Getting off to a Positive Start

We are almost a month into the new school year and I am feeling motivated by many things.  I love the fresh start of the new year when everyone is rested and full of energy.  We can forget about our mistakes of last year, re-celebrate the successes and plan for a fantastic year ahead.

The first day of school when the students come back fresh faced and loaded down with new school supplies.  Smiles and hugs are shared.  Even our middle-year’s students have to admit they are at least a little bit glad to be back with their classmates and friends.  The fresh start allows so many to shine, while welcoming new students and adjusting to new teachers.  One of the favorite things I do at the beginning of each year is read to every group of students in the school.  I try to share my love of reading and choose my books to leave them with the message of working hard, not giving up and learning from our mistakes.

Grade 2
Grade 2

I have been lucky enough to spend the two days this month with our school division admin team listening and learning from Tom Hierck.  His message is clear- do as many positive things as possible to build up every student in our schools to reach their potential.  We do not give up on kids!

During these two days of learning and discussion we were able to think and share about all the ways we are being positive in our schools.  I think our staff does a great job of trying to meet the needs of all of our students and look for ways of celebrating their individual talents and abilities.  As I walk from classroom to classroom, I am amazed by the things I see happening on a daily basis. I know I am lucky to have such a dedicated, hardworking staff and our students benefit from that hard work.  I am proud of each and every one of them and wonder if I can ask them to do even more than they already are.

Another part of  Tom Hierck’s message was about  the need for collective buy in to what we feel is important in our schools.  It takes hard work to create and maintain  positive attitude and culture every day.  Are we doing everything we can to model those behaviors we would like to see in our students?  Are we taking the time to build relationships that create safe and engaging environments?  Are we reaching out to our parents in a positive way so they feel like they are an important and integral part of our learning team?

Last summer as I was reading and reflecting on the new school year I came across a post written about positive office referrals. I wish I had taken a better record of where the idea came from because I would like to thank the author of that post.

The principal who wrote the post was describing how much he enjoyed doing positive office referrals and how it had helped forge a positive relationship with students and parents.  Basically the idea was simple, teachers and support staff refer any student down to the office for any positive reason.  It might be academic, social, like being a good friend, helping out in the lunch room or in some cases something as simple as just getting to school on time.

Meeting students where they are, setting the bar high, but not too high and remembering one thing:  building positive relationships are the most important thing we do to make a difference in a students emotional, social and academic growth.

Once the school year starts, it seems to move along at lightening speed.  I hope we can slow down to catch those small moments where we can all make a positive difference in a students life, even those students who test us the most.


January 2015 #pdale Teacher Twitter Challenge



As many of you know when I was taking my master’s degree I learned so many things that changed my entire philosophy of education.  Learning from people like Alec Couros and Dean Shareski opened my ideas to many ideas that I had never even thought of before.  My first experience in an open education course scared me to death.  Being online with 200+ people from all over the world was an idea I had never even considered before.  It was through taking courses that I learned about web tools such as blogs, wiki spaces and many others.  It was also through these courses that I realized the importance of being a connected educator.

I was shocked once again, 2 years ago when we agreed to send Devin, Kimberley and Nicole to Philadelphia to attend the Educon Conference.  When they returned and taught us how to use twitter, I had no idea how something so simple would, once again, change my entire view of professional development.

People who say things such as…

“Why would I care what people are having for dinner?” or  “Why do I care when people are doing their laundry?”

…have no idea the opportunities for individualized learning that twitter and other social media sites make possible.

I know that everyone learns in their own way and learning through twitter might not be for everyone, but I also feel so strongly about the importance of making connections.  Connections open doors to other classrooms, to other methodologies, to opportunities to learn about things we have never heard of and connections also give us the opportunity to share what we are doing with others so they may learn from us.

I also believe strongly about telling our own positive story.  The things we are doing every day are too important to leave to chance.  We need to be in charge of spreading our story to our parents and community in our way.

Connections do not have to be made through twitter, but that is where we are going to start.

I thought it would be a fun idea to jump in and do a challenge in January so we could learn together in a similar manner to the blogging we did together a few years ago.

I hope you will use this opportunity to reach out of your comfort zone.  For some of you the reach will be longer than others.  You will not be alone!  We are all in this together.


The January 2015 #pdale Teacher Twitter Challenge!

The following is a video of Alec Couros talking about twitter in education:


Some links that might be useful:

List of recommended people to follow sorted by their role in education.

List of classrooms around the world that tweet.

Weekly twitter chat days and times.

Great twitter classroom connections.

Twitter for Teachers

Establishing a twitter routine in the classroom

Participating in a twitter chat

Please remember you are not alone!  I can’t wait to see the things we can learn!


