Tag Archives: respect

What Really Makes a Great School

So, I talk a great deal about my amazing students, my incredible staff. All true. Today I am grateful for my unbelievable parents. Last night, I shared a situation at our PTA Meeting and 5th-grade performance, I shared a situation with them and asked for their support. Their commitment to our school and community is unbelievable. This might be a given if you were talking about a roomful of people from the same backgrounds. I have families from all walks of life, all different viewpoints. One thing is undeniable-they love our school. I had a situation where an outsider made some judgments based on paper scores and a school rating website. I asked them to be more vocal about Degan and they stepped up to the plate.

And just as a public service announcement, STAAR is only as good at telling you about a school as you compare apples to apples. It doesn’t tell you that my current fifth graders entered 1st grade with only half knowing their letters and sounds. (Because some of these kiddos just didn’t have the opportunity to have quality learning experience before coming to school and not because their parents didn’t love them with all their hearts. It’s all about access to resources!!). I can tell you that these same students were only about 61% passing STAAR on math as third graders. These same kids were over 70% passing in math last year and after our first district benchmark was over 90% and ABOVE the district average.

Before you judge a book by its STAAR scores you might want to dig a little deeper to see the untold story. Does the TEA accountability report tell you that? Does it tell you how my diverse students wrote their own performance? Does it tell you how they “circle” and as a group work through their issues with each other and show value? Does it tell you about how innovative they are and how they use technology to create products to show their thinking or that one of my students is creating a documentary on being an NEU school and how that has affected her? I mean really, if kids could pass the test when they walked in the door does that prove a school is good versus one who grew kids like I described?

Oh, don’t worry. We are taking care of STAAR too. Not with test prep or drill and kill. But rather by deep learning. My students will accomplish whatever they dream of because they are amazing, they have incredible teachers, and because of our parents….they are the best in the world and support their school. They aren’t afraid of diversity and are willing to do whatever it takes, too.

Celebrate Success (Even When It’s Someone Else’s)

It’s pretty easy to celebrate your own accomplishments.  I mean, you know your journey.  You know what you have been through to carry out the goal.  However, it can be harder to celebrate the success of others.  It got me thinking.

  • Do we not celebrate the success of others because of the competitive world we live in?  Maybe we don’t celebrate because we are fearful that someone else’s success diminishes our own.  Maybe it makes us feel a little safer with our own status.
  • Do we not notice? Let’s face it, it’s a fast pace world we live in. Maybe we get so busy, we just don’t see anything going on with anyone else because we have hyper-focused on our own circumstances.
  • Do we doubt the impact our “congratulations” mean to someone else?  Maybe we think that the other person will question our sincerity or even value our acknowledgement of what they have accomplished.

Recently I had a colleague of a campus that had been through a tremendous challenge to help her campus meet some specified accountability standards.  While I had not directly experienced the steps and measures they had gone through to achieve the goal.  I knew it was certainly arduous.  Her team rallied. They invested.  They learned. They reflected and they grew.  Most importantly, they never gave up.  It was huge accomplishment when they achieved this task they had worked on for years.

As I watched them celebrate, it hit me how important it was that not only they celebrate for themselves, or be acknowledged by superiors, but that they be acknowledged by peers and colleagues.  I didn’t know whether my words would really matter to them, but it just seemed important.  When we live in a world where education is constantly under fire, we must stand together in good times and in bad. It just seems like it’s easier to acknowledge and feel pity for someone’s struggles. We must not compete against each other, but celebrate each educational organization as a part of the great big “whole” of public educators who make a difference for children.  That is why my teacher leaders did a twitter storm of celebration for this campus marrying their hashtag and ours to celebrate their success.

I don’t think it matters if you are a district, a school, or a teacher of a classroom.  As Susan Phillips says “Celebrate the success of others.  High tide floats all ships.” When you are in a battle, you unite your armies, not battle over who is the frontline or the support. Both are critical to winning longterm.  We must recognize that every success of any campus is asuccess for all public educators.  It’s a check in the win column to tell the world what a difference a group of educators can make in the lives of children when they have a common vision and purpose. Congratulations, Central Elementary! You have accomplished great things.  You have shown grit, growth mindset, and grace under fire!  You did it and you make us all look good because of that!

