My Attitude Adjustment

Every week my brain gets fixated on one topic that I just can’t quite seem to get off my mind.  This week’s topic seems to be how to let go of the things we cannot control.   After another long week filled with office visits, parent communication (not always supportive or positive) and meetings, my general attitude lately has been kind of negative and feeling overwhelmed with my inability to solve issues.  I keep looking for a magic wand, but I have not found one yet, so I have come around to something I said myself a couple of years ago when talking to a fellow administrator about the state of affairs in her building- If you are not happy with the way things are, then fix it.

That sounds simple enough…just a minute I need that magic wand again …

I buckled down in the car yesterday on our way back from a hockey tournament to read a book written by Baruti K. Kafele, called “Closing the Attitude Gap”.  His general premise in the book, as it seemed to me, was to not settle when it comes to our students.  We need to hold them accountable and make them believe that they can accomplish great things by not giving them excuses.  Many of them come from lives that are not ideal and bring baggage of various kinds with them when they come to our buildings every day.  I know it is easy for us to slide into that mode where we start thinking all of these extraneous influences are overwhelming and we cannot fight against the tide.  It can seem that no matter what we do at times, it won’t matter that much.  Compound this with having large numbers of students in our classrooms, overwhelming curricular demands, assessments, report cards, conferences and the list can go on and on.

I have said many times to my staff, “we have to concentrate on what we can control and do what we can do to help these children for the hours they are in our care.”  Principal Kafele challenges everyone reading his book to take a long, hard look at ourselves and remind ourselves why we are teachers.  What made us become teachers in the beginning?  What do we want to accomplish as teachers?

If my attitude is negative, how will I ever have a positive affect on the staff and students in my building? I think it is time to start following my own advice.  I need to start with the things I can control such as my relationship with kids.  I can make a better effort to get to know them, build relationships with every student in the building.  Last week I had a conversation with a student who told me he was not comfortable telling me things because he had only had negative feedback from me.  First of all, good job on the part of that student for being so brutally honest with the principal,  because I know that wasn’t easy.  What he told me stung, but also moved me to change my attitude.  I will make a better effort with this student and many others in the building who I do not know well yet. Now that is something I can control and I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.

The other night I had a phone call from a parent after supper in the evening.  This parent works long hours and it can be difficult to reach her during the day.  I had sent a note home asking her to call me when it worked for her.  We had a great talk on the phone about her child and what he needed for support.  She was not aware of what a positive effect that conversation had on my state of mind at that time.   That is just it, isn’t it?  We can be unaware of what affect the smallest act can have on our students, both positive or negative.  Just as this parent lifted my spirits by what she said, she could have just as easily left me feeling down had she reacted differently.

Students need to know we care and will make an effort to get to know them.  We need to make their lives important, but not an excuse for bad attitude. We need to remind ourselves of the reasons we went into teaching to begin with.  We do not teach curriculum, we do not teach outcomes or subjects, we teach students.

Week in the Life of a Principal-Day 4

Thursday, November 14

7:00- I came out this morning to rain which seems weird considering I live in Saskatchewan, Canada and it should be snowing.  I arrived at the school with the usual things on my mind. I wanted to get my day organized, work through the emails that I had ignored at the end of the day yesterday, and make a list of the students that I needed to see this morning.

8:15- Week at a glance meeting.  Every Thursday morning we meet as a staff and make a calendar for the upcoming week to send out to our families.  They can be mini-staff meetings and we usually have a couple of laughs together-not a bad way to start the day.

8:40-Morning announcements and off to teach social studies to grade 8.  Our grade 7/8 boys and girls volleyball teams had district tournaments today so I had a small class.  We did our 2 minute news podcast to see what was going on in the world and then decided to have a small competition in groups to see how much we remembered about social studies topics.

9:25-I started seeing students.  I had some students to see from yesterday’s escapades when I was away at my meeting and some other students that I needed to check in with, but had not had time.  I only ask three things of students that are brought to my office for discipline reasons-be straight up (be honest), own your part and do what you can to fix it.  I try to keep my language simple and my expectations high but reasonable.  I managed to see 6 students and talk to 2 parents and one classroom teacher before noon. When the school division security person returned with my laptop, and needed my desk,  I just moved into the vice-principal’s office and carried on.

12:00- I am on lunch supervision in the 3-5 lunchroom.  I check on my middle years students in our canteen and try to find the 6-8 lunch supervisor to tell her that I will be sending a younger student her way to walk the playground and then I head down to see what my grade 3-5 students were up to.  All was pretty quiet-only one lunch was accidentally spilled.  We headed outside to play until 12:50.

1:00- Inside again to do afternoon announcements and then back to grade 8 for career education and then grade 6 health.

2:10-I needed a coffee and believe it or not I had not gone to the washroom yet today!  I ran quickly out to the playground to check on my little runner only to find he was not running, but standing to visit with some friends.  I walked out to speak to him and then back in to sit down for a moment.

