Monday, November 1, 2010

Falling for the Tricks is Fall. I love this time of year for the crisp, cool weather, the changing colors of the trees, football season in full swing and the smell of a distant fire creeping to my nose. Fall kicks off the busiest of holiday seasons for folks of all walks of life and there are so many ways to be involved with our kids and families this time of year.

But, let's be real. Fall (specifically October/November) kicks teachers' b**ts!!!! What starts off in August and early September as a year full of promise of great achievement for the students turns in to the biggest reality check of the school year. The moment comes for each teacher (ok, and each principal who's honest) when she (I don't have any men on my staff right now) realizes....OMG! I can't get all this stuff done! Oh, and the honeymoon is over for the students too. Routines start to become REALLY routine (read...boring) and the enthusiasm and excitement that starts off the year seems but a distant memory. Kids are testing the boundaries, the emails and calls from parents are less supportive and more questioning, and the paperwork - don't even get me started!

So stress doesn't exactly bring out the best in people. Tempers flare and little things become a major dramatic production. No less than three times last week I had to pull a staff member aside and have a pretty challenging conversation. Yuck, yuck, yuck! I feel like I need to hang a sign over my office that says, "Psychiatrist 5 cents!"

But here is the thing, friends. Fall Happens. Every year. October comes in, fooling us with its cool temperatures and fall foliage, only to trick us into believing we have no control over how things go in our lives. But wait, that is where the Trick in Trick or Treat comes in! It is just a trick, because the only control we actually do have during stressful times is the choice of our attitudes. And, last time I checked, no one suffered serious death or injury by working in a school during October! We will survive, and even thrive, just by choosing an "I can do this" attitude.

And this applies to me as much as every teacher out there. You feel dumped upon...we principals do to. Big deal - it's just part of the job. Don't fall for it - be the difference maker and the sign of hope for all others. Just be that superhero that our kids need - that is the best morale booster I know!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Administrative Council

So, tomorrow morning is our first Administrative Council meeting of the new school year. Ad Council (because we shorten EVERYTHING in TX to a nickname or acronym!) meets monthly, and the group is comprised of principals, directors, coordinators, cabinet and senior council. It is quite a diverse group, and over the years, the purpose of our meetings has been a bit unclear to me.

I am the principal of a wonderful public school. We meet as a staff about once a month and in teams much more often than that. We are starting our PLC (another acronym....Professional Learning Community) time next Wednesday for our weekly discussions about what students know, what they don't know, and what we are going to do about it! Principals dig meetings - it's how we communicate the culture and beliefs about our school with the internal and external customers we serve. So I am VERY sensitive to planning effective meetings. You know...agendas, goal setting, reflection, discussion, decision making...all very important to me as a leader.

So, when I head to these meetings, sometimes I know the agenda, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes we talk about leadership development concepts, but most of the time we haven't. I need this man! I need to sit with my peer group and learn together. We need a common understanding about the structures of our organization so that we can effectively and consistently lead our staff in the direction our district is headed....without this compass, we drift and float, relying on our own instincts to carry us through the lonely times as a principal.

Not that I want to add any pressure to our leadership, but I want this to be worth my time. I want to feel smarter, or better equipped to lead, or more informed, or more something! I don't want to be talked to, but rather talked with. I want to talk to someone I don't know and learn from him/her, or get some expertise from someone I already know, but maybe didn't know that part! So here's the challenge friends....lead me to greatness! I am already a very willing participant who WANTS this to be the best year of my career!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Texas School Ready

Our campus was invited to participate in a state funded grant this year called "Texas School Ready." 17 of our classrooms (but you know me...all of our staff has participated in the amazing professional development opportunities that come with this grant!) are structured within the grant, and we hope to become a Texas School Ready school at the end of this school year (for information about this grant, click here:

To boil it down, this program will measure how much our students learn (through developmentally appropriate and research based instruction and assessment practices for preschool aged students) during their time in Pre-K, and then follow them into Kindergarten to continue to track their learning throughout that school year as well. In Kinder, their typical state assessed data will be tagged as part of the grant, and we will be able to measure our effectiveness with our students as a whole. In addition, we will be able to meet individual students right where they are - and they are all over the place in these formative years! We will measure what they know, determine what they need to learn and then implement strategies to engage students in effective learning.

