On Friday, I wore a kameez to school.

(This is the top part of a suit that women and men from central Asia wear. You can find out more here: )

It was a gift from a family at a previous school. Mine is very pretty – black silk with gold and white embroidered medallions and trim. I had worn it gratefiully once, but then it disappeared into the back of my closet until I suddenly remembered it. I consulted with one of our staff members about the best way to wear it, and she enthusiastically agreed that I could wear it with jeans and flats or heels.

As soon as I walked into the school, I was overwhelmed by the reactions. Staff complimented me on it. An occasional teacher was delighted and told me I was wearing “her clothes” now. Parents noticed right away and commented how much they liked it.

Best of all were the students. As they passed me in the hallway or saw me outside, many did a double take and said, “Hey! You’re wearing what my mom wears!” or “I like your kameez!”  I could tell from their reaction they couldn’t believe their principal would wear one. Some grade 8 girls gave me tips on how to wear it next time.

I thought about those reactions later that evening. Who would think such a simple thing would be noticed, commented on and resonate with people?  Our impact as principals is profound, and so often, we don’t even realize it.

Fresh Eyes on Back to School

If you’re an educator, parent or guardian, chances are you’ve attended your fair share of Meet the Teacher events at the beginning of the school year.  Maybe you’ve wandered through the school, looking at your child’s locker or desk, bought a cupcake or two at the bake sale, or listened to a 45 minute presentation on curriculum.  As an educator, maybe you see Meet the Teacher has an annual chore to live through before you run home for the evening.  Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve been part of an exciting opportunity to build, reaffirm or cement truly meaningful and equitable home and school relationships.  That’s the Back to School night I want to be part of!

Let’s start with a question: what do parents and families want?  It’s the easiest thing in the world to simply ask, but I don’t do it enough.  #ptchat, a weekly parent teacher chat on Twitter, moderated by @joe_mazza and @sirotiak02 (Dana Sirotiak) inspired me to ask and to listen.

Families want to know that their child’s teacher thinks really cares about them.  They want to be reassured that the school will always work in the child’s best interest. They want some new information they didn’t have before, but not too much.  They want to have some fun! I also know that parents value the conversations that are part of Meet the Teacher.  They want to chat a bit about their child, make a personal connection with the teacher and even talk to the principal if possible.

So how do I make that happen as a principal? The first step is to help staff understand how important these first impressions are with parents.  They have a golden opportunity to create a partnership with families where we listen as they share what they know about their child and how we can help them.  Sometimes teachers feel intimidated at the thought of meeting so many parents, or think they need to be in the driver’s seat with parents instead of letting a relationship evolve.  I can assist staff with strategies for smooth conversations.  I have watched skilled teachers turn that first meeting into a warm chat where parents leave smiling and pleased. Those teachers often have the best relationships with families as the year progresses.

One thing I will not do is formal program or curriculum presentations where families sit and listen, either in the gym, auditorium or classrooms.  Sure, there’s room for this if families express an interest, but at a dedicated curriculum night. Remember, Meet the Teacher is about relationships!

My presence (with a big smile) is equally important.  Families love to connect with the principal, even for a minute or two.  I am always visible in the hallways and classrooms, but this year I’ll be making the extra effort to stop and chat. I’m handing out my business card with instructions on the back about how to sign up for Remind101 for school text reminders.  I will also be taking photos of staff and families for the new Principal Photo Wall.

Finally, we need a bit of fun.  Schools run the gamut with prizes, raffles, BBQ’s, games and so on.  We’re going to try a graffiti wall where students and families can scribble about the upcoming year and what they’re looking forward to.  It’s a great way to get feedback and ideas in a non threatening way.

Here’s hoping that Back to School night is the springboard for a wonderful year of excellent home school connections. Please add your comments so I can continue my learning.

My First Time – at Edcamp!

Edcamp Leadership

Unconference: a concept loosely based on Open Space  ideas where participants decide on the content of sessions and discussions the day of the event.
Nothing appeals to me more than learning what I want to learn and when I want to learn it through an open exchange of ideas.  Therefore I was very excited to attend my first unconference in Monroe County, New Jersey in late July.  It was very well organized in a beautiful facility, and I had the great fortune to meet several of my Twitterverse learning network.  Face to face beats Twitter anytime!

I attended sessions on flipping staff meetings, using Twitter for learning through #satchat, and home and school partnerships. I learned something in each and every one. How often can you say that about professional development?

While all sessions were very good and used the foundation of an unconference through active participation and discussion, the most helpful for me were those where the facilitator did simply that, facilitate. The opportunity for people to come together and actually talk to each other about what interests them is the best thing about Edcamp.  I want to participate in a unconference precisely because I don’t want to sit through a presentation.  Damian Bariexca @damian613 opened the door to such a discussion. It was fascinating watching how the discussion proceeded and in which directions, and of course, participating.

Edcamp Hamilton is coming up in February 2013. I hope we can bring the best of the Edcamp ideals to our area. I want us to dismantle the hierarchical and geographic barriers between educators and dig into important ideas. Doesn’t that sound like fun?