The Night Before the First Day of School

As I watched the mountains shrink in my rear view mirror, my heart ached and my daughter’s tears grew larger and larger. Although we were excited for our journey, saying goodbye to friends and family in a community we cherished was painful. We had begun our move to Texas. During the three day car ride, we had many discussions about our next chapter and what life would be like…

On July 17th (my dad’s 75th birthday), I began my first day in Frisco ISD at Elliott Elementary. From the first moment I stepped on campus, I have been in awe of this community and their support of my transition into this position. Words cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for each person.

This school year marks my 20th year in education and I have had the privilege to work with public school educators in four different states: Indiana, California, Montana, and Texas. Having the opportunity to work alongside many different teachers across the country, I have realized five consistent and impressive characteristics about them:

  1. Teachers work tirelessly, working on the weekends and late into the evenings, to create lesson plans to meet the needs of each student and to collaborate with past and present teachers to learn everything they can about each child in order to lead them towards success.
  2. Teachers spend days creating the perfect classroom environment to ensure a high level of learning is accessible to ALL.
  3. Teachers intentionally build relationships with each student and their families to cultivate a trusting foundation.
  4. Teachers continue to read, research, blog, tweet, reflect and connect with educators across the world to learn and grow in their knowledge about how to better serve their students.
  5. Ultimately, teachers desire to positively change world.

The following video inspired me and led me to reflect on my above observations as I feel truly blessed to be an educator and to work with intentional teachers who are contagiously positive, changing the world – one student at a time.

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Articulated From Our Students’ Hearts #L2IPA

Teacher Appreciation Week is upon us and I am compelled to SHOUT OUT and CELEBRATE the most powerful moment I shared with a teacher on my team this school year.  The two of us were in my office processing a playground situation with a group of students. The situation among them was escalating outside on the playground and in the lunchroom; however, the disagreements and uncomfortableness among the peers were never represented in the classroom.

Both of us listened intently to the students, seeking first to understand all sides and perspectives… Then, we asked why do you feel this never happens in the classroom. Without hesitation, a student said, (with the others nodding in agreement)

“We always feel safe in our classroom. It is calm. We are relaxed. When we are in there, we don’t think about what else is happening.”

My heart jumped with utter excitement and my head turned immediately toward the teacher in complete admiration of what had been created within the classroom environment. Although we had to still make a plan for eliminating the problems within our common areas, I wanted to yell in celebration of this teacher, “You are a ROCK STAR!!! This is AMAZING and INCREDIBLE!!”

The #BookSnaps below from Principal Kafele’s, The Teacher 50: Critical Questions for Inspiring Classroom Excellence represent who this teacher is and many others are for all students!
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As I read and reflect on the powerful impact we have on our students each day, I am truly appreciative of the teams of teachers, principals, and district leaders with whom I have worked with across the country. I am overjoyed to have the opportunity to be an educational leader! #JoyfulLeaders

Seven Smiles from Street to Seat #L2IPA

A few weeks ago, the title of this post was revealed to me as a common practice Kevin Geer expects within his  organization. The contagious positive emotion a smile creates motivates us to share it and feel it.

The reality of this happening every day in a school setting made my heart burst with excitement and reflection. If a school fosters and maintains a positive culture you should feel the smile when you walk into the building!

Once our students meet their seats, how can we continue student smiles throughout the day? Below are five guidelines:

  1. SMILE- Show your students that you LOVE having them in your classroom.
  2. TRUST- Intentionally take time to develop meaningful relationships with a foundation of authentic trust.
  3. CELEBRATE- Focus on the positive and praise the behaviors you expect.
  4. COMMUNICATE- Post and explain learning goals guiding students to clearly understand essential standards.
  5.  COLLABORATE- Welcome parents as a part of the student, teacher, and parent team. Bring parents into the classroom everyday by sharing your story.

Below is a great example of what it takes to continue the positive emotion created from the seven initial smiles shared before students meet their seats!

We Can’t Do It Alone…#L2IPA

Educational leaders know that with every student success, it took a team to make it happen.
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As I reflected on the successful experiences throughout our first trimester, I took a little more time to evaluate our culture of gratitude. We have worked diligently to create opportunities for our students to demonstrate thankfulness and gratefulness for each other and for their teachers; however, consistent opportunities to express collective gratitude within the team of adults who are guiding our students each day was missing.

While listening to an Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast, I was inspired by how, within his organization, he simply and effectively facilitates a culture of gratitude. During staff meetings, he provides notes and time for team members to write short thank you letters to those who have helped them be successful. Upon hearing this, I was excited about the opportunity to apply this practice!

