Sunday, October 22, 2017

Letter to Kentucky Legislators 10/22/17

Letter sent 10/21/17 to the legislators as part of my daily contact/ call to bring visibility to our concerns as educators in the Commonwealth.  I sent this via email listing to each representative, and senator for the Commonwealth.


My name is Robert Fulk, Principal of The Marion C. Moore School in Louisville, KY JCPS.  We are the largest school in the city of Louisville with an enrollment of over 2,150.  I have over 240 folks that work for me here at Moore and right now, they are scared.  I’d like to take a moment and give you some context as to why Pension Reform is so critical not only to our school, but to the Commonwealth, and our future generations of Kentuckians.

Without a doubt, I am invested in the future of our Commonwealth.  I am Kentucky born, and my adult life has been in service to the school system.  I own property, pay taxes, and volunteer my time to better my city and state.  I am a member of the Board of Directors for the Olmsted Parks, the school board for St Nicholas Academy, and an active parishioner of OLMC.  I am a father of three wonderful kids, and married to an educator. I am the principal of the largest school in the city of Louisville.  THE Marion C. Moore, grades 6-12.  We have over 2,150 students.  I took this building over last year as it was failing, culture was terrible, and our programs were abysmal.  In a year we’ve added engineering, Electricians track, Culinary Arts, Medical pathways, and dual credit for our students.  We have opened the doors to prepare our students more fully for their next step, and our culture is growing rapidly, daily.  In a year we have shown marked improvement in any measurable category and we are quickly becoming known for our turnaround.  A big component of this is hiring.  Last year I hired 78 staff.  This year I’ve hired 37.  One of the driving factors in new teachers in the pension, and for those of us already vested it is a huge component of why we choose this work.  It is an essential recruitment and retention tool.  Without the pension, I will lose quality applicants.  This is an undeniable fact from any study on pension reform.  We are already paid less than comparable fields with as much education, and removing the pension from this equation is shackling a system even further.  I ask those of you that are businessmen and women, could you sustain high performance in your industry with my current hiring ratio?  We are proud that in a year we have cut our hiring in half, but removing the pension will only make this problem worse.  It is not sustainable.

By my best estimate I have paid in over $140,000 in my career, and this is my 14th year.  11%+ per paycheck, without fail, and without griping.  Yet here we are now and I am told I may lose what is promised to me in an inviolable contract.  Like any employer-employee relationship, teachers and school administrators accept their employment in schools based on assurances that they would receive certain levels of salary and benefits. More importantly, these assurances are in law. Each year that they have already worked represents a year in which they performed their obligations under that contract. The legislature must live up to its obligations as well, and continue to provide the benefits it has committed to provide for each of the years that the employee has already worked. Any retroactive reduction of benefits, including sick leave accumulation, would represent a breach of contractual obligations.  The current plan presented this week is not good.  Aside from the defacto pay cut of 3%, the burden placed on the district of 2%, and the provision of putting the pension aside if you work more than 100 hours for a state institution (how will we have retired subs, retired administrator covering schools in between principals, or retired folks teaching at public universities?) this plan is not keeping the promise.

I have, and all of my people have fulfilled my end of the contract faithfully.  As principal of the largest school in the city of Louisville I average about 70 hours a week of work.  I do not get social security.  I am compensated well, but if you remove the pension from the equation good luck finding people with as many degrees as an average principal has (and eventually a Doctorate) that will work on average 3300+ hours a year for our students.  I am the norm for an effective school principal.  Removing the pension from our field will result in less qualified teachers, and in my case, school leaders.  You do not want this, not for the future of the Commonwealth.  I have worked my time with the assurance the pension will be there.  I am expecting to retire in 17-18 years or so when I hang it up that my pension will be there, intact; as quite frankly it is your obligation to fulfill this contract.  Whether or not you or the previous body of legislators have mismanaged, underfunded, or otherwise kicked the can down the road is immaterial to me, my teachers, my classified folks, and any else in education.  We have done our part.

You have an obligation to me, and to the 240 employees in my building, and the rest of us around the state.  This will be the primary issue on which I base my votes for either of your reelection, and what I communicate as a member of our community.  I urge you to do the right thing and protect our pension.  We have done our part, faithfully.  I will confess, I believe this will be found on deaf ears.  I have contacted Senator Seum, and Representative Donahue several times with no response, a trend mirrored by several of my staff, as these men are our legislators for the Highview area.  This issue is essential to us, and to the future of the Commonwealth. 

