Monday, October 3, 2016

Wheels on the Bus

Every student has a backstory. Do you know your students' stories? I thought I knew, but I really didn't. As a way to get to know my students a little better I decided to ride the bus routes. Everyone said I was crazy because most of our buses are not air conditioned and all the kids act much worse on the bus than at school. Haha. They were right about the air conditioning for sure. Those afternoon routes were very hot. I worked with each driver and scheduled a time to ride and I was ready.
The first route I rode was an afternoon route and it only had about 25 students on it. I thought this would be a quick route and would be a great starting place. Boy, was I wrong. It didn't have very many students because they were so spread out. We had to go to so many little apartments and neighborhoods I had never even heard of. I have lived in this town most of my life, but I went on roads I didn't know existed. We drove several miles down a rode, turned left, and went a couple of more miles just to drop of one child. By the time I got off the bus I was soaked in sweat and had been on the bus for about an hour and 15 minutes.
However, did I ever learn some things! Since I went on all the routes I can now tell which bus goes where. This is very helpful for students who have moved. I also have seen the living conditions of my students. Wow! There were some really beautiful houses and property. Some students lived in nice apartments or duplexes. Some lived in small but clean homes. And then..... Sadly some lived in homes no human should ever live in. I was appalled by some of the living conditions. Some "homes" had doors falling off and broken windows, some had a roof that was half fallen in or had a tree fallen on it. Some looked like an auction was going on in the front yard. There was so much stuff in the yard I couldn't see the house.
I also learned that the bus driver is a wealth of information. You have concerns about a student? Ask the bus driver. This person knows where that student lives, what the living conditions are, and what goes on in the yard. I also learned that students tell the bus drivers everything. Even stuff they wish they didn't' know.
Bad behavior, bad smells, and a bad attitude do not have an excuse, but I now have an understanding.
If you want to see why students behave the way they do you might can find an answer by simple riding the bus.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Importance of Mentoring

When reading over my evaluation last year one thing stuck out: giving new teacher support. Wow, that hadn't even occurred to me. I guess I assumed they came to my school with all the knowledge. So I thought about it and decided to make that my principal goal for the year. But there was one problem: I didn't know anything about setting up a mentoring program. Our county didn't haven't one so it was going to come from the ground up. I love Twitter and Google. Whatever you need can be found in one or both of those. So after quite a bit of research I put together a Mentoring program for my school.

The first thing I did was decide who needed mentoring. There are several thoughts: first year teachers, first year in the district, and first year in the school. I also considered teachers who were first year the year before (when I didn't provide the right amount of support). Since this was the first time to have a mentoring program I went with teachers in their first three years and those new to my school. 

The second thing I did was decide who would be the mentors. My school is blessed. We are full of amazing teachers so the decision was tough. And remember, I wasn't giving any monetary bonus for being a mentor. The teachers I picked were National Board Certified Teachers and had been teaching in that area for at least 5 years. They also has the test scores to back them up. 

Then came developing what to do next. I found several checklists where teachers could rate themselves on what they needed help on. After looking at several, I developed one appropriate for my school. I asked all my mentees to fill one out. I kept a copy and gave a copy to the mentors. This gave them a starting place. 

Next came giving them a time to meet on a consistent basis. This was not hard for me. We already have PLC's every Wednesday at 7:30. So I asked them to meet on the off weeks. Since I assigned subject area mentors they would be going to the same subject PLC then they would meet when the other subjects met. I didn't have to rearranged anything except duty. No mentor or mentee could have duty on Wednesday. (I forgot this once and asked them why they weren't on duty- oops) 

Then they were off. They met consistently between 2 and 3 times a month. I gave them a mentor log and asked them to keep up when they met and what they discussed. After the first month I let their needs control the discussion. If I saw something going on I would talk with the mentor and let them help with it. For example, one of my teachers was struggling with lesson plans. I asked the mentor to help them understand how to write them, use data, and show me when they were in groups or individual learning. Another example was when we had our Awards Night. The mentor made sure the mentee was dressed appropriately. I had not even thought about making sure they knew we dressed up for that. 

This worked well and I hope it helped those teachers not only in teaching but also in the day to day stuff that goes on in a school. 

