Sunday, September 25, 2011

Office Closed - K-2 For the Day. #NoOfficeDay

Last week was International No Office Day for principals around the world (well, at least a few of us). Shira Leibowitz started a wiki for those of us involved. Here is my experience.

So I decided to start by asking the K-2 teachers to schedule me for the day on Wednesday, September 14. principalj does a great job telling how we each explained the day to the staff.

My day started with a few minutes in my office to put my things down. Then off I went.

Here is my schedule for the day with some notes thrown in for good measure.

7:45-9:15 Kindergarten

  • Some students were at breakfast, some still filtering in. I tried to engage 'Bill' to no avail until the teacher suggested that we use the blocks. Things took off from there. We built towers that hardly stood long enough to admire. When some other boys arrived, I referee'd the use and temporary ownership of the blocks. For a few minutes, I talked with some other students as they were drawing.
  • Once everyone arrived, the teacher began the morning meeting. She reviewed the calendar before singing the good morning song.
  • From there we moved onto a Fundations lesson introducing three letters. While not surprising, I was awed at the sheer breadth of student readiness and the teacher's ability to work with 15 squirmy five-year-olds.
School was only 75-minutes old, and I was already a bit tired.

9:15-10:45 1st Grade

  • The first grade class was wrapping up a math lesson when I arrived. I wandered from kid to kid helping with writing number sentences and their turn-around equations. It was exciting to watch one student that I know in a disciplinary sort of way work on the math and really get it.
  • At this point, the teacher asked me to participate in the next lesson as a student, not an educator. She asked me to sit between two kids that struggle with letters. We began the Fundations lesson by reviewing the letters covered the day before. At this point, many kids started getting pretty excited about the activity to come. The teacher had Baby Echo come out to help kids practice the sound of certain letters. Then, we all became skywriters. Cool, I love planes. We worked on tracing the letters in the air to help us learn the shapes.

2 hours, 45 minutes into the day: I was really tired.

11:00-12:00 2nd Grade

  • The second grade teacher had asked me a few days earlier to teach a lesson so she could finish some assessments with a couple of students. So, I entered the room armed with the National Geographic Weekly Reader from May about butterflies, my iPad, and three different worksheets from the Reader teacher's guide. Just then, one student and the teacher looked at a book about bugs and declared that it was wrong. There was an error in a book! Goodness! The teacher grabbed the moment and told kids that they would need to write to the publisher to point out the error. Nice.
  • So, I scrapped half of my lesson right there on the spot. Once the teacher left, I turned on the document camera, fired up the iPad, and searched for info about monarch caterpillars to double check the error in that book. We found tons of fantastic images and information and still the book looked wrong. We also found some really fugly caterpillars.

40 minutes, many butterfly facts, and tons of informational-text-features later, I was pooped.

12:00-1:00 Lunch, Recess

  • I admit that I cheated slightly here. I spent about 15 minutes at my desk before joining the kids for lunch. I have eaten lunch with the students many times already this year so I think it is ok.

1:00-1:20 2nd Grade

  • After Lunch/Recess, I hung out with 2nd grade again and listened to the teacher read to the class. I love to be read to.

My original schedule from this point on was:

  • 1:20-1:50 PE w/ 1st
  • 1:50-2:20 Music w/ 1st
  • 2:20-2:50 PE w/ 2nd

Instead, the librarian was out so we needed someone to cover three, thirty minute library read-aloud sessions. OK, I am your man. Turns out that K, 1, 2 students can get a little wiggly towards the end of the day. Who knew?

Between managing the group, I was able to read a few pages of a book to each class. They tested my patience and I passed the test!

I have been an administrator since 2003, I know what means to have a long, busy day. That said, I am in awe of the staff who do this with primary grade students day in and day out. I learned (re-learned?) that I am one of the luckiest principals in the world. I have a small, safe school with an amazing, dedicated, high-endurance faculty.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Monday Morning Meeting on Thursday Afternoon

At the end of the first week of school, we held our first Monday Morning Meeting (M.M.M.).

Huh? A Monday Morning Meeting on a Thursday afternoon? Strange. Well, we didn't have a Monday that week due to the untimely arrival of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. We decided to hold the first meeting just before the 4-day Labor Day weekend.

So, Thursday afternoon it was. I can deal with M.M.M. on a Thursday afternoon.

Using a seating plan drawn up by one of the teachers, the classes filed in. Now, Wolcott Elementary School is rather small - 119 students in grades K-6. We fit easily onto the floor of the gym entirely within the 3-point line.

I spoke about the exciting opening of school, my observation that the students had been so very polite so far, and a reminder of our PBIS Rs, Responsibility, Respect, Readiness.

At that point, I asked the entire staff to leave the room. While I spoke with the students, the staff snuck around into the storeroom behind where I was standing.

We had previously hung streamers over the doorway, and as I called the teacher's name each came running out into the gym. For each staff member, the students cheered and yelled. The smiles were enormous all around.

The students behaved perfectly during this excitement. They cheered and yelled and made tons of noise. When I raised my hand, they got quiet in less than five seconds.

The first M.M.M. was a resounding success.

We are off to a great start.

image from (I have no connection to this company)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

First Exposure, First Staff Meeting

With thanks to Todd Whittaker, I have been talking a bunch about First Exposure recently. In August, at the Vermont Principal's Association Leadership Institute, Todd talked about making sure that the first exposure to a new idea is done right or it will take a long time to recover.

Well, as with every single thing that Todd says, I have not been able to stop thinking about this (ok, this might be the only thing that I remember from Todd's four hour session ;).

