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Dear First Year School Leader

Being a school leader is hard.  Being a first-year school leader is even harder.   I'm hoping your year   is all going well for you.  I'm sure you have already handled situations that were easy and some that made you a bit nervous.  Don't drown in all the to-do lists, stress, pressures and all of the uncertainties.  With simple steps along the way, you will have a happy and successful first year as a school leader.

One thing I know for sure - the work is all worth it.  

The early mornings and late nights- worth it.

The reports and meetings- worth it too.

The presentations, board meetings, and public relations-worth it as well.

The students and teachers you are helping via your leadership- absolutely worth it.

Data available from a handful of states suggest that only about half of beginning principals remain in the same job five years later, and that many leave the principalship altogether when they go.  

Nearly 30 percent of principals who lead troubled schools quit every year.  By year 3, more than half of all principals leave their jobs.   

If you are needing a little extra guidance or support, I'm always here for you.  Just contact me and let's work together.

Dear First Year School Leader includes a list of 12 strategies that you can easily implement and help you in this journey.  Our road may be tough but one thing is certain we have each other to get through it.  Many seasoned administrators will say this might be the toughest job.  As far as my opinion, it has its tough days.

It has been years since I began my very first day as a principal.  I would do it all over again if I ever had the opportunity to go back in time.

Check out the free ebook- Dear First Year Leader.   Let's connect and help one another along this journey.



 
 
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P.S. By the way if you don't need this eBook because you aren't a first year school leader, I bet you know someone who is.  If that's the case then I think you'll find some powerful words in here as you mentor your colleague or friend.  

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4 Best Practices for Improving Student Learning

You might find this a bit weird of me, but I often find myself researching successful schools.  I'm always eager to know and understand what other schools are doing.  It's common for me to sit and just search out schools that are performing despite many obstacles.  I have even read many books on the topic, but here are a few of my favorites- Failure Is Not an Option: Six Principles That Guide Student Achievement in High-Performing Schools, I Got Schooled, Results Now, From Good Schools to Great Schools, and even watched this amazing DVD called Waiting for Superman.  I will even go to say I took a course by Mel Robbins on CreativeLive  I have a pretty long commute to my school, so I hit play in my car and enjoyed the course.


TRANSFORMING SCHOOLS

I naturally put the expectation on myself that the school I lead will be the best school it can be.  In order for that to happen, I have to be the best principal, lead learner, and instructional leader, I can be.  Through my countless hours of reading, professional training, and internet surfing, I have found 4 key areas that produce dramatic results: student supports, strong instructional core, solid systems, and  positive school culture and climate.  For me, I don't see success as a single program or event but instead something that evolves over time.   Success doesn't occur overnight.  In fact, it may take years.   

STUDENT SUPPORTS

Effective student supports can create positive student outcomes.  To be effective the resources must be right for the child at the right time.  Student supports come in a variety of ways.  Academic supports such as tutoring, homework clubs, intensive interventions through multi-tiered systems, STEM/STEAM integration, and supports for students being served  in special programs.

Non-academic supports such as counseling, mentoring, positive discipline, and even restorative practices are equally important in reaching each child.  

INSTRUCTIONAL CORE STRONG

If you haven't read the blog post about this section, I highly recommend it.  It goes in great detail about the RtI (Multi-Tier) system at our school.  However, let me also extend that post a little bit here.  Every day, the whole school is involved in our RtI system, called W.I.N.  WIN stands for What I Need.  What I Need looks different for each group being served.  For you see, we aren't just intervening on struggling students, we are also designing a plan of instruction even for our highest performing students.  In order to provide the right services, we spend time assessing students and then reviewing the data.  How may this system help our core instruction you might ask?  It helps in a variety of ways.

  1. When we address the individual needs of each student with intensive and direct instruction, these skills will transfer into the classroom.  Therefore, our students are beginning to perform stronger and better in the Tier 1 setting. 
  2. Collaboration is key to improving our Tier 1.  Teachers are planning and sharing resources.  Self-contained teachers collaborate on lesson planning and brainstorm ideas.  Departmentalized teachers share information and data about their students' progress.  This sharing of information helps each teacher get a bigger picture of the student across different content areas.  Collaboration will create positive learning outcomes for not only the student but the teaching staff as well.  

