Archive for Communication and Community Relations

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!

#SAVMP – How Do You Connect with Your School Community?

I’m excited to take part in this year’s digital School Admin Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP) and am hooked up with two mentees, Jennifer Kloczko and Brandon Pafk.  Despite me being considered the “mentor” I am enjoying connecting with these two folks who already have administrative experience and have so much to offer me as well as we reflect together on posed monthly topics that are pertinent to school leadership.

Although October was busy month for me and I never made the time to write my blog post on the topic, I did connect with them through Voxer, discussing the topic for October.

Image from SchoolandTrust.org

Image from SchoolandTrust.org

October’s discussion topic is “How do you connect with your school community?”

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, 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.

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.

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.

Broadcasting School Events

brandedA great new podcast that I love listening to is BrandEd hosted by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis.  Each episode shares ways that schools can communicate and share their positive news with parents/community.  We all know that we can’t count on news reporters to share the positive things happening in our schools, because the negative stories are the ones that make sensational headlines.  It is up to us to “tell our story” and share the great things we are doing in our school buildings.

I strive to “tell our story” by having a Principal’s Page on our website where I update pictures each month from my classroom walkthroughs to give parents a “window” into our school to see what our students are doing.  I also maintain a school Facebook page to not only share reminders, but easily share pictures/video clips of great things parents may not otherwise hear about.  (*If you’re wondering why I don’t have a Twitter account for our school it is because I surveyed parents and none of them were on Twitter).

Live-brodcastOn the most recent BrandEd podcast, they were joined by Joe Mazza who is well known on Twitter for starting #PTchat (parent teacher chat) and helping to pave the way for administrators and educators to open the door for connections with parents. In this interview with Joe, he shared the idea of broadcasting or having a livestream online from school events to allow parents to view even if they cannot attend in person.

I had heard of this idea before, but since I heard this podcast a week before a scheduled assembly I decided it was time to try it.  I set up an account at ustream.tv, created a channel for our broadcast, created a shortened weblink using bitly.com to make it easy for parents to type in, and then let parents know by sending home a flyer (yes, we still use those!) and put it on our Facebook page.  During our assembly, the highest number of viewers we had was 42, although I’m not sure how many were from our community, because I did also tweet it out.  I did have a few parents comment to me or on our Facebook page that they watched it and thought it was neat that we could do that.

Now that I have our first live broadcast under our belt, I’m wondering what other events should I broadcast to invite parents to be connected from home/work? I’d love to hear from other educators on what events you have broadcasted from your school. 

I’m Not a Tech Expert -from the Monday Musings Post

Just sharing with you this week’s “Monday Musings” post to my staff from my memo blog:

——————————————————————————————

 

Image from Venosdale

I’ve always felt pretty tech savvy…I love learning about what new web 2.0 tools or iPad apps are out and I catch on pretty quickly.  I feel like that all changed when I got my new laptop a few weeks ago…it was only 5 minutes after Brad brought me my new device that I called his office to ask “how do I scroll?” Yes, you heard that right, I couldn’t even scroll down on a webpage.  Go ahead and laugh (I know I did).  You were all witness to my lack of skills with this MacBook Pro in our first staff meeting when I couldn’t get anything to work right.  After a couple of weeks with it now, I am getting used to it, but still turning to google, youtube or “phone a friend” almost daily to learn how to do things that are different than on a PC.  I am also learning really neat features that I could never do before.

Why do I share this with you? Because I know that, for some of you, going 1:1 with iPads might feel the same way.  I know that it’s hard to say “don’t worry,” but I do encourage you to not be afraid of them and model your learning for your students.  As teachers, we don’t have to be the experts of everything that gets imparted to our students.  When we show students that we don’t always know how to do something, but learn until we figure it out, we are modeling for them exactly what lifelong skill we want them to have.
I know I’ve said this in a previous Monday Musings post, but want to share it again:
We do not have to be experts at the tools…we have to be experts at learning and show students what it is like in real life to not know the answer or not know how to do something. To be successful in life you need to know how to find it out. Or as Will Richardson says we have to be able to “learn, unlearn and relearn.”
 
