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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. 

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
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.