Saturday, November 30, 2013

Wire It Up!

This is a combined post from @awelcome and @mrsfadeji about being Wired Principals in 2013!

(Amy Fadeji) @mrsfadeji - Penngrove Elementary School

Although it's fairly common to ask someone, "What do you do?" I'm personally not one who is big into titles.  As a principal, I hear parents constantly saying, "I don't want my child to be labeled" and I totally get that.  However, whether we like it or not, those around us are constantly labeling us, making observations, and drawing conclusions about us that may or may not be totally accurate.  A principal friend of mine, Adam Welcome (@awelcome), recently referred to me as a "wired principal."  I have to admit that I did a quick Google search on "wired principal" and ended up without any concrete evidence of what or why anyone would consider themselves a wired principal. 

What I can share with you is that I find myself constantly plugged in for the sake of my students and staff. On campus, you'll rarely catch me without my phone. (P.S. I just got a new iPhone 5s yesterday and it's beautiful! I'm such a sucker for black Friday shopping. #embarrassing)  In between stepping into classrooms to share in the goodness of all the learning taking place on campus, I am easily guilty of responding to a few emails, checking in with our office manager, tweeting classroom happenings, texting a teacher or two and re-scheduling appointments.  However, it is in the classroom, where I really feel wired!  Wired about the risks our teachers are taking, wired about the ownership our students are taking with their learning, and wired about the contagious momentum spreading like wildfire across our campus. #forestfire

Being a wired principal isn't just a feeling or a mindset. To me, being a wired principal is about being fully connected to everything and everyone in a variety of ways. As with many aspects of this profession, being a wired principal looks different on any given day.  In the month of November, here are just a few of my favorite wired moments:

  • Recording an Audioboo with some 2nd graders about what we are thankful for.
  • Joining in on a GHO (Google Hangout) with one of my 5th grade classes as they tried to guess the location of another 5th grade class in California.
  • Writing a couple of reflective blog posts from a local coffee shop and hearing that our 4th graders are starting to blog now too!
  • Meeting up with fellow admins on five different occasions to collaborate just for fun and learning.
  • Visiting JSE Roadrunners with another principal friend and meeting tons of energized teachers who are now connected with our awesome Penngrove teachers.
  • Brainstorming and collecting feedback from some students about our implementation of Google Docs.
  • Video recording students as they visit our "Say Something Nice" stand during recess and lunch.
  • Constantly making heroes out of students and staff members via our school Twitter account @pennpanthers.
  • Facilitating a "Third Thursday PD" with @lorideen after she successfully convinced our Superintendent to join Twitter. 
  • Getting a lesson on Animoto at a #brewcue hosted by @NorthBayCUE in St. Helena.
  • Celebrating the fact that two of my teachers will be presenting at the Google Education Napa Valley 1:1 Institute after their submission was accepted! 
If being a "wired principal" was just another label or title, quite honestly, I wouldn't be that interested.  However, when I look at the list above, and I think about the incredibly talented people who I get to share these experiences with, I can't help but claim this title with excitement!  Let's wire it up! 

(Adam Welcome) @awelcome - John Swett Elementary School

Thinking back to my first 'wired' moment(s) as an educator goes back six years and my time as an upper elementary teacher. I approached my districts technology department about moving forward with Google Apps for Education.......and the idea fell on deaf ears. So, I 'bypassed' a little and set up local accounts based around our school website rather than district wide. Change would be an understatement when describing the effect GAFE had on my classroom, then school and then finally district wide.

Fast forward six years and being a 'Wired Principal' is VERY important to me and setting the tone on campus is what I believe pushes our work and thinking on a daily basis.

Why do I lead this way?
  • At John Swett Elementary (@jseroadrunners) we're all members of 'Team Kid' (Translation) We do what's best for kids on a daily basis, our entire staff being wired is a huge part of that!
  • Wired is the new foreign language and preparing kids for a much different economy and work environment so they're successful is our purpose.
  • Wired = Mobile.....Not being tied to a specific learning environment (ie - classroom/desk) models for Ts + Ss!
  • Wired engages kids, teachers, parents and community in ways not previously possible!
  • Sharing with the world is so much more fun and meaningful than just with those that can read your newsletter. 
  • Being the example for Ts + Ss 'Sets the Tone' - Leading from the front shows people where you want them to go, not just talking about where you want to go.
  • Twitter connects classrooms at my school, across town, across counties and across the world! Get your staff on Twitter, we are!
  • The Principal is way more learner than manager, show your Ts + Ss how to connect and be connected. 
  • I want kids to produce knowledge/content, not just consume what someone else has produced!

