About Me

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I've been an educator since 1995 where I've served as both a teacher and administrator. I believe that serving others is the key to success and make it my goal to be a servant leader for students, teachers, parents, and the community. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mission Statement Breakdown



Below is a post I sent to staff this week as we introduce our new Mission and continue working on our Vision, Values, and Goals.

“The Mission of Northside Primary School is to create a safe, nurturing environment where each Kindergarten and 1st Grade child learns to his or her highest potential.”

Last year, a team of Northside staff took input from the entire faculty and crafted our new mission statement.  It was a time consuming process going through all of the great input to craft a succinct word picture of what we are about. We literally selected each word with care and a fair amount of debate.  In this post, I’d like to break this mission down and talk about each part.  

“The Mission of Northside Primary School” - While this may seem like just a placeholder, it is really saying this:  “What follows is why we are here.”
“To create a safe, nurturing environment” - When kids walk into Northside Primary School, they should feel that this is the safest place they could be, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.  They should know that every adult is working hard to keep them safe all day long. They should also know it is a place where they can grow and develop among people who love them unconditionally and are committed to their success.

“Where each Kindergarten and 1st Grade child” - We are a Primary campus.  Our focus is on primary kids and everything we do must reflect that.  Every lesson, every activity, every word we say, every action we take.  What we do here may not be the same as at higher level schools, but it will be what is best for our Kindergartners and 1st Graders.

“Learns at his or her highest potential” - The primary purpose of Northside Primary is learning.  That is the reason we exist. We recognize that every child is capable of learning at high levels, often much higher than we give them credit for. We also know that every child is different (hence the “his or her”).  For this reason, we will do whatever is necessary to help each and every child reach their potential.  We will set goals that stretch them instead of holding them back.  If a child needs extra support, we will give it.  If they are not learning in the way we teach, we will teach differently.  We will ensure that every child is successful, no matter how much we have to stretch to make it happen.  

Will fulfilling this mission be easy? No.  Will it stretch us and make us uncomfortable at times?  Yes.  Will fulfilling our mission be what is best for Northside kids?  Absolutely.

Protecting your best

Often, our mistakes teach us our greatest lessons.  This was brought home to me clearly this week.  I had a student who was behaving poorly for a number of reasons in a class.  His behavior was interfering with the learning of the rest of the students in the class.  The teacher was fairly new and had a demeanor that seemed to conflict with the student.  She also was regularly visibly upset by the child's behavior.  So, after spending a couple of days trying to find a solution, I chose to move the student.  I moved them to one of my best teachers classrooms, hoping that the change would help the student. It didn't.  Instead, it disrupted the better teachers classroom and affected the learning of her kids.  Now, my average teacher is happy and my better teacher is threatening to retire if she makes it through the year.

In his book, Shifting the Monkey, Todd Whitaker says that we need to do everything we can to protect our best people by not putting someone else's monkey on their back.  I did just the opposite.  I took the problem child monkey from my poorer teacher and placed it squarely on my better teacher's back.  Bad move.

What should I have done?  I should have left the child where they were and provided support and additional training to their original teacher.  This would have helped her grow professionally while protecting one of my best.  It would have created more work for me, but in the name of protecting my my best, it would have been worth it.

This was a hard lesson to learn, but one I will take to heart.  As Todd Whitaker says, monkeys need to stay on the back of the people to whom they belong.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thanksgiving

1 Thessalonians 5:18 - "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

We're coming up on Thanksgiving and a much needed week of rest. I hope yours is refreshing and that you come back rejuvenated for the three week run until Christmas.

For you trivia buffs, the first Thanksgiving is recorded in 1621 when the colonists at Plymouth and the Native American Wampanoag tribe shared an autumn harvest feast. The holiday did not become official until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving to be held in November.

If you are like me, your Thanksgiving consists of lots of food, time with family, and a good amount of fun. Okay, I admit, my Thanksgiving also has lots of hunting in it. But, in the middle of the food, family, and fun, please remember that this is a holiday of Thanks Giving. Literally giving of thanks.