2:25-When I got back to my office after recess, a crying student was waiting for me on the couch.  I asked him to come into the office so I could find out what was wrong.  He explained what had happened on the playground and I decided to get the other student out of class and have them talk it out.  By this time I only had time to quickly send an email and then head outside for after school bus supervision.

3:20-Heading back to my office.  I had phone calls to return and I had to wonder who made the big mess on my desk…that would be me.  I spent the next 2 hours answering emails, filing discipline sheets both electronic and paper, cleaning my desk and organizing my day tomorrow.  We had a computer refresh this fall and so our school division allows us to give away the older computers to families from our school community.  I photocopied some more computer request forms and went through the ones I already had.  I will start handing them out in the morning.

5:30-I left the building to meet a friend at the indoor track for a quick walk and visit before home.  I took the hot lunch orders with me to organize so we can put in some food orders tomorrow.

Crossing my fingers for a good nights sleep tonight!

Week in the Life of a Principal-Day 3

Wednesday, November 13

7:10- I arrive at school knowing that I have a bit of work to do on my sub plan for today, I send out some emails, sign out computer carts for my sub and finish finding the books we were requested to take to our administration meeting today.  I also needed to touch base with one of my new teachers about a plan he is making.  I have been unable to check in on his progress all week and he will be away tomorrow.  We had a quick chat about what was going on and even though I wished I had more time at that moment to really dig deep and be helpful I had to run get announcements ready and leave messages for various people before I was being picked up for my meeting.

9:00-Picked up for admin meeting. Travel with fellow administrators is always good.  We have time to touch base, talk about issues pertinent to all of us  and catch up on what is going on in the other schools in the city.  We have a 35 minute drive and a little Tim Horton’s coffee-all is good!

9:45-We arrive at the meeting with our big stack of books in tow.  We have reams of paper to pick up as we enter and I use the next 15 minutes to speak to some of my colleagues that I do not see often-really once a month at our meetings.  We were introduced to a new format for our meeting today.  Instead of having the information given to us at the meeting by the different division level personal, we were sent the information yesterday, were to have read the information and if we had questions we could ask them at the meeting.  I like the idea of the format, but we need to get the information earlier.  I do like having more time for the learning portion of the meeting and this is the format that I like to follow for the staff meetings we have at our school level as well.

3:15-Our meeting is finished, we have covered various topics from math, to technology, to reading score to HR requests.  I can’t help but feeling a bit discouraged at the number of things we could only do if we had time to do them.  I hate feeling negative about my ability to do this job, but I have to admit this year has brought on many doubts.  I constantly reflect on how I can use my time better, do things faster and wish I had more time to do things I feel are the most important.  I hate seeing members of my staff also feeling like we are constantly playing catch up.  I also know that negative feelings breed negative feelings so I have to figure out some way to let go of that and concentrate on the positive things that I can control.

3:40- Back at the school to find that quite a few things have gone down during the day.  The teacher I have left in charge has had a busy day dealing with quite a few discipline and behavior things and my list for tomorrow has just increased.  Volleyball games were happening in the gym so I wandered down there to see how the students were doing and chat with a few parents that were in the building.

4:45-Meeting with some parents of two new students just starting in our school this week.  We have some planning to do and need to have some information from them to get things in place.  It was good talking to them and getting to know them a bit more.  It is also a great feeling to once again see my teachers working to do what is best for kids.  One thing I never have to doubt is the team in my building and that makes me a lucky principal indeed.

6:10-After looking at my to do list for tomorrow and glancing through but not answering my emails I went home to find something to eat.  I was starving and tomorrow will be another day.


Day in the Life of a Principal-Day 2

It is Tuesday, November 11 and I arrive at the school around 7:15 am.  I always try to arrive early because I can get a lot more done when the school is quiet.  It is vertical day today (student leadership groups) so the first thing I do is start making a list of tasks for each group to work on during our vertical time.  I then worked on my Monday Morning Memo (Tuesday in this case, because we did not have school yesterday.  I try to send out an email at the beginning of every week full of information items so we do not have to spend time at staff meetings with so much information and we will have more time for professional development.  I get the coffee going in the staff room and write a message on the board letting the staff know who is away and reminding them about the pep rally.  I also had to make sure things were ready for the pep rally, we were having first thing and had to find my Ghost Team members to read out the names of the players and coaches.  (The ghost team is what my spirit team members called themselves when I gave them a hard time about their non-creative name-can’t really fault them now)

8:35– First thing on Monday morning and at the end of the day on Friday I play music over the sound system.  I threw some music on, but soon moved it down to the gym to play “Who Let the Dogs Out?” for our pep rally.  Supervised the singing of O’ Canada and helping one of my Team School Presidents read the announcements. I try to act as peppy as I can to get things pumped up at the pep rally.  Thanks goodness for our younger students, because our older students can sometimes be too cool for school!  As soon as the pep rally was finished I headed back through the office on my way to my first class, just in time to introduce myself to a new family registering for school.