I send this to you as a citizen of our Commonwealth, a sitting school principal, the HS role group representative of JCASA, a volunteer on numerous boards, and as a father who is relying on his pension for his twilight years.  Please consider what you are doing to the future of the Commonwealth.


Robert Fulk
The Marion C. Moore School

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Athletics and the School: Expectations, Participation, Parents, and the AAU.

I like high school sports.  It’s kind of hard not to if you are a high school principal.  I appreciate the passion, intensity, and work ethic of our athletes.  I respect our coaches (I was a head wrestling coach for some time) and love what athletics can do to build a young person’s character, teamwork, and work ethic.  Athletics can and often is the reason some of our students come to school.  It motivates, it gives an outlet for kids, and can open doors to success for the talented.

It can also be one of the ugliest things about a school.  When the “me first” mentality takes a hold of athletics, and puts sports before academics, a school has a real problem on their hands.

Recently my football coach followed through with our athletic code of conduct, and a couple people were not happy when we lost a game.  They blamed the coach for benching eleven of his players. 

“They’re just kids.” 
“Teachers were too harsh”
“Why make the team suffer?”

Perhaps I am too harsh, but all of those are excuses for poor behavior.  When we put athlete before student, we’ve made a mistake.  As a wise man (Keith Davis, Superintendent of BCPS) said every year during our opening meetings: “Athletics enhance the mission, but are not the mission.”

A couple of guiding points I use in my practice:

Athletics are a privilege, not a right.  Say it again for those in the back.  As a principal I am under no obligation to give a student special treatment because they are good at sports.

As a principal I will happily have teams that never win a game as long as the kids we put out there are high character who are doing it right.  Having a winning team full of students that are taking advantage of the world around them isn’t conducive to a student’s real #futureself, just the moment.  In a perfect world I want high character students winning a ton of games.  That’s what we aspire to.

STUDENT-athlete.  The student comes first.  If a kid won’t get it done in the classroom, they will not play.  This is both academically or behaviorally.  If a student wants to not work, or act like a donkey, they don’t see the field.

I will not listen to, nor blame a loss on a coach who sits a student because they can’t be of high character.  Student that doesn’t rise to expectation needs to look in the mirror to see who is responsible.  The parent who is looking for a free pass because their kid is talented, needs to reevaluate their priorities.

I have to expect 100% of my coaches to get in line with this thinking.  If they can’t, we work with them.  If they still can’t we need to find a new coach.  If you ever want to really have parents at your door angry, part ways with a winning coach who doesn’t do it the right way.  Sleep well though, you’re doing the right thing.

I have to commit that this might make us lose some students.  If they can’t rise to the expectation, then be OK when they transfer.  They could have been the next Lebron James, but if they act like Terrell Owens in class, then you are better off that they went elsewhere.

I have to clearly communicate what our expectations are.  At my school we do this through our Athletic Code of Conduct, which is pretty stringent.  This code was written by our SBDM comprised of teachers, parents, and admin. 

Inevitably there is a parent who believes their kid will be the next D1 standout.  Perhaps they will be.  They will tie everything back to athletics, and seek favor or privilege because their kid is talented.  I’m looking at you Mr. Ball.  They will crow about how awesome their kid is, and how they need to focus on their sport because it’s going to pay for college.  We are not in the business of preparing students for athletic careers, we are in the business of education.  Remind them of these things:

Colleges don’t want:
-         Athletes who can’t make the grades
-         Athletes who have a me first mentality
-         Athletes who can’t be coached
-         Athletes who are lazy
-         Athletes who have a bad attitude

They want high character athletes who can get it done on and off the court.  I talked to a coach at FSU who told me “We don’t want to deal with kids and their parents who don’t understand academics comes first.  I have 1,000 kids who want to play each position for us, I won’t pick the kid who is a fool.”

In this same line of thinking you may encounter the AAU parent, or travel parent who will toss at your feet that their kid plays softball nonstop, and this is so very important to them.  We don’t control AAU or travel.  They can have high or low expectations, and it’s not our wheelhouse.  What we do have oversight over is scholastic sports.  Want special privileges because your kid is good at softball?  Then they better make the grades and do what they need to in class.  What they do in travel ball has no bearing on what they do in school. 

