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The School Leader Gift Guide

It's the time of the year where all the school leaders stress over how to show appreciation to your staff but not break the budget in the process.  From the secretaries, co-workers, cafeteria workers, and teachers, it is easy to become overwhelmed with anxiety.  

I have put together a few ideas that I hope you find helpful.  If you funds are limited, maybe consider purchasing one item just for the campus to enjoy all year long.  I have some suggestions for that too.  

If you are looking for a wide variety of ideas to spread the holiday cheer all through the month of December, check out this 12 Days of Christmas post.

[Disclosure: This document may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.]

If in a hurry, download the gift guide PDF here: https://bit.ly/principalprinciplesgiftguide





$20 and Up Specialty Gifts


Motivational and Inspirational Quote Print Dream Big Poster

Notes from Meetings That Should Have Been Emails

This Meeting Should Have Been an Email Black Mug

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Inspiring Leaders Spotlight: WIN Time

I have had the great pleasure of sharing WIN Time with you many,  many times.  However, I am excited about the opportunity to share with you amazing school leaders who believe in WIN Time.  These leaders know the importance of the system and see the results.  Help me welcome Crystal Mayes, Susan Hankins, and John Weaver to the platform today. 

I hope you enjoy their story.


Crystal Mayes, Elementary Principal (Texas)

How do you collect data?

Every three weeks our teachers give students common assessment on a spiral readiness TEKS that we focus on during Space Time (WIN). We will report out the results during PLC common planning and analyze student work. We hone in to make sure that our "meets" percentage is high before moving on to our next lowest score - student expectations. We ask the four essential Marzano questions for the new skills. We also use survey level assessments in Aimsweb curriculum-based assessments, and Interim exams.

How do you track data?

We created a Google sheet in which we track students growth and progress from test a test and look for the +10 from John Wink’s philosophy. It has a conditional formatting color-coded for students that might be falling behind. We also track each classrooms percentage of approaches, meets, and masters. The goal is to have the entire class grow +10 from the beginning of the year until the end of each category. Whichever Space Time spiral TEKS were focused on for 3 weeks (must be a readiness standard and highly tested) during then the teachers track the four question common assessment by item rigor of high, medium, and low to see if there are any gaps or strengths in different classrooms.

How do you group students using data?

The instructional coach and I try to homogeneously group students by their levels of masters, meets, and approaches.  We then have special population groups such as our homeless, RTI/MTSS, Dyslexic, and resource. Teachers who are strongest in particular areas or subjects are then selected to teach reading or math. English Language and RTI aides are also pushed into the classroom, so they can build relationships with students, help track tier paperwork, and assist the teacher for an additional small group.

Tell me all about your WIN Time implementation (struggles, how you started, your successes)

This will be our third year of implementation. One of the first struggles was to have buy-in for teachers to switch students around the grade level rather than keeping their homeroom. We then realized we needed  different instructional resources to use during this time. 

We also realize that we need very clear expectations of what this time looks like and what it does not look like. We had to make sure that our aides are provided resources for our conducting a small group as well as being trained on how to use the resources. We had to make this time a very sacred time, and we do not ever give it up except for party days.


Susan Hankins, Elementary Principal and Curriculum (Michigan)

How do you collect data?

We have a school information system called Illuminate.

How do you track data?

The School Improvement Team analyzes and tracks data. Teachers also meet weekly to track data at a classroom and grade level.

How do you group students using data?

Students are grouped by skill area. Students are progress monitored throughout a 6 week period and once they show mastery they move to a different group.

Tell me all about your WIN Time implementation (struggles, how you started, your successes

In 2016 I became principal at the elementary school where I taught. That year was spent learning my new role, working to strengthen relationships, and getting a feeling from things at an administrative level. After learning from my teachers and observing the needs of the building, we worked to create a strong, active School Improvement Team in the 2017-2018 school year.

This team consists of teachers from various levels, general and special education, and program directors. They are the incredible driving force behind our success. We spent this year really studying our data. We learned about our strengths and weaknesses and spent a lot of time talking about what we needed to drive change.

The 2018-2019 school year was spent building capacity and the need with the staff. Our current system had paraprofessionals at the helm of intervention. In the past, data wasn’t used to drive decision-making, and students were pulled out of class to receive their intervention. Scores were decent but stagnant, and our most intensive and gifted students weren’t growing as much as we would like. We spent a lot of time talking about how we could put our teachers with our students with the most intense needs. Then I came across Stephanie McConnell and her WIN Time implementation. I brought the idea to my School Improvement Team, and they ran with it.