I hate to say it, but it is our tendency as humans to hone in what is going wrong and forget to spend time focused on what is right. So, this Thanksgiving week, I challenge you to refocus your heart and mind on all that you have to be thankful for.

I've included below my list of Thanksgiving ABCs. This is an alphabetic breakdown of things I have to be thankful for. Just making it gives me a glad heart. Plus, as Paul says, it is God's will that we give thanks in everything.

Hope you have a restful week!

A- Ability to work every day
B- Bible
C- Church
D- Ducks and Dove and Deer
E - Education
F- Family
G- God’s provision
H - Hunting
I- Internet
J- Jesus death, burial, and resurrection
K- Kids
L- Laughter and Love
M- Music
N- Northside Primary School
O- Opportunities to serve
P- Patience
Q- (William) Quarles
R- Relationships
S- Sheryl Quarles
T- Time
U- Unlimited data on my phone
V- Vacations
W- Wildlife
X- X-Men movies
Y- (Feeling) Young
Z- Zany fun

Sunday, October 8, 2017

How Many Days?

As I write this post, I have been on Earth 19,127 days. For some reason, when you think of time in terms of days, it brings it into a new light. As I look back on those days, I am amazed at how many great things have happened, but also a little depressed with how much I have not accomplished, especially when I consider the things I set out to do. If I had used every day productively and intentionally, just think of all I could have achieved by now. However, I am also encouraged that I still, God willing, have days ahead to accomplish even more. That is the wonder of time.

At my campus, our students are with us two years, or 730 days. During that time, they are on campus 350 days. That means we have 350 days to teach them and lay the foundation for their future. We do some amazing things during those 350 days. Kids who can't read leave able to do so. Kids who can barely count are doing math problems. Kids who struggle to make the proper sounds end up speaking clearly. Kids who don't know what proper behavior looks like leave able to sit still and learn.

Still, I wonder if we can use those 350 days even better? Are we using every day, every hour, every minute, in the most productive way possible? If not, we still have time. Think of the result if we used every day that we have with kids in the most intentional and productive ways possible. Think of how that would affect not only our kids, but also our own view of ourselves as we see kids grow beyond our wildest imaginations.

As educators, we have the ability to make a massive difference in the lives of kids. Unfortunately, we only have a limited amount of time to do this with each child. Starting today, will you join me in asking a simple question each morning: "Am I using this day in the most intentional and productive way I possibly can?" 

A big Thank You to William Parker for getting me thinking about this during his "Principal Matters" podcast

Monday, September 25, 2017

BIPs

Behavior Intervention Plans or BIPs are plans designed to help students learn to engage in positive behavior.  BIPs are usually used for students with students who are ED or exhibit extreme behaviors.  They usually consist of one to three negative behaviors to eliminate and specific positive behaviors to replace those.  Then, action steps are designed to provide support for the student as they work the plan.  There are also consequences attached to the plan.  Creating a BIP can be a time-consuming process involving teachers, administrators, parents, other support personnel, and in some cases, the child.

One of the most difficult aspects of implementing a BIP is giving it time to work.  While you may see results in just a few days, sometimes it takes several weeks to see any progress.  This can be a trying time for teachers and parents.  The key is to not give up, but implement the plan consistently.  This is not always easy and it is very tempting to quit when immediate results are not seen.  However, we should not expect a child's behavior to change overnight anymore than we expect a baby to walk the first time it pulls itself up.  In many cases, a child has been demonstrating a behavior for months or even years and it is all they know.  These behaviors may also be a part of their disability.  In order to help them learn new behaviors, we must consistently implement the BIP for a reasonable amount of time.  If we quit too soon, we will never know if the steps could work.

If, after a reasonable amount of time, no progress is being made, it is time to sit down and develop a new or revised plan.  This must come after evaluating the effectiveness of the original plan.  What is a reasonable time?  Usually around 3 weeks is a good checkpoint, although a shorter or longer period may be required depending on the behavior.  The key is to meet and evaluate the plan at regular intervals.

One of the greatest things I've witnessed as an educator is seeing students with a BIP develop new positive behaviors to override the negative ones.  This usually comes after consistent implementation, review, and follow up.

Unfortunately, I've also seen plans fail due to lack of follow through or inconsistent implementation.