 

 

Mercy and Grace

With Easter upon us, it has gotten me doing a great deal of reflection on God’s mercy versus God’s grace.  God’s mercy is the fact that while we deserve punishment for our sins, they are wiped clean.  Because of His mercy, we do not have to face eternal damnation.  So what about His grace?  Grace is that God gives us kindness we do not deserve. We did not deserve His son to die on the cross for our sins, but he gave his son for us anyway.

We, too, have the ability to give both grace and mercy to our fellow man.  I have seen that in the last couple of weeks at my school. I have been unnerved lately at some of the adult behavior that I have witnessed. I seem to have encountered more and more parents yelling, screaming and cursing in the presence of children or belittling staff who are just doing their jobs. I think it has to do with the social climate of our country and intense stress so many people are under. Unfortunately, I have had to confront several parents about their behavior and expectations of how we must treat each other to maintain a collaborative relationship and do what is best for children.  For a couple of these situations, it involved several follow-up conversations where those parents were able to explain some things going on in their

Unfortunately, I have had to confront several parents about their behavior and reiterate expectations of how we must treat each other to maintain a collaborative relationship and do what is best for children.  For a couple of these situations, it involved several follow-up conversations where those parents were able to explain some things going on in their lives.  These were not examples of “mercy” because the bad behavior was not tolerated. However, grace was extended through the absence of personal judgment and the willingness to continue to try to maintain the relationship. Those same adults took full responsibility and gave sincere unprompted apologies to those they had wronged.  I believe they did this because they were given grace.

I see this with students, too.  I have a couple of students who ended up at the alternative school for some persistent bad behavior.  They had to be held accountable at this level because other measures were not working and their behavior was becoming disruptive to others’ learning.  I went to visit them one day and both gave me gigantic hugs and stated they were surprised to see me.  I explained to them that while they were gone, they were still my students and I needed to check on them. They had to be accountable for their behavior, but it didn’t change my love for them or my concern for their well-being.

I have found that if students make a mistake and are given “mercy”, they are usually right back in the same place after a short period of time.  However, if they are held accountable for their actions while also shown kindness, behavior had the potential to change.  All humans need to know that someone believes in their ability to be better.  Underserved kindness, or grace, says to that person, “I believe in you, no matter what your past has been.”

To extend “mercy”, you must first be in some sort of a position of power to enact punishment.  However, sometimes “mercy” backfires by allowing bad behavior to continue because it is seen as acceptance of the behavior. Sometimes, we aren’t even in a place to show mercy because we don’t hold the power to give the consequence.   “Grace” doesn’t require power, but more the willingness to show kindness where none is deserved. It requires the person giving grace to put someone else’s humanity before their own desire to “make someone pay” for their wrongdoing.  Grace has the power to change behavior for the better because there is hope for something more. Sometimes “grace” and the hope it can inspire is much more important.

No Excuses (Especially on Saturday)

Two years ago, my campus learned about No Excuses University. It happened accidentally when a visitor to our campus said, “Oh, you’re an NEU Campus.” I had no idea what it the world NEU was, so I looked it up. Basically, it is the implementation of best practices for instruction, combined with a passion for the learning of all students. It is a fierce commitment to adults not making excuses about why a child cannot succeed in school, but rather doing whatever it takes to overcome barriers and ensure that all children (no matter their background, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or disability) are proficient or advanced in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics so that they can go to college if they choose.

In trying to be aligned to this belief, my campus has looked at the students who we believed were not quite ready to hit that “proficient or advanced” expectation and created what we call NEU Saturday. This is a time where selected students come to school on Saturday for two hours so that they have a little extra time to learn. I need to be clear. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with our state assessment. My commitment is not to a test, but to these children’s being prepared for their future. If we do that right, they’ll be fine on a test, but the test isn’t the driving force.