As an aside principals- STOP giving excused absences to kids who go play in the “Travel Ball state championship/ national qualifier” it’s a money making scheme and in my opinion, ruining kid’s sports as it is.  How is anyone a national champion when only 4 teams showed up?

On the subject of things in athletics that distract from the school and promote the ‘me first’ mentality: ranking services.  I laugh when I hear that a kid is “ranked #32 in the nation as an 8th grader in Outside Linebackers”.  Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?  I am extremely suspect of these services as they always seem to be tied to some “camp” that the student is then invited to.

Guess what?  The camp costs money.  It always seems to cost money.

So they pump up a kid with their “ranking” and then invite them to a “special camp” to get “exposure”.  It’s about making money off the kid and their family.  I cringe when I see the free and reduced lunch kid who is excited because of this stuff, and wonder where they will get the money if they decide to go.  As a general rule, I have nothing but contempt for these types of services that I see as preying on kids.  I’m sure there are some good ones out there, but I haven’t ran into many.  As a principal, I don’t want them to have anything to do with my school.

Lastly we all have parents/ spectators who take it too far.  Don’t let them.  Even if their kid is the best player you have.  If they are cussing refs, coaches, other students ask them to stop.  If they don’t kick them off campus, and send them a no trespass letter if they can’t behave in public.  They have no right to be at an athletic event if they are harassing people and acting the fool.  Do not tolerate it.  As a principal you have the ability to set the tone of what good conduct is at an athletic event. 

Beyond the athlete who may get a college scholarship, we’re foremost in the business of preparing students for their #futureself.  Holding them to low expectations, allowing them the privilege to play sports when they spend 7 hours in school not being a student doesn’t prepare for them for their next step.  Taking a stand in athletics is a direct benefit to the school.  It is frustrating for teachers to have the star QB in class acting the fool, and then root for them on Friday night.  It is frustrating to see lower expectations for those who are supposed to be representing the school.  I am 100% in favor of higher expectations for those who want to do sports, and the results from doing so with students who are oftentimes leaders far outweigh the negatives.  Promote a culture of high character for your athletes and after the initial grumbling is out of the way, you will see results.  Then do not backslide. Have the same expectations from the starter to the bench warmer, and be consistent in their application.

I encourage you to draw a hard line when it comes to athletics.  The students will benefit from it, as will your school culture.

Recruit/ Retain/ Support Highly Effective People: Support- The Shout Out

In another post I’ll explain my basic tenet for building culture: get out of their way and let them work.  For this post though, I’d like to talk about one simple action I’ve used that I think builds culture.  As with anything presented in this blog I don’t pretend to be an expert, and my intent is to simply share some of the stuff from my practice that I think works.  This is a part of the ongoing series I’m working on: Recruit/Retain/Support Highly Effective People; specifically in the realm of supporting folks. 

I am not a fan of manufactured events to improve school culture.  I don’t think people come to work to receive manufactured praise.  I think they come to work for fulfillment in their job, and to get paid.  I think people want to work in a school where they know honesty and trust are cornerstones of the work.  If the praise they receive isn’t honest, then how are going to take critical feedback later on?  Disingenuous cultures don’t last, and I believe folks flee them at the first chance they get.

I think culture is created and maintained by the adherence to two ideas:

With the hope that this will translate to a simple vision that does not change My School is a good place to work.  A huge part of supporting highly effective folks is recognizing them when they are doing the right thing. 

The culture I want in our school is one where folks know where they stand, where good work is celebrated and reinforced, where they understand that they will be treated fairly and ethically, and have an understanding of what is happening on campus.  One of the things we do to build culture, speaking directly to celebrating and reinforcing good work is how we do shout outs.  It’s pretty simple, and I think authentic. 

Praise is important when it’s genuine, and just like feedback to a student, “Good Job” doesn’t go very far.  Folks want to know why they are doing a good job, and I think people appreciate being recognized for their work when they go above and beyond, and as equally important; when they are consistently performing at a high level.   Each week I send out a ‘shout out’ link where staff can highlight both students and staff.  I think it’s important that I send it out, not a clerk, or an AP, but the principal.  If it comes from the principal’s office it’s more likely to be read, and it clearly communicates what the office values.

I think our shout outs does a decent job of promoting a positive culture.  I’ve never heard any bad feedback about the shout outs, and folks seem to enjoy highlighting their peers.  I may have rose colored glasses on, but I figure if people have a ritual of celebrating their peers- good work is reinforced, and folks appreciate kind words from their colleagues.