This is HUGE for us at the preschool level! In so many places (our place included), student success is measured by compliance and happiness, rather than on progress toward school readiness. Our friends at the K-12 level all over the country have a variety of both effective and worthless (in my humble opinion) research proven best practices for instruction and assessment, but Pre-K research has lagged behind. In addition, our staff has attended training and professional development opportunities for elementary teachers, and then tried to "modify" what they heard for our kids. NO MORE! Now, it's all about the students they teach and the best ways to do that. HOORAY!

But, this is going to kick them in the rear! We thought we worked hard, then we opened Lawson. We thought we worked hard in our first year last year, then we were accepted into this grant. I have already had a bit of resistance (a quote...."You're killing me with these free choice centers, Paige!") and some denial noted, but I know the drama is yet to come as they actually measure student learning - a huge look in a very clear mirror will show the cobwebs in the corners of our instruction in a big way!

But as I have said a thousand times, the needs of the students come before the comfort of the adults. It is time to move away from an adult centered environment - that is not working to close the achievement gap for our students! Our child centered and engaging learning opportunities will push our kids to be their own learning advocates, measuring themselves against the learning standards. Revolutionary in Pre-K for sure!

Stay tuned for the drama as it unfolds - and for stories of great success in the lives of our most needy MISD students!

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's all the in the Details

So, today was a lesson in details. The students and staff did an amazing job....but arrival and dismissal need some work! I say that every year, but this year, I came to some realizations. Better late than never!

First, although I usually love and embrace change of most any kind, the time change really threw a kink into the district and our community. Traffic was obscene and although we have a pretty syncopatic system with the school across the street, our shared throughway looked much like an LA freeway at rush hour for the better part of 45 minutes today. And let's just heads did NOT prevail! I walk out and everyone who has arrived first and filled the parking lot is in front of the school, excited to drop of their students for day 1. Since the lot was filled, the next set of arrivals thought it brilliant to park in the carpool line and leave their cars to bring their precious cargo inside! And don't even get me started on the crosswalk people! Change...hard for most and it doesn't usually bring out the best in people!

Also - three and four year olds love to be at home with their families. Even the poor ones, the mentally ill ones and the hungry ones! And, convincing them to stay with us can quickly get ugly. One grandma came pretty close to walking out of school half dressed because her grandson had such a tight grip on her dress! I know that I for one was covered in a soupy and dried mixture of my sweat from a 108 degree day mixed in with tears and other such facial ick from crying kids that were loved till they stopped said crying. I saw a huge dad leave sobbing because his daughter was having such a hard time separating...absolutely heartbreaking for daddy to go through.

But the greatest thing about our jobs...we get to start over tomorrow. New procedures will be learned day by day by our parents, kids will come to believe that school is a great place to spend the day, filled with love and learning. And the snot will come with much less frequency every day...which is a hopeful sign. And so today...did I do the best work of my career? What about tomorrow? I plan to make it happen!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An Open Letter to My Teacher

Dear Teacher,
I am your student. I was enrolled in your school and assigned to your class, and tonight, I am super excited about seeing you and meeting my soon to be new friends in the morning! I am feeling nervous, excited and other feelings which are new to me, because I am not sure what will happen when I get to school and your classroom tomorrow.

My parents and their friends have been telling me that I am supposed to "mind" you - not sure what they mean by that, but I know that I want to please you so you will like me. Sometimes, my family gets really excited when I do something great, and sometimes, they get really mad at me when I don't do whatever it was they thought I should do or told me to do, and I don't like how that makes me feel. I wonder - what will you think of me?

I like lots of things...I like playing outside and watching TV and I like when people read stories to me. I know how to do things I have already learned, but I don't know what you want me to learn in your class. So, please tell me! Tell me what we are doing and how we are doing it, and I will try my hardest to make it happen. I really like doing things with my friends and touching everything as I go along, so make sure that you think up really cool games for us to play - we probably will learn something, but we won't even notice because we will be so busy talking and laughing about it all.