Anyway, I left the conference and immediately turned into Wemberly and started worrying about my First Exposure. No, I have not taken to wearing nothing but a trench coat. I am talking about the first staff meeting at my new school. Throughout the month of August, I added items to my draft agenda with the idea that I would pare it back to the essentials. I joked with the teachers that I had cut my four page annotated agenda down to 1.5 pages. The thing is that it wasn't really a joke.

Agenda cutting is harder than it sounds but very satisfying. Of course there is so much to cover at the beginning of every school year, but at the beginning of a principalship, the pressure is really on.

With the meeting scheduled for Monday morning, I finished my agenda on Thursday night so that I could show it to my mentor on Friday. (It was my idea to meet then and to ask for feedback on the agenda. I am very luck that my district values mentors for principals).

Turns out that I hadn't really finished on Thursday night. Armed with very insightful suggestions from my mentor, I continued revising through the weekend.

By the time I finished making fruit salad at school on Sunday afternoon, the agenda I used the next day was complete. Here is an edited-for-public-consumption version of my annotated agenda:
  1. MEET THE PRINCIPAL (20 min)
    1. Quick background
    2. My core beliefs/Values
      1. Learning
      2. ALL Children Can Learn and Be Successful
      3. Leadership
      4. We do what is best for children.
      5. It’s all about the relationships!
      6. Process & participation matter in decision making.
      7. Community
      8. Safety, Respect, Learning
    3. Humor
      1. I take my work very seriously
      2. I use humor to help me keep my balance
    4. Some basic expectations I have of all staff
      1. We never argue. We never yell. Never use sarcasm. With students or adults.
      2. Check email at least once per day. Monday Memo, etc
      3. No surprises. For me or parents.
      4. Step up.
      5. Invite me in.
  3. MEET THE NEW FOLKS (20 minutes)
    1. count off into fives and split up into groups
    2. New person tell the following to the group
      1. Something you do for fun and relaxation.
      2. Why did you want to work at WES?
      3. Where did you grow up?
      4. What gets you most excited when you are working with students?
      5. What is your favorite dessert?
    3. One group member report out and introduce the new person
  4. HISTORY OF WES (30 min) (Bill to facilitate this part)
    1. Line up by the Year first hired
    2. Pair up with a person next to you.
    3. Talk about:
      1. Name, position, year started and/or years at WES, memory from the first year and/or issue of the day
    4. Share with the group what your partner shared (you may use notes) 
    5. Record timeline as we go (Bill)
  5. POWERSCHOOL (5 min)
    1. Ticket to leave, answer on a note card: What do you need from me as Principal?

Well, on the big day, the food was a big hit. In addition to the fruit salad, I had all sorts of pastries and lots of coffee.

The meeting itself seemed to go well. I am not a great read of staff groups during meetings, and I ought not play poker with most staff. Anyway, they listened politely and participated actively during the Meet the New Folks section of the meeting.

The highlight of the meeting was definitely the History of Wolcott Elementary School section of the meeting. We moved from the Multi-Purpose Room to the Gym. I asked the Director of Curriculum to facilitate so that I could participate. He did a great job, and the group, again, participated fully. Listening to folks talk about their start at WES and their years at the school, was a fantastic history lesson for me.

image courtesy of flicker user dvortygirl CC

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mrs. ABC, Really.

My guest blogger has started school for the first time. She didn't go to kindergarten so first grade is her first school experience.

Maya's teacher is known as Mrs. ABC. Really. Those are her initials.

Since my guest blogger did not feel like writing (too busy playing with her brother in her fort), I interviewed her instead.

How was the start of school?
Good. Very, very, very, very good.

Because it is.

What do you like best about school so far?
Silent reading. My reading nook is by the moon table and rainbow silk, but we can't go under the table.

Do you like your teacher?
Mrs. ABC is very nice.

Tell me about the bus.
I always sit by myself because I like to.

Do you know the names of the other kids in your class?
I am friends with two girls. I know the names of a couple of boys even though I am not friends with them because the teacher talks to them a lot because they are being naughty.

Did you have any assemblies yet?
Yes. We had a community gathering. It was confusing. The principal talked about community gatherings. Different people sang songs that I never heard. We sat on the floor on gym mats. The mats had lots of cracks. There was lots of dirt in the cracks.

Any final words?
I'm really anxious to get back to school because I really like it so much.

There you have it. The real view from the first few days of first grade. I am sure that Mrs. ABC is teaching far more than silent reading, but getting my guest to talk about anything else has proved to be next to impossible. Of course, there have only been three days so far. There is much time left to learn lots more.

First image from flickr user cannellfan

Second image from my iPhone on a grey day

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Full House for a While

This is a great time for me right now because of two full houses.

No, not aces over kings. I am referring to my school and my home.

My school has finished two weeks of the three week Summer Learning Camp (SLC). Each day a wonderful staff, that includes Wolcott Elementary staff, teachers from elsewhere, and a few teens, greets more than thirty Wolcott Elementary students.

This year, the SLC has chosen the theme of "Super Heroes." In these last few days of the program, they are working hard on an original play called "Superhero Crisis." I can't wait until Thursday to see the show and then blog about it.

Having the SLC around has been a great way to start my time at Wolcott. Instead of an empty school, I got to be right in the middle of it all.

The other full house was at home. We just had six house guests staying with us for several days. While it was a bit chaotic, my daughter and son loved having two cousins around, and it was great to see my parent and one of my sisters.

Now, the house is back to normal (whatever that means) and the SLC is winding down.

In a few days, I will be longing for the full house of the in-service days and the start of school.