I have no expectation of anyone filling them out weekly, and there are no parameters to shout out a coworker.  If it was mandated, I think it wouldn’t be genuine.  We usually have between 35-45 people that celebrate someone.  It can be for anything they wish to celebrate.  I’d love to see everyone celebrate someone each week, but if it doesn’t happen authentically, it doesn’t happen.  I do highlight when we have weeks with exceptional responses.  One week we had over 70 people send in a shout out.  That was really cool to see.  I enjoy reading them each week and seeing our people value each other.  If we ever had a week that every staff member sent in a shout out to a peer, I’d probably do a backflip down the hall.

At the end of each week I compile them off the spreadsheet generated by the google form, use the snipping tool and cut and paste them into my Monday report unedited, and folks can see them at the bottom of each report.  This takes up about 20 minutes of my weekend, and I think it’s time well spent.  Using the google form makes it pretty seamless.  I’m still playing with the format that it comes out in, but for now I used the snipping tool and cut and paste it directly.  I am sure there is a better way to do it, and make it look better; but style is not my forte.  Any ideas out there, I’ll happily listen.

I try and do my own shout outs each week in conjunction with the staff shout outs.  Admittedly I’m spotty on numbers, sometimes its 3-4, and sometimes its 20 people.  It’s based off what I have seen during the week, and limited to what I encounter.  So if I have a week full of meetings, odds are I’m not going to have a lot of people to celebrate. 

In the past I kept a list to make sure I highlighted people at least twice a year.  I stopped doing that in 15-16 because it’s not genuine.  If I don’t celebrate someone, it’s not because I don’t like them, or don’t find value in them, it’s because I haven’t seen something face to face to shout out.  This ties back to genuine praise.  I don’t feel that I am honest if I have a check off list that I keep.  I’ll praise and reinforce what I see.  I think being genuine about this upholds the value of the process, and peoples work.  Praise that’s not authentic, or boilerplate isn’t honest.  It makes people feel like that they are on a list to check off. 

Will a weekly shout out change the building over night?  No.  Culture is a facet of many things, and for us, this is one component.  Hope you found the post worthwhile and it spurred some thinking on how you celebrate authentically in your school.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Recruit/ Retain/ Support Highly Effective People: Support- The Instructional Focus Document, Our answer to the Walkthrough

Thank you to Wes Bradley, principal of Thomas Nelson High School for the inspiration for this document.  We sat down over the 16-17 summer and talked shop, and one of the most impressive things I took from the conversation was how he gave feedback, a living document in his building.  He uses something similar in his school, and like most things in education that work, we adapt what we like from it, turn it to our purposes, and give our spin to the work.  @wesbradley_ if you want to give him a follow.  Guy has a sharp mind and his school is rocking.

For this post I’m going to talk about the priority instructional initiative in my school this year: our Instructional Feedback document.  I’m painting myself into the corner with this post, as right now as of this writing we’ve rolled it out, and started to have it filled out among our staff.  Below I’m going to describe the document, its purpose, and what I hope to achieve.  Later on this year I’ll write an update on whether or not we actually got any value from it, or it fell flat on its face.

A bit of a risk, but why not?

This fits into the theme I've been writing about: Recruit/ Retain/ Support Highly Effective staff by speaking directly to the support notion.  I think a supported staff is one that has consistent feedback to drive instruction forward.

I don’t as a general rule like walkthroughs tied to metric numbers.  As a profession I think we are killing some of the art of teaching and learning by tying such a variable heavy field to metrics (like the ELEOT).  While these are useful for snapshot data points in our schools, I question the validity of using them to really drive whole school improvement.  This thought process comes from a basic question: “Do I want to get better because I want my number better?”  I’d rather have our staff live in the realm of anecdotal, descriptive feedback to improve practice.  John Hattie will tell you that descriptive feedback is what drives growth.  I know in my own practice both as a teacher, and evaluating teachers, descriptive feedback brings questions to the table, and improves practice.  To that end, I wanted to work with a document where we did just that, and hopefully will do it often.

A couple basic premises I wanted:
1. Descriptive feedback is the basis.
2. Divided into both a Cultural goal and into an instructional goal, determined by the teacher
3. Living document, ongoing that can updated in real time

I am not a staunch advocate of the Danielson Framework.  I don’t think it was ever really intended to be used in the manner many states are using it, and I feel like it’s rollout in my own state was rushed.  It has engendered a fair amount of bad press, gnashing of teeth, and dislike by educators.  That being said, it’s here, and it has its high points.  It does create a common language for a staff and district to speak, and it does have indicators that can be referenced to improve instruction.  It is easy to point to the indicators of the framework, and the myriad of examples out there tied to framework to improve specific practice. 

