Saturday, December 14, 2013

We are in Trouble

    We are in trouble.  When our pain goes so deep we are willing to kill our children, and our children are willing to kill one another, we have lost all hope in our future.  My heart aches on the first anniversary of Sandy Hook Elementary.  Everyone hurt and ranted and raved and blamed each other for another tragedy.  17 people were killed in 22 school shootings this year, including yesterday.  There has been a school shooting almost every two weeks this year and nothing has changed.
      This week safety doors were installed in my school. Now everyone must come through the office before entering the school.  It is designed so the killers have to go through us first.  We are supposed to start practicing with the kids how to hold hands and exit the building after a school shooting occurs.  How do I explain this to my little ones?
     What is our pain that makes us destroy our future?  There are as many answers as there are people.  We need to move past our biases on guns and freedoms and government involvement and all the other things that keep us from looking at the underlying pain so many of us are carrying.  School shootings are just one symptom of the pain.  We all want change, but we all keep hoping someone else will save us.  Superheroes only exist in comic books and movies.  No one is going to save us.  We have to save ourselves.  We have to save each other.  We have to stop finding reasons to hate our differences and love one another in the truest sense.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

So Much to be Thankful

     I was appointed to be an assistant principal exactly a year ago.  Friday was one of those days.  It was a long week.  Everyone was mad and negative energy was everywhere.  The teachers were at their breaking point, and I caught the brunt force of it all day.  When another administer told me no one really read or cared about the celebrations I sent out each week, I was walking wounded.  When a hurtful e-mail came through, I broke down and cried.  One of the teachers I work with came in, apologized for being negative, and hugged me.
     The negative energy stuck to me all weekend, but I decided it needed to change before Monday.  I made a tear-away thankfulness card with six things I am thankful for about each teacher.  I snuck in early Monday and hung them on each teacher's door.
     Today I wandered from classroom to classroom enjoying all of the fun holiday activities and engaging lessons going on around me.  When a 2nd grade teacher told her class to "keep their fingers crossed" that the movie would work, they crossed their fingers, arms, toes, eyes, and one girl crossed her tongue.
     In a 1st grade class, a little girl was crying because the other kids accused her of peeking.  The teacher told her, "It's okay.  You are in charge of you and what you do.  The other kids are not in charge of you.  You are in charge of you."  The little girl stopped crying and went back to the activity.
     The Kindergarteners were having a feast.  The teacher told them to bring a fun Thanksgiving food to share.  The kids ate Ritz crackers, fish crackers, apple slices, Teddy Grahams, and Cheese Nips.  It was the best feast I have ever attended.
     The 3rd graders were doing Turkey Trivia Scoot.  The teachers put cards on each desk with interesting statement about turkeys.  The kids stood next to the desks, read the cards, answered true or false, then "scooted" to the next fact.  When they learned the answers, they giggled and talked about each one.  When they found out it was true turkeys lived ten million years ago, one of the boys said, "They lived with dinosaurs?  There were turkey dinosaurs?"
     The 4th graders were doing a review of math facts, but the answers were graphed for a Thanksgiving picture.  The kids told me it was the "funnest math day ever."  The teacher laughed and said, "If I gave them the same thing as a worksheet, they would think I was the meanest teacher ever, but put it like this and they love it."  A spoonful of sugar...
     In 5th grade, we watched a portion of Johnny Tremain.  The teachers showed pictures of the historical places they visited  last summer from the movie.  After the discussion, the kids were asked to stand and move to one side of the room if they were loyalists and the other side of the room if they were patriots.  One lone boy stood and told the class why he was a loyalist.  I was in awe of his bravery.
     6th grade was the highlight of my day.  The teacher had arranged the desks by the amount of land for each continent, so some groups had lots of desks and other only had one.  She placed students at each continent by the population represented there.  It was pretty crowded in Africa.  Then she gave them a baggie with graham crackers that represented the amount of food the people of the continent have.  Some groups had several crackers, while Africa had 1/24 of a cracker.  It was just a tiny square.  After the discussion, she told the kids they could eat their crackers.  Without being told to share, the kids all got up and walked over to the kids who didn't have enough food, pulled out their crackers, and shared with each other.  It was a beautiful moment of compassion.
     At the end of the day, the teacher who had caught me crying on Friday asked me if today was a better day.  I told her it was.  She said, "You have a hard job."  I replied, "I do.  Some days I wonder if I made a mistake and should go back to teaching."  She said, "You are in the perfect spot.  You smooth out the rough spots for all of us when we get so negative.  You bring peace and calm to our school.  We are so lucky you are here."  I am in the perfect spot.  I have so much to be thankful.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

