Happy four years of blogging to me…

This was my first post four years ago.  I’ve written dozens of posts since, but I revisit this one to remind myself why I started.

So, why call a blog Common Sense School Leadership?  As far back as I can remember, when it comes to following someone, all I have ever wanted is to be led by someone with common sense.  It seems like a simple and practical wish.  Common sense leaders are confident in their ability, but also keenly aware that they don’t know it all.

Leaders with common sense have a balanced perspective on life and work.  They work hard and play hard and they never take themselves too seriously.  Common sense leaders protect their employees in the way that Todd Whitaker discusses in his book, Shifting the Monkey.  Common sense leaders intuitively know how to motivate, inspire, and challenge those who work for them.

Can anyone be a common sense leader?  Probably not, common sense is hard to teach.  You might be a common sense school leader if…

-your first thoughts are always centered on what’s best for students when solving problems.

-you see teachers as leadership assets in your building.

-you recognize your own power and reflect on whether your decisions are based on protecting or maintaining that power, or what’s best for your students and staff.

-you allow for some wait time before making important decisions.

-you value laughter and it can be heard throughout your building.

-you lean on others for advice and seek it out when you’ve made a mistake.

-you trust others, even before they’ve earned it.

Common sense leadership is needed now more than ever.  The number of changes occurring in schools across the country requires common sense leadership that can help students, teachers, and parents understand it all.  How about if we all try to be the common sense school leaders our communities deserve?

School Leadership: It’s like riding a motorcycle!

I began riding a motorcycle over two years ago.  I never had any intention of becoming a biker.  I was happy and busy and certainly didn’t need a new hobby.  I was 51 when I started.  Such a cliché.  Mid-life crisis, right?  Not really, but it’s hard to overcome appearances.  I blame my friends.  They started riding a few months before me, got their licenses, and took to riding like ducks to the water.  Every time we got together they would ask me when I was going to join them.  I scoffed at them, laughed, and tried to change the conversation, but they sowed a seed.  I finally gave in and tried out my friend’s bike.  I was hooked.  A week later I bought my first bike (I’m already on my second, it’s bigger and faster of course).  Over the past two years I have put in about 11,000 miles on my bike(s).  I’ve been to Key West, Daytona, and all over the Maryland/Delaware area.  The more I ride, the more I see the parallels between riding a motorcycle and school leadership.  Here are a few of those lessons learned:

Balance

Before I could take the motorcycle license test, I had to get experience.  You have to ride a motorcycle to get better at it, so for three months I was “riding dirty,” with no license.  I would ride around my neighborhood, never venturing too far.  One day I was at a stop sign.  I thought the bike was in first gear as I prepared to take off.  I wasn’t in first gear.  I was in neutral.  I picked up my feet (bad decision) hit the throttle and fell over.  Luckily, my body broke the bike’s fall.  I was bruised along the right side and very embarrassed.  It took me a while to re-build my confidence, but I did.

Lesson:  Riding a motorcycle and school leadership require balance.  School leaders who forget to nurture their personal lives will lose their balance and fall over.  Sub lesson: Never give up! 

Braking

Just after getting my license, I was heading down a very busy four lane highway.  I was behind my friends and decided to zoom past them for fun.  I didn’t see that the traffic in front of them had stopped.  I hit the back brake too hard and my bike started to fishtail.  I was headed into the back of a mini-van and swerved off the road into a grassy median strip to avoid a collision.  I stayed on the bike, went down a small hill, and gradually worked my way back to the road.  I was uninjured, but startled by how quickly things went bad.  I spent the next several weeks working on my braking skills.

Lesson:  Know when to slow down.  School leaders are always on the go.  Sometimes we have to hit the brakes and change our path to avoid burning out or colliding with others.