The only factor that can create student achievement is a knowledgable, skillful teacher.

SCHOOL SYSTEMS

I believe systems are key to successful schools. It's more than just high-quality teaching and learning. The entire school functions as a unified system. I'm working to create the systems in place in my own building. My aim is to work together to develop and sustain a vision of what success really does look like. We must operate with a plan. This reminds me of the movie Sully with Tom Hanks.


Captain Sullenberger(Tom Hanks) and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) takeoff and hit birds soon after reaching approximately 2800 feet in altitude. As soon as the pilots experienced trouble, they immediately took out the flight manual. As school leaders, we don't always have this option. Most often, our planes are being built as we're in the air. Meaning, we are building our systems and leading a school at the same time.  We don't have the liberty to take out a flight manual when we start to experience turbulence.

Creating our plans while leading the school can be quite risky even for the most experienced leaders. In reality, a lot of us are succumb to this more often than not.  Our progress will be anything but systematic, as well as, low performance might be inevitable.  It all depends on many factors.  However, having the right systems being implemented and shared helps the school be more effective.


CULTURE AND CLIMATE

If you have followed Principal Principles™ on social media or read this blog over the years, you know one thing for sure about me.  I believe in creating a positive work environment for my staff, and we celebrate learning- in a big way.  

Our assembly chant:
Who are we? "We are Hawks."
Why are we here? "To achieve greatness."
How do we do that? "We never give up!"

There are high expectations for students and staff at my school.  We are pushed to challenge ourselves and to persevere even when things get difficult.  We think outside the box.  It's okay to take risks-even if we fail.  I want teachers to try new things even if it turns out to be unsuccessful.  All teachers and students are supported and recognized in a variety of ways- Student and Teacher of the Month, PBIS and CHAMPS reward parties, attendance incentives, The Up Award (coworker recognizing another coworker for going above and beyond), and countless morale boosters fill each month.

Boosting a Positive Culture and Climate
Follow on Instagram and Facebook to never miss all the great things!

At my school, we share ideas, best practices, promote teachers leading teachers, and fully believe in the motto:  We Have No Fear, We Never Quit, We are Hawks!


CONCLUSION

This may sound like a lot.  It is.  I'm not going to act like it is easy to improve student learning.  In fact, there's always that worry in my own mind if I'm ever doing enough.  We could fail miserably on state assessments and not meet the standards on our accountability system.  My hope is that we all do well.  My overall hope is that our students are successful and love coming to school.  My advice is to be consistent.  Consistency will be your friend in improving student learning.  There are many techniques and strategies thrown at us every day.  Use these strategies to create meaningful gains in classroom performance.

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Creating a Culture of Professional Learning

The process shared today is a systemic vision by the superintendent of my school district. He emphasizes the importance of a clear vision focused on instruction and quality teaching in which rigorous learning is taking place.  

We have such an amazing staff that has embraced our vision to be the model of a learner-centered school. In order to produce quality learners, we must start by modeling learning as professionals. We are so blessed to have a quality admin team leading the way!- via Twitter @melyon60 Morris Lyon, Superintendent

I  joined the leadership of this district last year.  

On Year One of the game plan, the district began breaking down the state standards.  In Texas, our standards are called the TEKS.  

Year Two, (the year I joined the team), we incorporated Data Meetings/Data Rooms, PLC time for common planning and collaboration, Content-Based Assessments, and Leadership Walks. 

Now in Year Three, we're implementing Hawk Walks.   You may call these Gallery Walks in your district.  

The goal of Hawk Walks is to ensure quality instruction by balancing student work and products with the standard.  In other words, does the product align with the standard.

Let's take a look at the process.

1.  SELECT AND DISSECT THE STANDARD

Teachers will select a standard of focus.  The standard is totally selected by the teacher.  The teacher dissect the TEK (standard).  He/she will circle the verb, underline the content, and box the content.