Bearing that in mind I struggled when creating this document and whether or not I should tie it to the Danielson framework.  In the end, for consistency and cross walking to our evaluation system, I chose to align it to the framework.  One change that I made is that there is to be no assignment of level of performance when using this document.  I don’t feel that serves the purpose of the document, and if we did that, I think most people would just look directly for their “rating” and not the feedback.  The purpose is drive instruction, not to give a couple dozen ratings throughout the year.  We have an existing evaluation process to fulfill that purpose, and this document is to give living feedback throughout a year when someone comes into the class, be it for five minutes, or a whole period.

Despite my misgivings for the Danielson Framework, I do like that it has common language that we can use, and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  For the purpose of the document, I simplified the sub-domains into sentences for ease of consistency and reference points.  For the cultural goal, we aligned it to Domain 2, and placed the school's shield next to it.  The shield is what we use when we talk about culture, athletics, or for general usage.  

The instructional goal is tied to Domain 3, and we place the crest next to it, which we use for academic functions, graduation, and the traditional school functions.  In my mind, this also represents the art (culture) and the science (instructional practice) of teaching and learning.

Essentially a teacher picks a goal, delineates how it will impact their students, and how they will know when they have achieved it.  I’m not picky here.  I want to see a teacher think about their practice, reflect on what they want culturally in their classroom, and then put it on virtual paper.   Once complete and they meet with their admin, theoretically we roll forward and utilize the document throughout the year.  Below is an example:

How I see this playing out for the year is thus:

1. An admin, either their admin, or any other, or district personnel come into their class, open the document on Google Docs that’s tied to them and give feedback to their goals.  They put the date, their initials, and their descriptive feedback in the white boxes next to the domains.  They need to center their feedback on the teachers goals, but can certainly spread the feedback to whatever they may want to during the course of a walkthrough.

2. Once they’re done they can meet face to face, or correspond in the document for further clarification.  What i'd like to see is that the feedback is genuine, descriptive, and if possible tied directly back to the focus they have written above.  My thought process is that if a teacher wants to improve upon that goal, the best way is to see what's going on in the classroom, receive feedback on the goal over a period of time, and be able to reflect and refine based off that feedback.

3. The next admin or coach comes through and gives feedback.  As the document grows over the year it should get quite long, and be a useful tool for the teacher to see trends according to their goal and be able to discuss, react, refute, or refine based on the feedback given.

Now in the realm of instructional nirvana i'd like to see it become a truly collaborative document.  We all know that we're busy, and that if it seems like more work it's probably going to become cumbersome rather than useful.  That being said, the example below is what I will encourage happens.  I say encourage because especially in year one, it's way too much to require.  If this type of collaboration happens on it's own, then I will be one happy principal.  In the example below a teacher responds to the feedback left, making it a truly living document.  Asking clarifying questions about specific students, and asking an admin to expand on a somewhat lazy comment.  Somewhat lazy because "great walkthrough" isn't descriptive, it doesn't tell the teacher anything but a throwaway affirmation.  Sometimes we need that, but if we are improving instructional practice, it's just noise.

A secondary benefit I want to see is that we will review this in our admin team meeting, with all of us bringing examples to the table.  For this i'm looking for a few things:

1. Are we all doing it often.
2. Are we seeing more teachers than those just on our 'list'
3. Are we descriptive in our feedback, or is it general affirmations.
4. Are we calibrated.

It will allow all of us to see how we give feedback, what we write, and be able to track growth among each other.  I think this will be a powerful tool for our admin PLC to sharpen our abilities as administrators.

As the year goes on and we manage this process for 150 teachers, and try to make it a process that grows instruction i’ll come back here and give some updates.  My basic hope is this: provide living breathing descriptive feedback for our teachers that will help them to improve their instruction.