The Ride

Not all my lessons have come from mishaps.  Riding a motorcycle is freeing.  It’s like riding a roller coaster without the rails.  The people I ride with agree that once you learn to ride a motorcycle you gradually relax and think less about the “how” and start enjoying the “why.”  When you first start riding you’re thinking about the clutch, the gear shift lever, the brakes, the throttle and everything else that goes with staying up and on the road.  Later on, these become second nature and you begin to have fun.

Lesson:  Once you become an experienced school leader you can begin to enjoy the job in its entirety.  Try not to get so caught up in the minutiae that you fail to enjoy the children, the staff, and the parents.  Being a school leader is fun, enjoy the ride.

Zen

Riding a motorcycle takes patience.  One of the first things you learn in a motorcycle safety course is that you must assume that no one can see you.  Ride like you’re invisible.  Every time I get on the bike I must remind myself to “be cool.”  It doesn’t take long on a bike ride before someone in a car does something dangerous that puts you in peril.  If you internalize everything, it will consume you and you can easily become an aggressive rider.  Ride with confidence, but never assume others are paying attention to you.  Be cool.

Lesson:  You control your emotions and your response when things go wrong.  Be patient, take time, and breathe before you make important decisions.  Nothing good happens when decisions are made in anger. 

Humility

Being confident on a bike is important, but over-confidence is a problem.  I learn something new every time I ride.  I am always trying to improve my skills.  The moment you think you’ve mastered the skill of riding a motorcycle is the moment you need to put the bike away for good.  Humility on a motorcycle will keep you safe and, hopefully, alive.  After just two years of riding, I know I have much more to learn.

Lesson:  The best school leaders understand that their growth and learning needs to be continuous.  School leaders who think they’ve “arrived” will eventually find that their destination can never reached.  Overconfidence in school leadership leads to a lack of collaboration.  Schools need leaders who recognize their limitations and value the knowledge of others. 

Chrome up, rubber down.  Ride on!

Teamwork Gets Things Done!

In many school districts, students either have returned, or will be returning soon.  It’s an exciting time of the year filled with anticipation.  While summer fun is winding down, students, teachers, and parents are looking forward to the new school year.  Teamwork plays an important role in the success of schools.  The challenges of teaching and learning are far too great to be approached at the individual level alone.  What can schools do to build great teams?  What can they do to make sure that our schools are models of collaboration? Let’s hear from a few strong school leaders who understand the magic that happens when schools foster teamwork.

As I think about the importance of building great teams in elementary schools, this quote by Stephen Covey comes to mind, “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate, we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.” I believe that teamwork is at the heart of the important work we do in schools, because the work is so critical it cannot possibly be done in isolation. My belief is to model the importance of teamwork with teachers through various structures, such as my leadership team and school improvement team. I put relationships at the forefront of all the work that happens and trust develops over time between all staff members. If teachers can see the results of a highly effective leadership team and school improvement team, they will believe in the power of collaborative planning for instruction and will begin to see the academic benefit in their students’ scores. Modeling, guiding, setting expectations, and asking reflective questions are critical in the beginning stages of building teams that truly know how to collaborate. In the words of Roland Barth, “The nature of relationships among the adults within a school has a greater influence on the character and quality of that school and on student accomplishment than anything else.” I believe this at my core, and it is my hope that every administrator will believe this also.

Lisa Koennel/@LKoennel/ Principal, Richard Henry Lee Elementary


Building great teams within an elementary school is essential to creating a student-focused positive culture. It’s paramount to develop teacher leadership through intentional empowerment as a means to grow and develop high functioning teams. When you have teacher leaders who are willing to be selfless, committed, positive, and sacrifice for the good of the team, you have the makings of a great team. It is essential to build leadership and empower from within in order to facilitate the development and performance of school-based teams. Once you’ve created leadership within each team, the functionality of the team is enhanced from within. We develop teacher leaders through empowerment and strategic placement in positions where their talents are maximized and their ability to lead has the greatest impact on their team, and thus student achievement.