9:25– I finished up with my social studies 8 class and went off to teach social studies 6.  We had lots of catch up work to do and moved quickly to the computer lab.  I spent the class moving from student to student helping them finish up things I need for report card assessments and monitoring the students that had moved on to our next project.

10:10-Our school division IT security person dropped in with my laptop he had taken last week because of a virus or two I had picked up while trying to find a creative commons picture to post on my blog. Who knew… He wanted to meet with me,  but I had to find him a flash drive and head off to get ready for grade 6-8 vertical that would be starting right after recess.

10:25– Vertical- what can I say…70 middle year’s students, 2 teachers, 8 teams of kids working on different tasks, 45 minutes.  Middle-year’s leadership-so important-but a lot of work!

11:15-Checked in on my canteen team to see how they were doing with counting the money for our hot lunch which is coming up and then off to relieve the grade 5 teacher so she could leave early for a professional development opportunity.  The grade 5’s were great and the time passed quickly as they worked on a math assignment.

12:00-Back to the office just in time to meet another family registering a kindergarten student.  I even got to sit down and eat my lunch today in the staff room!  That is quite unheard of, because I often have to do a lot of noon hour supervision.  A day off is a nice change.

12:30-Back to my office after checking in the computer lab to see if any of my grade 6 students had shown up for noon tutorial-no such luck.

1:00-Afternoon announcements, dealing with after lunch discipline issues and my student support team is waiting for a meeting.  It is nice to touch base with them and check in on the learning needs of some of our students.

1:30– Out to the playground to check on a problem with our new playground structure and take some pictures to send off to our installer.  Answered some emails and dealt with some discipline coming through the office, took a picture of a Rider Pride display our Benchwarmer team had put up in the gym in preparation cheering the Saskatchewan Roughriders on to the Grey Cup.  I would tweet that picture out later on the school twitter account.  Grade 1 had phys-ed at that time so I had some fun with them before I left the gym.

2:30-Returned some phone calls and helped cool down a very angry first grader and then shortly after spent some time with the frustrated teacher of the very angry first grader.  By now the first grader had fallen asleep in the office which might explain why he was so angry.

3:05-Woke him up and took him to the bus, bus supervision where I get to end each school day with hugs from my younger students-love it!  One of the safety patrollers was not there for some reason, so I filled in at the corner.  Everyone safely off to home,  so I went back to my office to try and make sense of my desk and see if I could get through my emails that had piled up during the day.

6:15 pm– Just leaving the school now.  Went through a bunch of material that had been emailed out today in preparation for our administrator meeting tomorrow, found a stack of books we were asked to bring, went through all the emails my leadership team members had sent me today with pictures and plans they had made, sent off a picture of our school and write up to a global teen challenge my students are going to participate in and  took some phone calls.  I did not however get planned for my sub tomorrow or get to a number of other things on my list.

Oh well, the sub planning can happen tonight and tomorrow is another day to work on that list.

Join us in the “Day in the Life of a Principal” on twitter #prinblog.


A Week in the Life of a Principal-November 11

I was reading through some of my twitter feeds this week and came across one from @suewalters titled “A Week in the Life of a Principal” by Kate Fogarty.  She decided to keep track of her week reflecting on how she spends her time.  Sue was hoping other principals would do the same so we could perhaps share and hopefully learn from one another.  I decided to jump on board.

Day 1-November 11– No school today, but it is 2:00 pm and I am looking at  my calendar thinking about the week ahead.  So far it looks full of meetings both administrative and parent,  covering classes so teachers can take advantage of professional development and covering lunch hour supervision for a missing supervisor, catching up with our student leadership teams, a pep rally, staff and building matters and the list goes on…

I am going to try and follow the same format as iprincipal and outline the day as it was planned to go and then see what other things happened unexpectedly as my day unwinds.  Wish me luck as well.  If you would like to join me we are using #prinblog

Can Boys Be Boys in School?

My Friday morning started with a visit from some parents before I had even finished morning announcements.  What they had to say surprised my somewhat, and certainly caused me to have something to reflect and consider over the weekend besides report card preparation.  They came to discuss the fact that their son felt like we were favoring the girls over the boys at our school and according to this set of parents, their son was not the only boy who felt this way.  Now, it may be easy to dismiss such an accusation, because we all know students perceptions are different from adults.  It may also be easy to think that our boys do not see the whole picture, and so that is why they might feel this way and don’t we all know that girls may behave generally better than boys in the school setting.

I have to wonder though, if they have this perception, could it be true to some level?

