Connecting With my School Community

As part of the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP) I will have blog posts dedicated to the questions/topics posed. I always enjoy the networking connections I make each year through SAVMP, along with the reflective opportunities to blog (because I haven’t blogged in quite a while!)

relationships

Know All of Your Students

I believe the first and foremost responsibility for a school leader is to know every student in your building.  I don’t know every detail about every student, and I will occasionally mix up names (especially siblings!), but I feel it’s important to know every student’s name in my building. I do this by reading to classrooms in the first week of the year as my first opportunity to practice their names, and then continue to mentally practice names when I observe in classrooms. I connect with students on before/after school parking lot duty, recess duty and lunch duty, choosing to make these duties great opportunities to connect with and get to better know my students. I attend as many IEP meetings and Student Intervention Team meetings as I can, which is also helpful to get to know students’ needs and connect with their families. In addition, I try to attend as many extra-curricular activities as I can to connect with and support our students outside of school. I am fortunate to live in our school’s community (and love having my children attend the same school each day), so many of the events I attend are a part of our family’s routine.

One of the great benefits of being a principal is that I don’t have to say goodbye to students at the end of the school year…I get to see them grow into each new grade level. Even better, we are in a K-12 building so I still get to see our students grow into middle and high school and continue to be connected to our families.

Build Relationships Outside of School

I enjoy getting to work with students outside of the school day in different ways: coaching baseball, taking students Christmas caroling at a nursing home and leading our robotics team. I have found each of these to be great ways to get to know students even better and learn about strengths and interests they have that aren’t always visible during their regular school day.

Recognize Students

postcardThis year I am also working on sending positive postcards home to recognize students for their hard work. I am keep track in a spreadsheet with the goal of sending these out for at least 200 students.

Welcome New Families

In addition, I also send out a personal letter to new families after they have been in our school for a few weeks. (Shout out to Jay Posick for sharing this awesome idea!) This letter shares personal information about myself and then asks questions to help find out how their child is transitioning to our school and if there is anything that I can do to help. I have found this to be a great way to open communication lines with new families.

Use Social Media to Share with Families/Community:

As a parent, I always want to know details about each of my sons’ day, yet I’m often answered with “nothing” as their response when I ask what they did at school.  Knowing that this is a common response for all children, I find it important to “create a window into our school” to keep parents engaged and informed of the great things happening in our building. I do this by maintaining a school Facebook page that is also embedded on our school website so that even the parents that aren’t on Facebook can see the posts on our website.  I use the page to post reminders for upcoming events and share pictures from my classroom visits.  I have found this presence on Facebook to be a helpful tool for parents as it is much easier for them to send me a direct message with a question on Facebook than it is via email.

Connect with Staff

Finally, it’s important to connected with the staff in your building as a school leader.  I have to admit that this is not a natural strength of mine.  When I’m at work, I’m very focused and intentional and can easily find myself getting into a zone, forgetting to connect with the adults that make a difference in our students’ lives.  Just as a teacher must connect personally with their students, I believe a school leader must do the same.  I try to make a point to get to know individual staff members; ask how their weekend was, follow-up on a planned camping trip or ask about the book their reading.  I have found it helpful to be connected with staff on social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Goodreads to help with this.

I’d love to hear other ways that school leaders connect with their communities.

Leveling Up My School Facebook Page

keep calm

First of all, to those of you who have followed my blog and asked me where I’ve been…thank you! To those of you who thought I fell off the face off the planet, I promise that is not the case.  I have been working at balancing my home and work life, along with extra time being dedicated to writing a book, with the final manuscript due to ASCD on September 1st. While I’ve spent so much time writing, I have often lacked other ideas to write about for my blog.

Recently, we had Melissa Emler join us on the PrincipalPLN podcast to talk about school Facebook pages. You can read all the show notes and download the podcast from here. I share this here on my blog, because I previously thought I did a pretty good job of communicating with our families on our school Facebook page. I take time every month to schedule posts that will go out a day or more before events to serve as reminders to parents. I post pictures about the great things I see in our building a few days a week so that parents have a “window into our world.” I make sure to post lots of pictures or videos from major events. From looking at our analytics, we get a lot of action from parents and community members that are seeing our posts.

However, Melissa shared with us the news that Facebook changed the algorithm for your feed so your friends’ posts show up higher than pages, which means a school Facebook page post will likely not even show in someone’s feed. She taught us how people can change the setting and I took on her advice right away to share this information with our parents.