Image from Venosdale
 

Sometimes the Answer is SO Obvious…

I have been using Evernote for probably two years now and cannot survive without it. It has literally become my filing system and my brain…for almost everything.  I often share ideas with interested teachers on how it could be used. Just today I was speaking with a colleague about how challenging it can be to keep up with documentation of communication with parents, staff, and outside agencies and how difficult it is to find those notes when you need them. I shared with her my notebook system (which is quite embarrassing, because of how messy it is) and she asked, “Why don’t you just use Evernote since you always use it?”

Image from Appsmylife

This colleague does not even use Evernote, she’s just heard me talk about it all the time…I felt like a fool when she shared this obvious solution with me!

Even though I had a system of tracking in the margin of my notebook, I realized I could easily use the checkbox feature in Evernote, along with different font to record any follow-up documentation. I started using it right away today, because even though it’s summer break, I still had 6 voicemails to return and found it so easy. Again, such an easy solution that was just so obvious I couldn’t even see it!

As I move into my summer work (catch-up, planning for next year, office cleaning, etc.) I will be on the lookout for other obvious things I can be using Evernote for to make my life simpler.

We’re Going 1:1 with iPads!!!

Image from Ergatron.com

Can you hear my excitement already? You read that right…we are going 1:1 with iPads in all of our preschool through 5th grade classrooms in our elementary school.

Since I have learned from so many other blogs about integrating technology I plan to share our learning here, but also hope to get input from others on questions that we have.

Here’s what led up to this 1:1 decision:
We are a small district with preK-12 all in one building, which allows us to share technology even though we still function as separate schools in our three separated wings. Over the years we have continued to add technology: each building level has a computer lab and every classroom has a SMARTBoard. This past year we added several carts of devices: Lenovo laptops, netbook minis, Macbook Airs and iPads. This allowed classrooms the opportunity to try out different devices and explore with what device was preferred if we should go 1:1.

Our District Tech Team put in a lot of work this year exploring schools that have gone 1:1 to see what works, what didn’t, etc. They surveyed all staff and all students K-12, using the results to determine that in our district, the best place to start implementing 1:1 would be in our elementary (we did find other districts that started with the high school). This team developed a 3 year plan that ends with our district being 1:1 in every grade. The tech team presented to the school board a couple of different times to build their understanding of this initiative, which led to a unanimous vote for the purchase of the iPads for the elementary next year. Right after this decision was made, we began sharing information on our website for our parents/community to see, which can be found HERE.

So, now that the decision was made, what’s next? Well, our tech people have been working like mad to get this large iPad order ready, along with the admin team planning when to bring in the Apple certified trainers. With any new initiative, the support must be there so we have decided to budget for training from Apple. We also had a logistical meeting with the elementary teachers to discuss how apps will be loaded, how ipads will be stored, etc. Here are some of those logistical details:

  • Each classroom will have an Ergatron charging case.
  • Each iPad will have Otterbox cases
  • iPads will initially be set up with apps by grade level as requested by the grade level team
  • Teachers will have full access to make their teacher iPad their own (this year they had department ipads all with the same apple account so they couldn’t individualize them)
  • As additional apps are requested they will be added to what will basically be our school App Store, which will be created using Casper Software.
  • Additional wifi access points are being put into every classroom so that we have enough bandwidth for all of the additional devices.
  • Every classroom will have an Apple TV to be able to project from any iPad to the SMARTBoard.

I think that’s it for logistics. My next post will be on how can I support my teachers to transform instruction with these new iPads?

If your school or classroom has gone 1:1 are there any logistical issues that you encountered that we should know about? Please share if you do!

Edited to add:
Someone on Twitter asked me if students will be taking the iPads home with them? We have decided that at least for the beginning of this 3 year initiative students will not be bringing them home. A major reason for this is that our K-12 students all ride the same buses home so we were concerned about middle/high school students knowing that our students had iPads in their backpacks and if this could potentially cause theft issues. 