I can't wait.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sharing With Teachers is Fun

One of my favorite facets of being a principal is sharing ideas and resources. Today, day three of my new principalship, I had the perfect opportunity to share.

It all began many months ago when I signed on to help organize EdCamp Boston (and as fate would have it, I wore my EdCamp Boston shirt today). One of the sponsors, TenMarks, gave each participant a redemption code for one student to use the summer program.

Well, I am not giving direct services to anyone this summer, so I figured that I would share my code with someone on the staff at my new school. It turns out that Wolcott Elementary School has a long established and successful Summer Learning Camp that includes some math tutoring. So, I spoke with the school's Title I Math Teacher, who is working with the summer program. She hadn't heard of TenMarks, but was eager to give it a try. I also spoke with her about Khan Academy and We had a great conversation. I could see the light going on in her face; she looked excited to explore.

A few hours later, I received an email from the teacher. She had gone home and explored all three sites and already identified a few students for whom these sites could be perfect.

I am proud to think that I accomplished something today: I shared.

cross posted to Connected Principals

image credit: furiousgeorge81 cc 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Kids v. Grown-ups, Guest Blog #2

The other day, I can't remember exactly when or what the context was, my daughter drafted her second blogpost. I agreed to allow her, once again, to guest blog here on the Principal's Point of View.

by Maya Fliegelman

Kids learn more than grown-ups.

Q: Why?

A: Because kids have more to learn.


I used to agree with this line of thinking. In fact, as a child, it never occurred to me that adults learned at all. I don't remember a teacher ever telling us about her own learning. Now, from what I can remember, I had several really good teachers, but no memory at all of thinking of them as learners.

When I was in the classroom, I made a point of saying, "I don't know" when I didn't know. I also made a point to talk to the students about how I learned as I talked to them about what and how they learned. I even taught them the words "pedagogy" and "metacognition." (Of course, teaching seventh graders how to say the Massachusetts lake, Chaubunagungamaug, was far more entertaining.)

Anyway, I dare not argue with my daughter to her face as I do not want to be humiliated by losing to her. Instead, I will argue with her on my blog. I think that she is wrong. I think that some grown-ups think they have little left to learn and seem to stop learning. I know many adults who are the opposite. For example, both my father and father-in-law have been learning all sorts of new things into their seventies. I know many teachers who never stop learning and never stop being excited about showing off their learning.

What do you think? Do kids learn more because they have more to learn? Do adults learn less? Do teachers talk enough about their own learning? Which is the better way to refer to the unyoung: adults or grown-ups? Leave a comment and your opinion.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Once and Current Principal

Back on October 6, 2010, I took the difficult step of explaining to the world what was going on in my professional life with my blogpost: Principal-at-large Or, The Once and Future Principal. In that post, I explained that I was not to be a principal for the year. I also explained what I planned to do for the year and for my future.

I called myself the principal-at-large with the following list of duties. Now that the year is over, I've included my self-assessment for each duty.
  • Read dozens of education blogs each day
  • Check
  • Comment on and/or retweet as many things as possible
  • Not as much as I meant to
  • Participate in edchat and ntchat
  • Check for edchat, not so much for ntchat
  • Participate in various other online learning opportunities
  • Check
  • Read my back log of education titles
  • Not hardly
  • Blog about my reading of my backlog of education titles
  • No
  • Blog for Connected Principals
  • Check
  • Get involved in "The Education Debate" going on in the US
  • Check
  • Volunteer at the local elementary school
  • Check
  • Attend EdCamps and other unconferences
  • Check: EdCampKC, EdCampNYC, EduCon, TMNJ, NTCamp, EdCampBoston
  • Clean the kitchen, put away the laundry, and cook dinner (my wife added this)
  • Not often enough according to my wife
  • Play with my children (my children added this)
  • Not enough according to my children
  • Get paid $1,000,000,000 (maybe not)
  • Almost

Great seal of Vermont. Although officially ado...Image via WikipediaNot on the list, but featured prominently in that old blogpost was the task of finding a new principal position. I searched and I searched. The early winter was quiet and then boom! March arrived, coming in like a lion with many interviews. At the end of the month, I was offered the position of Principal of Wolcott Elementary School. It was like a dream come true. A small school, in a rural area, near other nice towns was exactly what I was looking for. My wife and I were thrilled to be moving to Vermont.

So, that is my story. In the coming months, I will write about education issues and my experience as principal in Wolcott.

Please keep reading.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Ripped Papers

"If we’re managing good people who are clearly eating themselves up over an error, our job is to help them through it.”
-Jack Welch as quoted in Mindset by Carol Dweck, Kindle edition location 2133 of 4714

Ripped Paper #1
One afternoon, Joan, a teacher in the building, came to tell me that her colleague, Anne, was crying and feared an angry phone call from a parent. Joan could/would not tell me what was going on, but wanted me to go to Anne. Of course, I went right away. Anne, a fantastic, young teacher, had gotten frustrated with a very challenging student and tore up his unattempted homework page. Between tears, she told me that she was embarrassed and humiliated. She was angry at herself for losing control and letting the student get under skin. Once she calmed down, I let her know how much I thought of her as a teacher and a person. I let her know that I would continue to support her as she figured out how to repair the relationship with the student and the parent. We decided together that Anne would call the parent that day and apologize. The next day, Anne would talk with the student. Anne would solve the problem, with contrition, and make things right. In other words, a good person, eating herself up over an error and then making reparation.

Ripped Paper #2
Months later, I got a phone call from a parent in Sally's class expressing anger that Sally had ripped her child's paper and thrown it in the recycling bin. The parent said that she was too angry to speak with Sally today and wanted to know what was I going to do. I promised only to look into the situation and get back to her.