I love this! Learning isn’t about worksheets! It’s about relationships, relevance to life, and things that can connect with the learner!
Because we aren’t bound by constraints of tutoring for a test, we serve all grades. YES, all grades, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. They come and a band of teachers welcome these children with open arms and celebrate the child’s commitment to his education. So many of my students are still learning that things don’t just happen to them, but through the choices they make, they have the power to change the direction of their lives. I tell each one of the students that they are the “chosen” ones. That their teachers specifically chose them to come to this special time because of the grit, growth mindset and commitment to no excuses they make every day.

We feed them a full breakfast. While I know it is big talk in Washington D.C. that breakfast doesn’t make a difference in education, that is just plain malarky. When people are hungry, they can’t think about anything, but their stomach growling and “hangry” is a reality. Many of my children rely on the food from school as their primary source of nutrition. It’s just a sack breakfast with cereal or a muffin, string cheese, juice, and milk, but knowing my students are getting one extra meal over the weekend makes a huge difference.

Then for the next two hours, I have an incredible staff that pours into these children. They talk with them, hug them, and provide them with meaningful learning. They do cool activities with Versa-tiles, read, and play games with higher-level thinking and strategy. There’s not one test prep material. Only opportunities for the students to think, discuss and problem solve in meaningful situations. The best part is that these students say this is the best day of the week and and ask to come back on Sunday, too!


There’s lots of criticism about public schools and their effectiveness. I haven’t seen that. Public education is the heart of our society’s future. It takes ensuring that all children have access to a quality education to ensure they have the tools to become productive citizens in the future. It is when we take off the constraints off and allow educators to do what they love and teach that this happens. They do whatever it takes because this is why we get into teaching: to see all children succeed. No excuses.

Unchartered Waters

I have certainly been blessed in my career.  I have had some amazing professional opportunities that have prepared me for the campus leadership position I hold now.  Even though I changed positions on a regular basis, I gained some extensive knowledge in from a variety of aspects in education.  I am tremendously grateful for the districts I have served and their immersion into the Visioning Document to guide my leadership principles.  I am most blessed to serve an amazing campus with precious children, supportive families, a great community, and an incredible staff of committed educators who are willing to be risk-takers and do whatever it takes to do what is right for our students.

In year four of my principalship, I am fortunate to see much of the initial five-year vision I set upon my arrival coming to fruition.  Our students are becoming strong readers, writers, thinkers, and problem-solvers.  We have re-established relationships with our parents and are beginning to have some connections with our community at large. We have received recognition for strong practices of  transformation. We have gone from a campus with declining results, to a campus on the verge of an explosion of greatness.

I should feel great, right?  However, in the past few months, my major emotion has been that of anxiety.

Don’t get me wrong. I have great pride in my students and staff.  It is because of my deep commitment to them that I have anxiety of how to proceed as we accomplish the last of these goals.  My passion for being the very best for them has created my stress.  I started my leadership journey with a clear vision.  The path has been very clear and the results have come.  My worry rises from as we see our initial destination in view I am plagued with the questions:  “What next? Where do we go from here?”

That’s what happens when you create a learning organization.  You create people with a growth mindset who are intent on getting better every day.  My work as a part of the Principal’s Visioning Institute has resulted  in my own deep self-reflection.  I absolutely believe in the Visioning Document. It has framed our initial transformation.  But I have reached the point where I am standing on the horizon looking at an unclear path.  My past “self” would have said I’ve done what I’m good at, time to move on.  But that is not what I want for my future “self”.  I have more goals, higher vision, than just what has been accomplished so far.  I’ve just not been at this stage of transformation and simply “rinsing and repeating” will not help us to continue to up our game.

Part of my anxiety that because I have such great people, I am fearful of not having a clear plan.  These wonderful educators have worked so tirelessly to achieve our goals thus far, I want to continue to ensure their success.  However, since I am headed into unchartered territory, it is hard to know what to expect.  I just don’t want to lead them down the wrong path. I want to make sure we are prepared with the right tools and that my navigation equipment is state of the art.

These past two days at the Principal’s Visioning Institute have been much needed to face my leadership fears.  I’ve been more quiet than usual, but soaking up every word and putting into my current context to prepare for the next stage of our journey.  It has helped me to see that while I may not be familiar with the next stage of my journey, others around me are and they are ready to help.  I have a great map with the Visioning Document and its related tools.  I have a fleet of other leaders navigating the same course of redesigning education to meet the needs of 21st-Century Learners. Most importantly, I have a fantastic, fearless crew of educators at my side. Any perils of the unknown we face, we will face together.