During our monthly staff meeting last week, this was how we began our meeting. Our team was provided with a paper thank you note and time.  As our team began to write their notes, some asked for more! The next day, the feedback was even better as team members openly shared their excitement about receiving notes!

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Sometimes the only motivation we need to persevere through the challenges of striving to reach goals are a few words of appreciation. Since Zig Ziglar’s quote below proves to be true, this will be a leadership practice that I will continue!

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.

As you move on through the rest of your day, watch the short video below and think about who is on your team. How do you share your appreciation?

Learning What To Do

I knew what to do.

As I finally stopped to sit down at my desk to reflect on what had just occurred, the words above continued to be repeated in my mind… I knew what to do, I can’t believe it- I knew what to do.

A student was brought to my office visibly upset due to an incident on the playground. At first the behavior was quiet as the student shared a few angry words about what happened. Then, without warning, unexpected behavior forced its way throughout my office as the student became physically escalated.  This usually smiley and quiet student became unreachable. Immediately, I focused on my past experiences of similar situations and the knowledge shared from our incredible school wide behavior team:

  1. Stop all noise/talking
  2. Back completely away from the behavior, reducing negative attention
  3. Allow the student to find a place within the room to cool down
  4. Know and be okay with the fact that there is more to this behavior and we are not going to solve this problem today

I am grateful for our school behavior experts! This team consists of our school psychologist, student and family advocate, counselor, social worker, mental health worker, and nurse. These highly skilled educators are leading our team to be trauma informed, empathetic and understanding of student behaviors, and to prevent negative behavior. Ultimately, this team is leading our school away from reactive band-aid solutions and towards the implementation of positive behavior interventions.

Our actions have the opportunity to demonstrate a quiet understanding, leading students to begin to trust.

Silver Success!

Positive relationships are the foundation for leading students toward academic, behavioral, and social success.

During the last three years our team has dedicated a significant amount of time and effort into implementing the MBI/PBIS (Montana Behavior Initiative/ Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) framework.  Our goals throughout this intentional endeavor have been to be proactive in meeting the needs of our students and to collectively and consistently increase positive school wide behavior. Yesterday, our team was recognized by the state of Montana as earning Silver MBI Status! It was an honor to be recognized by the Office of Public Instruction and our State Superintendent, Denise Juneau.

With the guidance of the MBI expectations, below are some of the protocols we have developed to support our school wide focus of effectively communicating, teaching, and maintaining a positive, safe, and nurturing environment.  Our team collaboration in following these protocols enables us to support our students in reaching high academic, behavioral, and social success.

School Wide Behavior Expectation Matrix

Classroom Lesson T-Charts

I Caught You Cards

Guidelines for Success, Bully Rules, Playground Expectations, and Games

Behavior Flow Chart

It was incredibly motivating to learn that over seventy schools received recognition yesterday. We are excited to implement what we learned from other schools and at the Summer Institute to continue to lead and grow in this process.

21 Century Leadership Institute

As the school year is quickly coming to a close, I am reflective and grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in SAM’s 21 Century Leadership Institute.  This year long program enabled me to collaborate and learn with skilled administrators across the state and have the guidance of an expert mentor.  Collectively, we were able to learn, celebrate, and support each other in implementing a meaningful project.  I chose to focus on improving the framework of our weekly PLCs.

My goals were:

  1. Use simple weekly protocols for each grade level team to follow throughout the school year (modified from Solution Tree resources and forms shared by colleagues).
  2. Support teachers in having a structure to collaborate around student data to guide instructional decisions.
  3. Communicate frequent feedback to grade level teams through Google Docs.

What happened?

  1.  Each grade level team had their own folder: Click here to view.
  2.  Each week (mostly) I emailed the teams to remind them of the protocol to complete.
  3.  The teams would take notes about their discussions, plans, and instructional decisions made on their protocol and I would follow-up with email communication or face to face meetings.

Improvements?

  1. I believe creating the protocols with a Google form or spreadsheet would be helpful to add notification rules. This would support me in providing faster feedback…
  2. I created a folder for our Special Education, Title One, and Para teams; however, the feedback and/or collaboration was not as consistent.
  3. Modify some of the forms to provide for a little more flexibility.

Other Resources that support our PLCs

  1. MCCS- Essential Grade Level Standards (Still a work in progress)
  2. 4 Essential Questions for teachers and students