Chris Gordon/@Gordon_ChrisG/Principal, Point Pleasant Elementary


Beginning with the end in mind is so important. That “end” for different people on the team involves helping everyone attain a level of success, a level of leadership or embarking on and empowering others for the roles in which they aspire. All teams work towards both long and short term goals while operating within a shared vision and meeting established goals. Both are achieved by working collectively towards the attainment of these goals while cycling through the improvement process. On a personal level, it involves that collaborative work while fostering a sense of family. Building and maintaining the team includes open communication, accountability with commitment, a positive and optimistic attitude, trust and a level of reflective adaptability. I would never ask anyone to do something I am not willing to do or learn myself; walk the talk in a way that is inspiring to others.

Denise Faidley @DeniseFaidley/Assistant Principal, Glendale Elementary


Teams, for me, need to be diverse.  I need different perspectives and different personalities on the team.  I need to person that is creative-minded who comes up with an awesome plan, but I also need to person that brings that plan to life by looking at it logistically.  I need someone that is data-minded, paired up with the person who is going have resources and ideas of what to do with that data.  As we know, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and they need to be able to build on each other.  I need a team that maintains positivity, even during the hardest of times.  They need to be cheerleaders for each other and most importantly, for the kids.  I make this happen by making intentional decisions about who to place together and when I interview, I include the team members so we can collaboratively find teammates that work together well.

Cheryl Cox @CoxCherylcox628/Principal, Waugh Chapel Elementary/www.fridayfinishline.wordpress.com


Team building is always a hot topic in the business world and it is certainly as buzzed about in the field of education. Andrew Carnegie famously stated, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Isn’t that what every leader desires; to achieve uncommon, amazing results! We are after all in the business of education youth, a most important profession.

As far as building a team, I don’t know if there is an exact formula. However, I know that I have always focused on modeling the characteristics and qualities of a positive team member. I attentively listen to the concerns, ideas, and opinions of others. I demonstrate a willingness to assist in any way possible. That could mean sweeping the floor in the cafeteria or teaching a small group of students. I let others know that their efforts, dedication, and hard work are valued and appreciated. I encourage the team when they are down. I am honest with my team in an effort to grow them individually and the team. I acknowledge, appreciate and utilize the individual talents of each team member.  In summary, I try to lead with kindness. I believe that when individuals know you care and are willing to go all in, team building is easier. Kindness and consideration builds trust and trust leads to teams working together towards a common vision.

Tamara Kelly @tamjkell/ Principal, Belle Grove Elementary


To me, building strong teams means giving teachers opportunities to have leadership roles along with providing guidance and expectations for what needs to be done. Having your pulse on what is happening while trying not to micromanage is a delicate balance. If folks feel micromanaged my thought is that you will have less buy in, if any at all. Also putting good (and consistent) structures in place will help make teams more effective. One last thought is creating an environment where reflection with thoughtful/non-judgmental questions are used to promote growth in your team members is key. This will also help build stronger teams.

In my eyes, leadership is about getting the most out of the people you are leading with the goal in mind to positively impact student achievement. If that is the case, they must have opportunities to take on these roles. The job has become increasingly complex, and we as principals can’t do it all. You must have people around you that believe in what they are doing, and taking on these roles to be active participants in effective structures. This will support your overall goal of enhanced student achievement.

Jason Otte @fishingfan24/Principal, Windsor Farm Elementary


Thanks to Lisa, Chris, Denise, Cheryl, Tamara, and Jason for sharing their sage advice.  Our students deserve schools that model teamwork and collaboration.  Most of us agree that these are skills that will make our students successful in the 21st century.  Content knowledge and strong communication skills are important, but our children will need to grasp the importance of relying on others and working together for the good of the team.  When school leaders and teachers model those skills, students learn to appreciate their value.  Best wishes on a great school year!

Advice from principals on how to get that first teaching job!