We’ll see if it works!  If not we will refine, or I will post here about the abject failure the process was.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Open Letter to The Kentucky Legislature RE: Pension

Dear Governor Bevin and the Kentucky Legislature,

I am Kentucky born, and my adult life has been in service to the school system.  I am a fourteen year veteran of the Commonwealth’s education system. I have been a teacher, principal, coach, and central office administrator.   I love my job, and I am relatively good at it.   I hold three degrees, multiple advanced certifications, and have incurred significant debt in paying for the education necessary and required to do my job effectively.  I wake up each morning with purpose, and a love for our students.   The issue of the retirement system is dear to me, as I am vested in the system but have several years until I retire.  Decisions made now will effect the remainder of my life, and my family.  

My primary reason for working in education is that I love the work we do.  I am passionate about the success of our schools.  I love working with students, preparing them for their future self, and building communities of learners that are ready to grow a better commonwealth for us all.  I love my job, and cannot think of another profession that I would give my sixty to eighty hours a week.  As the principal of a school of 2,150 proud learners strong- my day isn’t a nine to five.  In fact, I give my building and students around 3,000 hours a year, gladly and happily.   I knew this going into the profession, and you will not hear me complain.  We know that teaching, and school administration isn’t a nine to five.  At the end of the road, mitigating these hours and promising us security in our golden years is our retirement.

Our profession is used to getting kicked and pecked at by those who see us as a soft target.  As Commissioner Pruitt said "We know we don't get what is due."  Our profession is sadly used to funding cuts, poorly thought out accountability systems, mandated tests that feed the wallets of corporations, less compensation than like educated peers, and scapegoating. We are used to being told we have the summer off, that we’re paid too much, or most recently we are “hoarding sick days” and gaming the system.  

You have painted educators as greedy money hoarders.  Shame on you for such a gross misrepresentation of our profession.  If we want to have that conversation, let’s have it.  As a teacher I would stay well past my time contracted, grading, working with students who needed extra help, and taking home mountains of paperwork.  The teachers I work with now don't stop at the bell.  On any given day there will be those who stay, sometimes an hour, sometimes three because they want to help their students succeed.  We can pretend they have the whole summer off, but we know that's not true.  We can pretend they clock in at 8 and leave at 2:30, but we know that's not true.  We know our profession puts in well past what is expected, because we love our jobs and want to see our students succeed.  We know our coaches make pennies on the dollar for the amount of time they dedicate to their activities.  Please do not paint our teachers as greedy money hoarders.

As a principal I basically LIVE in my building.  Last year I estimate my time spent in the school house alone to be over 2,800 hours, and doing the work of the schoolhouse at home another four to five hundred.  This is the norm of my peers.  I worked tired, I worked sick, and I showed up because it’s my job and our students need consistency in leadership.  Never once has “hoarding” sick days occurred to me.   For the privilege of leading a school building, my required degrees and certifications have put me in student loan debt that I will pay for quite some time.  If you can, find someone else who will happily work more than 3,000 hours a year, with our advanced degrees for what we are paid.  I'm not complaining, but please don't paint administrators, both principals and central office as a greedy money hoarders

There is nothing greedy about expecting what is due to us under law.  

Outside of my personal concern for this issue I urge you to consider the broader implications to our profession.  You tread on dangerous ground when you mettle with the retirement system.  We know it needs fixing, but be very careful how you execute this fix.  I can tell you, expertly that it is one of the biggest recruitment and retention tools in our profession.  Last year I hired seventy two staff.  This year I’ve hired thirty one.  One of the driving factors in new teachers is the pension, and for those of us already vested it is a huge component of why we choose this work, and remain in this work.  If you gut and shortchange the pension, we will lose quality applicants.  This is an undeniable fact from any study on pension reform.  We are already paid less than comparable fields with as much education, and removing the pension from this equation is shackling a system even further.   We already have a teacher shortage.  Ask yourself: do we want to make this problem worse?  

I have, for my entire career contributed between 11% to 13.5% of my paycheck, without complaint, faithfully each time I am paid into the retirement system.  By my rough estimate this is approximately $145,000 thus far over the course of my career.  I have never been late, and it’s always paid in full.  As a husband and father our financial security rests heavily on my retirement.  I and my peers have worked faithfully in our careers with the understanding that our contractual agreements would be honored.  There is nothing greedy about expecting what is due to us under law. 

You have a duty to honor the terms under which we have agreed.  There is a real and honest fear that we may lose what is promised to us in our inviolable contract.  Like any employer-employee relationship, teachers and school administrators accept our employment in schools based on assurances that we would receive certain levels of salary and benefits. More importantly, these assurances are in law.  The legislature must live up to its obligations  and continue to provide the benefits it has committed to provide for each of the years that we have already worked. Any retroactive reduction of benefits, including sick leave accumulation, would represent a breach of contractual obligations.