Sally, an experienced teacher, was unrepentant. She told me that when she received homework papers with no name on them, she put them on the table and asked the students to claim them. In this case, she said that she knew whose paper it was and needed to teach him a lesson about forgetting his name. Sally mentioned that she had been telling thee kids to put their name on their papers all year; they should know by now. She must have seen the look on my face or known deep down that she'd done wrong because Sally then asked me if she wasn't supposed to tear up papers any more. She told me that many of the veteran teachers in the building have torn up papers in the past.

It was tough to keep my cool. I was shocked that I had to explain that humiliating students, while possibly effective in teaching students to comply with rules, was never acceptable. I made little progress with Sally.

The bottom line is that teachers are people who do stupid human things all time. What separates that adequate from the great is attitude. Sally's attitude was crap while Anne's was right on target.

Jack Welch would have me support Anne and help her get past this episode. I wonder what Jack Welch would say my job was in relation to Sally.

Note: While both ripped papers are real, all names and many details have been changed.

Image credit: Flickr user pineapple9995 CC

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Great Questions for Library/Tech Integration (#tlchat)

A sign leading to Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream fact...Image via WikipediaA few days ago, it became clear that I would be searching for a combination Library Media and Technology Integration Specialist for my new school. We use for all applications, and I considered adding a short essay question to the application. But what to ask?

PLN to the rescue. I sent out the following tweet:
If you could ask a Lib Media/Tech Integration candidate 1 Q, what would it be?
Right away, Dan Callahan (dancallahan), my former limo service client, retweeted my request. In short order, I started receiving great questions.

Without further ado, here is the list of questions (in the order received):

  1. What is the difference between a librarian and a library media specialist?
  2. What's your definition of tech integration?
  3. What activities do envision to support critical thinking skills? How will you enable student presentations, curation, info eval.?
  4. Tell us how you plan to support free choice reading and book discovery in all formats?
  5. How do you plan to involve students in the working of the library? In collection development? How will you model wondering?
  6. What are some online tools you like or plan to try? Do you know of good sources for copyright-friendly images, music?
  7. How will you promote booktalks, discussions? What kind of personal learning do you seek, outside of system offerings?
  8. What is the purpose of a library; how would you implement & advance this purpose?
  9. Explain how the ever changing landscape of info has changed the role of research, and where does lib fit in.
  10. What is your strategy in getting reluctant faculty to collaborate with you?
  11. What's the one thing people get wrong about you?
  12. Explain roles/relationship of library-media and tech-integrator so they are cooperating roles instead of opposing roles.
  13. How would you define transliteracy, creative commons, & the mixup mashup culture?

I'd like to thank the following folks for their suggestions.

BTW, if you are interested and qualified, I might be able to arrange for you to be paid in Ben & Jerry's ice cream instead of money.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The April 13 Blogging Challenge. It's over.

Ok. It is now May 10th and I am just getting to posting about the April 13 Blogging Challenge. I got to 11.

I don't usually like to make excuses, but I have a good one. I spent the latter half of April searching for a house close to my new job in Vermont. I am happy to say that I found a fantastic place close to work.

The exciting part of it all is that my wife has not seen the new house. In fact, she won't see it until we move in!

I am a crazy brave man, I am told. No, not brave, I just happen to have a fantastic wife who is crazy enough loves me enough to trust me.

So, with all that is going on, blogging has taken a temporary back seat. I'll be back.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Helping Students New to Town (#apr13)

As the school year is winding down in many places, it is time to think about September. I know that some of you are still doing state testing or feel like summer is still far away, but trust me, September is coming sooner than you think.

There is one piece of the start of the school year that needs special attention for those schools in small communities or those places with a vary low mobility rate. How do you welcome students who are new to town?

At my last school, this was a combined effort of the school and the PTO. The PTO mostly focused on the parents by sponsoring an open house for new residents and town organizations. This was held in the gym of one of the schools and featured groups of all stripes and the school principals. Rm my perspective, it was nice to meet some of the new families.

The other part of our plan was to welcome new students at the school. A few days before school opened, several student council members gathered in the lobby, set up a table of food, and waited for new students. Once we had a group, the students led other students on tours of the school. I mostly stood around the lobby and fielded the kind of questions that were answered at an orientation in the spring of course these parents were not in town then).

It was simple and direct. I heard from many parents and even a few students that this brief welcome was just what they needed to calm their nerves (at least a little) before the first day of school.

How does your school welcome those new to town?

Image credit cmatsuoka CC

Friday, April 29, 2011

Smile File to replace Written Praise (#apr13)

During this week's noon edchat, the discussion centered around what teachers and schools need from administrators. At one point in the duscussion, someone brought up the idea of keeping a file of written praise as a great way to help get through a tough day.

I wrote about this in July 2010, Written Praise. The only change now is to switch to the somewhat corny, but much catchier title, the Smile File.

teacher6th (@teacher6th4/26/11 12:36 PM
RT @coreydahlevent: I save letters (and email) that are positive...that speak to what I strive to be. #edchat This is my "Smile File"

coreydahlevent (@coreydahlevent4/26/11 12:37 PM
@teacher6th I like the "smile file" idea. On occasion, I will look at my "atta boy" letters. #warmfuzzy #edchat
fliegs (@fliegs4/26/11 12:39 PM
@teacher6th Smile File is a way better name than Written Praise. I just may borrow that. #edchat

I admit, I am not above a little corniness from time to time. 

