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

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