We have done our part faithfully, and it is your duty to fix the problem that we did not create.  You have the duty, Governor and legislature, to fix the retirement system without dipping into our pockets or throwing us to the wolves. 

The inviolable contract must be upheld.


Robert Fulk


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What I look for in an Assistant Principal- 6 attributes

There are many books on what to look for in leadership.  For this post I’d like to expound on the attributes that I look for.  Take them from that lens, and hopefully it can help build what you look for.  There are plenty of much wiser folks than I out there who write much more deeply on this subject, and I'd encourage you to give them a look, starting with Todd Whittaker.

You likely won't find an applicant that has all of these qualities in abundance (if you do, hire them), but you will find folks with talents both natural and developed in many of these areas.  I do believe that all of these attributes can be refined and grown over time.  Some of these qualities may be simplistic, but I believe that in truly judging an applicant’s fitment to the school, it's essential to look at these base qualities and do your best to measure them in whatever manner you choose.  I've found that references and calling folks they work with, have worked with in the past is the best way to get a good picture of these qualities.  Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. 

Before looking at these qualities and my thoughts about them I want to address diversity.  This can be a touchy subject as immediately it raises a variety of concerns.  Rather than go into a long post about this I’ll say what I think: interview as diverse a group of candidates as you can, and never accept that “they just aren’t any out there”.  That’s not true, go find them, encourage them to apply.  Broaden your applicant pool.  It’s a sad truth that we know people of color especially are underrepresented in administrative ranks.  It is incumbent upon administrators to fix this.  Build a diverse applicant pool, and when you hire, hire the best person for the job, but make sure the pool you hire from isn’t one color, one sex, or one background.  

Now the attributes that I look for in assistant principals:

1. Service mindset- Is it about the position?

With the title of the AP comes more days, and more compensation.  In some cases this can be a pretty significant bump for a teacher coming out of the classroom.  In the last five times I hired an AP we had at a minimum forty applicants, and in some cases over a hundred.  Some of them are motivated primarily by the monetary bump.  While that is part of the consideration (if we are going to trade hours of our life for money, might as well get as much as we can for that hour) if it is the primary reason you probably don’t want them on your team. 

I look primarily for service leadership which is hard to quantify in an interview.  I want to see a track record of being a support to teachers, and I want to hear that coming from references.  I want to hear that they were a great team lead who helped mentor new folks.  I want to hear that they were willing to do some drudgery tasks for their previous school because it made the school better, not because it got them a ton of praise. 

Most importantly I want to see a history of service to students.  I want to hear how the value their role in the formation of young minds, and take seriously the importance of education.  I want to see their passion for going into school and getting kids ready for their next step.  If they view their job as a service job to those they encounter, that’s a strong foundation for an AP.  It will translate to service and support to teachers and staff, and that will create a culture where teachers are given space and time to ply their craft with less distraction.

2. Systems thinking- Can they get the buses unloaded?

We have a bit done a disservice to our profession placing so much focus on hiring "Instructional Leaders".  Instruction is why we are paid.  It is the core of our work.  Instruction can’t happen without strong schedules, systems, and processes in place.  The AP needs to have a strong understanding of the traditional aspects of the AP:  The 3 B's.  Brooms, Butts, and Busses.  For this they need a strong understanding of building and maintaining systems.  

You want an assistant principal that doesn’t create work, they reduce the work through strong systems.  To be able to do this, they have to be a problem solver.  Whatever process they use to reach solutions for the myriad of problems that crop up in a building, has to be sound.  As you interview construct questions or tasks that will elicit a demonstration of how they solve problems.  If they complain and bellyache, or worse try and pass it off one someone else then this is a red flag.  Do not hire them.

You need someone who can build, monitor, and implement an effective process for say; monitoring keys in the building.  Or collecting blood born pathogen training and making sure everyone is current.  One of the best APs I had the fortunance to work with was outstanding at organizing mundane paperwork.  As in, she was great at it (I’m looking at you Rachelle Bramlege Schomberg!).  This was critical in reducing mundane work by teaching staff, and giving them more time to do their job: teach.  Her organizational skills in this trivial area was crucial.