I was also thinking that not only am I going to rename my own file, but in next school year, I am going to encourage all the staff in my building to keep their own Smile File. In fact, maybe this is the sort of thing that we can build with each child. It could be part of their portfolio over the years. The trick is that we, as the adults, will need to be sure that we are helping each and every child build their Smile File.

So, go add to someone's Smile File. I am sure that the smile will be returned.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Friends, My First Guest Blog (#apr13)

Now that we are way past April 13, I have the opportunity to introduce my first guest blogger. You see, my five year old daughter heard that Mommy and her brother were suggesting blog topics. She demanded to be included. I think that she is trying to drive traffic to her blog (once she creates one).

As this will be her first published piece, I have agreed to be something like a ghost writer.

Going to School With Friends
By Maya Fliegelman

I wish I could go to school next year with my friend Ariana. I think it would be fun to go to school with her. But, I am moving. I am moving to Vermont.

Q: Would it be good to go to school with a friend?

A: No. Going to school with my friend would mean that I would learn slower because I would be talking to her.


Out of the mouths of babes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Recycled Wine, Home School Connection (#apr13)

Several years ago B.K. (before kids), I laughed heartily when my principal told me about his lesson that weekend. Apparently, his fifth grade daughter had just completed D.A.R.E. training at school. Well, that Friday night at dinner, the principal decided to have a second glass of wine. Right away, the daughter started in him. She told him that one glass of wine was enough and that it wasn't really that healthy to have a second glass. She had learned this at D.A.R.E. I thought it was hilarious that she would learn something at school and then try to teach her father - even lecture him.

As a principal, I think back about at story and I understand that the daughter's talk and lesson about what happened at school is one of the many reasons she was so successful at school. She knew that her parents we're interested in her schooling and in her learning. She knew that some of what she learned had connections outside of the classroom. There was lots of good stuff going on.

I often wonder if some of my struggling students ever talk about what they have learned at school. I know they talk about lunch, recess, and the funny stuff that happens. I know they report to their parents when they feel they have been wronged. In all my conversations with struggling students and their parents, I can recall very little evidence of talk about learning. Hmmm.

All these years later, it is my time in the sun. It is time for that principal of mine to laugh with/at me. You see, my daughter just learned about recycling and how important it is to the earth. That very night, she lectured my wife and me about recycling. She was taking what she learned that day and teaching us.

If only she didn't use that tone that made us feel so guilty.

Image credit flickr user mandymoo CC

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, April 25, 2011

Making All Kids Feel Valued (#apr13)

Joey was a struggling learner. His skills were weak from several years of barely getting by, natural smarts without focus, parents who did not recognize his struggles, and falling just below the radar.

By fifth grade, Joey was far behind his classmates, sullen, and beginning to act out in class. His teachers had lost all patience with him and repeatedly blamed Joey and his parents for failing to to do their parts. In the middle of the year, Joey was sent to the office repeatedly for refusing to do his work in class.

It was at this point that I took a greater interest in Joey. One afternoon while sitting in the office with a pile of math work that he had refused to do, I asked Joey if I could help him. After several minutes of grumbling, I deduced that Joey did understand the assignment, that he thought he could do the work, and that he had a pencil. I asked him, quietly, if would do the work now. He did. I checked his work and helped him through some errors. I thinked him for letting me help him. He almost smiled, and I sent him back to class.

After a few days of this, and a constantly decreasing amount of grumbling and increasing amount of smiling, I began to talk *with* Joey to find out what I could. He confirmed my worst fears. Joey was not stupid or especially lazy or even unwilling. Joey felt that his teachers didn't like him. The problem was that all the evidence I'd seen backed up his assertion. His teachers never had a kind word for or about him and were still blaming him and his parents.

When it came to work on Joey's placement for sixth grade, I made sure to place him with a homeroom teacher and team that were especially good at connecting with the down and out boys like Joey. I also placed Joey with a special educator who got along great with his students (maybe at the expense of some teaching skill).

To make a long story longer, sixth grade was a completely different experience for Joey. He still struggled with academics, but he made considerable gains. Most exciting from my perspective was that he rarely got sent to the office the whole year. Joey had become a new person.

There are two main reasons for Joey's turn around. Joey gets the lion share of the credit; he matured. Right after that is that for the first time in a while, Joey had teachers who valued him for who he was. They made him feel good about being Joey.

Teachers don't have to like a student, but that student must never feel like the teacher doesn't like him.

How do you show your students that you value them? Did you ever have a student that you just didn't like? How did you handle the situation?

image credit

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The A or Da-ay or Guskey Redux (#apr13)

My wife is not the only family member making topic suggestions for the April 13 Blogging Challenge. My two-year old son (born on April 13) is also providing topics. At dinner, my wife asked him for a topic. He answered, "Da-ay." We each asked him several more times to be sure, and he answered the same each time. So, Da-ay it is.

Now, I immediately knew what my son was talking about when he said, "Da-ay." He wants me to write a blog post about Thomas Guskey and grades. You know, the A.

A while back, I attended a conference to hear Thomas Guskey speak about standards-based grading. I wrote this blog article in March 2010. It has been the most read articles on my blog, by far.

This winter, the New York Times ran an article called No More As for Good Behavior that tried to explain one school's transition from traditional grading to standards based grading.

Now, just the other day, Bo Adams reposted, on Connected Principals, Jill Gough's great inquiring post about grading. Jill presented a real dilemma that she is facing with her grades due after this weekend. Several of us commented either on Connected Principals or on Jill's Blog.

The bottom line seems to be that no one really can say what is the purpose of grades. If Jill and her community could make that crystal clear, then her dilemma would be much easier to solve.

I think that while we work in a system that is still so unsettled on the purpose of grades, then why not use the scoring system that will work best for each child. Use the system that will best report what progress the student has made towards the learning.