I created this screencast to show parents:
I also gave a quick written post a couple of days later in case someone didn’t want to watch the video (and because Melissa said to post every day!):

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 1.34.18 PM

 

Melissa emphasized that you need to post every day to your Facebook page to keep your page showing up in people’s feeds. The more you post, the more opportunities you are taking to share your school’s story. She also encouraged using Facebook Live, something I have never attempted to do, but is on my list of things to try in the next couple of weeks.

If you want to learn more, she has great resources posted here.

So what’s next for me to “level up” my school Facebook page? Here’s what I plan to do:

  • Create a video to introduce our new staff and changed grade level teams and post it to our page. Like this one by Brad Gustafson or this one by Todd Nesloney.
  •  Try Facebook Live. I’ll post ahead of time to let people know when I’ll be going live, but still need to figure out what my content will be. I’m thinking maybe a preview to freshly waxed floors and classrooms ready to go?
  • Find creative ways to keep posting between now and the start of the school year, remembering that anytime you have news to share to have a picture to go with the text to catch people’s eye. I’ve used a variety of tools to create images, but have quickly fallen in love with the app WordSwag. Post ideas include:
    • UPS guy delivering packages of new books (I already got a picture of him and he said that’s the first time anyone has ever cared to get a picture of him).
    • Reminders for online registration
    • Reminders for Open House
    • Pictures of kids in the community staying active (sports, library events, etc.)
    • Picture of custodians working on floors/rooms
    • Pictures of teachers in for professional learning
    • Pictures of teachers working in their rooms
    • Picture of the tech guys working to get iPads ready

If you still follow my page (after my 6 month absence) please feel free to chime in with unique ideas!

My Reading Resolutions for 2016

resolution read

I’m not one to make New Year’s Resolutions, but rather to reflect on my goals and progress, which I wrote about (a long time ago) HERE.  One tradition I started 4 years ago is to review my year’s worth of reading and make new Reading Resolutions. I began using Goodreads three years ago and wrote about Everything I Love About Goodreads as I got started with it.

My reading goals for 2015 were:

1. Read 50 books

2. Get out of my reading comfort zone and read different genres

3. Have family “Read to Self” time

2015 books

I missed my goal by only reading 49 books, however, with publishing Breaking Out of Isolation this year I feel like I can count that book a couple of times since I reread it several times over in the revising/editing process.

Of these 49 books, 20 were fiction and 29 were non-fiction. With my new interest in running (in effort to find balance in my life) I read 7 books about running, so I guess you could say I read a new genre. I finished up 2015 by going back to the classics and read To Kill a Mockingbird, one of those required books in high school that I never actually read. I also ended the year with a few other books in the process, because I never read just one book at a time; I always have several books going in different places (one on my kindle app, one in my office, one with my boys for bedtime, one on my nightstand…maybe book ADHD?). As I continue to reflect on myself as a reader I am also aware of my multiple stacks of purchased books that I have not yet read.

So, my Reading Resolutions for 2016 are:

1. Read 50 books

2. Work on reading from my purchased to-read stacks

3. Continue to have family “Read to Self” time

Next on my list is to post my reading resolutions at school and visit each classroom to read to them and talk about reading goals.

 

Being a Connected Educator: Better Than a Top 5

Corwin Connect Button

 

As a part of Connected Educator’s month, my blog post below was recently published on the Corwin Connect blog.

 

 

 

Social media doodles drawing

Social media doodles drawing

I’m fortunate to have been a Connected Educator for nearly six years and never give up an opportunity to share with others why being a Connected Educator is so beneficial.  I believe in being connected so much that I co-wrote the bookBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader with Spike Cook and Theresa Stager. For this year’s Connected Educator month I would like to focus on a concept that we address in our book: the top 5.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is well known for saying, “We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” If one wants to become more fit and healthy, then it would become much easier by surrounding yourself with people who can model this for you. If you want to become better in your craft, then surround yourself with people who are great role models, experts in their field. Following people on Twitter is one thing, but what I prefer to focus on most is the strengths of the people I am following so I can better know how I can grow from being connected to them and have more than a top 5. The ability to surround yourself with great educators to learn from becomes even more powerful thanks to social media tools and has become my lifeline as a school principal. Any principal can tell you how isolating it is to be the only person in the building in that role, but even educators with a team to turn to can feel isolated within their own classroom. We can remain isolated by our role, room or even geographical location, just doing the best we can, or we can choose to connect with others so that we are constantly learning and growing to provide our students with the best education possible.