This year I have made a few changes. I have come up with a mentoring handbook. This handbook has a month by month checklist for the mentor to discuss with the mentee. I hope this will help them remember what to discuss and tell the mentee about. I plan to continue first year teachers and first year to my school. Those experienced teachers may have what it takes to be a great teacher, but I want them to know how to post grades and what is expected from them in the lunchroom. Sometimes as admin we forgot to talk to those teachers about the day to day stuff. 

Mentoring is such an important part of a successful school year, but seems to be a part that is often forgot about. Mentoring not only helps our new teachers but lets our experienced teachers understand that we value them and their abilities. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

FEAR- Worst Day Ever

You know, so much happens every day when you are a principal. Sometimes kids are late, and you are dealing with tardies. Sometimes kids misbehave, and you are dealing with punishment. Sometimes parents are complaining, and you are consoling. So many different things, but sometimes things happen that you are not ready for. That is what happened to me. Tuesday I was watching the cameras trying to find out why some crazy stuff was happening. Little things were going on and I wanted to stop it before it become a big thing. So there I was watching video for a while. So much to look at haha. When suddenly my secretary called me on the radio and told me a local policeman was on the phone. I answered, and my worst nightmare had come true. A local person had made a threat against "the school". Immediately I realized we needed to go into lockdown. Now, I know we have all practiced lockdown, but the thought that this was a real threat was unimaginable. I immediately began lockdown procedures, but it was so unreal. I kind of went into a zone that took me away from the fear and just had reaction. My doors were locked, my classrooms were locked, my personnel were placed in strategic placement, and local police were arriving. What a surreal experience! This lockdown lasted over two hours. Man was I happy when we got the call that the lockdown was over. 
Several things happened that we learned to deal with. Some of those things included lunch, PE, and students outside. 
I'm writing this post to help deal with it. It's amazing the zone I went into and I wasn't even scared during it. My teachers were wonderful and kept the students calm and safe. Extra teachers (those without a class) were so very helpful. I know how blessed I am!!! 
However, when I finally got home that evening and my children and husband were home I realized the crisis of the day. I won't lie, I cried: a lot. Many parents called, texted, or sent messages to thank me, and it hit me hard. We have so many students, and I am responsible for everyone of them. Man, that's huge! Each of my student are so special to me. There are the ones that bring me baked goodies, the ones that talk to me about my Ole Miss Rebels, the ones the rag me because they are not Rebels, the ones that I have known since 2nd grade, and the ones that are best friends with my son. Each and every student in my school is so very special to me. What if I had not kept them safe? What if that crazy man had acted on his threat? That's what hit me the hardest. The "what ifs" make it hard to sleep at night. The "what ifs" make it hard to get up in the morning. My sweet husband said not to worry about it and know I did all I can. But dang. Was that enough? I don't know. All I know is that we are looking at some other security measures to keep my 363 students safe. I will find the money and buy what's necessary. But now I have to deal with this feeling. This crazy feeling of not being safe. I'm still a nervous wreck.Every time my kids go outside to break or to the gym I want to scoop them up under my wing and not let them go. Is that crazy? I have to really work at letting them go. But I'm working on it. Each day is getting a little easier. 
I will continue going in and working to educate and protect those sweet babies. Do they know the world is a crazy, scary place? I hope not. I hope we did our job in helping them to feel secure. I know each and every day I will work to make sure they feel that way. I will work each and every day to make sure the "Worst Day Ever" was only for me. I saw this sign. FEAR- Fear Everything and Run or Face Everything and Rise. I choose the second option. I choose to rise above this crazy day, learn from it, and be better for it. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Day in the Life

