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Student Data Folders: Making Learning Visible

If you haven’t started using student data folders, it is a tool I highly suggest. These folders are in the hands of the students. They’re tracking and monitoring their own data. Teachers debrief with students after checkpoints and have critical conversations about their growth. Students recognize areas of their own strengths and areas to improve. The folders are the used to transform small group instruction that is designed specifically for their needs.

Data is useless until it impacts the instruction.
If the idea of using data folders sparks your interest after reading this post, I highly recommend the book by John Hattie- Visible Learning for Teachers.


In reality, I'm sure you could use any forms of data you have- content-based assessments, weekly assessments, progress monitoring, or even state data.  The big ticket item is to locate data that is relevant to reach the goals or your desired outcome.  For me, we needed to make a focus on individual student needs and less whole group instruction.  We have access to a data management system called DMAC.  We use DMAC to generate all of our content-based assessment reports.  After each assessment, we have data at our fingertips in a matter of minutes.  

Here is an image of the reports I generate for each student.  Image provided by DMAC demo.

This data allows us to see the standards in which the student has mastered and the areas in need of assistance.  The reports are color-coded.  If printing in color is an issue for you, black and white copies will work too.  I had to forgo color as well.  


Student-friendly data is key.  Not all data is readable for students of elementary age.  The report shown above is very understandable.  Teachers meet with students either one-on-one or in a very small group.  The teacher helps the students understand how the read the chart.  Conversations begin to happen.  


Background: We are an elementary campus of PK-5.  The data folders are in place for grades 3-5.  However, this will be in place for K-2 as well for next year.  We are departmentalized in grades 3-5.  Small group instruction is built into the master schedule.  PLC meetings are every Wednesday for one hour.  Progress monitoring is scheduled every two weeks for students receiving intervention and remediation.  This is my first year in this school district (Not a new principal, but new to this district.)

  1. Locate the data for which you want to share with your students.
  2. Build a folder for each student.  We are only focusing on reading and math at this time.  I recommend starting small as well.  
  3. Talk to your teachers about this process.  Model how to have a student data conference, if needed.  
  4. Provide assistance in providing targeted interventions for students who have not mastered standards.
  5. Make groups that are flexible or more fluid-like.  This will allow teachers to pull students each day based on the standards that are below proficiency.  


Managing all the information and knowing what students all need was the biggest question and concern from my own staff.  I tried to make this easy as well.  DMAC will run a report and generate a list of students who are below proficiency in each standard.  This helps teachers pull students based on their needs.  I know they do not have time to analyze every folder and make their own list.  That is another wonderful part of DMAC.  Most data management systems will do this.  

Image provided by DMAC demo.  

Folder Organization: 

The folders will stay with the teachers and not in the desks, lockers, etc...  Since we are departmentalized and change classes, we decided to have one folder for the reading/ELA teacher and one folder for the math teacher.  Remember, we decided to begin small and work on reading and math at this time.  The file folders are the very inexpensive manilla office folders.  Next year, I plan on making this a school-wide goal as I have always done in my previous districts.  


 I gave my teachers half-day subs so they could use the time to look over the data and make plans for instruction.  This is a lot of information to hand to your teachers.  Be understanding of the time that this takes to do it right.  


Here are some resources that may assist you in getting started.  These data discussion cards have been a big help to me over the years.  

This data wall (digital version) is a great resource for teachers to group their students.  


I have a love with Google because we can easily keep up the data for the entire year with a spreadsheet.  We update the data every two weeks. The file is shared with the teachers and intervention staff.    While we are in PLC meetings, we pull up the data with our MacBooks and see the gains of each student.  If you are interested in this Google spreadsheet, click here to make a copy of my file.

FYI: I do not work or have any connections with DMAC.  It is just a data system that my district uses and is beneficial to us.  

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Morale Booster for New Year

Happy New Year to You! I hope you have a great 2018.

I'm excited to share this Make a Wish FREEBIE for January with you. First of all, I know how time-consuming and costly it can be to purchase something every single month. I try and provide low-cost goodies because I'm paying for a lot of these out of my own pocket. I know you are probably doing the same thing too.

We return to school on Monday, January 8th. My staff and I have yet to celebrate the new year together. I'm preparing for that day with this fun idea.

 We plan on sharing a wish for the new year using glitter.  Who doesn't love glitter?  These individual glitter packets from Michaels make this morale-boosting activity easy to prep.

I mean just look at these colorful glitter packets.   They were only $4 each.   To create this fun experience it will only cost me $12.  Like I said, I purchase most the morale-boosters out of my own pocket so $12 is a deal.