Being a Connected Educator allows me to do even more than find the best five people that I want to emulate…it allows me to find the best five (or even more) for each topic or area that I want to grow in. By connecting with others on Twitter, reading their blogs and having deeper discussions on Voxer, I can find which educators I can learn more from about topics such as RtI, 1common core standards, or implementing a new initiative like Writer’s Workshop or going 1:1 with iPads. I am involved in different Voxer groups focused on the conversations that I want to learn from, such as women in leadership and principals that run for balance in their lives (I do mean literally running in this context!). I connect almost daily with a group of principals who have either been recognized as principal of the year or had their school recognized for their excellence. I learn so much from these outstanding leaders in just a few minutes a day.

Being a Connected Educator with a Professional Learning Network (PLN) allows us to improve the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Are you a Connected Educator? Who are you surrounding yourself with to learn and grow from each day?

If you’re a school leader (or know one) that would like to become more connected then I’d recommend checking out our podcast for principals: PrincipalPLN or follow the hashtag #principalpln on Twitter.

isolation book promo

Where are the women keynote speakers?

This post was collaboratively written by:
Jessica Johnson
Melissa Emler
Heidi Hutchison
Iram Khan
Kaye Henrickson
Tia Henriksen
women

Image from Pixabay

In a recent discussion in our Women in Leadership voxer group, we came to the realization that opportunities for us to hear female education leaders speak as keynote presenters at conferences are a rare find. We can list numerous outstanding male keynote speakers we have heard at conferences and would be happy to listen to again:

  • Todd Whitaker
  • Eric Sheninger
  • Peter DeWitt
  • Andy Hargreaves
  • Michael Fullan
  • Joe Sanfellippo
  • Tony Sinanis
  • Jimmy Casas
  • Jeff Zeoul
  • Daniel Pink
  • Sir Ken Robinson
  • Kevin Honeycutt
  • Baruti Kafele
  • Josh Stumpenhorst
  • George Couros
  • Dean Shareski

The list could go on and on…

Yet, when we tried to list women keynote speakers…our conversation came to a halt. Within our group we could actually only identify six keynote speakers that we’ve heard:

  • Pernille Ripp
  • Marcia Tate
  • Becky DuFour
  • Heidi Hayes Jacobs
  • Angela Maiers
  • Kristen Swanson

All six are dynamic speakers who we want to promote and would love to hear again.  One interesting piece of these women keynote speakers is that they are all pedagogical goddesses and relentless advocates for student learning.  Liz Wiseman, another woman keynoter who was remembered later in the conversation, is the only woman that was hired to keynote on the specific topic of leadership and the impact leadership has on student learning.  We are connected to many great female education leaders; we’ve read their blogs/books, we’ve connected in social media to continue learning from them, and we’ve heard them speak on smaller scales (conference sessions, not keynotes). So why aren’t they being asked to be keynote speakers at state, provincial, and national level conferences? Why is the pool of keynote speakers so dominated by our male colleagues?  More importantly, why are we, the women leaders in education, not making a bigger stink about it?

This has been a difficult question to discuss as it has brought up some uncomfortable reflections, especially in the areas of how we support women colleagues. Some of the reasons that we discussed included:

  • Women can be our own worst enemies. Sometimes we compete with each other as though there is only one space at the top, when as we can see with the number of men who are keynote speakers, this is not true.   
  • Some women leaders feel isolated and don’t have a support group.
  • Speaking in front of others can be scary, causing us to question whether we really are an expert to present to others about it. It’s the own voices in our head that prevent us from stepping up. Many refer to this as the “Impostor Syndrome” which is common among high achieving women where, “Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved” (wikipedia).  According to researcher, Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, women who are in male-dominated professions are particularly vulnerable to this syndrome (Goudreau, ForbesWomen, Oct. 19, 2011).
  • Sometimes, we rely on “duty calls” and stay back to complete the work. Again, our own worst enemy by not prioritizing sharing our story (and the story of our teacher leaders) with others.
  • The reality of mom guilt; we already feel guilty about the many hours that take us away from our children and worry about the additional time spent away from our families.

According to Tiffani Lennon, the author and lead researcher of the report, Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States, women hold 75% of all teaching positions across the U.S., but hold only 30% of leadership positions. Education is a field that is predominantly women, but we hold less than a third of the leadership positions. In looking at this report, education has the largest gap between number of women working and number of women in leadership. We have work to do.