Well, we did it. We changed something. Whoa. Open house is normally 5:00-8:00 and parents come and go as they please. It's usually on the same night as all the other Open House nights in the county.  I found that to be a busy night of parents wanting to ask questions of certain teachers and other teachers never seeing them. Sometimes the line outside doors would be 30 minutes long, but it was an unproductive night. I wanted parents to meet ALL the teachers and hear ALL of their stories. So, I made a change. Boy, was it a scary change! You don't know how much people are against change until you change something. But my thoughts are if it's best for the students I'm going to make that change. I may fall flat on my face but I'm going for it anyway. 
So the change was made. I have a super supportive superintendent who allows me to have crazy ideas. Thank goodness for that. I have a staff of amazing teachers willing to try crazy ideas. Thank goodness for that. I have an assistant principal willing to do whatever I come up with. Thank goodness for that. As a faculty we brainstormed about things to talk about in the time they had. Here are some things they came up with:
       * do a bell ringer 
       * go over class procedures 
       * go over discipline plan
       * show books or texts using in class 
       * show how to use the starboard 
       * show about Google forms, email, and Mac Books 
       * in PE show the fitness tests 
       * in cheer show how they work out 
       * anything else you come up with 
So the time came. As parents started piling in I felt that small need to vomit - hehe - but I didn't. At 6:30 I dismissed all "students" to the classes. I made announcements just like we do every morning. We even did the school mission statement and pledge. I explained how the night would go. Then it was time to begin. The teachers were on. It was time to "teach" the parents. It was great. They were a little nervous at first but then something amazing happened. They just took over and did what they do best. I was so proud of them. You know, teaching a child is one thing, teaching a parent is a whole different thing. They are the best faculty in the world. 
I rang the bell after 5 minutes, told them to go to 2nd period, and gave them the full 3 minutes between classes. I wanted parents to see how long they really had between classes and that it was plenty of time to use the bathroom and go to the locker. Then I rang the tardy bell. During this period my teachers continue to be amazing. We continued to ring the bell and send them to each class as the night went on. 
One thing we noticed as the night went on was that the classes were not long enough, so we extended them to 10 minutes. This included the time between classes. That gave the teachers enough time to explain everything. Another change we will make for next year is that for parents with multiple children. We will split time time to 5th/6th grade from 5:30-6:30 and 7th/8th grade from 6:30-7:30. That way those parents can spend the whole night in one grade and not have to move between grades. 
I am so happy we made the change. I feel it was best for the kids and their parents. It was to be a fun filled night for parents to enjoy "A Day in the Life" of their child. I hope we succeeded in that and helped them enjoy their child's real day. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hopes, Dreams, & Fears

My biggest fear is the thought that a child will wake up and not want to come to school. I don't mean, "It's 6:00 and I don't want to get up." I mean absolutely hates going- it's not fun, no friends, bad grades- whatever the reason. So my hopes and dreams revolve around doing what I can to make school a place they want to come. It's safe, fun, and educational. It's a place where they feel loved as well as a place where they are prepared for high school.
Our biggest change we are working on for next year is the move to block scheduling. Having 80/90 minutes for core classes is a dream come true for most teachers. It has taken many meetings and looking at lots of different schedules to find something that is right for us at IMS. We have several different challenges that affect our scheduling including sharing 3 teachers with other schools: Our band, chorus, and GEMS teachers. So we also had to work around that. But I think we have gotten pretty close to what we need. I have given copies to the teachers and asked them to look over it and see what issues might arise. This is a community effort. I need their input. They asked for it, I know they want it, but I also know they see things I didn't think about. This change is so important for the students. More time in ELA/Math/Science is a priority. There will be time built in for remediation and enrichment so that we can hit students of all levels. 
The counselors role is changing as well. The job description is now so much better. We are making several changes to go with that. She is moving rooms so her "classes" will be more private. She will still have the smaller private office inside her room but this helps with any students who pass by and look in. Students that miss a lot of days and students struggling are students we plan to spend more time with. Right now I check grades every 4 weeks and conference with struggling students but I feel that isn't enough. We want to do more. Our counselor is going to meet with them in group and individually to try to get to the root of the problem. Chronic absenteeism leads to failing grades and failing grades lead to drop outs. We want to work on that earlier in their school career. 
Talking about attendance. Our attendance rate is "good". But if you understand ADA then you know a single percentage changes you from good to bad. There is no in-between. We want to increase that overall and the only way to do that is to address the chronic absences. Our counselor is one way but we also plan on providing rewards to those who have perfect attendance weekly/monthly/ and for the year. In the past we have used free food coupns from local restaurants, gift cards from Wal-Mart, and a reading device such as a Nook. I plan to look for more rewards to get them to come to school. If they don't come, they can't learn. 
A big change we are also working on is a new break area for both 5/6 grade and 7/8 grade. We have an amazing PTA that has helped with the purchase of some items such as concrete picnic tables. But we are also sewing grass, putting in a basketball goal, and adding flowers. This is a huge endeavor because it requires the cutting of some trees and such but we can handle it. 
The last item I'm working on may be the most important because it deals with the health and stress of my teachers. I'm looking for grants to build a small exercise room for the teachers. I feel that a healthy teacher is a happy teacher. We are often going straight from school to games with little time in between. If any of you are like me once I leave I'm done! So I would like to get 3 machines: an elliptical, a stepper, and a treadmill. I know I would feel better if I just took 30 minutes a day, so I would love to be able to give my teachers that opportunity. 
I have so many hopes, dreams, and a few fears but I know I can tackle each one of these items. I guess I will do it like you would if you were asked to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day without Mom

