How Do You Want Families to Feel on the First Day of School?

With thanks to Pernille Ripp for title inspiration.

My nieces and and nephew just started at new schools in Washington, D.C. after a move across the country. They were excited and nervous, as you would expect. And so were my brother and sister-in-law. They didn’t know exactly what to expect either and wanted their kids to have a great first day. As educators, we often forget how parents may feel approaching a new school year.

Photo Credit: baggyjumper via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: baggyjumper via Compfight cc

I’ve recently read some excellent back-to-school posts by amazing educators Jose Vilson, Pernille Ripp and Stephen Hurley about caring for students, planning for the emotional side of the classroom, and co-creating a classroom with students. This stuff is really important!

And yet… we also need to think about families. We might be able to come up with a list of words to describe how we would like them to feel, like welcome, happy, included, or confident. How do our actions actually achieve these?

I was not always the most welcoming teacher or principal. In fact, when I look back over some of the things I did, I cringe. I acted like I knew what was best for students and their families. But I didn’t, a fact that it took me a few years and experiences and the modeling of some really great teacher and principal mentors to realize.

Have you ever done this exercise after a learning session?  “I used to think…. but now I think…” It’s a great way to give yourself permission to leave behind old ways of doing things that were not the best and commit to making a change. So I’ll go: “I used to think that parents should leave me alone and let me do my job, but now I think that if they know how much I value their child and their input, we can do a great job together.”

So what does that mean for the first day of school and welcoming families? How about a big fat smile that stretches your face and no curt or frustrated words? How about having parents bring students to classrooms for the first day (or maybe a first week?) How about free coffee or tea on the playground for adults as they arrive? Expand on these to fit your school and your context.

I’ll let Maya Angelou have the last word with a quote I always need to keep in mind:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Two Essential Questions for Reflection

The end of a school year always prompts reflection. After collapsing exhausted on Canada Day to recover from the whirlwind of June, educators take a few deep breaths and think about their year. That reflection takes different forms. It can be mulling over how your class did as you sip a morning coffee on the balcony, or wondering what you could improve in your approach to inquiry as you walk the 17th fairway, or seeing your teaching approaches through a new lens by reading that educational title that was on your nightstand for ages.

Photo Credit: Flооd via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Flооd via Compfight cc

My reflection is focussed on two questions:

Am I getting better?

How do I know?

Steven Katz, psychologist, teacher and researcher, uses these questions as a basis to measure all improvement, whether as a whole school or as individual leaders and educators. They are simple yet powerful. Where can you look to know if you are really getting better?

This year, I focussed on two areas for my own growth and improvement as a leader. It almost goes without saying that I have many more areas to improve, but I kept in mind that we can only do a couple of things well.

First, I wanted to create a space in principal learning teams and school visits where there could be open and trusting dialogue about school improvement. I also wanted to work on my listening to understand people’s perspectives and experiences (in the interest of full disclosure, this is something I feel like I always need to improve).

These are some pretty nice goals, don’t you think? And that’s really where it stops, unless I have some way of knowing if I’m getting better. One component is my own observations. I see some progress in learning teams with principals and vice principals as they lay out what they are struggling with and hoping to learn about. I watch as some principals ask questions during school visits or push back. I try to be honest and transparent, but I’m not really sure if I’m perceived that way. But these impressions aren’t enough.

Shakil Choudhury has shared that the most important leadership quality is self awareness. We get there through brutal self-honesty and feedback from others. I’ll start by gathering feedback from those I work with through a series of questions:

What does open and trusting dialogue mean to you?

Do you feel the principal learning team time and the structure of the school visit is useful for creating that dialogue?

What can I do to improve the conditions for this dialogue to exist?

What are my strengths as a listener?

What do I need to improve as a listener?

I’ll be back with an update. Here I go!

Greg Moore – #HWDSBaccelerate

Greg Moore has a long and proud history with HWDSB. I first met him when we were elementary teachers together – and there was a lot of laughing! Greg is a friendly and funny guy. He is always exploring how to use tech to improve his workflow and is eager to keep learning and growing as a leader. Greg exemplifies how tinkering with tech and trying things out can make things happen.greg

What is your role in HWDSB?