What can we, the women in school leadership roles, do to help even out the influential voices in our space?  These are our suggestions:

  • Demand that the organizations we belong to recognize the imbalance and work hard to elevate our voices. We pay membership fees too.
  • Recommend women in leadership that we know would be excellent on the stage.
  • Submit proposals to speak at conferences on topics we are passionate about.
  • Encourage women colleagues to get out there and share their passions.
  • Recognize and promote the female speakers that we want to hear.
  • Continue to share our learning/reflections with others online (Twitter, Blogs, Voxer, etc.).
  • Read, reflect and discuss great books on women in leadership, such as Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg or Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
  • Reflect upon our own self-doubt and bravely put it out there so that others can learn from it, support you and help you move onto reaching your leadership potential.
  • Learn more about the Impostor Syndrome and what that is and looks like for you. Get help from others, as you feel necessary.
  • Learn about some of the many successful people who have also identified themselves as “impostors”, as described in the article,  High achievers suffering from imposter syndrome News.com Dec 10 2013.
  • Get to know women leaders, so when the time comes to recommend speakers you have a list of good, potential candidates.

We believe women in leadership is a diversity issue and doing this important work is the responsibility of all educators. It is important for girls to see women in leadership roles so that they can imagine and dream their own possibilities. It is also important for girls to see women being celebrated as speakers whose opinions are honoured and valued. It is just as important for boys to see women in this role and on the stage.  This issue is not just about girls and boys though; it is also about women and men.  If most of our teachers are women, they deserve to learn from women and aspire to be like them.  If they only see men, some of the best and brightest may never choose to elevate their position.  On the flip side, there are certainly some amazing men in our classrooms who may feel forced to enter leadership positions because it is seemingly expected.  The field of education needs all of us to be in roles that fit our strengths.   Furthermore, we need to challenge our own thinking, and have courageous conversations that move us forward. It is important for everyone to acknowledge and value the importance of our voices as women to the educational conversations, including as Keynote Speakers at major conferences, both locally, nationally, and internationally.  In doing so, we are doing the work of creating a brighter future for all of us.

Breaking Out of Isolation

Being a principal is my passion; a role that I am grateful to have and enjoy *almost* every day.  While their are many positives to school administration, one of the pitfalls is the isolation that comes with being an administrator. I have previously written and shared in presentations (along with Curt Rees, Jay Posick and Matt Renwick) that is like being on Admin Island. Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 9.34.11 PM

 

I have to honestly say, that I don’t know how I could do this job without being a connected educator.  I learn so much everyday from other educators across the world on Twitter, Voxer, Blogs, and Pintrest everyday. I am certain that if I were to go back into the classroom, I would be a far more effective teacher today than before I was connected.

One of my greatest connections has been with Spike Cook and Theresa Stager through creating the #principalpln podcast, a weekly (ok, almost weekly) podcast focused on providing current and aspiring school leaders with advice, support and ideas. About a year ago we embarked on an exciting journey to write about how getting connected can help break out of isolation, but also address how being connected can also lead to isolation (quite a pardox!)

Breaking Out of Isolation Cover

Getting connected is one thing, and many educators are taking the plunge to become connected. Once connected, how does the leader avoid the isolation inherent in leadership? We have learned from conversations with others that many educators need help balancing their connected journey, and working with their peers. We wrote this book to ensure that the leadership wheels do not fall off.

In this book we help the readers understand the importance of being connected to benefit individual professional learning, mindfulness, and avoiding the traps of isolation . We use vignettes of leaders to give a picture of what the connected leader looks like. We also address the common challenges that come with being connected, such as criticism, isolation and battling mindset.

Pre-orders are available by visiting the Corwin site.

I am excited to announce that this book is now off to the printers and should be out by the end of this month!

Can principals have a life during the school year?

School has been out for three weeks and I have:

  • Read 5 books (mix of fiction and personal development)
  • Enjoyed a family camping trip filled with fun and relaxation
  • Enjoyed fishing and water skiing/tubing outings
  • Acquired enough sunlight to get a tan (for me anyways)
  • Ran 33 miles (one run was a 5K race with my son for his first race) and signed up to run my first 10K
  • Watched 12 baseball games that my kids played in
  • Enjoyed ongoing learning great conversations with members of my PLN at a conference
  • Spent time writing (for what I hope is a future published book)
  • Enjoyed meditation and coffee on my back deck with the sunrise
  • Kept my house clean (ok, that may be a bit of a stretch!)

 

I am still working this summer, however, I am fortunate to be able to work half-days Monday-Thursday (following our summer school schedule). I am thoroughly enjoying the sense of calm I feel, with the only stress I’ve felt has come from bee stings, a dog on the loose and my 5 year-old’s first experience tubing on the lake. A much different pace than the school year.