Ultimately, these past two days, I have realized that it’s okay for leaders to be unsure, but you can’t dwell there.  You have to find your tools, your supports, and make a plan, even if

it’s unfamiliar. You can still see the horizon.  It’s just time to start planning for the next stop in my campus’ journey. It’s time to harness my grit, my growth mindset, and God’s grace

and move forward because a current destination that is currently great won’t remain great as time moves on.  It’s all about the journey, not the destination. It’s time to set sail. Our next port is waiting.

Not Just a Building

This past week, I attended the Texas Association of School Administrators Midwinter Conference and had the opportunity to hear Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, speak. She had so much to say about advocating for public schools, but the thing that has resonated with me most was this quote:

“Public school is not a building. It’s a promise that a community makes to itself.” Shanna Peeples, TASA Midwinter Conference 2017

I’ve thought a lot about what she said, but I would take this statement a little further. A public school is not just a building; it is a promise that the community makes to itself to inspire hope for a better future.

We live in a tough world. We have people feeling entitled to rewards without work. People who cannot communicate effectively with words, so they use violence. People who are angry because they feel invisible, and other people who are afraid of the people they don’t understand so they put up the barriers that make angry people feel even more

disenfranchised. Instead of fixing the systems we have and contributing to a better world, people want to take their toys and go home resulting in soft segregation. This is only going to create a continuous cycle of decline.

But here is what I have to say-public schools are the hope for a better future. Public schools are the embodiment of our forefather’s vision, and capture in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on The Statue of Liberty.

In my school that promise is:

  • to a young girl that there will be someone there to care for her, despite her mother suffering from stage 4 cancer and having no extended family.
  • taking a moment to talk about what went wrong when a boy lost his cool and threatened a peer and to develop a different plan while helping him let go of his angry past.
  • a letter waiting for you at your new school when your family moved away and a teacher worried about your transition because you have moved so often.
  • a teacher braiding your hair because you are staying in a homeless shelter and mom couldn’t fix your hair before you came to school.
  • knowing that we will exhaust every option before we label you in a way that may limit your future opportunities.
  • the nurse recognizing a rash as a bigger problem to alert you to the need to seek immediate, life-saving medical attention.
  • a concerned teacher taking money from her own pocket to ensure the electricity is on so a child with asthma can have nebulizer treatments.
  • teaching peers to show compassion to a student with low cognitive ability and them applying that compassion by looking after her when she is outside the classroom.
  • designing work with incubating germs that help you learn “school stuff” but make you feel like a grown up in the real world.
  • setting goals and celebrating achievement and talking about how to regroup when the goal falls short so that all children, no matter of their ability, are coached and guided for growth.
  • talks of college embodied in grade level cheers and the dreams that a college degree can hold for your future.
  • songs of education and being “world changers” with the entire school every Friday.
  • the adults not making excuses that prevent children from achieving the best future, no matter where they started.
  • diversity and the opportunity to be around all kinds of people and learn that there is no need for fear, just value of multiple perspectives and willingness to use words to discuss differences.

Public schools are the place that we value every individual. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity, your native language, your religion, whether or not you have a disability or giftedness. You may come from an average background or one fraught with trauma. You may be wealthy, poor, or just middle-class. You may be the child who tries to please or the child who is continually demonstrating your displeasure with the world by spinning things into chaos. In a public school, we love you, we value you and try to earn your trust. We stretch you and grow you. We teach you to collaborate and communicate with those that are nothing like you. We teach you to think critically and set goals. We teach you to read, write and problem-solve using multiple strategies. We prepare you for the ability to thrive in a diverse world with the confidence that you can not only achieve your goals, but make the world a better place.

The things that public schools do to prepare our world for a better future are not easily measured by standardized tests or accountability systems and high performance on a test doesn’t guarantee your success if you cannot relate to the 21st century world.  Many would have society believe that paying for an education is a better option, but the don’t tell you what opportunities you miss because of a separate, homogenous education

Just remember, public schools are not just a building, we are people who ensure the promise that the community makes to itself, who love all and accept all, to inspire hope for a better society and future for all.