Even though I am pretty sure we are not the only school with the perceived “reputation” for being “sexist”, I could not let the accusation pass without some action on my part.  Are we meeting the needs of the boys in our school?  Are we giving them a fair shake when it comes to learning and interactions with staff?  Are we allowing boys to be boys when it comes to our attitudes toward the uniqueness that boys bring to the classroom? Much research has come to light lately about gender differences and the uniqueness of both boys and girls in the school setting.

When looking at my data of discipline as far as formal office visits and follow-ups,  it was easy to see that I was disciplining boys far more than girls.  My classroom interactions reflected the same in most cases.

Now, it might be easy to dismiss this data because we all know that boys are far more likely to interrupt learning during class than girls are.  I have to wonder though if we are doing enough to meet the needs of our boys and if we were, would the boys be happier, would the discipline incident data involving boys be less and would the boys be achieving at a higher level?

According to an article about boys being penalized in school, written by Jessica Lahey, “Teachers and school administrators lament that boys are to fidgety, too hyperactive, too disruptive, derailing the educational process for everyone while sabotaging their own intellectual development.” While this may seem to be true in some cases , is it fair to blame the boys or should we be making a better effort to meet their needs? Erika Christakas, an early childhood educator at the Yale Child Study Center discusses a new study that  seems to show  boys are being judged both harshly and leniently in school.  If teachers expect boys to behave worse than girls, because on average they do  so, they may miss girls’ behavior problems entirely or treat well-behaving boys  as anomalous, which as the study showed can distort expectations and support for  all children.

So what do we know about the ways boys learn?

  • Boys are more energized and motivated by movement
  • Boys strive on competition
  • Boys are hardwired to be single-task focused
  • Boys tend to “zone-out” and need more breaks during learning
  • Boys do their best work when the teacher has established an authentic purpose for doing it
  • Boys respond to feeling like they are respected and appreciated for who they are

I think teachers in general are doing a better job of accepting and differentiating to meet the needs of our students.  In considering the learning needs of the boys in our school, I do think we have room for improvement.  If we are thinking our boys are not engaged in the learning in the classroom than it is time for us to do something about it,  rather than penalizing them for not fitting into a mold we know is not working for many of them.

To Inquire or Not to Inquire?

As I have previously mentioned, I have gone back in the classroom this fall for the first time in about 5 years.  In that five-year time span, I have moved to a new school division in a new province, worked in two different schools, moved into school administration and completed my master’s degree.  I have a special education certificate and have worked as a learning support teacher for a number of years.  Returning to the classroom has been something I have wanted to do for some time and even though I have been frustrated numerous times so far,  I am enjoying it immensely.  I think returning to the classroom will make me a better administrator as well because I will be walking my talk every day.

Anyone who knows me will know that I am very passionate about education and learning and I feel very strongly about the importance of putting learning back on our students and allowing them to be in charge.  Inquiry based learning is something I believe in and hope to keep moving toward that model in my own classrooms and work with my staff to do the same.  I am constantly amazed at the things going on in classrooms around my building and the favorite part of my job as an administrator is being in the different classrooms watching the learning and growth going on there.  We all believe in the same vision for our students and have decided to take a leap past the talking we do and into the action of inquiry.  We are all in this together and will help each other out.

Now that I am back in the classroom as a classroom teacher, I am realizing it is difficult to balance  the pull  of curricular outcomes with my desire to put my students in charge of their learning.  Before I was in this position and spent my time reading, sharing information about my passions, but not having the opportunity to put them into action, I did not understand the reluctance of teachers to let go, move back and let the learning happen.

While spending time on twitter this week (which really has become an obsession of mine) I came across and link to an article by A J Juliana where he described what he called, “The Inquiry Dilemma in Our Schools.”  The two reason he gives for teachers not jumping into inquiry are the curricular demands I already described and teachers who are reluctant to approach their principals for support.

Countless research, points us toward some of the simple things we can do to engage students in learning:

  • Providing authentic problems connected to the real world.
  • Allow students to drive the learning, not the teacher.
  • Provide opportunities for collaborative investigations based on inquiry and knowledge building.

All of these things seem to point toward inquiry learning don’t they?

I am busy re-reading the book “Who Owns the Learning? by Alan November.  In the book he describes authentic learning situations and gives simple processes we can use to help our students research, publish, collaborate and communicate within our classrooms and with global audiences. Our student need to be able to efficiently find and evaluate information.

There are many other useful sources of information available to help us move toward inquiry based learning.  Another great article I came across was on TeachThought website was a simple, but effective, question graphic to guide students with inquiry. We need to remember if we are willing to make the leap and step back for the learning growth of our students, we are not in this alone.

The next step for me in my classroom is to try a version of Genius Hour.  I hope to teach less and learn more by allowing my students  to use their own ideas and passions to drive their learning.  I will let you know how that goes.

“What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.”
                                                                         -George Bernard Shaw-