Oh, and I might miss my family, especially the first day. But don't worry, you can make that ok by showing me you love me, even if you just met me! I might not be clean or have new clothes or any school supplies, but I want to be loved just like you do. I promise to love you back even more than you can imagine. Please find out what makes me different from everyone else, but I want to believe that you love me more than the rest, just like my family (even if you really love us all the same...that is a grown up thing, not really the way a kid like me thinks!).

I feel pretty small around grownups, and sometimes, grownups don't treat me well at home. I wonder how you will treat me? Will you be yelling? Will you be listening if I have a problem? Will you make me feel like I can be anything when I grow up, or will you make me feel like I can't do anything right at all? How you make me feel....will be the number one reason I learn in your classroom.

But don't worry, I'll give you lots of chances to love me. I'll probably give you lots of reasons to be frustrated too, but not on purpose. I want you to love me, even if I am not sure what that means for you and me.

We are getting ready to spend a lot of time together and I hope all the time we spend will be as fun for you as it will be for me if you know what you are doing here. I am counting on it, because this school year might be the one that makes all the difference for me.

I think I love you already,
Your (favorite) Student in your whole class!

Friday, August 6, 2010

It is Christmas in the Early Childhood Center world! So many amazing things happened this week that will only enhance the experience of the children we touch.

First off, we had an amazing Leadership Retreat to kick off the year with our team. We have been studying the Professional Learning Communities model and worked through the ins and outs of how to implement that with our programs. There was great thinking, tough conversation and collegiality...who could ask for more from your core group of folks! Get ready for's going to be bigger and better than ever!

Then we spent the next three days in our Administrative retreat for the district. Not usually my favorite work time right before school, but this one was a real treat! We have been studying Phil Schlecty's work in his newest book Leading for Learning and had incredible conversation about what that means for each of us as we move away from bureaucracy into the learning organization model we all want for our kids. Our team of principals who led this took us down each path with patience and attention to planning, and we really moved together toward embracing this new paradigm through thoughtful consideration of who we want to be for our special students.

Everyone was dismissed at noon yesterday and told to relax...HA! We interviewed four candidates until 6 pm for our open teaching position. May not sound like the most fun in the world, but the last interview blew us away. You know, there are people in the world who MUST be doing this work because it is in their DNA! And we met one yesterday like that. I have interviewed literally hundreds of candidates over the years, but I have never fallen so in love with a teacher...just like I know the kids will too when she greets them on her first home visit and on the first day of school. Lucky kids! They will soar with her as their leader and we are so blessed to have met her. I was flying high when I got home!

In the midst of all that greatness....we gained a new bilingual instructional specialist - a free gift from the district! Our kids are 100% at risk and we limped through last year with a half time instructional specialist....we went from .5 to 2.0!!! The support we will have in place will break down barriers like never before. What an amazing gift.

I keep saying that this will be the best year of my career...and I can't wait to share the successes we have!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ok, it's back to school time. What does that mean for you? What do you feel about the start of a school year, even if you are not on that schedule (cause you have another kind of job or don't have kids affected by school schedules)?

I want to tell you that I feel incredibly excited for school to start. The countdown to the last day of school is BANNED on our campus (at least where I can hear it or see it!) - it sends the strong message that the start of summer is MORE important than the work of school. And if that message is true, the teacher counting down should be counseled toward a career that can't directly influence children. And, more importantly, if the student is counting down, then the teacher should be counseled to be better at his/her job OR be counseled toward a career that can't directly influence children! If you can't WAIT for the end of something, then the "something" must not be giving you what you need! If you can't wait for it to start, then it must be worth doing, right?!

Teachers, I want you to think about this...why do you teach? Why did you start teaching in the first place? If you can HONESTLY (even after drinking some truth serum) say that you started teaching or you still teach because you Love Learning and helping others do that is more intrinsically rewarding than any other career for you, then I challenge you to start this year with a new and improved way of I doing ALL I can do for this kid? What about this kid? And this one?

Here are the key questions - only three! Ask these every day about every kid...and then answer them for yourself:
What do my students know?
What are they missing?
What am I going to do about it?