Know you’re in the good old days…

Here is cross-post of my final Monday Musings post from my staff blog for the school year…inspired by one of my favorite t.v. shows…

This year was the final season for one of my favorite t.v. shows, The Office. I’m sure you can all relate to having one (or more) shows that you have come to love, have watched every week for years and then feel a great sadness when it comes to a close.  You’ve grown to know each of the unique characters as if they were actually a part of your life and can even make connections to events in real life.  It sounds silly…I know, it’s just a t.v. show.

 If you are not familiar with The Office, the character Andy Bernard in the image above had left the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company to pursue other ambitions and returned for the last episode as the crew said their farewells.  When he came back to all of his colleagues and friends he realized how good he had it before he left and said, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you leave them.”

As I watched this final episode, I couldn’t help but think of our Dodgeland Family.   Just as any year, we’ve taken on a lot this year. There were times where we may have felt stressed, overwhelmed, or thought that the grass might be greener somewhere else, but as I’ve shared before, “the grass is greener where you water it.”

 The work that we do at Dodgeland every day makes it a truly amazing place for our students to learn and grow each day. It is a school that I am proud to be a part of and to send my own children to. I want to thank each of you for the hard work you have put in every day to help each of your students achieve their greatest potential this year. Use this last week together to enjoy your students and colleagues or as Andy Bernard says, “Know you’re in the good old days before you leave them”

The importance of Read-Aloud (at school and home)

I recently read The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease after seeing Matt Renwick tweet about it several different times. I had it on my list of professional books to read, but he actually mentioned it again to me in a parent to parent conversation when I shared my concerns regarding my son’s animosity for reading. Yes, you read that right…the principal so passionate about reading has a child that does not enjoy reading himself. My son is growing up in a home filled with hundreds of books, is read to for half an hour each night, but fights me on reading himself just like he does eating broccoli. Don’t get me wrong, he does love to be read to (at home and school) his favorite part of school each day is Daily 5 time, he reads to himself at school, and he reads to friends at school during read-to-someone (I even had to witness this myself, because I didn’t believe that he could have such a different disposition at school!)

So after several recommendations from Matt, I read The Read-Aloud Handbook, which reaffirmed my passion for reading and the importance for reading aloud to my children, even though they may be old enough to read on their own.  I would highly recommend this book to any teacher, parent, grandparent, or child caregiver.

The author, Jim Trelease, challenges NCLB legislation and all other attacks on schools for low reading scores with the argument that a child spends 900 hours a year in school and 7,800 hours outside of school and that parents have a bigger influence and more time available for change to occur. By reading aloud to children (at home or school) we:

  • condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  • create background knowledge
  • build vocabulary
  • provide a reading model

You can find study after study (many shared in his book) that links student reading interest with higher test scores, parent reading habits with higher test scores, read aloud habits at home with higher test scores, and more cases of students from low SES/minority homes making significant gains and breaking their cycle of poverty when being read to at home (even from parents with little education).  What I found most interesting is that Trelease is NOT an educator. He is just a parent that was very passionate about reading to his kids and as a classroom volunteer, saw the effects of not being read to in other children. He shares tips for parents and teachers in this book about reading aloud, as well as a treasury list of books identified by the grade level child to read aloud to (note-the read aloud level is higher than the level a child could read to themself).  A wealth of information can also be found at Trelease’s website here. 

After reading this book, my only concern is: how do we get this information to the parents that really need it?  Many parents, like myself, that are already reading to their children will certainly enjoy this book and have it encourage and reaffirm reading habits already established at home.  Unfortunately, the parents that do not read to their children or see the value in it, also tend to be the parents that do not (or maybe cannot) read any information that is sent home and do not come to school events or conferences.  What can schools do to try and reach these parents?  This year at our Open House (the night before school) I am planning to have a session in the gym for all parents to come in and I will speak at 3 different times and will include the importance of reading aloud at home. What do other schools do to get this message out and help support parents?

