Saturday, January 25, 2014

Memories That Won't Fade

Some memories are made intentionally. Other memories are treasured forever. Memories of laughter, memories of trips, experiences, new beginnings.  If you stop and think about it, the ability to just plain remember something is a gift in many ways.  And then there are difficult memories. The loss of a job, the fear of the unknown, an experience that changed your life.  Memories that won't fade.

This was a challenging week for me.  I experienced yet another "first" as a principal.  I've come to realize, these "firsts" will never cease.  Even when I am in year 47 of my principal career (#californiasoldestprincipal), I believe I will still be having "firsts."

Upon arriving to school on Thursday, I had a sweet grandma waiting to see me. This grandma is an active part of our community along with her husband and daughter who love our sweet little elementary school.  I remember last school year at the Halloween Carnival when I complimented grandma on her spunky witch hat, she was tickled.  She made me wear the hat for the next 3 hours and I loved every second of it. I was new to the community and something about the sharing of that hat made me feel connected and welcomed.  Memories that won't fade.

Out of respect for the family and the tragic scenario, I won't go into details here but grandma was at school to ask me for help.  As we stood in my office, she shared with me that her daughter had died the night before.  Grandma was at school to break the news to her second grade grandson who didn't know yet. My heart broke into a million pieces in that moment. Memories that won't fade.

As the morning unfolded, our incredible counseling staff stepped up to the plate without hesitation.  There were hugs, tears, and questions in the next hour that unfolded.  I wrote letters to my staff, and parent community, I made calls, I hugged teachers and students. Thankfully, I stood strong when I felt weak.  These are all memories of mine that won't fade but the memory I can't shake is the one that my precious little second grader may have for the rest of his life.  The memory of the morning his principal came into his classroom and took him by the hand and led him to where his family was waiting for him with tragic news.  I've made that walk from Room 4C to the office a thousand times. It never felt as long as it did that morning.

I could share numerous lessons and "take aways" from the events of this week.  What gets me the most is that this delightful grandma who once shared her hat with me, came to our school for help when she didn't know where to turn.  This beautiful gray-haired woman with a lifetime of experience came to me, a 30 year old rookie principal.  She stood before me and asked me for help.  That was an eye-opener for me, in so many ways. I will be there for this family.  I will be there for this student. I will stand in the gap wherever I can and hold onto the memories that won't fade.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Worth It.

Last week, I had the unique privilege of spending some quality time away from school with about half of my teaching staff.  Back in November when I opened up the opportunity for teachers to attend the Google Summit in Napa, I was pleasantly surprised (purely for the financial hardship) when only a couple of people expressed interest in attending the summit.  However, just as I had that thought, slowly but surely, my InBox started filling up with “I’d love to go!” “Sounds like a great experience!” “Can I bring a buddy?”

It didn’t take long for us to have a pretty solid group of teachers ready to write sub plans and skip town for a couple of days in order to learn new things for the benefit of students. Enter #TeamPenn – my Google Ninjas! Meet our team:

Back row: @msjanuleski (1st  grade), @mrsbuschman (3rd grade), @mrssartori (kindergarten), @mcandersen88 (5th grade), @mrsnewman014 (5th grade) 
Front row: @wendyfunk2 (1st grade), @msoneil7 (3rd grade), @mrslaw10 (kindergarten) 
Ninjas not pictured:  @mrsmainaris11 (2nd grade), @mskeatingRSP (RSP)

The #gafesummit was incredible.  For any of you who know me, it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite things about these conference experiences is the networking aspect.  There is something so unique, something that fills me so deeply, when I humbly stand in a room with likeminded people who challenge me, teach me, and pour their lives into changing the world, student by student.  It’s my drug of choice. This #EduEnthusiasm is magical to me and it fuels me to do the hard work I encounter on a daily basis.

As a teacher, I never once attended a single conference.  I don’t ever recall a time when my principals (and two of them I completely and totally adore!) offered to send me anywhere. Sadly, it never occurred to me that I could seek conferences out myself.  I am certainly not complaining.  As a teacher, I was extremely happy.  I just didn’t know what I was missing.  I can’t help but think about how much better of a teacher I could have been with the combined power of knowledge, risk, and networking that comes with the conference experience.

Now in my second year as principal, I am proud of the fact that I have been able to provide opportunities for so many of my teachers to attend conferences. Besides this recent #gafesummit, in the past nine months, #TeamPenn has been a mighty force at North Bay CUE’s Connect U in Napa, the GAFE  Summit in the Silicon Valley, Fall CUE in American Canyon, and now we’re gearing up to send a couple of teachers to CUE Rock Star in February.  My next goal is for 100% of my staff to attend the May 10th North Bay CUE event in Sonoma County.  #wegotthis  

I want my teachers to feel inspired.  I want them to connect and learn with other educators who care deeply about students.  I want each of my teachers to be challenged in ways that make them love their jobs more now that they ever have.

If you’re a teacher and you haven’t had the opportunity to attend a conference, start asking! Find something you’re interested in, look for a conference that matches your interest, and simply share your desires with your admin.  If you’re an administrator, I challenge you to not wait until someone comes to ask you.  Look around. Basque in the talent that is on your campus daily.  Assemble your team.  Do something radical that shows your staff you believe in them.  I’d be willing to bet that your team is worth it. I know mine is.