Sunday, August 5, 2018

Preparing for the First day of School

It’s almost that time again, that kids return to the building and you get rolling on another year of school.  I begin my fifteenth year as an educator as I write this, and ninth year as an administrator.  Your district most likely has a principal checklist for year start, but I’d like to mention a few things I look at on my own list, and what some of my systems look like to begin a year.  This isn’t intended as an exhaustive list, just what’s been coming to mind for me as I go through my opening day preparations.

Most important:

    Have a concrete expectation and plan for what day one looks like.
o   Registering new students who show up
§  Our entire theater is set up as triage for new student schedules with about 20 personnel dedicated to it.  All hands on deck during this time.  We pull almost all support, clerical, and other personnel to help this process.  We have an outstanding set of counselors who set up an assembly line to make sure we get kids into a schedule.  Depending on your size, this is something you really want to look at and make sure it’s efficient. 
o   Bus tagging for students, getting them home.  This is especially critical for the little ones.  I’ve often told my APs our job on day 1 is welcome them, feed them, get them in class, and above all else get them home on time.  Otherwise we start the year off poorly with our parents.
o   Supervision plan is clearly communicated to all staff.  Make sure the whole floor is covered, and arrival/ dismissal is double covered for the first day.
o   Class roster dissemination.  You’re going to have several kids that didn’t get their schedule over the summer.  Make sure you have a process that gets them in class quick, without anxiety.
o   Lunch schedules and a plan they may take longer than normal, because every year I have been a principal first day lunch has been longer than normal.  If you use lunch numbers, make sure they’re on hand and easy to get to a kid to keep the line flowing.
o   A clear expectation on how to greet kids and get them excited about the school year.  There are a myriad of examples out there from high fives at the door, to red carpets.  Go find them and figure out what fits for your school.  I don’t generally go for the red carpet productions, but I think it’s critically important to communicate to staff what the expectations for the feel for the first day is for all students.  Remember many don’t like school, or are nervous that how they acted in the past will be how they are perceived day one.  Let the new school year be a blank slate for every kid.
o   Behavior expectations and campus norms being taught.  I feel like this is critical whether or not you subscribe to PBIS.  If you can consistently spend a few days in the opening making sure kids are taught the norms and expectations, you lose time in the front end, but gain so much more in the long term.  Creating this climate is critical to becoming the school you can become. 

Leading up to the first day here are some activities I think you should include:

- Review every plan.  All of them.  If it’s a plan you intend to implement, make sure that it’s updated, made relevant and communicated to all stakeholders.  This may seem like a boilerplate piece of advice, but in my experience we often leave a plan on a shelf that hasn’t been touched in years.  Before the beginning of the first day is the optimal time to dust off all these plans and either scrap them, or update them.  If you’re looking at systemic improvement you must have the clear communication that if we say this “is a plan we will follow” then make sure it’s updated, relevant, and communicated.  Otherwise it’s just a piece of paper in a file folder, or a dead link on a website.
o   Same as above for your policies and procedures.  Anything that is a policy needs to be on an evaluation cycle.  Leading up the first day is a great time to look at the big policies of your school.
-  - Communicate out the Division of Duties for the administrative staff clearly to the school.  Make sure your teachers know what all the admin stuff does, who the main point of contact is for all of the large processes, and clearly delineate who is in charge of what.  Don’t assume people assume it’s the same from last year.  You will have on boarded new staff, you will have changed some things over the summer, make sure it’s communicated for organizational effectiveness.
o   If you are a decent sized school it’s useful to have all of the big process movers stand up and tell the staff at a retreat or opening day what processes/ systems they are responsible for.  This puts a face to the name, and creates ownership for the process.  For example we have over 240 staff.  In opening meetings my APs, resource teachers, etc will stand up and say “My name is X, and I am responsible for buildings and grounds, or instructional walkthroughs, or substitutes, etc”.
 - Make sure your new staff is on boarded in your norms, expectations, and how you do business.  While this could be its own post, and books have been written about it; make sure this is done well.  You will alleviate a tremendous amount of frustration in your new staff if you make a concrete plan to bring them up to speed.  This includes the experienced folks who come to your school.  For onboarding, treat them like they’re brand new.
o   I’m not good at it, but I’m blessed with plenty of people who are.  Make sure someone is good at the little things for this, such as cards, notes, school branded stuff.  For example I have a rock star staff member (Kathy Abell) who made cookies for all the new staff with the school logo.  It’s a simple pride thing that communicates so much more than words.  If you are like me and aren’t great at that kind of stuff, cede responsibility to someone who is and make sure they have resources and time to do it.
 - Review data from the previous year, identify clearly what metrics you weren’t pleased with, and what you intend to do about it.  Before the school year is a good time to stop admiring the data, and form a concrete plan of what you intend to do.  I’ll mention here that I believe you must be explicit in pulling out disparities based on race and socio economic status.  Be clear that these areas of data must be addressed and planned for.
-          Review specifically (I pull these out for a purpose) the following:
o   PLC norms and expectations.
o   Suspension procedures and Tier 2/3 behavior intervention plans.
o   Lesson planning expectations.
o   Intervention (academic) procedures.
o   Progress monitoring procedures for whatever interim assessment you use (MAP, in house, DiscoveryED, etc).
o   Walkthrough procedures, the tool, the expectations, and when conferencing occurs
o   Bus drop off/ car rider pick up lines. 
o   Common procedures for staff such as requesting a sub, sick days, etc.
 - Update your handbook and make sure it’s been clearly communicated to your staff.
o   Make sure essential, mandated, and required training's or check offs is assigned to someone to see that they are completed on time.
Determine how you are communicating about Curriculum documents and what each department and PLCs expectations are regarding this.  Odds are it has been updated since the last time you looked at it.
- Build transition lists for whatever student body you serve.  For example, we serve 6-12.  So we really focus our effort on seniors, getting 10-12 into a career pathway, and our MAP readiness lists for 6-8.  Whatever your focus is, make sure your lists are built and communicated out prior to the start of school. If you are at the HS level I highly recommend you have a name/need list for every senior.  I can’t imagine leading a HS without one. 
Home visit students you know may require some extra support.  For this year at each grade and academy we identified 10 at risk kids (70 total) for behavior, attendance, or general at risk and we’re doing home visits before the year starts.  Nothing terribly formal other than to say hi, welcome them back, and start the year positive with them before they even walk through the door.
Develop the schedule for the campus.  For our size this is integral to how we do business.  We have meetings scheduled through the whole year, and big dates penciled in based off of previous years.  This does wonders to help eliminate staff frustration.
Clearly communicate out registration procedures and dates through a variety of means: paper, social media, messenger, onecalls, etc.  Inevitability someone will complain they didn’t receive it, probably expecting you would hand deliver it their house.  Don’t worry, just smile and ask for them to update their contact information.  Make sure in your registration/ orientation procedures there are multiple ways to collect contact data: emails, show them your Facebook, twitter, etc, and make sure they’re signed up for your grading software if it has that option.  Infinite Campus has the parent portal, so make sure you have someone teaching that to your families.
Develop and schedule training regarding how money is handled for all involved.  Whatever that may be: ticket taking, fees, field trips monies, work with your bookkeeper for process and procedures regarding money and get it ready and right for day one for all staff involved.
Even if it’s assigned to an AP, you’re the principal so do several building walkthroughs leading up to the first day.  Check for ceiling panels that are nasty, floors waxed, teachers have everything they need, etc.  Develop a checklist of your building and follow it.  You want that first impression on day one to be a good one, and you need to make sure it’s right.  One of my traditions is the final walkthrough the night before.  Superstition makes me do one final lap around the building the night before kids to make sure everything is right.  At a minimum make sure every class has enough work spaces, computers are plugged in, projectors have bulbs, books are available, and keys are distributed.

This list is not exhaustive, and it’s created while I do the above leading up to school.  Feel free to leave more ideas in the comments, and as with anything else in my blog, please feel free to share and I hope it helps you on your journey.

Interview by MrsLepre on Being Honest in Job Interviews

This summer I had the privilege of being interviewed by Mrs. Kim Lepre, awesome teacher who is giving back to the profession.  Mrs. Lepre interviewed me about new teacher interviews.  It was a really cool experience and I encourage you to check her out, her blog is full of really good stuff.

Her podcast site can be found here:

Her website can be found here:

Her twitter handle:

Link to the podcast can be found here:

Monday, April 23, 2018

Deeper Learning Exhibition #2 Reflection

Reflecting on our second exhibition I first want to give a shout out to our Core 4 team that has done such a great job this year.  Kaufmann, Konczal, Bektic, and Durbin well done, and thank you for recruiting so many more staff into this work. We had an amazing turn out for our first and second exhibitions, and every staff member that had a hand in the work deserves a pat on the back.  I’ve said countless times I abhor standardized testing mainly because I think KPREP and the ACT are biased towards our students (especially our ESL students) and are only one, small measure of ‘success’. I think Deeper Learning exhibitions are a real, tangible measure of success that allows us to showcase what we are doing, give our kids a sense of academic success, and communicate to our community the answer to that age old question: “What did you do at school today?”.