Why our school recognizes honor roll in school pride assemblies

Over the past 6 months I have read numerous tweets and blog posts from other principals and teachers regarding doing away with Honor Roll and school assemblies recognizing students for Honor Roll. I appreciated how this discussion challenged my thinking, but I never joined in the discussion, because I am the one that started the Honor Roll assembly at our school and decided it is time for me to explain why our school started this.

During my first year as principal in my current school I quickly learned that there was a common culture amongst students in our district that learning is “not cool”. We are a unique school made up of students from surrounding small, rural communities and even though we have separate elementary, middle and high schools we are all in one large building. I heard many stories from teachers in upper grades describing examples in class in which students were embarrassed about the high grades they received. I heard about a school assembly recognizing older students for their achievements that didn’t go well, because many students were laughing and teasing each other. The saddest story to me was of a senior receiving a National Merit Scholarship but she didn’t want to be recognized publicly for it out of fear of peers finding out. When I heard this, I knew that we had to do something at the elementary level to change this culture in our building.

Our 4th/5th grade teachers had already begun the tradition years ago of recognizing students that made Honor Roll status of either having all A’s, A’s/B’s or all B’s on their report cards. Students names were written on Trojan Head cut-outs (our school mascot is the trojan) and displayed on the hallway. There were a few years that parents donated money for these students to receive special t-shirts at the end of the year.

At the beginning of my 2nd year as principal, I met with a committee of teachers to build on this current practice started by our 4/5th grade teachers. We decided to have quarterly Pride assemblies to recognize our students for their academic achievements and invite parents to these assemblies as well. We added 3rd graders to the list of students to be recognized for Honor Roll since they also received letter grades on their report cards. In addition, we allowed every teacher in the school (including special area teachers) to nominate one student to be recognized for being “On a Roll.” This could be a student in any grade working hard to improve in any area.

This is now our 3rd year of having a quarterly pride assembly. Yesterday was our 1st Pride assembly for the year and here’s how it went:
*I thanked parents for coming to show their support for their children. I then talked about how hard all of our students are working in every grade to become great readers/writers during Daily 5 time and had student participation to tell what Stamina is, why they need to read so much and how it helps them become great learners.
*I reviewed Pride Assembly behavior:
Used student volunteers to demonstrate the “wrong” way to receive an award (they exaggerated bragging to others, saying “haha you didn’t get one”, etc) and then students to demonstrate the “right” way to receive an award.
Also talked about what students should do if they don’t receive an award (give a thumbs up or congratulate their peers; not pout)
*Presented certificates/pencils to the students for “On a Roll” reading the reason for each recognition (ex: “Johnny is On a Roll for working hard at building his stamina during Daily 5 and increasing his reading level.” and “Suzie has been practicing her math facts and keeps moving up in Rocket Math”).
*Presented certificates/pencils to students for:
3rd grade A/B’s
3rd grade A’s
4th grade A/B’s
4th grade A’s
5th grade A/B’s
5th grade A’s
*I closed the assembly by thanking our students for their outstanding behavior during the assembly and read to them 2 quotes from our guest teachers about why they love to be called to be guest teachers in our school, because our students are always so well behaved.

Each time we have this assembly I am amazed by our students’ behavior of congratulating each other and being proud of their accomplishments. Our parent feedback has always been thankful for recognizing their children and that they are invited to attend these assemblies.

Despite this, I know that this practice may change in the future. Through implementing Daily5/Cafe and focusing on conferring with each student on their current level and their goals to focus on, we are building intrinsic motivation in all of our students. Even in the upper grades we are seeing students continue to love learning and enjoy sharing with each other what they have recently read or learned about during reflection time. We are beginning discussions on changing our grading process and I’ve even heard of some schools eliminating grades. I have no idea where this will take us, but for now, we continue to recognize students for honor roll.