The hiring season is coming up for many school districts.  Excited and motivated young graduates will soon be applying for their first teaching position.  The thought of that first interview can make even the most confident aspiring teacher a little queasy.  Here are a few tips from veteran principals to make your interview a positive experience and help you get that job!

Donna Usewick (@dsusewick), principal at Oakwood Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland suggests the following:

“I think prospective teachers should be prepared to have specific examples when answering questions. For example, if they are asked what strategies they would use when teaching students to respond to text, they should have specific examples of what they have used and what they might want to try in the future.  They should also not be afraid to say, I didn’t have a lot of experience with something and why, but give the impression that they are willing to learn on their own or seek assistance.”

Jason Otte (@fishingfan24), principal at Windsor Farm Elementary in Annapolis, Maryland says:

“My tip would be to make sure that the teacher makes it clear they have a positive attitude and are open to being coached because there is so much to learn and demonstrate.  Specifically, I want to know how they will stay organized with all they will have on their plate.  By specific I mean, do they use a calendar, do they use binders for paperwork etc.?  At the end of the interview, I try to articulate exactly what I am looking for so that they can reflect and decide if this is the right place for them.”

Lisa Koennel (@LKoennel), principal at Ridgeway Elementary in Severn, Maryland offers this advice:

“My main suggestion is for candidates to let their personalities shine through in the interview. They should show their passion when answering questions by giving insight into their relationships with students and the impact they feel they can make on students’ lives.  I am always impressed when they demonstrate some knowledge of the school community by doing their homework prior to the interview.”

Ginger Henley (@miss_gingerann) principal at Walter S. Mills Parole Elementary in Annapolis, Maryland notes:

“The first thing I notice is how the candidate is dressed.  It sounds so simple but I have had candidates show up in LulaRoe leggings and very casual and/or unprofessional clothing.  I perceive that as the candidate is not taking the interview seriously, therefore it makes me cautious that they will not take the position and responsibilities seriously.  First impressions make a difference.  Secondly, brand new teachers need to show their passion for students in the interview.  No matter what question they are being asked, if they can gear their answer towards student success and their passion for the profession, it will set them apart from other candidates.  I can teach you what you need to know to be a successful teacher, but I cannot teach you passion for student success.  The candidate has to bring that to the classroom, the school building and the interview!”

Jeffery Haynie (@crazydukie), principal at Solley Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland encourages candidates as follows:

“They should have done their research to learn as much about the school as possible; how will their work impact the mission and vision of the school?  All of their answers should revolve around the students and the social, emotional, and academic impact. I always listen to the answers that are given… I don’t want a text book answer, I want to know that what they believe about students is firmly founded in each of their answers.”

Excellent suggestions from an experienced group of school leaders.  Teacher candidates should know that, sometimes, the decision to hire them, or not, will be based on the “right fit” idea.  It will take patience as you go from interview to interview.  If you’re fortunate, you may have more than one offer to consider.  If that’s the case, go with your gut.  Where did you feel more comfortable?  Which interview left you feeling inspired or motivated?  If you’re a qualified candidate, you will probably get a job.  Stay positive.  As mentioned above, show your passion.  Then, once you get the job, be prepared to work harder than ever.  Good luck!

Leading for Language

This article appears in the January/February 2017 edition of Principal magazine.  All rights reserved.

English Learners: A Principal’s Handbook

Kelly Reider and Christopher Wooleyhand

Kelly Reider is coordinator for English language acquisition at Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Christopher Wooleyhand is principal of Richard Henry Lee Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland.

How are schools currently meeting the needs of English language learners? Let’s take a look at the numbers. From 2003 to 2011, 600,000 new English learners entered schools across the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The gap on the NAEP reading assessment between fourth-grade English learners and their peers is 36 points, also according to NCES. Plus, in a 2013 study, the California Dropout Research Project found that English learners are twice as likely to drop out of school than those with English proficiency. Given these concerning statistics, many educators across the country are anxious to find comprehensive ways to support English learners. These five suggestions are a starting point for schools looking to make a difference in the lives of students who are just beginning to master the English language.