Maybe most helpful for Jill and teachers like her is the idea that effort and other compliance factors be taken out of the letter grade. Make the A, B, C reflect the learning and report effort separately. If the system doesn't allow for a separate effort grade then use the comments. Find out if you can add custom comments and explain what you are doing. Anything you can do to clarify what the grade actually means would be a big improvement.

We may not quickly be able to change the larger public's understanding of grades, but we can begin by clarifying them for our classes now.

What are your thoughts about grading? Please enter this debate. Thank you.

Image credit carosaurus

Thursday, April 14, 2011

International Thank A Teacher Month (#Apr13)

The William Penn Charter School for boys and girlsImage via WikipediaI have just declared that today is International Thank A Teacher Month (or is it this month is Thank a Teacher Day. Or...)

Anyway, I was reading Mindset, by Carol Dweck earlier (more on this book coming soon) and it got me thinking about my own mindset about math classes when I was in school. Also, in the many interviews that I have done while job searching, a common question is to tell about a favorite teacher.

So, I got thinking about Mr. Gordon, my senior year math teacher. Then I thought wouldn't he love to get a letter from a former student thanking him for being such a good teacher. Fortunately, 23 years later, Mr. Gordon is still teaching at the same school. Here is the email that I sent him just before publishing this blog post.
Dear Mr. Gordon,
I am writing to thank you 23 years after graduating from Penn Charter. You were my math teacher in 12th grade and were involved in the drama program with me.
Throughout the last 15 years as an educator myself, I have often been asked to tell about favorite teachers I had. After I speak about Mrs. Wiener, my fifth grade teacher and a family friend, I talk about you and my experiences in your class.
You see, ever since third grade, I believed that I was bad at math. At PC, I struggled in math classes with Mr. Goulding, Mr. Hitschler, and others. Then, I got to 12th grade. I had not done well enough to take calculus, so I was in your senior, pre-calc class. I think it was your first year at Penn Charter.
I admit that I don't recall much of the math that you taught. What I do remember is your attitude. You were fun. You were goofy. You acted like you really enjoyed being in that senior, pre-calc class with us. You chose to have a fantastic attitude.
I remember one day when some of us came to class and had bibles on our desks (I don't recall what class the bibles were for). Well, you took one of the bibles, stood up on your desk and started reading aloud to the class. It was a riot. I think that you even tried to connect that back to math at the end. 
Your attitude must have been infectious because my grades in math were never better.
Well, I still don't think of myself as a math person, but I am willing to consider the possibility. It may have taken 23 years, but I will take another math class again soon. Only this time, I expect no bibles or teachers standing on desks.
Once again, Thank you Mr. Gordon.
Larry Fliegelman, OPC '88
Elementary Principal
Former 7th Grade Social Studies Teacher

P.S. I am going to post this letter to my blog Check it out if you want.
If you have a teacher in your past that made a difference (and you better), then please say thank you. That teacher deserves it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 13 Really is a Big Day! (#apr13)

When I launched the April 13 Blogging Challenge a couple of weeks ago, I never imagined how big a day this would prove to be.

Let me explain. When I started this challenge, I created the hashtag #Apr13. I searched for it on twitter and found nothing so I thought it was safe. Shortly after the challenge began, I started noticing references to a rally by students in the California State University system. It turns out that they are protesting large fee hikes.

SFSU_SQE (@SFSU_SQE) 4/13/11 12:27 AM
#Apr13 is tomorrow! Get ready to hold your pickets up high and chant your lungs off!!!

But that is not all. Today, when I searched the hashtag to find more blogs in the challenge, I noticed dozens of tweets in Arabic and English all from Egypt. Well, today, Hosni Mubarak and his sons were formally detained by the Egyptian government. They have been charged with crimes against the people of Egypt.

wfiitalia (@wfiitalia) 4/13/11 2:34 AM
A baby called #Egyptian Revolution: born #Jan25, 1st laugh on #Feb11 & today #Apr13 it started walking by itself

Still, with this news, I think the most influential events of April 13 are my son's birthday (he turns two today) and my wedding anniversary.


Related articles

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Location, location, location (#apr13)

In the second of this ongoing series of blog posts with topics chosen by my wife and son, I will share some ideas about facilities.

When I started teaching in Medford, I worked in the old Roberts Middle School. The building was built in the 1920s and had very little maintenance over the years. It was so bad that there were cracks in the walls large enough for me to see clearly through to the exterior brick. Within a few minutes of sweeping, there would be a new layer of plaster dust on the floor. We tried not to think about what we might have been breathing. Worst of all, I learned the hard way that my bulletin board would get wet in a heavy rain - more than a few pieces of student work were ruined that way.

It got worse. Because the building was in such bad shape and allowed to remain that way, the attitudes of some staff (especially the custodians) and many children were pretty lousy. The lack of care of the building was palpable in many ways around the building. From the supply-hoarding principal to the kids who regularly destroyed the 8th grade hall bathrooms, the place was not a happy one.

So, it was a weird feeling when the new building project actually neared completion. Would we really get brand new buildings?

We did our first day of school in the new buildings was September 10, 2001. Our first fire drill came on September 11, 9:30am. While few of the systems in the school were working yet, someone had a radio.

That fateful day aside, the first year in the new building saw a great change in many of the ways that middle school worked in Medford. We had the good fortune to welcome a new, progressive principal to the new buildings. Most importantly, you could feel the optimism in the air. The building felt mostly happy.