2.  STUDENTS WILL COMPLETE A PRODUCT BASED ON THE STANDARD

The work displayed is not a project.  It is work that is the norm- authentic work samples within their current lesson.  We have criteria such as- no names on the front of the work, no grades to be given, and include at least six samples displayed from various learners.  For example, we would like to see work samples from advanced learners, struggling learners, special education, English Learners, students identified through 504 etc...


3.  STUDENT SUMMARY THROUGH A REFLECTIVE PIECE

Writing is a big focus district-wide and adding this component is a critical piece.  As I write this post it is the end of October, and this is our second Gallery Walk/Hawk Walk.  Writing is on the rise.  For the younger grades, we encourage a sentence stem, word banks, and group discussions to assist students in this piece.  The writing reflection is NOT a step-by-step process of the assignment.  It is a reflective summary of their learning.  If you incorporate this piece, please set criteria of expectations.  

REFLECTION EXAMPLES




GALLERY WALKS IN ACTION

Teacher feedback is important to me.   Hawk Walks/Gallery Walks, as well as, the PLC framework allows for teacher input.   As we walk the halls, a few things happen.




1.  Teachers are asked to leave their classroom for a quick minute and share their student's work with the team.  They simply explain the lesson, the state standard, and share any other information about the work samples.  It is a pretty quick process.

2.  At least two teachers are preselected prior to the walks.  This gives the admin team a view from the eyes of a teacher, as well as, they hear our dialogue and see it from our eyes.  

3.  During PLC time, we have deeper discussions about the lessons and the rigor of the standard.  During our next Gallery Walk, all teachers will take a walk during their PLC scheduled time.  This will allow all teachers to be apart of the learning.  

RESULTS

This is still in the early stages, but honestly we are seeing big changes in student and teacher learning.  
But let me share some of the comments teachers are saying.

I learned my students could do more than I realized.

I saw the lesson with the end in mind.  It really made me think about the standard from the student's perspective.

HOW OFTEN ARE GALLERY WALKS

We have a Gallery Walk schedule for the district.  The schedule indicates the date in which to post the student's work and the week in which walks will take place.  Each semester we will have a least 4 gallery walks.  

BIG GOALS

Overall, we want students to master the state standard.  In order to do that, the lesson and activities must always align.  If you incorporate PLC's, this aligns perfectly.   A culture of professional learning is one that is collaborative-not isolated.

Questions you may ask yourself as you consider this process: How can I increase the opportunity for teachers to collaborate?  How can we restructure our current professional development model?  How can we create a culture of ownership and empowerment?  Do my teachers understand the district's direction?  How will students benefit?

With this model of professional learning, it is ongoing.  It doesn't happen just at the beginning of the school year.  As administrator of the campus, I can spot overall strengths happening throughout the building.  I can also determine areas of need for a grade level.

Want to see this in action?  

Come visit our school and speak to our superintendent.  Email me and let's talk.

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Going Digital With Morning Messages

Last school year, I decided to make the leap into recording our morning pledges at school.  Traditionally, I would get on the intercom and have students say the pledges with me.  I was wanting it to be more exciting.  Well, I took on the challenge and began to search for a platform to create our videos.  In doing my research, I found WeVideo.  I used this platform for the majority of the school year, and will do so again this year.  I shared this idea on social media and other administrators have since shared their favorite platforms.  Google Hangouts is one that seems to be another popular option.

HOW WE USE WeVideo

Forgive my dog, Roxie.   She loves the camera.  She makes an appearance in some videos throughout the school year.  My students know my dog by name!  I love that though.