Attendance Does Matter

There seems to be so many reasons why our students miss school and in some cases, school attendance is becoming a chronic issue.   Everything from being sick, having appointments, attending sporting events, taking family holidays and many other reasons,  seem to be contributing to a growing idea that school attendance does not matter.

Although we realize that our students can’t always be at school every day, and we can’t expect sick children to come to school,  I have to wonder when the attitude changed that school attendance wasn’t important.

I know when I was in school myself, it seemed to me that my parents did not let me miss school unless I was throwing up.  I can remember more than once, my mom or dad telling me that if I just got up or just got moving or just had a shower or just ate some breakfast, or just a number of other things, they were sure I would feel better and would be able to attend school.

I can also remember this same attitude backfiring on me once or twice as a parent when the school office administrator would be calling me or my husband by 10:30 to come and pick up a sick kid.

Our family holidays were always planned around our school breaks and most of our appointments were done either after school or on our days off.  Our extra-curricular sports did not take us out of school with the frequency that students are out for these activities today.

Now in saying that, I am the first one to also admit that very little about education is the same as it used to be.  Our classrooms do not look the same, our teaching methods and learning assessments are not the same, and many other things about public school today looks different from it used to.  It is no longer possible to assign some pages out of a text-book to be completed when a student is missing school.  So much of our day is spent in interactive, collaborative activities that cannot be repeated in the same way outside of the classroom.

With the exception of a few chronic cases, I had not even given much thought to attendance until recently when our school division brought it into focus, because it does have such an impact on the academic success for our students.  It did make me stop and think about my attitude toward attendance and whether we as a school community could do something to turn around the idea that  school attendance does not matter.

When I started looking at some of the statistics related to attendance, I knew that we needed to come up with a plan to improve attendance in our school.

Did you know…

  • By 6th grade, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school.
  • When students improve their attendance, they improve their academic prospects and chances for graduating.
  • Poor attendance can influence whether children read proficiently by the end of third grade.
  • The academic impact of missing that much school is the same whether the absences are excused or unexcused.

These statistics and much more information related to attendance can be found at

There are many things we can do to start on the road to improved attendance.  Education and engagement of students families is the first step.  I look forward to the challenge ahead, because Attendance Does Matter.


My Take on Teachers

Two things have prompted me to choose teachers as my topic for blogging this week.  The first reason was the fact that it is World Teacher Day today and that is worth talking about.  The second reason, and much closer to my heart, is because I had the privilege of spending Friday talking to most of my teachers about their personal growth plans.  I enjoy my job most days but two of my favorite days of the year are kindergarten orientation day and I don’t even have to explain why I love that day.  My second is when I actually get to have time to sit down and connect with the teachers in our school and talk to them uninterrupted about the things going on in their classrooms and their lives.  The meetings are short and sweet, but so valuable to me.

I have been a teacher myself for 27 years.  I seems kind of weird to put that number down in writing and I have to admit that makes me feel a bit old.  During that time I have had many different experiences and have taught every grade from kindergarten through grade 12 in one capacity or the other.  I have also had the opportunity to work with countless wonderful teacher colleagues from who I have learned many thing about life and teaching.  When I am walking around our school and in and out of classrooms, I am able to observe learning and teaching at its finest.  It is a great feeling I get to have as a principal knowing that the students in our school are learning and growing everyday under the direction of the hard working and dedicated teachers we have. reading Countless studies conducted on teacher effectiveness support the fact that effective teachers not only make students feel good about school and learning, but also  a teacher’s work results in increased student achievement. As a matter of fact a number of them indicate the teacher is the single most important factor.

Research studies such as these would be no surprise to someone like me who witnesses the effect of a teacher on his or her students every single day I am at my job.  Teachers are not only presenting lessons on curricular outcomes and helping students work through academic problems.  More importantly, they are helping students every day work through many social issues and problems, wiping away tears and helping students fix mistakes that they have made, handing out hugs when they might not be there from other sources and offering support for students in countless other ways. As a principal, it makes sense to me that one of the most important parts of my job is to support my teachers because I know the effect they are having on our students every day.  It is important to have days such as World Teacher Day, so we can stop and think for a moment about the countless ways a teacher has had an effect on our lives.  I hope we do not have to wait for a day such as this to be set aside for us to see the importance of supporting and thanking our teachers. I know I don’t.

“This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me.”  —Maya Angelou

Strong Relationships for Student Success



We have just completed another round of 3-way conferences and in some cases teachers are still meeting with a few parents who needed rescheduled times. As I was leaving the school on Wednesday evening when conferences were finished,  reflecting on how things had gone, and feeling very weary, I must admit,  I also felt lucky to have a teaching staff that always has what is best for students in mind  and lucky to have the parents that try to advocate for their children.