 How to Use:

1. Print the Make a Wish card.
2. Attach a glitter packet to the card.
3. Take time to go outside with your staff to make a wish. The staff can pour the glitter packet in the palm of their hands and blow to make a wish.  If they don't like the idea of glitter all on their hands, just sprinkle in the wind.  It's the same idea but a little less messy.
4. Snap a photo and share the fun! Tag me @principalprinciples

I taped the glitter packet on the back of the cards so it is easy to pass out as we go outside.
I found the Washi tape at Michaels too.

Thank you for following Principal Principles. See you in February! If you love the FREEBIE, give me a shout out by sharing your finished product on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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The 2018 Simplified Planner Review

The 2018 Weekly, Simplified Planner, Happy Stripe are now available!  With the new year, we could all use a new planner.  I was asked to review the 2018 Emily Ley Simplified Planner.  planner and give feedback.  First, let me say, I am immediately drawn to the beautiful designs. The color choices and simplistic design are absolutely amazing.  Each year, I have to admit is better and better.

Before I go any further in this review, this post contains my completely honest thoughts.  I only review products I believe in.

Images provided by Emily Ley

Academic Agenda, Daily or Weekly by Emily Ley
Let's talk price for a minute.  I know we could all get a planner at Staples, Target, and even our local Wal-mart for a lot cheaper.  But the quality of the Simplified Planner will make it well-worth the investment.  Trust me, there are a lot of planners out there.  I've tried many of them myself.  I'm notorious for buying one and then trading it for another.  But the Simplified Planner gets my attention every single time.

Emily Ley is the designer of the Simplified Planners.  She mentions on her website how much these are a labor of love.  She puts her heart and soul into creating these planners.  She wants them to be perfect for us.  Emily will tell you her brand is meant to inspire women of all ages to build joy and simplicity into their lives.  The collection of her planners are built on the simple and classic style using fresh and playful colors.  

I will share a little about the two formats that Emily offers in her planners.  Let's take a look at the features.

When it arrives, you will feel extra special.  It comes in a navy blue keepsake box!  I kid you not!  The planners come out only twice a year.  There is an August-July and a January-December version.  There is plenty of space for schedules, to-do, notes, and extra white space.  Oh, I almost forgot there is a pocket inside the front cover to keep all your loose notes tucked away.

7 x 9 inches (1.25 inches thick)
Thick, 70lb., pure white Mohawk Via paper
Space for schedule, to-do, notes and meals
One day per page + shared weekend pages
Full month views
Hourly schedule from 6am to 9pm
Monthly Simplicity Tips
Simple color throughout
Colorful stickers
Gold, sturdy wire-o binding
Hard cover with gold foil details
Protective gold corners
Navy interior
Pocket inside the front cover
Colorful, sturdy mylar tabs
Navy + gold keepsake box


6 x 8 inches (.75 inches thick)
Thick, 70lb., pure white Mohawk Via paper
Space for schedule, to-do, notes and meals
One week per two-page-spread
Full month views
36 notes pages in the back
Monthly Simplicity Tips
Simple color throughout
Colorful stickers
Lay-flat book binding
Hard cover with gold foil details
Protective gold corners
Navy interior
Pocket inside the front cover
Colorful, sturdy mylar tabs
Navy + gold keepsake box

If you love the planner, there are tons of accessories to match.  

Some of the links posted here are affiliate links.  There is no cost to you, but if you purchase, I receive some products or small commission.  For that, I am truly grateful.  Again, I only review products I truly believe in.  

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Motivational Teams: Students Helping Students

Do you have a group of students who you have tried practically everything under the sun to inspire, motivate, and get a handle on the discipline?  I have experienced this over the years too.  I really don't think it has anything to do with the students.  I believe there are years where things work and some years when it just doesn't.

This year, I have implemented something just about every month.  Not everything will work, and I've come to terms with that.   However, I want to share a teambuilding idea with you.  I'm starting to see some progress.  Let me preface this by saying this team approach is inspired by my district's athletic director.  I can't even begin to take credit for this fascinating idea.  

Before we begin, take a quick minute and watch this video that I've wanted to share with you for a few weeks.  If you follow me on social media, I shared a quote that has stuck with me for several weeks.

What if a student's behavior turned out to be their greatest gift in life?  - Principal Principles

 Just what if... What if the behaviors we try and change are the same behaviors we admire and encourage in adults.

Take a look at the video and be inspired.

A single moment in time can change a person's life.

The video and both quotes have both sparked my determination to look at discipline in a different way.  Here are a few of my beliefs so you also know my stance on discipline.

1.  I believe in supporting teachers by handling discipline.
2.  I believe in being proactive and setting procedures in place to prevent negative behaviors.
3.  I believe in positive behavior supports to encourage leadership in students, as well as, helping students to be more self-disciplined.