We spent each of our meetings looking at data and planning for implementation. The first thing we had to do was create a master schedule. Something that this building never had. In that master schedule, we included 120 minutes for ELA, 90 minutes for math, 50 minutes for special, 20 minutes for lunch, 20 minutes for recess, and 45 minutes for WIN. As we were working on the master schedule, we began to build capacity with the staff. We walked teachers through a process of a needs assessment, so they say WIN as a need like we did. Asking teachers to take 30-45 minutes of their day every day for something new was a paradigm shift. However, the whole staff quickly became as excited about it as this team.

The summer prior to the 2018-2019 school year, the SIT spent looking at data, making groups for the teachers, and setting goals for the groups. We did this for them for the first round of WIN as we wanted to gradually release control as not to overwhelm the teachers. We continued to go slow to go fast.

Upon return, the teachers planned for the groups and their skills. They planned with paras. Paras worked with our students who were at grade level, we had an advanced program for those working above, and our teachers worked with our most intensive kids. We set the scene that WIN was the most important time of the day. Classes were not to be interrupted during this time, and we were taught the expectations of behavior. We monitored growth every six weeks and rearranged groups as needed. Teachers used their daily common planning time to plan for WIN and monitor growth. Teachers shared students based on need, and this really helped to build the team approach at grade levels that didn’t work together as closely as others.

We immediately started seeing changes in our scores. (I can provide the growth since starting WIN.) Students were focused and engaged in lessons that they needed. They loved being mixed with students from other classes and working with different teachers. WIN quickly became the best part of the students’ and teachers’ day.

Our biggest challenge was COVID. We had to change year two because students could no longer mix groups. However, we are thankful that we had a solid foundation going into year 2. We continue to see growth, monitor our students, and grow; however, we look forward to year 3, when hopefully we can begin mixing groups again.

WIN has changed our school for the better. I am grateful every day for having the opportunity to have this program for our students.

Links to articles about our school and WIN.



Check out the results prior to WIN and after WIN was implemented!


John Weaver, High School Assistant Principal (Florida)

How do you collect data?

Weekly; grades, progress monitoring via AP and PreAP classroom, Achieve 3k, Aleks, PBIS and MTSS data

How do you track data?

Weekly team meetings

How do you group students using data?

Special Ed with a case manager, AP with instructors, all teachers have access to the building, Multiple boot camps, and specific areas that need to be addressed on a daily basis

Tell me all about your WIN Time implementation (struggles, how you started, your successes

We’re entering the fourth year of our flex\win time. It has grown tremendously within this time as we are a school to two thousand students. Teachers move on a daily basis to support their needs. Students and parents can also request to move via our software.

We had an 88% reduction in parent-teacher conferences as Flex (WIN Time) supports rectifying academic and personal concerns. 

In regards to the credit recovery program, 50% of the enrollment now consists of underclassmen as the overall decrease in D and F grades has allowed seats to vacate in this area.

Further, the open credit recovery seats have become especially significant given the lack of progress our Digital learners accomplished last year, which has also significantly decreased our summer school

Yet, most importantly our 33% increase with regards to recruiting and retaining underrepresented students in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses have been directly related to Flex.
Meaning, our aforementioned Equity initiative could never be accomplished without our Flex program. 

Further, as we enter our fourth year, classroom observations, as well as formative and summative assessments, reflect the overall increase in daily synthesis and evaluation in all subject areas as
Flex has now become a proactive need as opposed to reactive support.

John Weaver's Campus Presentation


We can definitely say we have many great things happening in these schools. These schools have proven their ability to make dramatic, lasting changes for their students. Behind every great school is a strong instructional leader who understands excellent instruction, problem solves, and works alongside their teachers to improve student outcomes. Their strategy is built on analyzing their school's performance, expanding great opportunities for their students, and creating new structures that demand the high-quality education they deserve.  

If you are doing amazing things and have created a WIN Time, I would love to give you a shoutout too.  Fill out the form and let's start a conversation.

Ready to learn more about how to implement WIN Time too? 

 Check out this post and download all of the WIN Time materials. 

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What is WIN Time

What is WIN Time? 

WIN Time stands for What I Need. 

WIN Time is a 45 minute period on Monday-Friday embedded in the Master Schedule for students to self-regulate and prioritize their learning. WIN Time acknowledges that students lead busy lives and navigate competing demands for their time in and outside of school. WIN Time provides students the opportunity to self-direct and engages in their own learning.

While some school-wide initiatives might occur during WIN Time, teachers will not be teaching the new course material. Teachers will be accessible to students for additional help and guidance on current and ongoing learning. As this is school instructional time, students are expected to be in the classroom or designated learning space for the entire WIN Time period.

WHAT are the benefits of WIN Time?