1.   If you are just starting out, decide if you want to tackle this endeavor or turn it over to someone who's not afraid of the technology.  It is very user-friendly site.  It does take a little time to figure it out. 
2.  Advice first.  Create a template.  This will save you tons of time.   With this template, all we have to do now is add any special information to the end of the daily template.  For example, birthdays, event news, a book read aloud, a joke of the day, or even a YouTube video.  The sky is the limit on this.
3.  We chose to create slideshows for the pledges.  We can get students involved in this section instead of having the slideshows.  Slideshows are a time-saving piece that we decided to do on our end.  However, you do what works for you and your school. 
4.  A special link is sent to your email after completing the recording.  Share the is link with your staff. 
5.  Inform your staff of the time in which you want the pledges to be played.  Our scheduled time is immediately following the 8:00 bell.  Teachers all have projectors in their classroom.  They just click play.
6.  We plan the week out in plenty of advance so teachers have the links by Sunday night.  This year, the counselor also created a Google Drive Folder with a document with all the links by each month.  This saves us the step of having to share all the links by Sunday night.  We can now share the file and build the videos several weeks in advance. 

If I can give you another piece of advice, I will say do what works for your campus.  For the moment, this works for us.  However, that might change throughout the year.  I'm okay with that though. 

LET'S TAKE A LOOK

1.  WeVideo works best in the Google Chrome browser.


If you have ever used iMovie, it is very similar.  You will build all the layers of text, music, transitions, etc...

2.  I record the First Day Announcement using my Macbook's tool called QuickTime. 


3.  Record your special announcement.  Upload it into WeVideo.  
4.  Insert the video in the order in which you want it to play.
5.  Click the FINISH button to save your file.
6.  Copy the link and email it to your teachers, place on social media, or play at your next assembly.  

MORNING PLEDGES AND VIDEO LINE UP

1.  Good morning slide
2.  Pledge to United States Flag
3.  Pledge to Texas Flag
4.  You Matter (I Matter)
5.  Moment of Silence
6.  Hawk Song (school song recorded by my students)
7.  Special section- Principal message, Assistant Principal message, Counselor, student message, birthdays, upcoming event news, etc...
8.  Ending- Have a Great Day.  The Choice is Yours.

WATCH OUR VIDEO

As I tremble at the thought of having everyone critique me on my video, I also don't proclaim to be a pro.  I am pretty certain everyone can do this task at a higher level of success than I can.  However, I am growth-minded and will improve my skills as I use the platform more and more.  

My Video




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Creating a Disc Binder from Start to Finish

The front of the binder was inspired by the famous Rae Dunn. The font creator is A Perfect Blend. I love all of her fonts.

Creating a binder was easy! Let me show you. I decided to give the disc system a good try. I have been depending on a notebook/binder system for years. This will be new to me, but I feel success coming on.


If you like this idea and want to use all of the Principal Binders, this will still work.  All you need to do is punch the holes in the pages using the Arc System.  I have tons of designs that will work.  I decided to use several purchased products this year.  





I created the cover to my binder, and then laminated it using the Scotch Laminator.  These laminating sheets are THE BEST.  It is very durable almost as thick as your driver's license.


I did a little shortcut this year and purchased a few already premade supplies. My life is so busy right now that I'm cutting myself a little slack and not feeling too guilty about it.  The Happy Planner designs called Create 365 are beautiful, as well as, the Martha Stewart items.

This was my first try at creating a disc binder.  I really had no troubles at all.  It was almost too easy.  I have been eyeing it for some time, but never had time to waste or money to blow if it was a mess.  But today I decided to go for it.





 So I printed and laminated the cover on cardstock.  Punched the pages using the ARC System.



 Grabbed the ARC rings and started inserting the paper.  It is wise to just add a few pages at a time.  I think it helps the paper not get ripped or wrinkled.






That is really all there is.  The best part of the system is that you can add a page or pages in any section of the notebook WITHOUT taking the binder all apart.  Just open it up to the page where you want to insert the page and then push it in the arc rings.


Interested in the cover?  Download here.


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August Morale Boosters for your School- Hawaiian Style


Aloha friends!

If you have been reading Morale Magic, you will totally guess what will be happening in August.  I plan on decorating the teacher workroom/lounge in the Aloha theme.  Aloha means welcome or used when greeting someone.  Back-to-School is the perfect time of the year to greet your team in a fun way.  


I can't wait to show you the transformation of the room.  However, it will have to wait a few weeks because the lounge area is under construction.