Here are some lessons I’ve drawn from our two exhibitions this year:

  1. Deeper Learning begins in Passion and interest, then connect it into content.  Students don’t want the sage on the stage, and it doesn’t work. So don’t do it.  Purpose and relevance is what hooks our students. Engagement is the foundation of any instruction, right?
  2. Deeper Learning Must be teacher led.  Our job as admin is paint the promised land, and build a place for them to make it happen.  We did this by first saying our culture is focused on the process, and by creating a space to try.  Empowered teachers produce outstanding results, and I think our two exhibitions are strong evidence of this belief.
  3. Deeper Learning should involve every content and let them find where they can exhibit learning.  We are best served when we refrain from the ‘right answer’ and default to ‘give it a shot, let's see what they can do’. Reinforcing iteration is important. Reinforce this lives all over the building.
  4. Deeper Learning is a commitment to not to be afraid for it to be messy, raw, and provocative.  If a kid wants to do an analysis of Gender, the #MeToo movement, race, violence; then build a structure for them to do it well. Real world engagement is where we hook them.
  5. Deeper Learning at its core must have a Focus on quality.  As Dr. Pollio says: “Ground zero of equity.” BUT- give some room for messy, because the quality will come.  This is where the science of teaching and work protocol lives. Expectations that intersect across the school (super hard lift) are what will move us to the school we can become.
  6. Deeper Learning is about a celebration of what our students can do. We should celebrate every bit of it, especially focusing on the non traditional definition of success.  Social media is our best platform to showcase this work.
To take this work further I think we need to do two things:

  1. Embrace the Backpack of Skills and Profile of a Graduate work.  Our internal team is close to done with the first iteration. Expect a full day of work on this during our retreat to design appropriate demonstration points for ALL contents, area, academies, and grade levels.
  2. Continue to promote all contents of the building to put forth examples of Deeper Learning.  Check the photos in the Monday Report for ideas. Don’t be afraid to step up to the plate and have your students showcase their learning.  We will do 2 exhibitions next year, and the first one will be tied to our Open House. We will continue to polish the production aspect of the event, and continue to tie food, art, band, orchestra, and music to our events.  These events should be a celebration of our academic success from all aspects of our campus.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

#KyGoDigital Episode on Digital Tools to Build & Unite Your School Community

We had the opportunity to host a #KyGoDigital episode at our school today.  Three of our outstanding educators: Kyle McKune, Maegan Woodlee, Kyle Chandler, and myself discussed digital tools, culture, and school branding.  Check it out.  It's part of a massive undertaking by the #KyGoDigital people who are curating some of the outstanding work going on in Kentucky.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What happens in the School Admin team meeting?

There are a lot of things a principal has to do well.  Hire good people, create a culture of trust and risk, support good people, be kind, approachable, transparent.  One of the process things a principal has to do well is have a cohesive, coherent administrative team meeting.  If communication breaks down during this crucial process, then the building will be muddled, teachers will get frustrated from a lack of coherency, and inevitably students will suffer.  I don't hold up our model as the best out there, but it's born honest from some years 'in the saddle'.  Hopefully you can learn something for your practice with what we do.

We didn't do norm setting as a team.  I set the tone with a few ground rules every year:
1. Be on time
2. Be constructive
3. Be present.

I've never had an admin not follow those, and we don't reference them more than once a year.  I've found that high performing people do those things naturally, and I find it insulting of their intelligence to continue to discuss those expectations.  If it becomes a problem, I address it one on one, because otherwise we're too busy to waste time on that stuff.  

A couple of things that I want in a 'good' admin meeting:

1. Some sharing of information, but for that not to be the purpose.  Sharing information is critical, but if the whole meeting is sharing information, then we haven't decided anything or taken action.

2. Honest conversation about critical issues without emotions.  Sometimes we have issues where one persons area is rubbing wrong against another.  We are one school.  When we have pain points we need to be able to address them as a group, without getting mad at each other.

