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Back to School Team Building

I found a wonderful video a few months ago.  I always save video links in a notepad on my phone.  You just never know when you might need it.

My good friend, Lauren, reminded me of this video just last week.  For simply watching the video, I knew I wanted to recreate the activity on campus with the staff.

So take a look at the video, All That We Share.



TEAM BUILDING ACTIVITY

1.  Ask your staff to stand in a circle in the room.  

2.  Explain that we are all here together because we are connected to the same passions.

Our passion to serve. 

Our passion to teach.  

Our passion to inspire, motivate, and to make a difference.

3.  Explain now that we share more things in common that you just might not realize.  You will then read out a few statements.  If they have these in common, they will join the middle of the circle.  Ask them to take a minute and recognize the people standing around you that share the same things with you.

4.  The statements at the beginning are simple and lack little meaning.  As you reach the bottom of the list, the statements are more powerful.

STATEMENTS

Who likes coffee?
Who has ever travelled overseas?
Who is scared of heights?
Who has famous relatives?
Who likes to ride motorcycles?
Does anyone think Chic Fil A is overrated?
Who exercises at least 4 times a week?
Who has never had a speeding ticket?
Who has ridden on a subway?
Who has never been on a plane?
Who has ever taken on a restaurant's food challenge?
Who plays video games?
Who has never seen The Godfather?
Who is a step parent?
Who has a step parent?
Who said they would never be a teacher?
Who has ever been bullied?
Who has saved someone’s life?
Who has beaten cancer?

Who is here today ready to make a difference this year?

"The students placed in your classes are here for a reason too. Some student in your class needs you this year. It is our job to determine who that is and what that need is. Let's go make a difference."

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Back To School Transformations

Our campus is going through some renovations.  I couldn't be more happier for my students, parents, and staff.  They deserve this beautiful space.  The library needed a big makeover.  The library furniture was outdated.  The fluorescent lighting wasn't giving off the best light for reading.  The space just wasn't inviting.  The library wasn't a space where anyone wanted to stay for long periods of time.  Thankfully the community passed a bond, and we are now blessed with this beautiful space.

BEFORE RENOVATION




AFTER RENOVATION



The library is divided into multiple sections.  (1) We have an upper elementary section that can be used by students and staff. (2) A lower elementary section for our youngest students.  (3) A reading cave; and (4) a lounging or gathering space.




Literacy Library 

Two years ago I started purchasing leveled books for guided reading.  Over the two years,  I spent as much money as I could investing in our literacy program.  The book bins were purchased from Ikea.  They are just heavy cardboard, but they really do the job.  I created the color-coded labels on my computer.  You can download them here.



The book cases were ordered from Amazon and stacked on top of each other.  I ordered 4 total.  Maintenance braced them together and then for extra safety measures we braced them to the wall.



HOUSE SYSTEM

PRESENTATION


Download Welcome to My House Presentation

We are excited to kick off the 2019-2020 school year and introduce the House System to our students.    At the end of 2018-2019 school year, we discussed this idea with the staff.  They were 100% on board.  Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with some great principals who have already paved the way for me.  Heather Patterson and Trent Hamilton are both Texas principals and have implemented the House System a few years ago.  Through the use of social media and this blog, I am able to connect to other administrators and brainstorm ideas, share resources, and just build great friendships.

I also watched Ron Clark's Facebook Live presentation this summer.  I found about it through social media and marked it on my calendar.  This too was a big help.  You can watch the playback of the event here.

Ron Clark Youtube

STAFF HOUSE REVEAL



My staff will be in a House.  I thought and thought about how to reveal their Houses.  A lot of school do balloon popping, spinning the wheel, etc...  However, I had forgotten I had these scratch off tickets until I was going through my supplies.  I immediately knew this is what I wanted to do.  So the entire staff will scratch off their tickets to review a number: 1, 2, or 3.  We have three Houses.  We have not named our Houses or assigned colors yet so adding a number under the scratch off was the best option for me.


These are the best scratch off stickers!  I purchased 1000 of them, and they will last forever.