Focus on developing academic language. No student is a native speaker of academic language, the vocabulary and grammar we use in school to talk about academic content. For more and more students—not just English learners—there is an increasing gap between the language that students use socially and the language of school. Even though students may be highly intelligent and capable, they may still struggle in a school setting if they have not yet mastered certain terms and concepts. Schools need to assist students with understanding the differences between “formal and informal language and how to express themselves and their ideas in expected ways,” according to The Great Schools Partnership. Principals can:

  • Work with staff to identify the academic language requirements of their curriculum and provide not only content objectives but also academic language objectives in their lesson planning.

Encourage teachers to focus on all three levels of WIDAs (World-class Instructional Design and Assessment) features of academic language: vocabulary usage, language forms and conventions, and linguistic complexity. Teachers can provide sentence frames to teach students the target language and to scaffold their use of academic language.

  • Provide opportunities for interactive speaking activities that support student-to-student practice with structure and vocabulary, since oral language development is the precursor to literacy.
  • Make academic language development a schoolwide focus. Encourage authentic and meaningful opportunities that simulate real-life learning via project based learning, communication for a purpose, and the immediate application of academic language skills. Teachers can and should model academic language daily.

Offer comprehensive professional development. “Drive-by” professional development—those one-time sessions of sharing tips and strategies—are not effective for building a lasting culture of language development. Ongoing, job-embedded programs and planning builds staff buy-in and gives teachers the time and space to improve their efforts. Principals can:

  • Encourage teachers to participate in PD about English learners that combines face-to-face sessions, coaching, modeling (live and video), team planning, and professional learning communities, as well as online formats for book studies or discussion between sessions.
  • Give teachers the freedom to choose from a variety of resources and strategies according to their personal background and skills as opposed to a “one-size-fits-all” approach
  • Provide professional development on English language development for both content teachers and English teachers. English language learners spend most of their day in mainstream classrooms.
  • Use teacher planning time to jump-start collaboration by having teams work together on classroom plans and projects.

Provide structures for ongoing collaboration and job-embedded professional development. Your English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) teacher is not just a valuable resource for students, but also a language development expert with much to share. Make it clear that you support the role of language experts. Principals can:

  • Showcase the knowledge of the ESOL teacher at staff meetings by having him or her be part of a grade-level teams and by having them take a collaborative planning role.
  • Provide opportunities for co-teaching and co-planning as a professional development tool. Content and language teachers can share their knowledge through planning and delivery.

Foster a culture that values relationships, equity, and diversity. Schools should see diversity as an asset and home language skills as an enrichment. Encourage your staff to be self-aware of the way their own background, relationships, and assumptions may interfere with relationships and learning in a diverse classroom. Principals can:

  • Use videos and/or book studies to generate conversations with your school community. Some options are: The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande; La Bestia, a film about a child’s journey from Central America to the United States; and Kids Like Me: Voices of the Immigrant Experience by Judith Blohm.
  • Conduct bus tours of your school neighborhoods to allow teachers the opportunity to identify available resources (churches, recreation centers, clinics, library, athletic fields). This may prompt valuable discussions on the impact of the community on student attendance and achievement.

Promote parent involvement. Research shows that one of the most accurate predictors of a student’s achievement in school, regardless of income or social status, is how a child’s family fosters learning in the home and how much they are involved in their child’s education. In their 2011 book, Home-School Relations: Working Successfully with Parents and Families, Glenn Olsen and Mary Lou Fuller found that the dilemma for many schools is how to involve parents in their children’s schooling amid language barriers, immigration status, and work schedules. Principals can:

  • Knock down barriers to English learner parents’ attending school functions by providing interpretation and translation at all parent meetings and events. Arrange child care, provide food, and offer events at different hours of the day to attract parents who work different hours or perhaps several jobs. Offer transportation to school meetings or take the meeting to the community at recreation centers or churches.
  • Create focus groups of parents to hear their concerns or needs. For schools with one large English learner community, schools can provide targeted community sessions, such as a Hispanic Parents Group, which would give ownership to parents to set their own agenda around school issues. Schools can make sure that all parents are connected to the school communications via email and phone access.
  • Encourage English learner parents to volunteer. Consider each parent’s strengths and how each can contribute in his or her own way. Many English learner parents feel uncomfortable in classrooms but are willing to help during lunch or monitor students at recess. Principals should make it clear to parents that it is natural to feel uncomfortable at first, but to stay involved. Provide a contact person that EL parents can go to for questions and concerns.

Closing the achievement gap and lowering the dropout rate must be a priority for school districts across the country. School leaders should recognize that the best strategies for English learner students are also highly effective strategies for all students. Schools that are strategic in their planning will find that the more we address the academic language needs of their English learners, the more successful all students will be. This is the essence of leading for language and the starting point to a rewarding journey.

We can do better

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

Such a timely quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  As educators, school leaders, parents, and involved citizens, we must remember our role in preparing students to choose wisely.  Education will always be important to the success of democracy.  As we end one year and enter a new, we should reflect on how we are raising and educating our children.

What will the world be like for the next generation?  What skills will our children need?  How will they gain these skills?  Who will influence our children the most?  As the world becomes more diverse, how will society change and how will our students respond to that change?  These are deeply philosophical questions, but they are at the root of democracy.  Looking at the roots of American democracy may help us in answering these questions.

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

-Thomas Jefferson

The question is, where will our students get educated and where will their information come from?  How will they become informed citizens?  We all have a duty to make sure that our children are critical thinkers.  While protecting them from our personal biases, we should encourage them to look at a variety of sources before drawing conclusions.  Original thinkers built our country.  We need more.

“Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.”

-Alexander Hamilton

Modern politics is a mess.  It’s hard for me to believe that we have become a nation of extremism.  If you disagree, just start a conversation with a neighbor you don’t know well.  You’ll likely find that you have far more in common than not.  We can do a better job of making sure that our children respect the views of others, especially when those views are counter to ours.  You can find a middle ground with almost any fundamental belief.  Finding it is always worth the struggle.

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

-Thomas Paine

We all want life, liberty, and the freedom to pursue our happiness.  They are such fundamental cornerstones of democracy.  The Declaration of Independence speaks to all of us, not a select few.  Our children need us to remind them that our country was founded on principles that apply to everyone.  More importantly, action is required by all of us to ensure those freedoms.  Democracies require participation.  We must be tireless in pushing our children to become active, contributing members of society, not sideline observers.

No matter your political beliefs, it should be obvious that our country can be and do better.  Other nations look to us.  We stand as an example to the world.  We stand as example to our children.  What kind of an example is the question?  We can do and be better.  We must.

Lessons Learned Through Sports

I grew up playing sports.  My three brothers and I were always on the go.  Whether it was playing whiffle ball in the backyard or tackle football in the nearby field, we were always playing something.  We spent very little time in the house.  Our neighborhood was our playground.

I played baseball, lacrosse, football, basketball, soccer, and wrestled.  I wasn’t an athlete.  I liked to wear a uniform.  Seriously, I was lured to sports by the smell of a fresh new uniform, hat, or helmet.  We grew up in a humble home.  We had what we needed, but we were never spoiled.  Sports allowed us to be anything we wanted to be.  They were an escape to a great adventure.

As adult, when I look back on those years, I realize I learned more about leadership through sports than I ever have from a training or professional development experience.  The lessons I learned from playing sports have stayed with me through every step of my career.  They are simple lessons, yet they have provided me with a stable base in the most challenging times.