3. Service mindset.  For more on this check this previous post about Assistant Principals.  What I need from the team is the mentality that when we meet, we're here to solve issues and create processes to allow more time in class, and our teachers spending more time teaching, rather than bogged down in minutiae.

4. Being present.  That doesn't mean phones are off.  We're busy people and they may get a text from our ISAP teacher and need to step out.  What it does mean is that we're engaged in the work, even if what is being discussed doesn't pertain to their area at the time.  Being knowledgeable about the whole building, and helping to make decisions for the whole building is effective.

5. Espirit De Corps.  It may sound corny but I want the team to feel pride and fellowship in each other.  You can't manufacture this, but you can support it, and be mindful about it.  No one wants to work with negative nancy or jerky jerry.

I believe in the importance though of setting a good agenda.  It should guide the work, be easy to follow, and have the resources the team needs to communicate in front of them.  Below is a screenshot of our admin agenda.  We use a google slide, copy it each week in the same file so we have a running document of the year.  This serves as a quick one stop shop for documentation needs, and referencing back to what we have done in the past.  I've used other ways in the past, but for my needs, using slides is the best method I've fond so far in terms of organization and documentation.

There are some components I feel are important to the agenda to give it structure and keep us focused:

1. We begin each meeting with 1 quick celebration from the week before.  Each member of our admin team (Me, 7 Assistant Principals, 6 Counselors, 1 Academy Coach, 1 FRYSC) have to celebrate something, either a student, staff member, something good that happened the week before.  I think this is important because it serves to focus our meeting from the start, and having seven grade levels on campus, it allows the team to hear the good things going on throughout the building.  This also gives me a chance to be able to highlight really noteworthy things to the staff if we all feel it's needed.

2. Useful Links: These are the common documents we all need as administrators in a one stop shop.  Our evaluation matrix listing all staff and important evaluation needs (on a Google Sheet), our Data Management Center, a district resource for data; our District Principal Priorities, a district document that lists big ticket items, and most importantly our improvement plans.  This link goes to a google slide that warehouses all of our plans: Behavior, Interventions, assessment, etc.  

3. In the top middle our three boxes that line out the major areas of the building: Environment, Systems, and Learning.  This graphic serves as a reminder of the big areas and the sub needs under each.

4. Top right hand corner: our vision.  If you want the vision to be living, it has to be everywhere, referenced often, and guiding the work, rather than just a catchy (or worse overly wordy) phrase painted on a wall.

5. Current vacancies, so we all know what we have open.

6. At the bottom: Our priorities, the three big 'rocks' we need to be good at to become the school we want to become. We reference these often.

7. Environment: This box holds first our standing reports.  At each admin meeting we have our Building Assessment Coordinator, Special Education Resource Teachers, Positive Behavior Intervention Teachers, Technology, and Goal Clarity Coach (instructional coach) come and give a quick standing report of what they have going on so all admin know.  This serves to build the coherency for the building and make sure we know when the BAC is taking the theater for AP testing.  The rest of this box has environment, or new process issues we need to discuss.  Here we divvy up nighttime duties, discuss environmental problems (like the building having kids in it unsupervised) any construction or projects we have on campus, or other 'big ticket' processes that are new and we need to hash out.

8. Systems: Here we discuss data or information from established systems.  Usually this is intervention data, scheduling concerns, budget, student advisory, ESS, or other processes that are built and require monitoring.

9. Learning: This is where we discuss senior on track, common formative assessment data, testing concerns, and learning processes. This is also where we split out the meeting for the evaluation portion.  The end of all of our admin meetings we dismiss the counselors, academy coach, and FRYSC so just myself and the assistant principals are there.  At this point we discuss teacher evaluation, coaching documents, instructional feedback concerns, and teacher growth.  We dismiss the other folks because they are non-evaluation positions.  In our district only principals or assistant principals do performance evaluations.  During this time we go through our instructional focus protocol (when we have time, i'll confess it gets dropped on occasion, which it shouldn't).  You can read about that here: Instructional Focus Walkthrough.

We meet every Monday at 8am, and typically we are done by 915 or so. We do our best to protect this time, and the clerical folks know we are 'off radio' at that point and the resource teachers and security need to handle the building unless something is really important. 

This year we're going to try a new form of a book-study.  We're all bringing books to the table, everyone will have a month to read their book.  Then we will briefly discuss what we learned in our books, and then switch among ourselves based off the readers review.  I've done traditional book studies in the past, and i'm just not a fan.  I think we gain more if we share our ideas and impressions of a variety of books at the table.