We faced many challenges that year. The building wasn't really finished until January, but we moved in in August. The new principal tried to shake things up and met resistance from some of my colleagues. We had to merge staff cultures from three previous middle school buildings.

All in all, it was a tough year, but a great one. The kids and staff of Medford, were proud to have the new buildings. We all felt hopeful.

Maybe it is all about location.

photo credit: nate'sgirl cc not the actual Roberts building. ;)

cross posted on Connected Principals

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Kids Who Aren't College Bound (#apr13)

Since the April 13 Blogging Challenge is in honor of my wife and son, I have asked them to help me come up with education related topics. So, for most of my April blog posts, I will write about whatever they choose. Could be an added twist to the challenge idea.

First, let me introduce our guest topic creators. My wife is highly qualified to do this as she is a former high school special educator and a future elementary school parent. She also has been learning along side me for the last several years as we talk at the dinner table. She holds a Master's Degree in special education from Boston University and got her Bachelor's degree in biology from Brandeis University.

My son, soon to enter his third year alive, is an expert in...he likes trucks, fire engines, and whatever his older sister is holding.

For the first topic, my wife brought up the issue that has been on her mind for years. She is concerned with the pressure put on all kids to attend college. Specifically, my wife is worried about those kids, sometimes disabled, who are pressured to go to college when they really need and want something different.

President Obama talks about getting all kids ready for college as a main goal of American education. My wife says, "that is a big disservice for those kids not going to college. For those kids who are not ready or those who are not going to college, it is not realistic."

I couldn't agree with her more. We do a disservice not only to the student but also to the nation as a whole. Do we really need our farmers and tradespeople to go to college if they do not want that. Every town and region must have suitable career tracks for those looking to learn a trade. High school educated and well trained people are a vital part of our economy and our democracy. We need to encourage the right path for all types of students whether it be college, a trade, a farm, or the military.

So, that sums up my discussion of my first family chosen topic.

What do you think about getting kids college ready?

P.S. I worked on this while sitting in the car with my family waiting for a realtor to show up. From the parking lot, we could see a rushing river with snowy banks. To keep my daughter occupied, I suggested she write a poem. She wanted us all to write one.

My daughter's poem:
The Baby Went up in The Sci

Here is my poem:
The river is flowing, flowing, flowing.
The snow is sitting, not growing.
The kids are bored.
The wife is frustrated.
I am writing poetry.

My wife's poem:
Snow melts
River rushes
Spring is here.

My son's poem:
Taw gawg guck in deet. (I saw a garbage truck in the street.)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

#Apr13 Blogging Challenge

OK, I admit, I barely completed the Ides of March Blogging Challenge and the number of bloggers participating dwindled to just a few.

I don't care (said Pierre). I am pleased to announce the latest Fliegs sponsored blogging challenge. In honor of both my wedding anniversary and the birthday of my second child, I present to you:

The April 13 Blogging Challenge

Just write thirteen blog posts this month, tweet them out with the tag #apr13, and share with the world. I will read and retweet them all.

Maureen, Tom, Pam, Pete and others, I am counting on you to make this April the bloggiest of my life. If not for me, then for my marriage and my child!

For my part, I promise to meet the challenge head on with topics including the principal job search, my own status report, ed reform, admin best practices, teaching ideas, and more.

Oh, on April 13, huge prize (or lots of thanks and smiles) to anyone who sends birthday wishes to Manny or anniversary flowers to my wife, Jennifer.

Thank you.

photo credit: flickr user Admit One CC

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Ides of March Blogging Challenge is Over (#idesmar)

Well, here it is just before midnight and I am writing one more blog post in order to meet my own Blogging Challenge: the Ides of March. This is post #15. I did it (with only stretching the non-existent rules).

I am so glad that there are several educators who  accepted the challenge. It has been great reading what they have to say. One teacher told me that the challenge has really gotten her to write like never before. Me too!

Well, since I am enjoying this, I will post tomorrow with the challenge for April. Stay tuned.


Strong Community Needs to Be Built (#idesmar)

Another question I was recently asked to write about: How would you strengthen community among students, teachers, parents and other educational stakeholders?
A strong sense of community at school does not happen by accident; community needs to be cultivated by the principal. Each stakeholder has different needs.
Students need to feel a sense of belonging at school. Establishing a school-wide program such as Steps to Respect provides an avenue for students to feel heard and respected. This is followed by a common behavior code so everyone knows the expectations. I worked with faculty to create a positive behavior recognition (but not reward) program, so students feel appreciated for the good they do. The combination of a pro-respect program with a recognition program laid a foundation for our community.
To build on the foundation we need to gather the students on a regular basis. During my favorite gathering, held on day one, I introduce the entire staff to the students, while the students cheer for each adult. Everyone starts the year with a smile. I gradually turn over the responsibility for the assemblies to Student Council. We gather to learn, to perform and watch, and to celebrate.
The Student Council is my primary way to listen to students and to give them some control. I encourage the student council to listen to their classmates and to ask me to make changes. When they ask, I listen and consider. Some of the best initiatives to come out of Student Council are community service projects that engage the whole community toward a common goal. When we respect students and give them some control over their environment, the community is strengthened.
I am visible and involved in the classrooms, bus lane, lunchroom, playground, and evening events. Parents need to know that I am accessible and responsive, so I make sure to return calls the same day or have the secretary schedule a meeting. I also create a Public Relations plan to get information out to parents and the broader community. Most importantly, I strengthen the community by treating people with respect.
However, access to the principal and information about the school are not enough to engage the parents and the community. The volunteer coordinator starts with a small group willing to help with general tasks. The parent council creates a database of parent skills and interests that we can draw on. Finally, I invite parents and others to school to share their knowledge or skills, to volunteer, or to be the audience. I love watching the crowd at the Senior Citizen Luncheon and Concert. Of course, once we invite them, we feed them, as nothing attracts people better than children and food.
School staff love to eat as well; people who break bread together form strong groups. Since social events are vital to the health of the community, we create a regular schedule of staff parties. Teachers deserve some time enjoying themselves, so faculty meetings and professional development sessions always begin with social time and food.
Just as access and information are not enough for the parent community, food and laughter are not enough for the staff. They also need to be part of a learning community. The staff needs to work together to decide what they need to learn, because people will be most productive if given autonomy, time, and a sense of purpose. I often encourage teachers to work with other staff besides their teammates. There is a lot to learn all around the building.
Eating, laughing, and learning are building blocks of strong community. There is another component at school: shared leadership. To bring as much staff into the decision making process as possible, I created a Faculty Advisory Council, a Leadership Council, and other groups. So staff know what their role is, I use a tool called “Patterns of Participation Matrix” to be explicit whether I want staff to initiate, collaborate, advise, or support. The staff needs to feel belonging and ownership at school.
Building a strong sense of community among the students, staff, parents, and others is among the most vital work in which a principal engages.
Those are my ideas. What do you think? What are some ways that YOU can strengthen our school?