One of the key points to remember is that, just like an IEP, a Behavior Intervention Plan is a legal document and, as such, must be implemented as written.  The time to give input about how the BIP is designed is during its development, not after it is put into place.  Once in place, it is expected to be followed.

Thankfully, most children do not need Behavior Intervention Plans.  But for those whose disabilities and behaviors require it, a well-designed and implemented BIP can mean the difference between success and failure in education.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Follow the Process

The following is my weekly post to the staff at Northside Primary.  

For the past three years, we've had a successful WatchD.O.G.S. program at Northside Primary. Over 150 men have served in our classrooms and on our campus. Many come back numerous times. It has gone beyond my wildest dreams. Many times, these men tell me how much they enjoy being a WatchD.O.G. and then say what a great job I'm doing with the program. My answer is always the same. "I just read the manual and follow the process." You see, there is no magic to WatchD.O.G.S. There is no magic formula to get 150 men to come to the school and serve. There is no magic formula to get them to sign back up again and again. In fact, anyone willing to do the work could make WatchD.O.G.S. successful. The reason is that WatchD.O.G.S. follows a process that has been tried and proven at hundreds of schools across the nation and the world. (I will admit, though, that the staff at Northside has done some magic to make these men feel welcome and allow them to serve.)

I've been at two other schools where WatchD.O.G.S. was in place. Neither achieved the level that we have for one simple reason. They did not follow the process. In one school in our town, they tried to reinvent the wheel by doing it their own way and ended up tanking the whole program.

Is the WatchD.O.G.S. process easy? Not at all. It takes a lot of work and a commitment before success is realized. But, that is the same for anything worth having.

So, Mr. Quarles, besides that fact that we are kicking off WatchD.O.G.S. again in one week, what does all this have to do with me? I'm glad you asked. As an educator for over 20 years, I've realized that our profession has a lot to do with processes. We teach kids to follow processes (we just call them strategies) when they are learning. These processes help them do things like decode words and solve math problems. We also teach kids processes (procedures) to help them successfully navigate the classroom and school. The great thing is, when they follow them, they usually are.

As educators, we also have processes that we follow. For example, Lucy Calkins Writing is a process. Guided Reading is a process. M.A.T.H. is a process. Each has been proven to help kids successfully master their learning. But, like any process, they are only truly effective when they are followed. They lose their full effectiveness when steps are left out or not done with efficacy. When I decided to start WatchD.O.G.S., I made a deliberate choice to do exactly what the National Centers for Fathering said to do. I trusted the process and it worked.

I encourage you to do the same. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, simply trust the process. Will it take lots of reading, lots of work, and mistakes along the way? Absolutely. But, as our kids grow into high level readers, writers, mathematicians, and most importantly, learners, it will be worth the work.

Have a Great Week!!!

Friday, September 15, 2017

We missed you

"We missed you, Mr. Quarles."
"Mr. Quarles, you're back!!"

Those were words I needed to hear today.  And I heard them from adults and children all day.  I've been out for the last eleven days due to a family emergency. It must be something about not working for a while that messes with your mind.  That and being without reliable internet most days. You have to time to think and ponder your purpose.  Near the end of my time away, I was beginning to wonder,. "Is this really what I'm supposed to be doing?" "Am I making a difference or just putting in time?"  Fortunately, when I walked in today, I realized once again that education is where I need to be.  The welcoming smiles, kind words, hugs, and greetings were enough to prove this.

I am so thankful to be an educator.  Not only to do I get to impact the lives of kids and adults, my own life is impacted by them.  Sometimes, I forget that.  But, when I return after being out and receive the welcomes I got today, I realize how important what I do really is.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

On being a (transplanted) Primary School Educator

I have a confession to make.  For most of my life, I was scared of working with Primary School kids.  There, it’s out in the open.  I could probably form a self-help group of people like me.  “Hello!  My name is Breck and I’m a Primary Scaredy-Cat.”  As a middle school teacher, I had the utmost respect for Primary School teachers.  “How can you spend all day long in the same room with the same kids?,” I would ask myself.  Anyone who could was almost saintlike in my eyes.