How do I lead this way?
  • Having a school blog shows digital writing in action and sets the tone for student blogging!
  • Tweeting your school shares all the greatness that's going on, open those classroom doors for the world, it will inspire your Ts + Ss!
  • Wired Wednesday's started the progression at John Swett, 15 minute Professional Development sessions once/twice a month start the conversation, in a major way!
  • Ts will start presenting the Wired Wednesday's, now that's POWERFUL!
  • Ditch the Dell desktop in your office, get a laptop (I prefer this), iPhone and iPad to run your school, it can be done! Come to SVCUE onSaturday, March 8th to hear US talk about how if you're interested!
  • Talk about all of this! With PTA, Site Council, Ts, Ss, district about it, Tweet about it, spread the word. Don't keep the message a secret, people won't know what you believe in unless you share! 
  • Show evidence of other schools/leaders that are already leading this way. Look to Twitter, Edutopia and the plethora of educational blogs out their to provide support.
  • Stay strong and believe in your ideas/mission, even when people look at you like an alien!
  • Spend LOTS of time in classrooms, this is where schools 'make their money.' Visibility Visibility Visibility
  • Being part of the #SAVMP (School Admin Virtual Mentor Program) with @PeterMDeWitt and @gcouros

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Listen & Watch with Intention

This morning, I had the pleasure of spending an hour (which wasn't nearly long enough) with a good friend of mine who happens to be one of the most incredible teachers I know.  For the sake of this post, we will refer to her as Molly. (random name choice - seriously random, #weird) Molly and I have known each other for about five years now. She was the one who took me under her wing when I was hired to teach next door to her in a dirt bag portable as we referred to our classrooms.  My first summer in the Bay Area, Molly toured me around Chinatown, all over SF, and throughout Marin.  We discovered some favorite restaurants, we began a healthy latte addiction, and we even forced our husbands to become friends. Over the course of our teaching careers together (a short lived three years before I plunged into admin), I found Molly to be like no other teacher I had ever worked with.  She truly knew how to create a classroom community.  Molly taught her students to trust one another, she got down and dirty with them, and when one of those little seven year old faces looked at her with wide eyes, she knew exactly what that child needed.

Today, in my coffee conversation with Molly, I missed those days. I especially missed those days because Molly is having a challenging school year. One of those years where a couple of students are really making learning difficult for the majority of the class.  I'm not talking about a little extra "boy energy" or a few "blurters," I'm talking about some REAL challenges.  There wasn't much I could say or do to make Molly feel better as she vented about her failed attempts to get support and help from just about anyone who would listen to her.  But what I was able to tell Molly, was that I don't think the people around her know her well enough.  If they did, if they REALLY knew Molly, they would know that when she asks for help, she is all out of tricks.  If they really knew Molly, they would know that when she calls out for assistance, she is down on her knees pleading for support.  If they really knew Molly, they would know her students as well, because they would have been IN her classroom watching and learning.

I could go on and on about Molly, her class, and where I feel there have been breakdowns along the way in the "systems" that are in place, but what I really walked away with after our conversation was a huge reminder for myself.  A reminder to stop and listen to those around me who might be asking for help.  A reminder to stop and watch for colleagues who may be in need of extra support.  A reminder that it's my responsibility to know the people I work with so that when I see them struggling, I will hopefully be able to catch a glimpse of it in their eyes and know how to intervene.  

99 days out of 100 I love being a principal.  But today, I just wanted to be a 2nd grade teacher, back in my old dirt bag portable, waving to Molly through the window.  I wanted her to see my face smiling at her, reminding her that she is wonderful, that she can do this.  For now, I guess I'll have to settle for the lesson she left me listen and watch with intention.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Calling On A Hero

Mr. & Mrs. Bell
Photo taken: November 16, 2007

It had been a long day of teaching.  One of those days where you feel a little defeated and beat up when the kids all walk out the door.  One of those days where bus duty feels like a huge punishment, and you "supervise" by pretending you don't see the kids hiding behind the benches throwing erasers at one another. Mrs. Ramey had apparently had a similar day to mine because I remember walking into her classroom after bus duty and feeling relieved when she gave me a look that said, "Please tell me we aren't still going." 

