Managing Drama

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Last week I shared the events of a particularly busy day with my Principals In Action PLN on Voxer. One term I used seemed to resonate with others. I described some days in May as “drama filled.”

Now, I’m not disparaging anyone or any incident because the month of May can bring out drama, for very legitimate reasons: the school year is coming to an end; the pressure to get everything done on time is real; patience is wearing thin; and, for some students and family members, summer is a stressful time.

I offer five tips to managing the drama that presents itself at this time of the school year.

First, remain calm. Your calmness will be reassuring and can help calm others’ feelings and emotions.

Second, listen. Many people just want to vent and share and just by listening you are helping. Also, by actively listening, you can help paraphrase what you heard or identify the underlying issue.

Third, reduce your commitments. Don’t overschedule yourself, that will stress YOU out. And, it is okay to say, “no.” I’ve said “no” recently to someone who wanted to add another thing during this busy time of the year.

Fourth, be present. Your visibility will be comforting to others and with reduced commitments, you’ll be available to respond to situations and support others.

Finally, lean on others. We all need a listening ear, advice, and support ourselves so find others who can provide that. I reach out to members of my PLN during these busy weeks and that is very helpful.

We won’t be able to eliminate the busy and sometimes drama filled days in May, but how we behave and react can help situations and others, ultimately helping ourselves.

“Disaster Relief” or “It’s Just Stuff”

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Yesterday, after a great day at school, I arrived home to Kip making dinner. I hadn’t even taken my shoes off when we heard a noise that sounded like someone was power washing the roof. We looked out the living room window and water was gushing out of the gutters and drains. We headed upstairs to discover water was pouring into our master bedroom through the windows, then through the lighting fixtures. Grabbing whatever I could to stop the water, police and firefighters arrived because our townhome building alarms were going off. A sprinkler system pipe in the attic of our townhouse burst sending thousands of gallons of water through our two floors and into the garage below our unit. Thankfully, the police, firefighters, association representatives, insurance company, and cleaning crews responded quickly. The walls, floors, carpeting, windows, ceilings, and furniture are significantly damaged. We’ll be out for three months for demolition and repairs and are determining what’s salvageable to go into storage and where we’re going to live.

The disaster relief referenced in the title is relief and support we have received from others. Social media was a life saver for me during this difficult situation. It’s only stuff, which can be replaced. Physically, we’re okay, but mentally, we’re shaken. The comments of care and concern, the offers of help, and the messages of support on Facebook, Twitter, and Voxer have been overwhelming. We’ll be okay and I know how fortunate we are. Others go through difficult situations and have fewer resources and support systems than we do. It’s just stuff, which can be replaced, but the support from friends near and far (some of whom I have never met in person) was priceless.

I’m fortunate to be part of the Principals In Action Voxer group. I shared the news with them first and said I’m going to lean on you the next few months. My friend, Brad Gustafson, a lyrically challenged member of the Voxer group, stepped out of his comfort zone and led a Voxeroke rendition of Lean On Me. I was crying tears of joy and laughter hearing that. Thank you all.

I Cried at School Today

IMG_0203I cried at school today. Yes, principals cry. Maybe I cried because I’ve worked hard with one particular family but I still can’t get their daughter to stop fighting on the bus. Maybe I cried because I had to comfort one of my 6th grade boys because a classmate made fun of his beautiful skin color. Maybe I cried because a mother who came in to discipline her child finally broke down and admitted she can’t read. Maybe I cried because some weeks we care so much and try to help so many and it seems like we’re not getting ahead. But, things have a way of coming together and sorting themselves out. At the end of the day, a first grader came to tell me this was his last day because he was moving. He then gave me a hug and said he was going to miss me. Yep, then I cried, again.

My Day as a 2nd Grader

I’m not a fan of long blog posts. Maybe it’s my short attention span but I like succinct information. However, I had an experience today that I could write a great deal about. I participated in the Shadow a Student Challenge and randomly selected one of our students. I spent the day with my friend, Ansar, a 2nd grader. Interestingly, Ansar was sick for three days before returning today, the day I shadowed him. What a trooper. I could tell he wasn’t feeling 100%, but he gave 110%. I had an amazing day riding the bus with Ansar, having Spanish and music, enjoying recess and lunch, and being inspired and entertained by the teacher, Mr. Ike. Like I said earlier, I could write tons about my experience, but I’m going to describe my top three takeaways:

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1. Developing relationships is so important. Because Mr. Ike has focused on this, he had his students eating out of his hands. He told stories, made jokes, brought in props, shared artifacts, had them lying on the floor, made them walk around the room observing, let them dance and sing, and they were fully engaged. He’s got some live wires but even they responded to their teacher because relationships have been established and they didn’t want to disappoint him.

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2. 2nd graders have full days! While we adults may get breaks, prep time, and duty free lunch, these kids are on all day. Here’s what we were engaged in that day: breakfast, collecting books for upcoming book bazaar, morning meeting, spelling review, Spanish, music, math, recess, lunch, dance party, learning about a wooden trunk, Sparkle game, spelling test, guest reader, group meeting, literacy instruction, reading test, read aloud, science inquiry, and some extra outside physical activity. It was such a full and busy day that I collapsed for a nap on the couch when I got home.