Here are a few of those lessons:

1-Preparation is important

To be successful in sports and in life, you have to be prepared.  Being prepared means you study.  You study your craft.  You read.  You consider yourself a lifelong learner.  Every destination is the starting point to the next journey.  People who think they’ve arrived get lazy and complacent.  Celebrate success, then make your next plan.

2-You have to be willing to work hard

I grew up in an era when people said, “Hard work is its own reward.”  There is great value in sweating and extending yourself beyond your comfort level.  In some ways, the results don’t always matter if you are willing to work hard.  Success happens through fixing mistakes.  Putting your head down and giving that extra effort often leads to good results.

3-Teamwork is key

It is rare for anyone to succeed without the support of others.  Teamwork isn’t always pretty.  Teammates can disagree, argue, and push your buttons.  Being on a team isn’t always a comfortable experience.  That’s a good thing.  Few great accomplishments ever come from completely harmonious efforts.  As long as everyone has the same goal and vision, the team will eventually function at a high level.

4-Your attitude matters

If you don’t find joy in your professional pursuits, consider finding another field.  Your attitude matters.  Nothing inspires others more than working with someone who has a true passion for their profession.  Are you going to have a great attitude every day? No, of course not.  Recognize those moments and do your best to protect others from your mood or find a good listener and share your worries.

5-You won’t always win

I teach chess to elementary students.  The first conversation we have before touching a piece is about winning and losing.  Everyone eventually fails at something.  Failure is a given.  It’s all about how you respond.  Resilience is becoming a scarce personal commodity.  Spend a little time mourning your loss, then make a plan to get better.

6-You learn more from losing

Winning is awesome, but we rarely learn much from it.  Winning teams are constantly examining their success.  They evaluate their individual players and make adjustments as necessary.  However, when they lose, they use the opportunity to get better.  They don’t wallow in self-pity.  They find the teachable moments from losing.

7-Continually set goals and revise

In sports and in life, we must be willing to set goals.  Say them out loud.  Tell them to other people.  Write them down.  We all have the power to reinvent ourselves.  Whether you reach a goal or not, set a new one.  When you stop setting goals, you are making a conscious decision to withdraw from the game.  That’s no fun.  Life should be fun.  Set goals that will stretch you as a person.  Those are the goals that will give you the most personal satisfaction when you reach them.

I am grateful for the opportunities my parents gave me growing up.  They gave me the support and encouragement I needed to try a variety of sports.  With four sons born close together, they spent hours driving us to practice, coaching, and cheering us on.  Sports are not life, but they certainly make life more enjoyable.  Most importantly, they teach us lessons that can’t be learned any other way.

Teacher Leadership Matters

Teacher leadership was the discussion topic for #mdeschat the other night.  Many great insights were shared.  Here are a few:

“A leader helps to create more leaders and inspires. That is exactly what I want to do as a teacher.” -Michael Donnelly @mrdonnelly3

“In the collaborative culture that we build, shared leadership is needed, we can’t do it alone!” –Cheryl Cox @CoxCherylcox628

“Teaching is so complex and involves so many variables; empowering critical thinking about what matters is key.” –Walter Reap @WalterReap

“In education, change is constant. By empowering teachers as leaders, they can implement systemic goals in a way that is meaningful to students.” –Dana Wiles @nfesgr2

“Teacher leaders affect student achievement exponentially by raising the expectations among colleagues.” –Elizabeth Curley @Curley_Liz

“Opportunities to collaborate with county resource staff allows teacher leaders to enjoy learning and sharing while inspiring others.” –Vanessa Gilbert @vanlynn75

“Shared leadership allows the school to capitalize on the different talents each member of the team brings to the community.” –Zipporah Miller @zipmiller

“Teachers, when empowered, learn a lot from each other.” –Todd Stanzione @toddstanzione

“Benefits of teacher leadership: teacher retention, student achievement, positive school culture, decreased isolation, enhanced collaboration.” –Andrea Zamora @AACPS_Zamora