Now that I work at a Primary school, my views have changed.  Not about teachers.  I still think anyone who is effective with Kindergarteners and 1st Graders is a saint.  My views about the kids have changed. I’ve grown to love this age level and the wonder that each one brings with them each day.  I now see Primary School as the amazing place that it is.  As I’ve reflected, I made a list of some of the great things about being a Primary School educator (something I never thought I’d be).  Below are my thoughts:  


  • You get to start kids off on the right foot, without all the excess baggage they may gather as they grow older.
  • Primary kids are still moldable.  They do listen and take to heart what adults teach them (even when it appears they are not).
  • You often get to work with young parents and help them become better.
  • The kids still hug you and are excited to see you.
  • You can follow these kids a lot longer before they graduate and see what they become year after year.
  • Primary kids are often a blank slate.  You have an opportunity to write so much into their lives.
  • The kids still get excited when they see you in the community.  I love trips to Wal-Mart just for the kids I’ll know I’ll see there.
  • Primary kids are forgiving.  Even when you make mistakes, they still love you and stand by you.

What else would you add to this list?  I’d love to hear your feedback.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Uncomfortable

The following is a post from my final Northside News newsletter for the year 2016-17.

Rapper Andy Mineo has a song called “Uncomfortable” that I listen to while driving to work. In it, he describes many of the ways that we as a nation and a people have become content with being comfortable, so much so that we lose our drive and hunger to get better and we start to settle for less. As an educator,  I find this thought convicting.  The last thing I want to do is become comfortable and lose my drive to help kids improve.  Sean Cain, in describing schools, says that our practices often are more focused on what is comfortable for adults rather than what is best for kids.  In fact, very often Good For Kids = Uncomfortable for Adults. (Cain, 2017) 


Why am I saying this now?  We all have a summer coming up and I hope that we use it to rest and relax.  In fact, if I could I would make that a directive.  We all need that time to rejuvenate.  But, I also hope that we use the summer to reflect on our actions, practices, and procedures.  I don’t mean spend a few minutes thinking about it, but truly reflect and ask ourselves questions such as:  Is what I am doing best for me or is it best for the kids?  What do I need to change in the way that I teach or lead?  How can I step out of my comfort zone so that I can meet kids where they are?  This is not an easy thing to do. Reflecting is usually uncomfortable.  Sometimes it hurts. In fact, improvement always comes with struggle and pain.  It is just part of the process.  But, if we follow through, the end result is that we are better than we ever were before.  


Whether you will be at Northside next year or you are moving on, my hope is that you continue to grow every day and never settle for simply doing what is comfortable for you.  Instead, I hope that you will embrace the power of the uncomfortable in order to become the best teacher and leader of kids you can be.


Have a great summer!!!

Cain, Sean (2017, May 17) A Reader Asks...Principal Coaching-Upset Parents and Community (blog post)
Retrieved from: http://leadyourschool.blogspot.com/2017/05/a-reader-asks-principal-coaching-upset.html

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Last Two Weeks

Below is a post I shared with staff in our weekly newsletter.  This one went out two weeks before the end of school.  I hope it has meaning for you as this school years ends.


The last two weeks of school are upon us.  Can you believe it?  It seems like just yesterday these kids were walking through the doors.  These final days are usually crazy busy with so many programs, assessments, awards, graduations, and more.  In the hectic pace, it is easy to forget why we are here. As important as many of the other things are, they are not our driving force.  Children are.  We have a choice to use these last two weeks to focus on all of the things that are happening around us or to focus on our kids.  In a few years, when we reflect back on this time, we will probably not remember the hectic pace, testing, and all of the other demands on our plates.  Instead, we’ll remember the faces, voices, smiles, and joy of the little ones whose lives we’ve impacted.  


This week, I’ll close with a question from Stoic philosophy. To paraphrase, “Will this (fill in the blank) affect my ability to live a fulfilled life?” Anything that does not get a “yes” is really not that important in the long run.  As we approach these last two weeks, let’s focus on what is truly important and let the rest slide off, as it will all soon be forgotten. 