Ramey was one of my very best teaching friends when I lived in Mobile, Alabama. She was one of those teachers who was never too busy to answer my endless questions.  Her precision to detail and OCD tendencies (as she herself would admit) coupled with my big picture views and lofty goals were a dynamite combination! We were a killer 3rd grade team, Ramey and me. On this particular fall day, Ramey and I had planned to drive downtown to a museum that was featuring a new photography gallery depicting the story of  World War II.  After a quick debate on if we should still go or not, Ramey and I grabbed our after school snack of Diet Dr. Peppers and Cheeze-Its, and headed for the museum. 

The World War II photographs were breathtaking.  I stood in awe of the countless pictures of young men who had picked up and left everything they knew to serve and protect our country.  A part of me kept an eye out for a picture of my grandfather, Charles M. Barnett, who had passed away a year earlier.  I didn't see grandpa in any of those pictures, but I felt him with me in that museum. I remember feeling so proud that he had served our country, came home to raise a family, and then spent his life as an educator sharing his knowledge of photography with his students and investing in their lives until his own passing.  Standing in that museum that day, I could smell my grandpa's "dark room" where he spent hours upon hours developing pictures years earlier, but where us grand kids had thought it was cool to just hang out and be kids together.

As I was lost in my own personal thoughts, Ramey called me over to a photograph that had clearly captured her attention.  Together, we read the story of Maurice Bell, a seaman on the USS Indianapolis who survived 4 days and 5 nights in shark infested waters, waiting to be rescued after a Japanese torpedo sank the USS Indianapolis in the middle of a 1945 July night.  We were moved to tears, touched by his story. One of only 317 men who survived out of approximately 1,200 men on board, Mr. Bell's story was beyond comprehension for even Ramey who grew up in a military household of bravery and tradition. And then we saw it..."Maurice Bell currently resides in Mobile, Alabama with his wife Lois." It was as if Ramey and I knew immediately that Mr. Bell was going to change our lives, and our students' lives with his story and his honor. 

Two weeks later, Maurice Bell, the sweetest old man your eyes had ever seen, sat in my 3rd grade classroom with my twenty students.  He shared his story with a room full of eight year olds.  A room full of students who didn't know or understand war. A room full of students who couldn't understand what it was like to hear their friends being taken one by one into the dark waters by sharks. A room full of students who didn't understand why their teacher was misty-eyed. However what I saw that day, was that Mr. Bell also shared his story with a room full of students who suddenly didn't care when recess was or what was for lunch.  Students who ran up to him after his talk and hugged him asking for his autograph. Students whose eyes glistened with pride when Mr. Bell let them wear his seaman's cap and when he crouched for a picture with them.  

What I saw that day, was a hero.  A real live hero.  In my classroom.  With my students.  I felt so proud that Veterans Day week.  Proud of the fact that Ramey and I had sucked up our bad day, and gone to learn and experience something special together. Proud that we did something about it by calling up a stranger and inviting him to connect with our students. Proud that those little eight year old lives would forever have the experience of meeting Mr. Bell and his lovely wife, Lois. 

Proud that we called upon a hero.  

Written with much love in the memory of Grandpa Chuck and Maurice Bell, two heroes I think about often.
Read and watch more about Maurice Bell's story from PBS here.