SUMMER MORALE BOOSTER


Our maintenance, custodial staff, and construction crews have worked so hard this summer.  Since we are under a big renovation, they have been working even harder despite the dust, piles of tools and buckets of paint throughout the halls.  We decided to have an afternoon of ice cold watermelon as a treat.  Watermelon is affordable and delicious too.  If you need a great pick-me-up, this is the perfect one for a hot summer day.  

For more MORALE BOOSTERS, check out Morale Magic!  It has everything you need for many years of gifting and lifting spirits.








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How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything

How you do one thing is how you do everything.  


When one area of your health suffers, all the other parts suffer too.  Equally, when you develop one part of your life, all the other parts benefit too.

Let me explain how this relates to us as leaders.

This summer while on vacation in the beautiful mountains of Wyoming my courageous husband fell from a bicycle while riding down a steep mountain at a fast rate of speed.  He wasn't knocked unconscious, but he suffered from three broken ribs and blood-filled lungs.  This accident was just a few weeks ago.  His body is visibly bruised and low impact movements are the current norm, but he is doing much better now.  His healing is day-by-day and will take up to 8 weeks to fully recover.



I have always been some what of a person who does things all the way.  I don't cut corners on the work.  But to be honest, I have a junk drawer or two or even a closet full of "stuff" that I could really work on.  If things look great on the surface, I am totally fine walking by that junk drawer and closet and never skip a beat.

As I watch him heal from his broken and bruised body, I think about the quote- "How you do one thing is how you do everything."  When one part of your body is suffering, all the other parts suffer too.  He struggles to just to get dressed, to work a full day at work, to sleep a full night's sleep, etc...  A broken bone or three can make a big difference in how you function.

You might be thinking what does this have to do with me as a leader?

Well here is the answer.  The way we handle one thing showcases how we will handle the next hing.  When you are dedicated to the complete project, you will create habits that lead you to do the same in the future.

Creating that junk drawer at home and a closet filled with unnecessary items only clutters my house and takes up space.  The habit I have created will sprinkle into my work life unless I take conscious attempts to change my habits and behaviors.  These patterns of just throwing something in the drawer or shoving it into a closet of course will bleed over into my professional life and my leadership abilities if I am not careful.

As you begin this journey as a school leader either for the first time or as a seasoned school leader, I invite you to take a closer look at your own habits, particularly those that are not serving you.  Perhaps just one simple concept, like organizing your desk, or creating a filing system, or cleaning out your inbox every day before you go home, could be just the answer to a better year.

A simple shift in one habit can inevitability impact another.

How you do one thing is how you do everything.


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End of School Year Scavenger Hunt: Mystery Prize Box

Scavenger Hunts are great for all ages, and they are a great way to wrap up a school year.  Moreover, scavenger hunts after a week of state testing, trump all kinds of fun.  Here's the scoop on the details of the day.

Each classroom will end up with their own prize box after completing the hunt.  I recommend staggering the start times of the classes so they don't end up at the same location at the same time.  We staggered a 15-minute delay between each class.

I purchased the scavenger hunt from this website.  I printed multiples pages of each mystery puzzle.  Each puzzle was placed in an envelope with a different teacher's name on the front of the envelope.  As students arrived at the location, they opened their class envelope.  If they arrived in a place without an envelope, they did not solve correctly.  There are about 11 puzzles to solve before they reach the final location and locate their prize box.


INSIDE THE MYSTERY BOXES

Each box contained about the same items with a variation of a few items- a ball (football, kickball, or basketball), paint set, chalk, water guns, bubbles, spray chalk, frisbee, Little Debbie snack cakes, coloring books, markers, crayons, etc...

The box is a group prize and must be shared with everyone in the class.  Pictured below are items that were purchased for multiple boxes.




 RECOMMENDATIONS

Assign different students leadership roles at each station.  For example, if you have 20 students in your group, have 3-4 students attempt to solve the mystery.  At the next location, I recommend switching and having another 2-3 students solve.  This gives everyone a chance to show their leadership skills and play the game.  Mysteries are a ton of fun, especially when there is a big reward at the end.  




THE STRUGGLES

Some of the puzzles were tricky.  The students had to use their critical thinking skills on some of the stations.  This struggle is good.  Don't be so quick to jump in and give them the answers or tell them how to solve the puzzle.  Problem-solving is the best skill we could ever give our students.