WIN Time provides students the opportunity to:
  • Complete assignments
  • Practice presentations
  • Study for tests & quizzes
  • Receive help from a teacher
  • Make progress on long-term assignments
  • Collaborate with classmates on group assignments
  • Reduce homework
  • Improve skills in a specific area
  • Engage in a personal passion project of interest

Our Mission:

To ensure that ALL students learn at grade level or higher.

HOW to start WIN Time?

WIN Time: Secondary and WIN Time Elementary are now available for download. You can edit them to brand to your district and add your campus information throughout. The guidebook and the PowerPoint allow you to communicate the system on your campus. These two pieces have been a big lifesaver.  When you put in a new system, communication is imperative. 

At my school, creating a guiding advisory team was important to me.  I wanted WIN Time to be successful, so I needed the teachers to help build it and create ownership over it.   The templates below will help you every step of the way.


Letting students lead goal setting is one way to foster student ownership and begin to create a learner-centered environment. Research shows that students who feel ownership of their learning are more likely to persevere in the face of challenges and take steps to proactively meet their goals. When students monitor their own progress, it means that they have set a goal and know how to measure where they are in the process of achieving it.

When students track their own progress on assessments using graphic displays, the gains are even higher. Students are never too young to begin tracking!


Looking for a better and easier way to implement your WIN Time program? Take WIN Time Software for a test drive! Visit www.wintime.education to view the demo videos and get started with a free demo school. #WINTime


If you already have a WIN Time set up on your campus, here is Program Implementation Evaluation toolkit that is used to determine the school's progress toward WIN implementation.  Your school can quickly identify the areas it should improve and the areas it should protect.  Section 2 of the guide helps to develop a process for implementation.  Following the essential questions, sample check in documents, and focus agendas for 30-60-90 day milestones are intended to help put action to implementation.

JOIN THE WIN TIME FACEBOOK GROUP if you are looking to collaborate more around creating a win on your campus!

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Student Data Trackers that Develop Ownership and Motivation

Empower your students in their learning, step back, and watch them thrive.

Student Data Trackers help students develop ownership, motivation, and a growth mindset. After all, how does a student know where they are and where they need to be unless we give them the tools to engage in their data.

Research confirms that educators in schools with a focus on learning promote a strong sense of self-efficacy in students. It also shows that one of the greatest factors of student motivation and engagement is data tracking.

WIN Time Student Success Tracker™ is a tool that will empower students in self-tracking, goal setting, and reflection.

DATA Success Trackers

1. Data Success Trackers help students self-analyze data and set growth goals. #embracelearningforall
2. Data Success Trackers help teachers select the appropriate resources, instruction, and assessments for each student.
3. Data Success Trackers are the perfect tool for student led conferences.
4. Data Success Trackers provide evidence of student learning. #focusonresults

About the Trackers

Each individual student has their own data tracker book. It comes printed to save you the time of copying and organizing all the pages. Since the books are bound just like a book or magazine, pages will not never be misplaced.  Printed on 8x11; 38 pages; book printed format

The goal is to have students take accountability for their mastery of the standards.

Student data folders are a wonderful way to keep students involved in their learning and to encourage them to be responsible for understanding their own strengths and weaknesses.

Students truly benefit from data tracking because they have a voice in their learning and can understand and work toward success. Parents also benefit from the use of this tool as well and become more engaged in their child's education as they hear their child share their goals and academic progress during student led conferences.

Data folders are more than just a collection of charts and graphs. They are perfect vehicles for students to truly own their learning.


The Student Success Trackers can be ordered on #Amazon.  They will be shipped to your doorsteps and ready to implement immediately.  


Order Here (Printed and Full-filled shipped directly to you)


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Create Engaging Graphics and Reports in Minutes

 Create stunning graphics to make your reports, slide deck, social media, and your dashboards come alive with real-time data.  

The process couldn't be any easier either.  Simply sign up for INFOGRAM and connect your data to begin building charts and graphs.  For me, I connected our Google Spreadsheet to it, and my charts will automatically auto-populate with the data.  As we update the Google Spreadsheet my charts will also update.  

Take a look.

1.  I started with Google Sheets which we update throughout the day.

2.  Within a few minutes of creating my account in INFOGRAM I had my first chart created.  You can brand all graphs, charts, and slide decks with your logo.  

3.  When the charts were complete, I added the infographic to our district's website.  You can simply do a link or embed the code.  (NOTE: If you need the data to automatically update, this requires the paid version.)  


Interactive charts and maps can add depth and intrigue to any article, presentation, or website. 

Simply publish your project, copy the HTML code provided, and paste it into the text editor of your CMS or the space provided by the tool you’re using. Here is how I shared my interactive charts online.