BEHIND THE SCENES:  

This may look like a hot mess and scare many people, but I couldn't be more excited about what's going to take place in this room.  This room was a former homemaking kitchen back in the day.  The kitchen had not been used in years.  The stove and dishwasher were antiques and really a hazard.  Therefore, the district spent some funds and installed a stainless steel stove and dishwasher.  I can't tell you how excited I am about this!  The teachers and staff in this school deserve a great space to eat lunch and fellowship with one another.


A view of the dishwasher and stove.  I don't foresee us using a stove a lot, but it will be handy when we have an event or celebration.  I just know the old one needed to go.

THE WALL

The wall is being built to close off the room from the gym and concession stand area.  The room is a great size and has tons of storage.  This school year I hope to add an ice machine too.  We did end up having to get some kitchen supplies since the campus has only had a small coffee counter in the office area.  The concession stand is on the other side of this wall as I mentioned earlier.  In order for volunteers to get into the concession stand to work an event, they will have to enter this room.  The wall will still give them access to the concession stand but will allow us to lock the room at night.



This room will also help us store all the bulletin board paper and dicut machine.  Since the floor is not covered in carpet, we had a teacher suggest using part of the room for art and cooking projects.  This will be a great multi-purpose room.  If you look closely at the picture, there are three sink areas.  It appears as though each sink area also had a stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher.  Having a side for art and cooking projects won't be a problem at all.  I also see this room as a great space to have parent events.  I hope you can just feel my excitement.


In a couple of weeks, check back on social media as I unveil the makeover!  Twitter: @principalsteph1  Instagram: principalprinciples  Facebook: Principal Principles


WHERE TO PURCHASE

I purchase most of the items at Hobby Lobby and Wal-mart.  However, after talking to a few friends about this project, they informed me they do not live close to a Hobby Lobby.  They have to do a lot of online shopping or drive over an hour.  You might be in the same situation or you simply prefer shopping from home.  I know my husband would much rather us shop from home than battle the traffic and the stores.  Therefore, I made this Amazon list for you if you want to just grab all of it in one shopping cart. 



PINTEREST IDEAS

If you would like more ideas, check out my Pinterest board.  I started planning and thought you might like to pin the same ideas.  You can follow this board or all of my boards on PINTEREST. (click here)



MORALE MAGIC

Morale Magic is authored by two school leaders. This is an ebook which includes over 500 pages of content. A digital copy is sent to you via email after purchase. Instant Access! Morale Magic includes both book content pages for pleasure reading and printables for each month. Below is a look at just one of the activities for August. You will have at least 4 activities for each month. Some months have more!

(FYI...my ink is running low!)


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The Best Professional Backpack for Commuting

I have tried many different bags to carry all of my files and my computer.  I am always left frustrated with digging for my keys, searching for a pen, etc...  This all changed recently.  I saw my friend, Christine Bedre (The Pickled Principal) with this amazing backpack and, I was sold immediately. I ordered it from Amazon before I left for the TEPSA Summer Conference.  This backpack held all of my presentation materials and travel necessities too.



I commute about 40 minutes to work each day.  For some of you, 40 minutes doesn't seem so bad when compared to your travel time.  I can cut it down to maybe 30 minutes some days if I take a different route through the countryside.  However, that route has many roads without phone reception.  Also, in the early mornings, I run into the fear of hitting deer. 

This backpack carries not only some in-progress files, my macbook, but it also has many essentials for a long day.  I love all of the sections.  I think my favorite sections of the backpack are the two very front ones.  I have pens, keys and business cards in the front.  Anything that I need quickly is located in the front.




I removed all of my "stuff" so you can see the inside easily.


You may be thinking I'm not a backpack-kind-of-girl.  I thought the same thing for a long time.  I fought that same fight until I met up with Christine at Starbucks to begin planning Morale Magic.  Shopping for a professional looking backpack that is office/school appropriate and stylish can be a bit tricky.  Some bags can leave you looking unprofessional.  I'm totally fine with the look of this backpack even carrying it on my back with my dress and heels.  However, I can switch it out if going to a fancy meeting.  In that instance, I can carry my Dagne Dover bag. 




What do you use to carry your work essentials in each day? Have you converted to a backpack yet?

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