Today was probably one of the hardest days I have ever had- if not the hardest. It was even harder than the day my mom died. I think I was so busy taking care of things I just didn't think about the things that would come later. Things such as the first Mother's Day without her. Because Mom died so close to Christmas I was still so numb that I just kind of went through the day without really feeling anything. Her birthday was in February and again just went through the day. 
But this week has been rough. I have dreaded today all week. It started when I was at a store and saw some pink flowers in a pink basket. I automatically said, "I want to get those for Mom for Mother's Day." Then I remembered. See, I have always gotten Mom hanging baskets for Mother's Day. But this year is different. I have teared up a few times but just tried to ignore it and move on. This morning though it hit me. Mother's Day without my mom. It even sounds painful. I looked through several pics just to see her smile. As tears fell I took some time to remember her and her love for me. Her pride in her voice when she spoke of my siblings and me. The love that shone in her eyes on the day I got married. The tears that fell the days I had my sons. Those days were as precious to her as they were to me. 
When my boys got up and hugged me, wishing me Happy Mother's Day, I tried to get myself together. Then they gave me their gift. It was a beautiful bracelet with all our birthstones in it. I completely lost it. I cried like a baby. I hugged them so tight hoping to give them the love that I felt. Maybe they will realize how much I love them and how much they mean to me. I hope I can be the kind of mom to them that I had. Being a teenager they probably do not realize it now. But maybe when they are older they will. 
You know what? I got those hanging baskets anyway. I took them to my dad and gave them to him. He now has them hanging in the same place Mom would. It felt good to stay with tradition for both of us. 
If you still have your mom I hope you called her, visited, or even better -hugged her tight. You need it as much as she does. Make sure she knows how much you love her now. Honor her while you still can. Unfortunately, there will come that day for everyone: Mother's Day without mom. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Looking to the Future

I have been watching a lot of baseball. We haven't had a great year. Some decisions have been questioned and the answer was, "We will be great next year." That made me think. We should be preparing for the future. But you know if you look for the red light down the road you might hit the car in front of you in the butt. So how do you prepare for the future without wrecking the present? 
First, look at what you have to start with. This may not be what you consider championship quality. But as a leader it is your responsibility to get them where you want them to be. 
Next, evaluate each teacher and hourly worker. What are their good points and what are the points that need growth? That's the easy part. 
Then comes the hard part. Tell them. Yep tell them. What do you see that's good? What do you see that's not as good? I struggle with this part as do most people. It's so hard. 
However, I can't build my future team by ignoring my present team. There are some really good teachers coming I know! But there are some really good teachers here already. They just need to be told what changes need to be made in order to grow. If I just let them continue to teach as they always have they will never change. That doesn't mean they can't. I am not going to throw them away and only work with the new, young teachers. My older, more experienced teachers have a lot to show us. Every few years the curriculum changes. Those teachers have been through the changes before and know how to flow with it. Most of these experienced teachers also know how to manage the classroom. 
I don't know all the answers but I do know we can't throw the baby out with the bath water. Yes we need change, but we don't have to start completely over. If you build a team with all new players you will not be successful. The experience is missing. A great baseball team marries the experienced players and the new players to build a new, stronger team. If you don't use your experience you are setting yourself up for failure. 
Quit looking so far down the road that you don't see what's right in front of you. Like the old saying, it's as plain as the nose on your face." Grow what you have, teach what you are getting, and see success in your present instead of having to wait for the future!