My Favorite Education Lines

After years of reading and participating in professional development, I've heard my share of new ideas and philosophies and strategies.  Most of these, even the ones that didn't work well, had some redeeming value.  Below are some of my favorite quotes and one-liners that I try to keep at the forefront when working with kids and adults.  These have been helpful over the years.  (I'll try to attribute when I can remember the source)

Q.T.I.P. - Quit Taking It Personal   (This reminds me that kids are not acting out because they are mad at me. I just happen to be there at the time)

It takes one fool to talk back.  It takes two to make it a conversation.  (Fred Jones - Tools for Teaching)

Some kids are born on third base and we think they hit a triple.  (Something to remember when we are working with our high achieving kids from strong family backgrounds.  Also serves as a reminder that most kids are starting in the batter's box)

Nevertheless....  (Great phrase when a child talks back or makes a personal verbal jab at us)

Is it what's best for kids? (The ultimate criteria for what we do)

We are here for student success, not adult comfort. (Like the question above, it is easy to focus on what is most convenient for adults and lose sight of our reason for being here.  We must never let our our own agendas get in the way of children having the greatest opportunity for success)

These are just a few of my favorite lines.  Please add your own to the comments as I need to increase my repertoire.




Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Art Show

Tonight was Northside Primary School's Sixth Annual Art Show.  This year's theme was the jungle.  Our amazing Art Teacher, Misti King (she is in the black t-shirt) worked with students to design, create, paint, and display pieces created from recycled plastic bottles. The students also created and built the jungle items that make up the displays. To put this into perspective, these are five to seven year old kids.

Work on the show began in January and continued until just minutes before the guests arrived.  Students and staff spent the last week turning the building into a jungle including creating a walk through cave with cave drawings and a waterfall.  The rest of the building looked like a scene from "Jumanji."  In the middle of all of this, each student created their own jungle-themed art piece that was displayed throughout the hallways.

As a school leader, I am so proud of the work put in by the students and staff here at Northside Primary.  Honestly, the only thing I did was set up a couple of tables and try to document the work on camera.  Throughout this process, I've seen students actively engaged, excited, and ready to show the over 100 parents who came the work they did.  It was an amazing night at Northside.



















Sunday, April 23, 2017

Five Weeks

The countdown has begun.  The days are being marked off and thoughts are drifting toward that idyllic place called "Summer."  As I hear the hallway talk and watch the calendar days disappear, it reminds me that, yes, summer is coming, but more importantly, our time is limited.  We have just a moment left with this group of kids and then they are off to the next grade.  This remaining time is so precious.  I wrote the post below for my staff in our Friday newsletter to remind them of all that we can do with the short time we have left.  I hope you enjoy.


I looked at the calendar today and realized that we have five more weeks of school.  Just five weeks.  What on earth can you do in five weeks?  I would have to say quite a lot.

In five weeks, you can
  • inspire a child to become better.
  • build stronger relationships with your kids.
  • raise a child’s reading level by (fill in the blank).
  • teach your children new math/reading/writing strategies.
  • recognize something positive about every child in your class.
  • Encourage every staff member in the building
  • help a child get their AR shirt.
  • Make a positive contact with every parent in your classroom.
  • try a new teaching strategy.
  • visit another classroom and see how someone else teaches.
  • read that book you’ve been trying to get to all year.
  • develop a new habit.
  • learn more about a coworker.
  • walk 33 miles (if you just walk one mile a day).
  • read 33 blog posts (by just reading one a day).
  • Start setting goals for next year.
  • Add your own ideas to this list

How will you choose to use the next five weeks?  Whatever you choose, use it well.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Good for kids?