Slides is a place for creating, presenting and sharing slide decks – built perfectly for online interactivity. Begin by creating a new slide deck. Click to add an ‘iframe’ element from the editing menu. Then copy and paste Infogram’s fixed embed code into the box on the top left. Your Infogram chart will appear right in front of you.


We all know teaching maps, charts, and graphs is essential for all subjects.  Students struggle to interpret and accurately read charts across all subject areas.  Creating an account in INFOGRAM would allow teachers to create data for students to excel in this skill.  Infogram lets students and educators easily create charts, maps, and infographics for free. 

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The Fire Within You

Recently, I traveled to 5 National Parks in the United States for our 2021 summer vacation. We absolutely love visiting National Parks.  

This picture was taken at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.  This week of travel helped me to detach  from school life and the business of running Principal Principles.  The hubs and I had great conversations.  One of which is the inspiration behind this blog post. 

As we traveled through a forest area we noticed that a fire had taken place many years earlier.  The land was beginning to show life of new pine trees.  This is when the hubs reminded me of the story of pine cones.  The leader that I am immediately connected the pine cone story to us as school leaders.

Fires are important to vegetation. Some pine trees produce what scientists call a serotinous pine cone. Resins hold the scales of the cones tightly closed with the seeds inside, and they can remain in the crowns of the trees for 30 to 50 years. Without fire, the seeds would likely never be released.

Once fire burns through the resin the cone opens up and the seeds are released.  The seeds then produce new trees.  


As leaders, we are faced with many hard times that put "heat" on us to perform. We have to be willing to go through fires. Just like pine cones, without the fire, the seeds will never be released. The fire adds value to us. 

It seems all too easy to fall victim to the circumstances and fail to lead during these times. It is at these very instances that we show what we are made of. Anyone can lead when the sky is clear and when there is no smoke on the horizon. Great leadership is not required when things go well, and conditions are perfect. Great leadership is required when challenges appear, difficult situations arise, and the team needs support and direction.

As leaders, we, too, need heat to grow. Sometimes this happens while absorbing the feel-good warmth of the sun, but more often than not, we expand and grow through difficult and painful times. The challenge is that our nature is to run from a fire because we fear the pain. We often see the pain as a problem and not a necessity or even a gift. 

On Facebook and Instagram, I recently shared this favorite quote,

  "Your greatest struggle often produces the sweetest fruit."- Principal Principles

Sometimes we need to stop and remind ourselves that the things we feel are holding us back are the things that challenge us and help us to grow.

Great leaders not only survive a difficult and heated situation, but they too are able to bring growth when a situation seems hopeless. The best leaders I know expand and grow during difficult times. 

So leaders, the next time a painful situation comes your way, and you feel the urge to turn and run, think about this- Every encounter has an outcome. It's your choice if you make that a positive experience.

When you are put to the test, stay strong and keep going. That’s how you will succeed. Tough times will never last. Tough people do.

Let the fire within you burn brighter than the the fire around you.

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Work Smarter Not Harder: Create a Google Calendar Agenda

There aren't enough hours in the day. I find myself sleeping less and eating more meals in my car than around the dinner table. Often I feel the day flying by, and by the end of the day- I can't really tell you what was accomplished. That isn't great for me or my health.  

Recently, I stumbled upon some new tech features that allow me to eliminate some unnecessary tasks.  So today, I thought I would take the time and share one with you.  I hope you find a blessing in this as I did!

So a little of my thought process in moving to this next tech feature...

I had multiple chats with other leaders, and I said many times these very words..."why does Google have Google Keep but there's not a Google Agenda?  You all know how much I use Google Keep, but I need a Google Agenda.  I'm not referring to a calendar.  I need an actual meeting agenda.  You know the agenda that lists all the items for your meetings?  That's what I need.  

Currently, I use a Google Doc to create all the agendas.  Now, I have stumbled upon SoapBox!  SoapBox takes my Google Calendar and creates an agenda that can be seen by all of the people invited to the meeting.  This is an add-on feature through Chrome.  

Let me show you how it works.

1.  Go to Chrome Web Store and Search for SoapBox

2.  Install SoapBox to your Chrome Browser.

3. Create a meeting on using your Google Calendar.

4. Click on the Add Soapbox to this meeting blue button to create an agenda.

5. The agenda will now appear and all invitees will see the agenda prior to the meeting.

Is that pretty amazing or what?  Hopefully by shifting my focus from creating a separate document for an agenda to creating built-in calendar agendas I can spend quality time on other things.  Automating some tasks will allow me to get more done.

I read this quote recently and it reminded me of this simple agenda feature that I have been using for a few weeks now.

"The counterintuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy."

Let me know if you love this Google Add-on and if it was a huge timesaver for you too.

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