I am an Artist (#idesmar)

A few weeks ago, I was asked to write about how the arts have influenced me personally and professionally. Here is what I wrote:
I am an artist. There I said it. I am not a bohemian walking around with oil paint on my pants. I am not an art student who knows the difference between a 6B and 3B pencil. I am not a trumpet player busking at the train station. I am not a poet in a beret with one of those really long cigarette holders. No, I am not that kind of artist.
Still, I am an artist. I've been creating and enjoying a variety of art my whole life.
The arts have been a part of my life since the beginning. My parents have finally forgiven me for drawing on the hallway wall when I was 2. I was fortunate to attend a middle and high school that valued the arts. I acted in every play from 6th through 12th grade. I sang in the regular and select choirs. I was the photography editor of the school newspaper. One summer, I attended the National Music Camp at Interlochen, MI, as a theater major. In college, I focused on technical theater and built scenery and props. I continued with tech theater for a couple of years and gradually got interested in woodworking. Although more a craft than an art, my woodworking was a creative outlet for a few years.
My daughter has been the impetus for another artistic outlet: drawing. Some yeas ago, I collected a few drawing pencils and started to sketch. I found that I liked to draw, but I did not like to show my drawings to anyone. Now, I watch her draw and end up joining in. This year, I took a leap and created an account on ArtSnacks. I have only uploaded a few drawings so far, but it is a thrill knowing my drawings are out there. (OK, so maybe I do know the difference between 6B and 3B pencils.)
Something kind of cool happened about ten years ago. I found an old trumpet. I played for a while and then forgot about it. In 2007, when I became principal of Spofford Pond, I could hear the different bands practicing each morning before school. One day I remembered that old trumpet. As a way of showing support for the band program, and to satisfy my own artistic drive, I asked if I could sit in on the beginning band once they started in January. The band director was thrilled. So, I was the tall one sitting in the back row with the fourth graders in the band. I was the only band member to bring coffee and my school walkie-talkie to rehearsals. I even joined the group for the big concert (I ended up filling in on snare drum for the Theme from Star Wars when none of the kids could keep the beat). I still play the trumpet, although too sporadically to get any good. Now, my daughter (5 years old) has started to play. Maybe she will one day be the busker.
Professionally, the arts have always been part of my educational outlook. I integrated arts into my history lessons back when I taught middle school. As an administrator, I have supported arts during tough budget times. I have made it clear that I value the arts for the benefits they bring to children.
The arts are known to improve children’s academic motivation, achievement, and school attendance. Training in and practice of the arts helps students gain self-confidence, creativity, and success. Children feel good about themselves when they have something non-academic to enjoy and find success in. Students can create fantastic art together regardless of their background. Stanford Thompson, Director of Tune Up Philly, also notes that the arts nurture social-emotional and behavioral development by providing family and community experiences. Performances at school are something parents can enjoy and appreciate regardless of language barriers or cultural differences. Nothing brings parents of all different ethnic groups together at school faster than a concert, play, or art show. The arts are vital to a full education and a full life.
I still don’t own a beret, and I’ve never used oil paint. I do draw and play the trumpet. I do support and value the arts in school. The arts benefit me, and the arts benefit children. I am an artist. Students are artists.
What about you? Are you an artist? Do you truly support the arts in school?

Artist Ellen from jimjarmo on flickr CC BY 2.0

Innovation Instruction not Technology (#idesmar)

A few weeks ago, George Couros wrote a good article called "Innovation Instruction."

This is not about the tool, it is about learning.  The tool is just the medium we are using at the time.  I am doing my best to use the term “innovative instruction” (thanks Alec) when talking about what works best for our students.  This could mean using a pencil, a computer, a brush, your hands, whatever, but focuses on innovative ways for students to learn.
Let’s just ensure that there is a balance of tools we are using, and just focus on what best meets the needs of our students.
Are we there yet?

Like most good bloggers, he finishes with a thought provoking question. Are we there yet? From what I have seen in most classrooms, no we are not. Of course every teacher I know is somewhere on the path. There are those who are innovating with exciting technology and others who are innovating without new tools.

So many in my PLN and the edutwitterverse seem convinced that the only path forward is through technology. Me, I'm not as certain.

I like George's shift in focus to "innovative instruction." Starting today, I will make the same shift.

Are we there yet? 

Not sure, but we're on the way.