Last week, a student ended up in my office.  He was having trouble controlling himself and was bothering other kids to the point that they couldn't learn.  When I got him into my office, he was all over the place, barely able to sit still.  We talked while he bounced.  It didn't take long to find out the circumstances that brought on this behavior.  For one, the adult he normally works with in the class was out.  Plus, he had been brought to school late by a family member who didn't know his morning routine.  Everything was off.  It was now 9:00 in the morning.  Normally, this child can be calmed by looking at some calming sticks I have in my office.  These are tubes filled with colored liquid and glitter that slowly move when turned.  Not this morning.  They quickly turned to drumsticks and were taken away.  It was now 9:15.  I knew he liked to read, so we got some books out and I told him I had to finish what I was working on at my desk.  He could sit in the chair or on the floor and read.  That lasted all of 5 minutes. I then sat on the floor with him and we read together until he could no longer focus.  Having an errand to run in the building, I took him with me and let him help me carry a few things back to my office. Deciding that I would likely get no work done, we sat at my desk and tested out apps I had recently downloaded.  We would do them together and he would rate them for them.  Most were not any good in his eyes because they weren't games.  We did have some fun with Sock Puppets as I tried to get him to explain some things to me using his puppets.  However, he could only focus for a short time. It was now 9:45.  I had to make another quick trip to a class and saw a teacher waiting for an appointment.  I asked her if she would sit with him for a minute.  She agreed and I went into the building.  When I returned 10 minutes later, they were sitting on the office floor making funny faces into an app.  It was now close to 10:00.   I knew that he would have some extra support arrive in his class at 10:30, so I made the decision to keep him until that time.  We went back to my office, read some more, explored a few more apps, and then it was 10:20.  I took him back to class.


Walking back to my office, I asked myself three questions:

1)  Was that time good for the student? I would have to say yes.  He got positive one-on-one time with an adult, wasn't getting into trouble in class, and did learn a bit in the process.
2)  Was it good for the kids in his class?  Again, I would have to say yes.  They were able to work for over an hour with the teacher focusing on them and not on this one student and his constant movement.
3) Was it good for me?  Yes and No.  While I built a stronger relationship with this child, I had really needed to use this time to visit classes and finish an appraisal I was working on.

As a reflected on these three questions, I was reminded that, as an educator, I come to work each day to do what is best for kids, not necessarily what is comfortable for adults.  Yes, I could have taken this child back to class but would that have been in his best interest?  What about the best interest of his classmates?  At the end of each day, I want to look back and be able to say that I have done what is best for kids, no matter how it affects me.  That is why I come to work each day and why I am educator.  It's not for my own well-being and comfort.  I do what I do for children.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mission/Vision Planning Part 2

Last week, I posted about the beginning of our journey to craft a new campus mission and vision.  We got as far as deciding our major points for the mission and assembling a team to write our draft mission statement.  Today, that team met and began the process of crafting a mission statement that reflects our purpose as a campus.  From our previous meeting, we had narrowed our focus down to a few select areas.  These are listed below:


Key ideas: 
Age appropriate
Safe and secure environment that produces students who are academically successful, creative, and productive citizens
Problem Solving 
      o Social
      o Emotional 
      o Learning
Learning focused
Values, morals, integrity
Nurturing
To help encourage students to set and achieve goals
To teach each individual child to their full potential
Set the foundation
Student centered

Starting with this list, we discussed each point and then combined any together that could redundant. We also highlighted the key words and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each of these.  As we worked, the conversation became lively as people supported their ideas and opinions.  I was reminded of the points in Patrick Lencioni's book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team as I worked hard to ensure that we had effective arguments and not an artificial harmony.  I was elated when members of the team were willing to disagree with me and others and provided excellent points to back up their objections.  We finally decided that we would craft a mission statement that gave the overall purpose of the school and then craft supporting points to serve as our guide in implementing these.  

The first draft of our mission statement is:  

The mission of Northside Primary School is to provide a safe, nurturing environment where each Kindergarten and 1st Grade child learns to his or her full potential

This is more specific than our current mission statement, which reads, "As part of Palestine Independent School District, Northside Primary School is committed to providing quality instruction to our students.  The staff is a motivated group of professionals dedicated to assisting children in the development of their greatest potential.  Our vision is to equip all children who leave our school with knowledge and skills that will enable them to achieve maximum success in society."  

The meeting ended with some homework, namely to use the staff input from above to create a set of guiding statements to show how we will fulfill this mission.  We will meet again next week to put these together and rehash the mission, if needed.  

As a part of my own reflection, I will continue to blog about this process and share with others who may be developing their own mission and vision.  Hoping it will be helpful. 