I am very proud to be the Principal at Bellmoore Elementary School in Binbrook.  [Greg is moving to Ray Lewis Elementary School in September 2016]

What led you into education?

It has been a long journey!  My mother was a teacher and really wanted me to go into teaching, but I was undecided.  During my time at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, majoring in Physical Education, I lived across the street from a public school.  On my walks home from school, I would often see PE classes going on and practices taking place for a variety of sports.  One day, I decided to stop by and offer my services.  I started to coach the boys Touch Football Team which stoked an interest in working with kids.  I began to increase my time volunteering at school and expanded my role from coaching teams to working in classrooms.  When the opportunity for an Educational Assistant position opened up at the school, the Principal approached me and asked me if I would apply.  I explained that I was still going to school full time, but he said he would work  around my schedule as the student I would be working with was quite challenging, but I had already developed a relationship with him as a coach. I accepted the role and for the last 6 months of university I worked as an EA and and educator was born!

What are you go-to pieces of tech?

I would have to say my iPhone.  But it all started out with my Palm Pilot, which led to my Palm Treo.  I thought that my Treo was irreplaceable but the iPhone has taken the personal organizer to the next level!  From calendaring, to messaging, to email and Google Drive, and not forgetting social media apps, the iPhone is such a powerful tool and always at my fingertips.  I honestly don’t know how I managed without it.  My iPhone allows me to work smarter, in a work harder environment.  The demands of the job, leading a busy elementary school, means there are more and more items on your plate.  The technology has allowed me to take on more, while maintaining efficiency.

Twitter or something else?

Twitter.  I have to confess that Twitter started for me as a short cut.  Several years back, I was getting into blogging, and to be honest, had a hard time keeping up with my blog.  Finding the time to reflect and write about my learning and what was happening at my school was tedious.  And then I found Twitter, a micro-blogging site!  140 characters, now that is something I could handle!!  I started by documenting the building of the new Bellmoore School and eventually has become a huge community engagement tool for me.  Twitter allows me to share all the amazing moments and student achievements in a quick and easy way.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  I have been able to capture amazing memories, along with a short narrative, to document my journey as a leader and the amazing experiences we provide our students on a daily basis.  On top of that, I use it to remind parents of events and deadlines, and share any new learnings.  Twitter is one of my most used apps.

How has technology shifted the way you learn?

I was an early adopter of technology.  I recall doing system and staff inservices early in my career to share my passion for new technologies.  My excitement and passion for embracing these new tools has stayed with me throughout my career.  Just as I loved being a classroom teacher and sharing knowledge with students, in my role as principal,l I continue to look for opportunities to share my knowledge and learn from others.  So technology has really opened up a lot of doors for me.  The like-minded colleagues I have met have taught me so much, and inspired me to learn more.  Technology has also allowed me to create a Professional Learning Network with people from all over the world.  Twitter is also a powerful learning tool for me.  People I follow, tweets that are retweeted, open doors for new learning.  Something as simple as following TedTalks and clicking on a link to an inspirational or motivational talk is one example of how technology has shifted the way that I learn.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wondering how to use tech to accelerate their learning?
As the Nike tagline says, Just Do It!  With all the new tools, devices and apps, it can be daunting for those looking to expand your horizons and begin to learn in new ways.  Start by talking with colleagues.  Find some colleagues who are in similar stations and start to branch out to people with different interests or who are “leaders” in an area.  Find one place to start and commit.  Set some personal goals (e.g., writing a blog once a month, open a Twitter account and follow one new person a week) and see how it goes.  Once you find the right tool, run with it!  The learning that you engage in with just that one small step will lead you to other opportunities.  The learning that you engage in can be exponential once you embrace some new technologies.  

Behind this series: Inspired by the innovative and trailblazing Royan Lee and the #workflow series on his Spicy Learning BlogI’m asking connected educators around our district how they use technology to accelerate their learning.  In HWDSB, we’ve been talking about how to transform relationships, environments and learning opportunities. The driver is pedagogy, but the accelerator is technology. I’m hopeful that educators’ insights and experiences will kickstart a conversation and even spark some action.