 

You Can’t Compare Apples and Oranges

This is a great read if you don’t understand why public schools are NOT failing. For example, if you looked only at my campus’ non-disabled, non economically disadvantaged and native English speakers, we would be at the top of the charts. Even so, we are climbing those charts because we educate all children in a social-emotionally healthy, rigorous way.


The great thing about America is that everyone has opportunity. You don’t have to be wealthy, non disabled, or meet a standard to get the in. We start with whatever you give us and grow you. In public education we educate every child. And here’s the great news, if you want a different product or possibility, you can home school, or choose a private school.
Just remember, our constitution guarantees a FREE and APPROPRIATE, PUBLIC education. Everyone having a quality education is how we make America great, not through soft segregation. If you think public schools can improve, roll up your sleeves and help.

If you decide not to help, please just don’t take every report you read at face value.  Rates of American Public Schools include all children.  Private schools, Charter schools, and schools from other countries often have selective processes.  One’s an apple, one is an orange.  However, unlike the picture above, these reports and media stories are clearly labeled as such.  Make sure you only compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

#standupforpublicschools #proudpublicschoolprincipal #donttreadonme

U.S. Public Schools Are NOT Failing. They’re Among the Best in the World

 

I Choose Thankful

November is traditionally a time of reflections on one’s blessings, and as I think about this school year, it has been full of ups and downs and in only been 13 weeks.  One of the biggest challenges is seeing children bear such heavy burdens. Whether it is a parent’s illness, today-i-choosephysical/emotional abuse or neglect, the loss of a parent through family separation or death, or just the stress of poverty and the worry that comes with it about one’s basic needs being met, it is hard to see children suffering.  Add to this mix teachers who have their own personal stressors and a nation of unrest in a highly polarized political climate. Forget the typical school challenges full moons and holidays, folks; we are talking about real trauma.

Supporting children living with trauma can be a challenge. They bring it in the door. Trauma may not be visible, but a child in trauma will let you know immediately if they are suffering.  With their actions, their words, their lack of connection, they will let you know. They fight, they run, they shut down. Children in the most need of love often ask for it in the most unlovable ways.  It can be exhausting for those responsible for providing “trauma care” much less a high-quality education.  One could easily lose hope.

However, I have learned so much from supporting children of today.  If you can make that thankful-people-are-happyconnection, create that bond, make the child feel safe, there is no better feeling in the world. When you watch a teacher persist to form a relationship despite multiple attempts by the student to push them away, there is a sense of pride to be a part of an organization that puts first things first.

I have learned that it is in the most difficult circumstances that the biggest blessings are revealed.  We can be grateful for the challenges and know that they are helping develop our character into who we are meant to be, or we can feel mistreated.  

We always have a choice.   We can feel wronged, or we can be grateful for the challenges and know that they are tied to a greater purpose.  We can worry about the difficulties we face, or we can choose to feel blessed knowing that we will never be given more than we can handle.  We can grieve the things we do not have, or we choose to see the abundance of our lives and all the opportunities that lay before us. Thankful isn’t something that happens, it’s something you do on purpose. And when we choose gratitude, it becomes you-have-a-choiceimpossible to feel stressed.  They are two emotions that cannot exist at the same time.

So while it is difficult to see children suffer, I choose to be thankful that I get to be a positive force in their lives.  While sometimes the behavior of these students can be beyond difficult, I am blessed to have a staff willing to learn about trauma and utilize trauma-sensitive practices to support these students. While there are many times I have pondered thoughts of “if I just had more… (time, money, staff, parent involvement, resources)”, I know that in my district and community, I have an abundance of support and trust to make decisions that are best for our children, not just a few, but all of them. While it would be easy to lose faith facing such challenging circumstances, I choose to have grit and hope in the future of public education and how we can teach children coping strategies and value for each other in addition to reading, writing, and math.  I am blessed.  I am thankful.  Are you? It’s your choice.