Friday, March 24, 2017

Mission/Vision Planning 1


At the beginning of this year, our campus began a renewed focus on building strong Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  As we began to put the structures in place, we reviewed our mission and vision and realized that what we had was, number one, not being used, and number two, no longer relevant to our campus.   I began to research mission and vision development and came up with a game plan.  We would start with a staff training and get input from all staff members at that time.  Then we would form a team to take that staff input and craft a new campus mission and vision. The plan was to do the training in November, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it was pushed back to January.

At the initial training, we reviewed the importance of a mission and vision to the PLC process and then spent time reflecting on two questions:  Where are we headed and what will it look like when we get there? (Vision) and What is our purpose?  Why do we exist as a school? (Mission).  I know these are very simplified, but it worked with our staff.  Each individual submitted their own ideas and then collaborated with others to focus their thoughts.  At the end of the afternoon, we had about 30 large sheets full of ideas from our faculty.  As I walked through the room, I also saw them reflecting and dreaming more than I had seen in a long time.

After that meeting, a colleague and I sat down and disaggregated all of this data to produce two documents that simply listed the mission ideas and vision ideas.  I also had each PLC, our support personnel, and special education groups select someone to represent them on a team to create new or updated mission and vision.  Interestingly enough, two PLCs chose not to pick a representative. I approached them twice and then decided it was better to not have them than have someone who would not add to the conversation.  We ended up with twelve people on the team.

Today, we sat down for our first meeting.  As a team, we reviewed the responses from the whole group regarding our mission.  Each person rank ordered these with no more than five number ones. Prior to starting the meeting, I had been casually talking about reading the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown and brought up the concept of looking at whether something was simply a Yes or a "Hell, Yes" and then choosing to focus only on the "Hell, Yeses."  The team took this to heart and really honed in on what our purpose is related to the children on our campus, a Primary (K-1) school.  After individually rank ordering the ideas, we then grouped up (one admin, one teacher, and one support person) and did the process again only with our number one items.  Finally, as a whole group, we recorded the top choices.  Conversation was active as we looked at each item and discussed whether it belonged on the list.  We also discussed themes that emerged in the final information.  The final chart is below:


Notice the big "K-1" across the page.  This was a reminder to focus everything on the fact that we serve kids in these two grade levels.

After completing this, we chose a team from the larger group who will meet over the next couple of weeks and put together a draft mission.  This will be presented to the team for review and editing until a final mission is created.

Once we finish with our mission, we will follow the same process with vision.  We will also begin crafting our values and goals, but I don't want to overwhelm people yet.

Since I've never developed a group mission or vision, I was unsure how this would all work.  I've been pleasantly surprised so far.

One thing I've kept in front of the group throughout the process is that, if these are just words on a page, they are useless and we've wasted our time.  For the mission to be effective, it must be kept in front of us all the time and used for setting our priorities, evaluating decisions, and keeping us focused on our purpose as a school community.

I'm looking forward to continuing this process and growing as a campus.  I'll be sharing more as wer move along.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What's the real need?

How often do we jump to conclusions with children?  I know I do way too much.  It's easy to think, "That student is acting up because they are just trying to get attention."  "Just ignore them.  They always act that way."  But, there is usually an underlying problem.  Maybe they are trying to get attention.  But, maybe not.

Today, I had a child acting out and literally throwing a fit in a corner. It took a while to calm him down, but once we did, we were able to start asking questions.  Did something happen at home or on the bus this morning?  Did you eat breakfast?  Are you angry at someone?  After multiple questions and lots of "Leave me alone's," we finally determined that the child hadn't slept last night.  It was obvious due to red eyes, but that could have been allergies as well.  Once we were sure we had the problem nailed down, I gave the child some choices.  "You can go to class and try to focus or you can come to my office and take a nap."  The child didn't respond, so I left him with an adult and walked down the hall. "Let me know what you decide."  Less than two minutes later, he came up behind me and said "I think I'd like to sleep."  We went and got a mat, a pillow, and something to cover with and set it up in my office.  He got under the covers and in less than a minute was sound asleep.  I worked at my desk with the lights off (I have a large window) and  let my staff know he was there if I happen to leave.  I was in and out for the next two hours, but he never moved.  Finally, someone came and told me he woke up and was back in class.  He had a great rest of his day.