What I have found is that with newer APs this is set of skills they don’t often come with.  They know the latest about Hattie, Marzano, PBL, and Danielson; but they don’t know how to build a working car rider line.  The AP (s) of a building are the backbone of keeping the city running and the trains on time.

3. Kindness- Would I want them disciplining my child?

This is pretty simple to me.  Look for if they can address a student as a person, with needs, baggage, and expectations.  If they are just dolling out punishment, send them back to 1950.  That doesn’t work, and it hurts students.  You want firm, resolute, consistent, fair, and kind.  To quote Dr. Rita Pierson “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”  I’ll further that with “Teachers don’t thrive working with an AP who isn’t kind.”  We want APs that can do the discipline of the building, but build kids up, not tear them apart.  That can build relationships and get that kid back into class and paying attention, on point.  Anyone can sentence a kid to ISAP or a suspension, a powerful AP can change behaviors.  That starts with firm, resolute kindness.

4. Grace under pressure- Can they run the building if I am out, and the local news shows up?

Hard to quantify in an interview process, but can you see the potential AP leading while you are out?  Ultimately that’s what you want.  It’s not about you, and the building you are fortunate enough to lead should run fine with you at a conference.  If things go haywire though, can this person step up and move the staff through a crisis?  If a fight breaks out in the hallway will they be calm on the radio or freak out?  If a student gets injured can they follow the protocol to get the kid what they need?  Can they evac a building under a real emergency, and not a sunny day drill? 

5. Instructional Acumen- Are they able to articulate ideas and create change for student growth?

I said we did a disservice focusing so much on instructional leadership, but here I’ll address its importance.  Where they a successful teacher?  Can they show you this with both data and anecdotal notes?  If they weren’t, they probably won’t be a good AP.  Teachers will trust them more if they bring some reputation for classroom performance to the table.  Can they talk the talk, and walk the walk when discussing educational theory and practice.

Most importantly: can they give meaningful constructive feedback to teachers that will make them better at their craft.  This is essential.  If they can’t, or all they can give is boilerplate Danielson framework language, then they won’t be taken seriously and they won’t drive instruction.  The APs will be evaluating a lot of folks, can they do this and make them better, or just fill out a form?

6. Work Ethic- Will they complain about working a ball game?

Ballgames and afterschool activities are where the deposits for the bank account of tough office conversations is made.  Kids want to see their teachers and principals at their events.  If the AP candidate doesn’t accept and embrace this going on, pass over them.  Are they OK with pulling long hours when needed?  Are they OK with coming in early to roll doors and set things up?  Are they OK with being the last one to leave at 1:30 am when the kid forgot his ride from the dance?  If not, this probably isn’t the work for them.

As I said in the opening, I don’t claim to be an exhaustive authority on this.  However, I’ve hired eight assistant principals thus far in my career and am proud to say each one of them are successful, strong leaders.  I don’t in any way claim to be the reason, but I will take some credit in their initial selection.  So, take that for what it’s worth and draw from this post some ideas for your practice.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Opening Day Presentation: Little Christmas

I love the beginning of the school year.  I love especially getting ready for the first day with staff.  It’s a new day of possibilities, hope, and a chance to start off strong.  In my opening presentation to my staff I very rarely speak much about the nuts and bolts of instruction.  Instead I focus on the big things, and always culture.  I try to lay out what I believe, what I expect, and what I think we are capable of as a school.

I start my opening day presentation every year around December.  I work on it through bits and pieces as we do the work of the year, polish it over the summer, and finish it the night before.  This is one of my absolute favorite things to do as a principal.  It is my job to set the tone early, and clearly communicate what we are about, and what we want to accomplish.  Frankly, opening day is like small Christmas for me.  I love it.

Part of this is drawing on the work of others.  This year I’m drawing on Jim Valvano, Jeffrey Wright, Henry Rollins, and my mainstay Rita Pierson.  Click the links below to the videos I’m going to use.

I change up my lineup each year, sometimes use only one or two depending on what I want to convey, but one video always is in my playlist for day one: Every Kids needs a Champion by Rita Pierson.  If you can watch that and not feel so unequivocally fired up to be the best educator possible, well you may not have a soul.  Dr. Pierson's words are some of the absolute truest in our profession, and speak directly to the values we should hold, that never change.  We lost a titan the day she passed.

The link to my opening staff presentation is below.  Some of it obviously is just specifically for us, but if there is anything in it you find useful feel free to take.

Not long before we welcome back kids.  Good luck this year, and let your passion guide your work.