Even though the process requires very long hours of preparation and dedication, the importance of the relationship building and communication are priceless.

I have had quite a few conversations with parents lately who have called me with concerns, or in some cases I have had to contact them due to behavior issues.  The one thing I  tell those parents, and wish I could tell all of our parents, is how grateful I am when they are strong advocates for their children.  I wish all of our students had strong advocates.

I am always grateful when parents come to me with a concern or question and appreciate the effort they are putting in on behalf of their children.  We may not always understand the motivation behind their concerns, but, in that moment they are reaching out to forge a relationship that will benefit their child.

Relationships take time, effort and determination.  As a parent myself I can be confused  by what my son’s teachers expect from me. Do they want me to be involved, even if it comes on my terms and in my way?  Would they rather I left decisions regarding my son’s education up to them and did not interfere? or are we both seeking a balance?

I think we are not always very clear about our expectations for our parents.  It is easy to become discouraged when we reach out and they are not responsive.  Before making quick judgments, take a moment to remember we do not always know what our parents are dealing with and what they are bringing to the table.  What we interpret to be lack of interest or caring or criticism for the things we are trying to do, can in fact be something totally different.

I have been lucky to forge very critical relationships with teachers and principals as I have followed and supported my three children through school.  My youngest son is now in grade 10 and I continue to seek out ways to communicate and  be an advocate for him.  I have met teachers who were not interested in relationships and found this disappointing and discouraging.  However, the majority of teachers I work with, and reach out to, are working hard to find ways to create a positive learning team.


I just finished reading the book “Beyond the Bake Sale,” by Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davies.   The basic premise of the book is about creating better relationships with our parents and not just relying on superficial things like bake sales and fundraising.  It is one of my goals to create a culture in our school where parents feel welcome in the building and truly feel an important part of our team.

One of the things stood out for me in the book was  “…we know that parents are more motivated to support their children’s learning when they receive clear invitations and support from teachers and other school staff to be engaged, are confident about their ability to help their children and are clear about what they should do to support their child’s learning.”


I was having a conversation with my staff  this week after we attended a division professional development day where all the schools in our school division shared the math action research projects we have been working on this year.  Many of the presentations we listened to had a portion about connections and relationships.  This made me feel very positive about the direction we are moving in our school division and especially in our individuals schools.

If we continue to make an effort to welcome, honor and connect with our families, I believe our parents will respond by becoming loyal members of our school community and will take every opportunity they are able, to participate in their children’s education in ways we never thought possible.

Sound like a win-win situation to me!


Loading the Teacher Bus

I have to admit that I find this time of year both frustrating and exciting.  It does not seem to take long for the current school year to crash into the next school year.  Decisions are needed for budgets, staffing, ordering and spending and time-tabling, all while business as usual is going on around the building.

It is easy to understand why most administrators think that hiring and “loading the bus” with the best possible staff is one of the most important things we do.  Nothing has as big of influence over student achievement than the teacher in the room.

With so many things to consider, it can be a difficult and nerve-wracking process. Not only are we wanting to hire someone with all the skills necessary to be an outstanding classroom teacher, but we also need someone who will mesh nicely in the culture of our building and be an excellent staff member as well.

In my teaching career I have had the honor and privilege of working with many talented teachers and have had the opportunity to learn many things from the people who I work with.  In the short time I have been an administrator-5 years, I have interviewed and hired many great teachers as well, but…I have also hired a few not really suited for the rigors of an elementary classroom.

According to a study conducted by McRel, a private and non-profit educational  research corporation, the attributes that matter the most to teacher success are:

  • Some experience
  • Preparation and content pedagogy
  • Strong academic preparation
  • Verbal and cognitive ability

So if I find teachers that fit these 4 criteria, will that mean I have hired a great teacher? It seems very cut and dry to think this is true.  I could probably get most of this information without even talking to the candidate.

There are countless sites that claim to have the secret to good teaching- Top 10 Qualities of a Great Teacher, Ten Traits of a Good Teacher, and so on, but there is still no guarantee that I will be able to detect all those qualities suggested in an interview situation.

It seems to me that some of the most important attributes a teacher needs to have is a belief in kids and a belief in themselves as a teacher.  Teachers also need to have strong relationship skills, a willingness to be a life long learner and “withitness” or the ability to have eyes in the back of their heads to manage a busy classroom and again the list could go on and on.

Teaching is not simple, it requires grit, stamina, a willingness to admit we don’t have all the answers and the desire to work as a team to do what is right for children at all times. I always say to my staff-teaching is not for the faint at heart.

So, my fellow educators and administrators, I am seeking the truth about hiring and interviewing.  What are some of your best interview questions?  How do you ensure you are hiring the best teachers possible?