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3. Teachers are amazing. They are magicians, story tellers, actors, actresses, comedians, counselors, nurses, parents, mediators, singers, dancers, artists, musicians, and so much more. I remember thinking of the magic happening in the classroom that day multiplied by all the amazing teachers at my school and being in awe of what teachers accomplish on a daily basis.

If you have never participated in the Shadow a Student Challenge, I highly recommend it. Find a day and block yourself out for a full, rich, genuine experience. You’ll be glad you did!

2016 Was My Leap Year

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I took a leap this year. After 18 years as an elementary principal in one Minnesota school district, I applied to, was interviewed for, and became the principal at Gatewood Elementary in the Hopkins Public Schools, the district in which I live, pay taxes, and vote.

Making a change after being in a district for nearly two decades was daunting, but I looked at the opportunity as a chance for me to reflect, learn, and grow.

I had to reflect on my reasons for a change and the skill set I could bring to a new district and school. My former district prepared me well and gave me experiences in equity work, digital learning, climate and culture, and instruction and learning, all valuable in my new position.

I have learned a lot about myself and two school systems: my former district and my new district. I’m learning about a new school community and district, new staff members and colleagues, and new students and families. I’m also learning what my priorities and expectations are in helping all students achieve success.

Finally, making this leap has allowed me to grow. I’ve been able to think and ask critical questions, reach out for advice and support from my PLN, and try new ideas and possibilities. It’s fun trying new things in a new school.

If you are ever contemplating a change, don’t be afraid. Reach out to me and I will listen and share my experiences.

One of my favorite musicals is Wicked and one of my favorite songs is “Defying Gravity”. One of the lines in the song is, “It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap.” I’m so happy that 2016 was my leap year!

I Had An Amazing Home Visit

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I’m writing this just after returning home from an amazing home visit for one of our 1st graders. At my new school, teachers make home visits to some of their students’ homes for the purpose of building and strengthening relationships. I accompanied one of our 1st grade teachers who prearranged the home visit to one of her Somali student’s home. We were greeted and welcomed by the student, her mother, aunt, and grandmother. While we were there, our student’s 7th grade brother returned home from studying at the library. He is a former student at our school but since I’m the new principal, we weren’t there at the same time.

The teacher and I were honored as special guests and were greeted with Somali coffee and a Somali meal. We dined with our student on delicious vegetables, bread, curried beef, and fruit. The family also purchased a beautiful fruit cake inscribed with “Welcome Teachers.” We got to talk to our student and her brother and learn about their school experiences. After we ate, we talked with the mother, learning about her life growing up in Mogadishu, Somalia, her family’s move to Minnesota, and her life as a wife, mother of four (soon to be five), and health care worker in Minneapolis.

We learned that the mother was nervous about the visit because in her culture, if school employees wanted to make a home visit, there must be something wrong. The teacher assured her this was not the purpose of our visit. We wanted to meet the family, learn more about our student, and strengthen our relationships. The family couldn’t have been more gracious, generous, and kind.

When I asked the mother if she had many family members here in Minnesota, she said yes, there are about 100 extended family members nearby. When I told her I’m the only one in my family in Minnesota, she seemed surprised. I told her my siblings and their families live in Florida and Pennsylvania. The mother then said, “We’re your family here, now.” That brought tears to my eyes and just shows the power in developing relationships and connecting with our students and their families.

#GoodNewsCallOfTheDay

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I’ve Tweeted, Voxed, blogged, and bragged about it. Last year it turned out to be one of the highlights of my day. I surprised parents at work, made some cry, and even got to tell a few in person about it. And, I’ve witnessed other educators start to do it.

The “it” I’m talking about is the #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay. I’ve shared my story with others about starting the #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay hashtag last school year. During the summer of 2015, in a Twitter chat, I was impressed when a teacher mentioned she made a positive phone call home for one of her students each day. I though, “I have 650 students and can certainly find one a day who deserves a positive phone call home.” Thus, the #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay was born.

Last year I made 130 #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay phone calls home. I tried to make one each day I was at school, but admittedly, I missed some days. I kept a spreadsheet of the date, student’s name, grade level, and teacher because I wanted to be sure I was reaching out to all grades PreK-5th and touching all classrooms.

I chose most of the students based on something I observed or because of a relationship we had developed. It might have been something I saw them do or say in the hallway, classroom, cafeteria, the front of the school, on the bus, or on the playground. Sometimes I’d ask a teacher for a recommendation of a student who needed a boost or recognition.

It took about 10 minutes to go to the classroom, announce the name of the student who was getting the #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay, bring them to my office, and make the phone calls. I also took a selfie with the student and posted that on Twitter. This year I’m giving students a #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay wrist band as a remembrance.

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I’d call whoever the student wanted and I would try work, home, and cell phone numbers. Most of the time we got to talk to one or both parents but sometimes we left a message. If we left a message, I would circle back with the student the next day to see what their parents said. On the rare occasion where I could not locate a working phone number, I sent an email message.

This turned out to be the best part of my day and I’m looking forward to continuing this practice at my new school. This will give me a chance to get to know the students, develop positive relationships, and share the great things our students are doing.

Join me, and other educators, in using the hashtag #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay or create your own. As George Couros says, “We need to make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear.”

http://www.GoodNewsCallOfTheDay.com