A Broken Filter

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I think one of the biggest problems our world faces today stems from the fact that we have become a nation with a broken filter. Please know that when I say this, I don’t mean this to be true of everyone, but in general.  Too many feel free to say whatever they want and apply it to all with little regard for unintended consequences. Social media perpetuates this because so often it lacks accountability. Then we hear someone else’s blanket statement and believe it applies to us, so more blanket statements occur. Even more troublesome is we often say things on social media we would not say to someone’s face. We know this lack of filtering makes us feel icky, but yet, it continues.try-to-be-a-filter-not-a-sponge-quote-1

At the same time, while we don’t filter our own thoughts and opinions, we often filter the perspective of others. We don’t spend much time thinking about why those who have different views of ourselves have those feelings. We forget that just because we may not agree, we can have empathy. We sometimes assume anyone different from ourselves has the extreme perspective that is plastered all over the news and social media and blindly categorize without filtering what is true and what is not.

The truth is blanket statements never truly apply to everyone.  The truth is the extremist views really are a small group of the population, and their statements are only true about a smallwithout-a-filter-a-man-is-just-chaos-walking-quote-1 group. I think we have to not take people’s “blanket social media” posts as personal and feel the need to respond or share to them publicly unless they were specifically directed to us. Public arguments on social media rarely end in harmony or positive resolution. As an educator, I still tell children “if you can’t say something nice…”, “just because they said it doesn’t mean it’s true,”  “try to put yourself in their shoes” . These are things I learned from my family and teachers, and I believe they still apply.

Thank you to all of my social media friends who continue to post joy and spread happiness.  That is always what this world needs:  patience, compassion, hope, joy, and faith.  Basically, a little less judgment, a little more restraint.  We need to fix our filter.  

Make it a great day social media friends; it’s your choice. 

think

An Open Letter to the 2016 Presidential Candidates

Dear 2016 Presidential Candidates,

In a few days, this election will finally be over. I can say that while I have seen and voted in some crazy presidential elections, including ones with recounts due to “hanging chads,” this election leaves me the most dismayed.

I believe the nastiness directed at each other’s despicable behavior is leaving our country exhausted, angry, stressed, and hopeless. Unfortunately, it seems that even though the election will end, the thought of either of you as president won’t really leave anyone feeling united or having hope for the future.

I believe in growth mindset. I believe that we can make mistakes and recover. I believe we always have the ability to become more than we once were with intentional effort and putting the needs of other first. I believe it takes time, but with consistency we have the power to change perceptions.

I remember as a young child, feeling excitement about the presidential election. I remember a sense of pride in our president, even if it wasn’t my choice. This was the person who was the exemplar of protecting our country. As the principal of an elementary school, this is what I want for my students. I want them to have hope in our future and belief in a leader that truly looks out for the world they will live in as adults.

Lead with impeccable character. Be someone who the entire country can be amazed at your transformation into someone who will always do what is right and leave behind the agendas of special interests. I would like to see someone who the nation looks in awe and disbelief because the person leading our nation does not even closely resemble the person from the news in the months before the election was decided.

As I leader, I realized that to be successful, I had to invest in the root cause of our struggles. I believe you will have to do this for the good of our country. Invest in our children. Heal our nation by helping society to learn value for all. We need to focus on the future, not the past. We need you to be the model of unity, compassion, accountability, and servant leadership. We don’t need any more sarcasm, judgment, shortcuts, self-service, fear mongering or “justified rule-breaking”. It’s toxic and it is killing our great nation.

If America is to thrive in the 21st century, we have to abandon this “whatever feels good do it”, “it’s all about me” attitude. We have to quit widening the divide between those who are fearful and those that are angry. This depth of character must start at the top. Before you is an amazing opportunity. It is the chance to simply confirm the negative perceptions or an opportunity to be more than anyone ever thought you could be and go down in history as one of our greatest leaders.

We don’t have four years to waste and get it right the next time. So, to whichever of you wins, prove us wrong. Prove the stories about you wrong. Be the great leader this country needs. We need a president that will serve all Americans, not just the ones who voted for you because they felt they could manipulate you to serving their interest or that voted for you because you were the one that made them less afraid. It will take time, but please make Americans proud.

May God bless you, and God bless America.

An American With a Sense of Urgency