I have a very competitive group of students this year.  Therefore, I can see success on the horizon.  I am implementing this plan with the 5th graders on the campus.  As we all know, fifth and six grade can be a bit taxing for students, parents, and staff.  They are upper-classmen in elementary and entering junior high/middle school.


We divided the grade level into teams.  We ended up with 9 teams.  Each team has about 7 to 8 students.  How you divide it up would depend on your class numbers.  Teammates are from mixed classes since we are departmentalized in 5th.  I did this purposefully to instill a sense of family and an opportunity to build relationships outside their homeroom class.  

Each group named their team and picked a team captain. The team captain can change each week or month to allow each member to showcase their leadership.  The teams wear a color bracelet to identify their team easily, quickly, and again to build a bond.  

The wristbands were purchased from 24hourwristband.com
I ordered 90 wristbands for around $60.  The order arrived within 2-3 days.  

Each team begins with 500 points.  Students receive points throughout the day, week, and month.  They can also lose points as well.  For example, students can earn a point for completing homework, receiving a positive compliment from someone on campus, etc... They can lose points by not completing assignments in class or homework, receiving an office referral, etc... The students were given a list of ways to earn or ways points will be taken away.  Students need to know the expectations.  Each group will have a team meeting every Monday to check their point status and discuss ways to improve.  We can easily track their points using a google spreadsheet.  

Each team member could earn multiple points each day or lose them as well.  The google spreadsheet will update as the points are entered or subtracted.  We decided to go with this kind of system since we all have Macbooks (even our students).  We can easily access the shared file and update the points.  This process has started to work well with cafeteria behavior too.  

Note: The color at the top represents each team and their bracelet color too.  


We will reward highest scoring team each month with pizza and time in the campus game room.  If you have the need to implement a weekly reward system, I would say go for it.  I'm going month-by-month for our system.

This year we created a Hawk's Nest.  Our mascot is a hawk.  The game room has a pingpong table, foosball table, electronic gaming system with projector, and many more items.  It is one of the most exciting places on campus.  All the items were donated by the community.  


Since we were just getting a taste of this before Christmas break, I don't have any data to show that this will work for you or even for me for the remainder of the year.  However, I do know that we are all determined to do whatever it takes to help our students be successful.  I do have one success story to share with you though.  A student was behind in turning in his assignments.  He had 4 incomplete or missing assignments.  His team met and helped him locate these assignments and got him caught up.  They discussed ways to stay organized plus they all encouraged him to have all assignments completed on time.  The group ended up giving up their free time and went to study hall to help one another (By the way, this was their choice).  To me...that is a great moment.  Anytime I see student leadership and success I know we are on to something great.  


The video and the two quotes are perfect for the vision and culture of my school.  Always remember a single moment in time can change a person's life.  I hope to live a life of significance, not just a life of success.  I hope to create a school where we see the best in our students.  A school where we believe in our students.

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STAAR Organization- A Tool That Works!

I'm going to start off by prefacing STAAR testing is not fun for anyone.  I can't sugar coat it.  It is what it is.  If you are not familiar with Texas assessments, here is a quick introduction.  We have our own state standards called the TEKS.  We are not a common core state.  During each school year, our students take state assessments beginning in third grade.  The results of the tests will determine our campus and district accountability rating.  That's the basic explanation.

In order to state on top of all the requirements, I must stay organized.  I have found a few shortcuts over the years to help me.  One that is my go-to is the accommodations flipbook.  I have to admit I got smart this year and recreated it in Google.  Texas loves to change the rules of the game so much that making it in Google gave me the liberty to make a revision without redoing all the other pages in the process.



Printing and Assembly Recommendations

1.  Print on Astrobrite cardstock.
2.  Place in the order you want to assemble your own book.
3.  Cut tabs.


I take this accommodation book with me to meetings- ARD (special education), grade level, and RtI.  My counselor oversees 504, but if I need to attend this meeting I could bring the copy with me as well.  A copy is always on my desk.  I can quickly scan it to be sure the accommodation is allowable.  We want a fair advantage for our students, so it is important to me to stay organized.  

Would love to hear how you stay organized for state testing.

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Qualities Found in a Great Assistant Principal

If you are fortunate enough to have an assistant principal on your campus, you know all too well how important their role is on the campus.  You might take this person for granted until they miss a day or even a week of school.  That's the moment when it is all too clear how much you depend on them and how much they do to help the overall management of the campus.

If you are a principal and searching for your next assistant principal, let's talk about what qualities to look for in your next administrator.

In my observations, assistant principals typically have duties such as discipline, all things student-related and overall campus or facilities management.  The principal often handles instruction, public relations, and all things staff-related.  Before you begin to look for your next assistant principal, brainstorm the duties and responsibilities given to this administrator.