My Words Matter

     The words we use make such a difference to teachers.  A teacher I work with had a difficult class last year.  The kids were challenging and classroom management was difficult.  She looked worn down.  Being new, I wasn't sure if this was the way she always was or if this was a atypical year for her.
     This year is different.  She looks happy and excited every time I see her.  Her students are engaged and learning.  I have complimented her many times on her great start to the year, but haven't asked what brought about the change.  I assumed the new group of students made the difference.
     Yesterday I attended the team's PLC.  Another teacher on the team is struggling this year.  The first teacher tried to share advice, but because of the emotional connection to the situation, the second teacher could not hear her words.
     Later I thanked the first teacher for being so supportive of her teammate.  She told me that she understood because she had struggled with the same issues last year.  I said, "I am so glad you have great students this year."
     She smiled and said, "I didn't want to say this today and hurt her feelings, but most of last year was because of me.  I didn't start the year off well.  The kids didn't know my expectations and I didn't have good classroom management.  This year I spent time teaching them how to do everything.  We chant the expectations for each area before we start in a new area.  We celebrate everything now.  We even have fun behavior chants to celebrate.  (She demonstrated their superhero chant for me, along with the gestures.)  It has made so much difference."
     I thanked her for making such positive changes for her and the kids.
     She started to cry and said, "Thank you for being such a positive influence on me.  Your kind words helped me get through last year more than you will ever know."
      No particular moments stand out from last year where I said particularly inspirational words, but I am learning that what I say during informal conversations impact teachers more than I realize.  The words I say each day matter.  I need to make sure they create and inspire, not tear down.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

I Believe

     The theme at my school this year is "I Believe."  My principal asked me to create a presentation for the faculty sharing my core beliefs about my role in the school, our students, the teachers and myself.  Thinking it would be easy, I agreed.  Then I spent two weeks trying to decipher what I believe.  It seemed so easy in the abstract.  After all, I live my beliefs every day, or so I thought.
     I realized that this request was more than just an exercise for welcoming back our teachers and kicking off the year's theme.  The reflection made me truly look at what I believe and why I do the things I do.
     After sharing my presentation with the staff, a funny thing happened.  Suddenly teachers were coming to my office, just to talk.  They began sharing their stories and looking at ways to implement our shared visions.  I was no longer just the assistant principal.  I was a person they knew and understood.  The atmosphere became charged and excited.  
     I am not so naive to believe that this is due to what I believe.  The change is from understanding the person behind the title.  It is feeling a connection and sharing our visions of a future for our students.  It also comes from the reflection that aligns our vision to our daily actions so we are able to "walk the talk."

Sunday, May 26, 2013


     New administrative appointments came out this week.  I was thrilled to be placed at one of my current schools and another school nearby.  The next morning I found out that the principal I admire and emulate is being moved to the district office.  She will be wonderful there, just as she is with us.  The promotion is bittersweet for her.
     I felt sorry for myself for losing her, sad for her, and angry at myself for not being worthy of taking her place.  Instead of replacing her, a brand new principal will take her place.  I felt horrible that district people didn't see me as good enough to take her place so I could promise things wouldn't change.
     Another woman was placed as an assistant principal at the same time I was placed.  She sent me an e-mail Friday congratulating me on my new assignment.  She ended the e-mail by saying, "The District must have a lot of trust in you to have you there helping her."  Her words got me rethinking the situation.  Maybe, instead of thinking they thought I was doing a bad job, maybe they felt confident that Jill would be able to go to the district office because I am strong enough to support a brand new principal as she learns her job.
     I am so grateful for the people in my life who help me see things in new ways.

Snap Judgements

     My teacher accused me of cheating this week.  I didn't.  He didn't ask me about it.  He just gave me a zero.  The worst part was when he wrote he expected better from me.  I haven't cheated since 6th grade and felt so guilty I swore I would never do it again.  I have been judged and labeled.  I know I am innocent, but the judgement and label still hurt.
     As an administrator it is easy to make snap judgements and assume I know who is at fault.  It's easy to believe that I know the whole story without asking questions and truly wanting to know the answers.   It's easy to hand out a punishment or consequence and move on to the next situation.  Situations come up so fast some days, snap decisions feel necessary.  This situation reminds me how hard it is for all of us to be judged, labeled, and punished without having a voice to tell our story.  We deserve better than that, especially from the adults in our lives.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Making a Win-Win Situation

     It's easy when you deal with discipline to forget the big picture and punish students instead of helping them learn life skills.  A third-grade boy struggles with behavior in class.  He isn't a bad kid, just impulsive.  He does things to be funny, but doesn't know what to do when he goes too far.
     He's on a new behavior plan.  He helped us put it together.  When I asked him what he would like for a reward, I expected the usual - candy, more video time, etc.  I was shocked when he said, "I like to help people."
     We set up a plan for him.  He gets a sticky note in the morning and one in the afternoon.  Each note has six slits cut on it.  He gets a warning if he does something wrong, but if he continues, he loses one of his strips.  If he keeps two or more strips, he gets to help his teacher in the classroom.  If he keeps all six, he gets to help me in the office.
     Today he kept all six for the first time.  He was so proud when he came down and told me.  I helped him climb up in the display case to help me hang up a bulletin board.  As the first graders walked by and saw him, they asked why he got to be in there.  When I told them he had been very good today, they all folded their arms and said, "I'll be really good, too."
     When he finished, he delivered some cookies for a girl's birthday party, hung up hall passes, and put information in teachers' boxes.  I have never seen such a big smile as the one he had this afternoon.  It was free, it was fun, it motivated him and other students, and made him feel important.  It's so much better to find a win-win situation instead of punishing him every day for his behavior.