Why do I blog about this? Because I’ve shared before on the #principalpln podcast several times about my journey to try to become more mindful and frankly, get a life outside of school to be more balanced. By nature, I am a workaholic, and have a hard time slowing down and relaxing. Just today I found myself with two hours of no kids in the house and had to stop myself from pulling out my laptop to do some work (I had to remind myself that I had no pressing deadlines to meet!).

I’m sure that many principals (and teachers) can relate to the sigh of relief being felt right now. But it makes me wonder why I can’t find a sense of balance and mindfulness all year? Why do I have to be stressed during the school year? Why can’t I continue my passions and self-care while working full time?  Is it possible to be a principal and have a life?

The Mindful School Leader

This is a cross post from the #PrincipalPLN podcast:

 

How do you handle to stress?

 Does this sound like you? Maybe you just feel that way at times, which is certainly common in our overwhelming roles as school leaders. But, it doesn’t have to be!
In this episode, the #principalpln crew have an amazing discussion with the authors of The Mindful School LeaderKirsten Olson and Val Brown share their amazing wisdom with us on the importance of mindfulness for school leaders and how we can get started.  We felt a sense of peace and calm come over us just in listening to them speak!
We highly recommend you read the book, but until it arrives you can start with these recommendations from Val and Kirsten:

 


  • You eat a meal every day…choose one meal to really taste your food. Put down your devices and taste your food!
  • Look at the sky.
  • At times throughout the day, stop and notice your breathing.
  • Make a commitment for 10 minutes of alone time in your office.
  • Schedule these things so they become routine.

 


 

 

Do you have your own tips to share with being mindful or just taking care of yourself so you can be a better leader? Or are you (like us) a work in progress and just starting your path to mindfulness? Share your comments below or tweet your tips/reflections/progress using #principalpln.




 

Using Google Calendar for my To-Do Lists

A common topic of discussion on the #PrincipalPLN podcast is on productivity, because principals have a LOT of work to do while wearing mgoogle calany different hats and never enough time to get it all done (seriously, time could stop and we still couldn’t catch up). One of my favorite apps for keeping my to-do list in is Remember the Milk, however, this past year I got away from using it and just started scheduling my to-do work in a google tasks calendar.

 

I have several calendars in Google:

  • My main calendar that the secretaries can see and add appointments to. This includes any meeting or duty that they will need to know where I’m at (as will I!)
  • Staff events calendar-all staff can see this and it’s for any meeting or school-wide event that they need to be aware of.
  • Tasks calendar-I use this to schedule work that I need to do. Anything I used to write on a post-it note (or put in Remember the Milk app) I now put in my tasks calendar. No one else can see this.
  • Student Discipline-only I can see this. I enter in any students I meet with for discipline. This is often used for scheduling when I’m going to meet with someone (usually at the end of the day when I get a parent phone call or call from the bus company about bus referrals from the pm route).
  • Personal Calendar-this is just for me and is shared with my husband. We use this to schedule our own family events, medical appointments, etc.

So, why the tasks calendar? When I have a long list of things to-do it can be overwhelming to look at and decide what to do. I never really want to do any of them! :) But, when I schedule them when I think would be the best time to work on it, then I’ve already made a commitment to work on it at that day/time. When I look at my calendar, I know what I need to do. What’s even better is the reminder feature that pops up and tells you what you need to do; it’s like having my own little personal secretary to remind me what to do. Now, my day is just as hectic as any other principal and my days NEVER go as planned so at the end of each day I review my calendar and often have to move several tasks to another day/time, because I didn’t get to them on that day due to x, y or z happening.

When I shared this on one of the #principalpln podcasts, Spike asked how I can “cross off” that it’s done? I know that crossing things off gives a great deal of satisfaction, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do that in google calendar.

I recently came up with a solution…well, almost.  I created a new calendar and called it “completed tasks” and made the calendar a different color. So now as I complete a task, I simply edit the event and change what calendar it is so I can visually see that it is completed (a different color on my calendar).

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 8.15.17 AM

 

#WEMTA15 Presentations

wemta

I’m super excited to attend the WEMTA (Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association) Conference this week as a Spotlight Speaker while getting the opportunity to hear some great educators.

Here are the slides/resources for my presentations:

Teacher 2:0: Social Media Tools for Teachers 

Using Twitter to Build Your Professional Learning Network

Evernote for Teacher Organization