Since this administrator will be your right hand, I recommend finding someone you are compatible working beside.

Here is a list of qualities in a GREAT assistant principal.


Assistant principals will handle the majority of student discipline.  This involves communicating with teachers and parents.  Parents and teachers will expect students to be treated in a fair and consistent manner.  Look for candidates who can uphold the discipline policies without showing favoritism and/or fear of upsetting difficult parents or difficult teachers.  Dealing with tough situations involves courage.  Assistant principals must be willing to take risks and remain steadfast when challenged.  

Interview Question for AP Applicant: 

1.  How do you plan on building a positive relationship with students, teachers, and parents?  
2. Provide an example of a time when you handled a disciplinary issue that involved either a difficult teacher or a difficult parent.
3.  How will you ensure fair decisions are made?


It is so important that we all set the tone to be constant learners in our school.  We all have room to grow and learn.  A great assistant principal will actively seek ways to improve his/her position.  This can be accomplished through off-site professional development, book studies, and peer mentoring.  Since we are in the business to educate, it is critical that our actions reflect the need for all adults to be lead-learners and always willing to grow and learn.  Great Assistant Principals are curious and opportunistic. 

Interview Questions for AP Applicant: 

1.  Share examples of recent staff development you have either attended or conducted.  
2. Share a professional goal you wish to have completed within the next three years.


I recently attended a two-day workshop and this quote was stated both days.
 Students first. Students second.  Students third.
School leaders must be passionate about teaching and learning.  We must show a genuine commitment to children.  If it is right for kids, it is the right thing to do.  Great assistant principals are passionate about making a difference in the lives of students.  This often involves reaching tough students, motivating the unmotivated, and building authentic relationships with the disconnected.  Great Assistant Principals never give up.

Interview Questions for AP Applicant:

1.  In what ways will you inspire and motivate students?


Since your assistant principal will have authority to make decisions, effective decision-making skills seem fitting.  My assistants have always had authority to make decisions.  If he/she was unsure of the right call to make and the question did not fall within his/her responsibilities, he/she would say "let me find out and get back with you."  As a principal, I have always backed my assistant principal's decision regardless if I agreed with their decision.  Why?  Because it is very important that we show a supportive stance in front of our staff.  If we begin to set the tone of undermining, your assistant will not be treated as an effective administrator.  That is definitely not the tone we should ever set in front of parents, students, or teachers.  Handle all disagreements in the office.  Great assistant principals can think critically and problem solve.  All school leaders are expected to handle problems as they arise throughout the day.  While assistant principals can't be expected to resolve all of these, they can be expected to be involved in finding solutions to the problems.  

Interview Questions for AP Applicant:

1.  Describe a recent problem you encountered and how you went about creating a solution.
2.  Tell me about a situation in which you found a creative way to overcome an obstacle.
3.  Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.

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Understanding the RtI Principles

You might be thinking why is it that I'm just now talking about RtI to my school.  Well, I have accepted a principal position this school year in a new district.  It has taken me a few weeks to lay some foundation and understand their current process of Response to Intervention.  I absorbed all the facts and quickly began the journey to organize and simplify the process for the teachers.
Fast forward to the first week of November and here we are...rocking and rolling.

My presentation: Response to Intervention: Understanding the RtI Principles covers the basic information of the multi-tier system.  You can download my presentation here from my google drive.

I also created a guidebook for the teachers as a quick reference to all the information that was in the powerpoint.


The approach to RtI is preventative and intended to close learning gaps for all students.  It is also about every student making progress.  RtI focuses on the use of evidence or data to make decisions about students' response to instruction and the effectiveness of interventions in order to prevent significant learning gaps.  The keyword is preventive.  

I created a sample RtI folder for every teacher and shared a flowchart.  The flowchart was created by another principal and good friend of mine.  The forms for RtI are a mixture of materials from Mentoring Minds and our region shared services co-op.  I am unable to share these forms since they are not created by me.  I'm sure you can understand my reasons for not sharing copyrighted materials.  I'm always willing to share or link materials self-created though.


Providing quality classroom instruction can make a big difference for struggling readers.  The heart of RtI is found in core instruction.  We must give students the best opportunities to succeed at school. This begins with providing high-quality core instruction in the classroom.  We must be CORE STRONG.  The core instruction is critical to the prevention process.  

You can download the Flow Chart here.  The flowchart coordinates with the RtI forms we use in Google.


We meet every Wednesday for PLC.  We will use the student RtI folders to make instructional decisions, identify students who are in need of support, and provide immediate assistance.  

Professional Learning Communities - Who we are
Data Team, Data Driven Decisions- What we do
Response to Intervention - How we do it

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