“Leadership is about one’s vision of him/herself. Not about title or position, it is about one’s actions.” –Jill Snell @Jill_Snell81

“To grow, teachers need to step out of the classroom and see varying perspectives; grow from the strength of others and stretch their thinking.” –Stephanie Straw @ststoney16

“Teacher leaders are innovative, have high expectations for all, and are masterful at cultivating relationships to grow students.” –Denise Faidley @DeniseFaidley

“If the teacher is a facilitator and leader, she/he will guide students to discover and build their learning by solving real life problems.” –Evylyn Quinones @evyabel

Such awesome insight from a great PLN!  If others share these views on teacher leadership our children are in good hands!

I’ll take it as a compliment!

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Our school recently held a parent night for our Spanish speaking families.  I stood at the front of the school opening the door and greeting families as they arrived.  The turn-out was nice and included many of our students.  After some refreshments, one of our first grade teachers took the students to her classroom for some fun activities while our EL teacher and community liaison worked with the parents.

The parents participated in warm-up games to help them get to know each other.  While we sometimes see our Spanish families as one group, they often represent many different countries, backgrounds, and cultures.  Even so, the Spanish language is what connects them.  As educators, we need to find opportunities to get our English learners and their families together.

The parents who attended our event were enthusiastic and excited to be included in their child’s school.  You could tell that they appreciated having an interpreter there to listen to and ask questions of.  They also shared how much they appreciated our efforts and how much their children love their school.

When I welcomed the parents to our event, I told them how important it is to our staff that they feel connected to the school.  Their language should never be a barrier to helping their children succeed.  We should be breaking down walls, not building them.  I also stressed how important it is that they keep speaking Spanish to their children.  Spanish families don’t have to give up their culture or language when they come to America.

Toward the end of the night, the parents had a chance to share and ask questions.  One of the parents stood up and with a wry smile said, referring to me, “I thought he was a security guard because he is always outside greeting people.”  This brought raucous laughter from the whole group and illustrated the cultural differences in the parents’ educational experience in their home countries.  Many of them had never had the opportunity to interact with a “director” (principal).

At first I thought that being identified as a “guardia de seguridad” by our EL parents might be an indication that I need to do a little PR work with them.  The more I thought, however, the more I realized it was a compliment.  If they see me as someone who is protecting the school, that’s a good thing.

That night was one of those special times when you realize that what you do matters.  It was satisfying to know that our Spanish speaking families appreciate the efforts of our staff.  They value their families and love their school because their children are happy.  They want to be involved, but don’t always know how.  They trust in their school and yes, they sometimes see their principal as a security guard.  I’m okay with that.  I’ll take it as a compliment.

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Greg Richards

gregrichardsGreg Richards has participated in many Maryland Elementary School Chats over the past few years.  He often shares pearls of wisdom from his years in teaching and is quick to acknowledge the contributions of others.  Greg is a great addition to the #mdeschat team.

Greg is entering his 11th year teaching and his 14th in the public school setting.  For thirteen of the last fourteen years, Greg has worked for the Prince George’s County Public Schools system.  He graduated from PGCPS in 1998 and considers it a privilege to work for such a wonderful school system.

Greg has taught every grade from pre-k to fourth, except third grade.  This school year he is teaching kindergarten.  Greg is passionate about education, the thirst for knowledge, the pursuit of learning and growth, and inspiring young people to be the best that they can be.  He has served as grade-level chairperson in the past and enjoys opportunities for leadership and growth.

Greg is constantly seeking opportunities to give back to the profession as a way of honoring the many teachers he has had the privilege of learning from.  Faith is important to Greg.  He serves as the chairperson of the Christian Education team at his church and is big on collaboration and the growth mindset.  Greg is excited to be a part of the #mdeschat team this year!

Join Greg and the other #mdeschat crew members every Thursday at 8PM EST!