If I had jumped to the conclusions, I could have easily made this problem worse.  I could have given him a consequence that would have been ineffective.  I could have made him stay in class and exacerbated his behavior.  I could have called his parent and had them come up, probably resulting in them taking the child home.  Instead, I decided to find out what the real need was.  In this case, it was sleep.  It could have been hunger, fear, anger, or a multitude of other issues. It is so hard to tell by looking at behavior alone.  Getting to the real need takes time and effort.  You may not find it in one day.  But, when you do, it is imperative to see that the need gets met.  Otherwise, you will rarely see any behavior change, either short or long term.  

So, take the time to find the real need with children  It is worth it. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Question - Reflections on The Innovator's Mindset

Over the past week, I've been reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros.  Throughout the first part of the book, he repeats this question, "Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?"  For administration, it is revised to say, "Would I want to be a teacher in my school community?"  These questions are not designed to be condemning, but to provoke reflection on what is best for those we serve.  Based of of this, here are two questions that I am reflecting on and asking staff to reflect on as well:  As a teacher, do I meet my student's needs, both academic and social-emotional, like I would want my own needs to be met?  As an instructional leader, am I doing everything I can to help my staff grow and develop both as educators and as individuals?

When I seriously examine everything I do in the classroom or school and ask myself, "Is this what is best for students and teachers?" I realize that there are many things that could be done better and more effectively and help create a positive culture of learning.  Things like learning structures, use of technology, professional development, support for new teachers, instructional strategies and materials, communication, student discipline, and classroom management all need to come under the thoughtful eye of reflection.

Only when I begin to truly reflect on my practice will I be able to make the changes that will lead to better teaching, learning, and leading.  Otherwise, I risk just following the status quo and never really growing.  And, to me, status quo is simply not acceptable.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Epic

Epic!! 

The word conjures images of greatness, heroism, once in a lifetime experiences. I've yet to meet someone who doesn't want to live an epic life, making a difference in the world.   But, what if being epic and living an epic life were different than our current reality?

What if being epic doesn't mean doing big things, but instead means doing little things well?  What if epic is spending true quality time with your kids or your spouse?  What if it is teaching a child to read? Or write? Or speak?  What if epic is helping a student understand what it means to add and subtract? What if it is inspiring a student to dream big?  What if being epic means giving your time or resources to help someone who could never pay you back?  Or just being there for someone in need?

What if living an epic life is really just doing what we are called to do and doing it well, day by day, no matter the circumstances or obstacles that stand in our way?

Now, that, my friends, is epic.

Thanks to John Spencer (@spencerideas) and the EduAllStars podcast for the inspiration for this post.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Learning from Podcasts

Recently, I discovered podcasts.  I take that back.  I've known about podcasts for years, but only recently started really listening to them.  The reason is that I'm beginning a new exercise program and wanted to learn while I sweated.  But, no matter what got me started, I'm finding a wealth of valuable learning through podcasts.

If you aren't familiar with what a podcast is, a simple definition is that it is a talk show that you can download and listen to at any time.  There are hundreds of them available on every topic imaginable.  I lean toward education and leadership podcasts.

Below are several of my favorites that I cycle through each week.  If you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.  I'm always open to learning.

Better Leaders, Better Schools - This podcast is designed to help school leaders get better through learning from the wisdom of those both inside and outside the school setting. 

Angela Watson's Truth for Teachers- Angela Watson provides great ideas for teachers on a variety of topics and from many different guests. 

Andy Stanley's Leadership Podcast - Pastor Andy Stanley provides leadership motivation, ideas, and wisdom from his own experience and interviews with other leaders. 

Kids Deserve It - Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome provide motivation for educators in each weekly interview with a leader in various fields. 

You can use many different services to access podcasts including iTunes.  I personally use the app Podbean, which is available on the AppStore or GooglePlay.  But, there are many others that provide the same function.  However you choose to do it, I encourage you to start listening.  It is worth the time.

Again, please feel free to leave your favorite podcasts in the comments section.