Prior to starting the puzzles, I asked all the teachers to join me for a quick meeting.  I went over how the stations were organized and the answer to every puzzle.  Trust me on this when I say you should do this.  I simply had a printed copy of all the puzzles in the staff room and showed the teachers how each puzzle looked and the answer to it.  


IN THE END...

Students have worked hard all year completing study plans, attending tutoring, and diligently working toward mastering their goals in RtI.  I felt the need to reward them (and their teachers) with a Work Hard, Play Hard Day.  The items can be played inside or outside (mostly outside).  This day was filled with full joy and some very eager students.  We didn't expect the students to be perfect in the halls.  However, we did set ground rules about sharing the clues to any passing players.  We didn't want to spoil the fun for any of the remaining participants.  


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How to Improve Staff Morale and Retention

Staff morale. Wikipedia defines it as a job satisfaction or a feeling of well-being in the workplace.  But we all know morale offers more than just happiness at school.  There is strong evidence that shows a clear link between staff morale and better job performance.  As a result, student achievement increases.  The downside of all of this is that morale is a moving target.

Good leadership is common sense.  Leadership is about people; management is about systems and processes.  The leader's behavior is one of the most significant factors in staff morale.

We must lead with our head, heart, and our hands.

Staff Engagement and Morale



LEAD WITH YOUR HEART, HEAD, AND HAND

CONNECT

As school leaders, we must show that we value our staff and students.  If you don't have positive relationships built on trust, no amount of morale boosters and snacks or treats will push your teachers to perform at high levels.  How you interact with those around you is a crucial part of our positions.  Honestly, you can be the most talented, courageous, and driven school leader, but that is simply not enough.  You must have personal skills and the ability to connect.  Put your people first. I know that sounds simple, but unless we are intentional in making people most important, to-do lists, deadlines, and juggling tasks, will be what wins your attention.  The bottomline is to understand that everything we do involves us being connected.  Build stronger relationships daily.  This makes two-way communication and true dialogue with your people critically important.  Leading from the heart is about relating, having conversations, working together, and caring for the people you lead.

COLLABORATION and CONVERSATIONS

Believe it or not- the school's physical environment and building can influence the culture.  This physical environment that we all occupy has a significant impact on how we interact and how we will engage with one another, as well as, how we engage in our work.  Although we can't knock down walls in our school, we can provide as much opportunities to make our environment appealing and provide time for teachers to collaborate and interact.  Create opportunities for your campus staff to work together or just have lunch together.  At least once a month, we have a luncheon.  Typically during the day, teachers eat lunch in their classrooms.  However, during the luncheon, we set up a meal in a common space so they can sit and talk and just enjoy some conversations.


CONSTANCY AND CHAOS

 Being consistent is a consistent challenge.  We are challenged to put on a stoic or poker face every day regardless of how crazy the situation.  Personally, I cannot handle people who are consistently inconsistent.  You know those kinds of people.  They are a different person every single day or week. It seems as though they invite chaos or create drama.  Their actions keep everyone at a heightened state of anxiety.  It is our job as leaders to create an environment that will stimulate, motivate, and develop people.  This will in turn bring out the best in everyone.  Changing behaviors of your staff can take time.  However, you do have immediate control over how you "show up" every day.  People admire and respect consistent leaders.  If we don't accomplish any of our to-do tasks, at least we showed up to work with a consistent behavior.  As far as me, I plan on tackling every Monday morning head-on.  Being consistent is a way to empower others to act based on what they know the leader's direction would be.  It also is important in developing desired behaviors and culture.

CONSISTENT ACTION CREATES CONSISTENT RESULTS.

RETAINING STAFF


Retaining key staff members is critical to the long-term health and success of your school.  A high turnover rate will lower your chances of being successful in meeting any of your goals and carrying out the vision.

A GLANCE AT SOME MORALE BOOSTERS

If you had a chance to read Morale Magic,™you know my stance on providing our staff and students with an environment in which they feel valued and appreciated.  I love celebrating in big ways and little ways.  Whatever the occasion, find reason to celebrate and bring joy in the school.  It is a win-win for everyone.





Need ideas to help boost your school's morale?  Download Morale Magic™



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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.



 
 
FREE DOWNLOAD







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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