids in my school think I enjoy my job?

Do my co-workers know that I’m passionate about education?

Do parents know that I am here for their kids?

Was I my best version today?

What are my weaknesses?

Who did I serve today?

How can I be better tomorrow?

If I was the best on the planet at my job, what would I be doing right now?

What will my legacy be?

Is my school better because of me?

What can I do more of in order to make a bigger impact?

I’m gonna keep asking myself tough questions because I want to keep getting better. What are you going to ask of yourself?

Grandpa’s Advice


Today, July 1st, 2017, marks the beginning of my tenure as an elementary school principal. Achieving this goal of mine has been surreal. I’m excited and humble. Thinking forward, I’ve reflected on what it will take to enjoy success in my new role. In my nostalgia, I’ve thought back to my experience over 15 plus years in education and in life. I keep reverting back to advice I received from my grandfather.

My grandfather, Meyer Greenberg, was super meticulous. He moved at a slow pace but every move he did make was well calculated and carefully thought out. He did his homework. He was a planner. When it came time to make a major purchase or decision he routinely performed hours of research. Grandpa constantly wrote himself detailed notes to revisit later if necessary. A retired naval engineer, he always completed any and all due diligence to prepare himself to make a sound decision. Grandpa would have turned 96 this past Saturday.

When I was smart enough to understand how wise he was, I listened intently when he shared his wisdom. He once told me that the secret to a successful life was “making good decisions.” I remember when he shared this with me being enthused because the advice was so simple and easy to follow. Although “make good decisions” is a broad phrase, I take it to mean that it is important to think things through, weigh pros and cons, and explore multiple options. “Make good decisions ” is simple advice that is easy to adhere to in theory. In reality, it will require a level head and open mind. Meticulous planning will be a focal point of my practice this school year. I hope to channel my inner Meyer Greenberg and make consistent, good decisions that impact our school in a positive manner.

A New Beginning 

July 1st will mark the beginning of a new adventure for me. I will transition into the role of principal. I look forward to this new challenge and step into the role with high expectations of myself. I will continue to use reflection as a major tool going into the principalship. Reflection allows me to grow! In this blog, I’ll share a few of my thoughts going in. It will be interesting to look back on this later to see how my mindset changes. I’m sure that later I’ll look back thinking how naive and oblivious I was.

1. People come first. Our district’s superintendent, Ross Renfrow, often reminds stakeholders that the three most important words in education are relationships, relationships, and relationships.  I have the belief going in that if people in our school respect, support, trust, and care about one another we will be successful. I am lucky that our school is already known as a positive place that welcomes everyone. I’m a firm believer in the following quote: “Take care of people and they will take care of you.” If there is one thing that we must get right, let it be treating other people right.

2. It is we, not me. One of my mentors, Ben Williams, taught me to be very careful of the pronouns that I used around a school. The pronouns a leader uses speaks volumes about their character. Like Steven Weber likes to say “the room, is the smartest person in the room.” No one person is more important than the team, everyone matters.  In order to maintain a team-oriented atmosphere, we must speak in terms of us, we, our and not I, me, and mine. It’s not my school. It’s our school.

3. Pick a few things to be good at and do “the heck out of them”. In my first year I do not plan on throwing the kitchen sink at my staff, students, and parents. We cannot try every new idea that I find on Twitter. I believe it’s best to make a short list of ideas/strategies to concentrate on as a school. I’m a huge proponent of change and innovation. I just know the value of consistency. Try new ideas. Just don’t bounce from idea to idea aimlessly. If you experienced success after trying 25 new things, how would you know which strategies were effective?

4. I must have balance. My family will come first. I must be present at home. I cannot be checking email during family time. My chair cannot always be empty during dinner. Work is important. Our students, staffs, and school are all very important. However, we must all remember that family comes first. Our lives need balance and that means we have to have the ability to turn school off. Professional success is contingent on personal success. If we are not healthy at home we cannot be healthy at school.

5. I’m not alone in this. I’m glad that I’ve decided to be a connected educator. As I move into the principalship, I plan on calling upon my PLN. I will continue to call upon my mentors within my district. I will reach out to fellow First Year principals. I will ask principals in my feeder pattern for advice. Fellow educators who I connect with on Twitter and Voxer will also be great resources. We have come too far as a society to work in isolation. I don’t think anyone could have said it better than when Kevin Honeycutt said on Twitter, “To have thousands of fellow minds in your pocket via mobile devices is to have an immensely unfair advantage over humans who think alone.”

6.  Learning must be a priority. It’s lead learner, not lead “knower.” I know that I have much to learn in the realm of education. There will always be a more innovative approach, a better way, or a new solution. New ideas are out there, it’s up to us to find them. Todd Nesloney (Kid’s Deserve It!) said, “We live in a world where we can no longer claim ignorance…only an unwillingness to learn. ” I believe learning is something that lead learners must choose to model on a daily basis. We cannot consider ourselves as finished products. We must make learning our priority, so that teachers make learning a priority, so that students make learning their priority.

But what do I know, I’m just a newbie principal.