With Grandpa Chuck on Thanksgiving 2005

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Culture, Open Doors, and Breakthroughs

Great. I'm addicted already after writing just 1 blog post.  For days now, I've had the itch to sit down with a piping hot cup of coffee and let the thoughts running through my mind spill onto the screen. However, we all know how it goes, we're busy people. Pulled in thousands of directions and not always having the freedom to spend time on the things we "want."  As if I don't have enough addictions already: Twitter, adorable children, sushi, The Good Wife, and most recently, I've come to terms with the fact that I am completely addicted to surrounding myself with incredibly talented and fun people (#dangerous), NOW this...blogging! You've got to be kidding me. I can barely handle myself these days. I'm sure it's perfectly "normal" to call your friends and chat about what you're going to blog about in your next post right? #dontanswerthat 
Last night, as I sat down to write my school "newsletter" (which I usually loathe since I wait until Tuesday night at 10pm to get started and it gets emailed out first thing Wednesday morning) I decided to go all "blogger" on my newsletter and let's just say, I can hardly wait until next Tuesday night!  I promise, I won't make you read my elementary school newsletter each week but as for this week, you're SO reading it. Don't worry, my Google Doc titled "Blog Ideas" is filling up fast, but for now, I'd love to share with you a glimpse into the life of some shifts taking place at Penngrove Elementary. A place where I have the pleasure of pouring out my heart and soul daily. Enjoy! 
November 6, 2013
Dear Penngrove Families,
Culture is an interesting phenomenon isn't it? We see culture all around us on a daily basis, yet we sometimes don't realize our "culture" because it has become such a part of who we are and how we see the world. When I look around the campus of Penngrove Elementary School, I see evidence of a strong and healthy culture.  I see a culture centered upon student learning, where families feel welcomed and comfortable on campus.  I see a culture where staff members exhaust all resources to be the best they can for their students.  I see a culture where students ask questions because they are curious, and they feel safe in their learning environment.  I see a culture where parents volunteer endlessly and without question to make our jobs so much easier.  I see a culture of respect, compassion, and genuine good will.
As with all healthy school cultures, there are appropriate times for shifts, growth, and even challenges that may test us, but in the end, they make us stronger.  Lately, I have observed a few of these shifts and growing pains as we learn together and make adjustments to our incredibly wonderful school culture for the benefit of our students.  Last week, I had the pleasure of watching our teachers working diligently to understand and dive deeper into the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics.  I took a moment to reflect on the huge undertaking that our educators face as we strive to engage our students in new and exciting ways that promote deeper learning.  
I often find myself wondering if I am doing all that I can to support our students and staff members in the classroom and around campus, where the learning is taking place.  Sadly, at times, I know that I fall short of this large responsibility...a responsibility that I take extremely seriously.  Sure I visit classrooms, of course I spend time with teachers and students, and yes, I can even play a mean game of four square every now and then but REALLY, let's be I getting down and dirty when it comes to learning with students? Am I modeling the high expectations that I have for each and every one of our students both academically and socially? 
Being open and honest with you all is something that comes naturally for me.  If you don't know by now, I have an open door policy and I can't imagine how some leaders operate without such a policy.  According to Wikipedia (not my favorite resource), an open door policy encourages openness and transparency.  It fosters an environment of collaboration, high performance, and mutual respect.  An open door policy sustains empowerment and positive morale while improving efficiency, productivity, and growth.  These are all descriptors of things that I want for our school and for our culture.  
In an effort to remain open and transparent with you, I want to let you know about a seminar I attended recently with Ms. Tafoya called Breakthrough Coach Training.  I'll spare you the details of the two day coaching session, but what I will tell you is that the experience drastically opened my eyes to the priorities I need to set not only myself, but for our campus as a whole.  I know some of you are getting nervous because you think the "ch" word is about to come out, yes.... C H A N G E, but, all I can do is think of the famous quote by Margaret Mead  which reads, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Penngrove is committed to constantly looking at ways to improve the educational experiences of our students.  We know that students won't always remember what they were taught, but they WILL remember how they felt along the way. As a function of this commitment, beginning this week, I will be spending two full days every week in classrooms in order to help improve the teaching and learning that happens on a daily basis. Therefore, I may not always be available to speak with you when you drop in or telephone me. However, I really do value communicating with you! So, when you want to reach out to me, please contact Nicole Tafoya (who is doing a wonderful job as our new office manager!) and she will schedule a time for us to talk. My door is still very much open to you.  In fact, it's not only open to you, but it's open to the possibilities that lay before us, the solid foundation that lays behind us, and the culture we shape and mold daily, for the benefit of the most amazing 418 little faces I've come to know and love.
Thank you for your ongoing support of Penngrove and your patience and understanding as we implement these practices! 
Transparently yours,