The kids walk through our schools on the first day of school with a bag...not just a backpack, but BAGGAGE. We can't always recognize it, we can't do much about the fact they have it, and we can't be there at home to prevent them from every getting it. But we CAN do something about mitigating for the baggage. We can make sure that every child is LOVED at school - by us. We can believe in each child, and communicate that powerful belief that anything is possible to each and every one of them every day. We can create engaging and meaningful learning opportunities for a diverse group of kids and then keep them so engaged that the last day of school brings them sadness to think about being away from the learning, and brings their hopes and dreams alive in their hearts and minds. We can leave our own baggage in the car in the parking lot....don't worry, it will be there when we come back to the car at night! But we owe every kid on our watch the very best work of our careers.

So team....our students are waiting to have the best year of learning ever. Who will give them that - will you?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Home from Chicago

After many delays and ground stoppages, I finally arrived home a little before midnight last night from a trip to Chicago. David and I were there to attend the Alpha Americas Conference held in Naperville, in preparation for kicking off our first Alpha course at St. Peter's, McKinney in September.

Alpha - a course to bring people to faith, started in London at Holy Trinity Brompton. The keynote and recurring speaker was Nicky Gumbel, pastor at HTB and current leader of Alpha International. What an amazing and engaging man! I learned a few things...let's think about these:
1. How many churches are there in McKinney? Texas? The United States? The World? That's right - just one church. Oh, there are many different denominations (packaging if you will), but all with the same head of the church. I saw it with my own eyes. We were sitting behind a church group from Wisconsin who are part of the Pentacostal movement, as they listened to an Anglican priest from stuffy old England talk about how to successfully share the Alpha course. That is just one church in the flesh!
2. I love liturgy and traditional hymns. Apparently, I am also internally moved by ANY praise and worship music where a group of people sing, even if it is in the more hip and modern vein. Uncontrollable tears throughout all the songs...for no apparent reason. Inexplicable really, yet I experience this time and again in a variety of settings. Music sings from and to my soul I guess, which is kind of weird considering my favorite radio station is Public Radio.
3. There was a part of the first day where, quite unexpectedly, an announcement for prayer was made. Nicky Gumbel was speaking about Alpha and the weekend away one minute, then with little transition provided, called anyone interested in receiving prayer to come forward. We were all talking about the Holy Spirit coming into our lives and I know that was happening in that room. Those aformentioned tears were flowing like mad....don't even know why since the songs weren't even playing! I was really filled with anxiety as a lady pretty far away from us in the auditorium began speaking loudly in tongues. I heard this for the first time on Tuesday, but the anxiety gradually ebbed as I just stood there and took it all in. I was rooted and time passed without my understanding. My mind went to a vision of myself in a new way. I am not ready to talk about that vision yet...but hope to keep getting a clearer understanding as time and experiences come.

I know that in my job at school, I am charged to lead a group of teachers to help students become equipped for new challenges and a promising future. I think the same charge exists in my call to lead Alpha. Our church will grow new leaders, create new followers of Christ and see ourselves as the church itself. It is time to really get to the business of Kingdom Work.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

So, our precious daughter is heading off to church camp tomorrow. Church camp for me is a tremendous part of who I am today. I learned all kinds of lessons that serve me well.

1. Making friends from other places makes you think that where they live MUST be more glamorous than wherever I lived. My house was boring, my school was dull, our church was lame...but everyone else had such a cool life. Then, I grew up and lived in some of those places and guess magic at all there! Just a regular place like all the other regular places.
2. Being with a group of people who are all focused on the same things is very helpful to keep me centered. I still need this today and am grateful that I had that experience from 5th grade through college.
3. The memories full of details may fade, but the emotions are just dormant inside me, rising to the surface as soon as I turn on the camp road. I feel just like I used to feel on the first day of camp every year; every session! I cannot wait to see my friends again!

Our family is heading back to Camp Weed in Live Oak, FL over Labor Day weekend for a camp reunion. We'll rent a cabin for all of us, and most of us will fly a long distance to sweat and play Izzy Dizzy til we run sideways. I literally cannot wait!

I can only hope my dearest daughter has half of the wonderful experiences I had....but if not, I know that sending her to camp is one of the best mom and dad decisions to help prepare her for a life ahead.

New Adventure

Never blogged, but like reading other blogs. But I was thinking...I have things to say too! So, words from work, from parenting a teenager and working on my Walk...stay tuned!