May 9, 2016


I have a lot to say. I hope you're listening.
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We sure hope you enjoyed a glorious Mother’s Day yesterday…always a special time of the year!

We also hope you had fun during Teacher Appreciation Week. We loved getting to spoil you a little bit though in our minds it is never enough. We have the utmost respect & admiration for our teachers & all that you do! We had so much going on we didn’t quite finish celebrating with you so we’ll have a few more simple surprises for you this week as well. Our PTA also went WAY above & beyond for us, so please take time to write them a note & let them know you appreciate their generosity & thoughtfulness as they did go the extra mile also!

This week our final round of STAAR testing is upon us & while we acknowledge that it IS a stressful week, we also KNOW how diligently you’ve worked to prepare your learners, so please take comfort in the knowledge that we truly do KNOW you’ve worked hard. You did a fantastic job of actively monitoring the last go round so thank you in advance for remembering to actively monitor. We’re also asking you to make sure that you follow ALL of the procedures, guidelines & expectations that have been shared with you so that the testing experience goes as smoothly as possible, & we have every confidence that you will.

Thanks also for what you’ve done to instill a sense of confidence in your students before they embark on the big tests. I was impressed with the students’ ability to articulate the strategies that you have taught them….they’re listening to you!

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Important Information this week!

· Summative conferences began last Friday & need to conclude this week. I’m happy to do several before or after school if that will fit your schedule better. The majority of ours this week will take place on Wednesday & Thursday since most of us will be tied up with STAAR testing the first part of the week.

· I would like for us to send one more parent newsletter out next week if possible sharing highlights from every grade level. Tim will help put it in SMORE form but please email me (& Tim as well) with highlights from your grade level by Thursday or Friday at the latest so we can get that going. We’re shooting for getting it out next week, & I would like our last newsletter to be of the highest quality as this is the impression we are leaving parents as we end our year.

· We do have a brief faculty meeting this week, so please plan on meeting Wednesday at 3PM in the library – I won’t keep you long!

· I’m working to add a Vocabulary Parade to our May calendar – looking at either May 25th or June 1st …let me know if you have a preference.

· Our last Eagles of Character Celebration will be held on May 26th. Please turn

your names into Sandra by Friday of this week so we may prepare their certificates.

· Thanks to all of you who made an appearance at our Bingo Night/Silent Auction night on Friday.

· As you work with your teams in the next few weeks to make tentative class lists for next year, please remember we want them done in a certain format for consistency, & I will get the format to you soon as it really helps us when they are created the same way.

· In most cases retention is not supported as you know, so we shouldn’t have hardly any students being retained, but should you have any please make sure those have been communicated to us in writing this week so we will be in the loop on that, & we want to make sure those decisions are supported.

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The Conversations in Faculty Rooms

About a week ago, George Couros (@gcouros) published a blog post, “The Policies in Your Head.” More or less, the piece calls upon a specific experience George had with a teacher/district to illustrate how progress can be hampered when teachers convince themselves an outdated policy is still in place.

So, here are my thoughts based on my experiences.

In general, teachers claim an outdated policy is still active because (1) they are leveraging what someone said “a long time ago” as an excuse to embrace the status quo, or (2) administration has not been clear in communicating the new direction (which is most likely because they don’t know where they’re going).

For example, as an assistant principal in a previous district, other administrators constantly preached the importance of teachers implementing their programs and textbooks with fidelity. Aside from the fact that this is an approach with which I strongly disagree, there was no universally agreed upon definition of what fidelity actually meant. Therefore expectations varied based on who was in on the conversation…A simple email from central office could have gone a long way in minimizing confusion and getting everyone moving in the same direction.

After teachers pick up a new strategy/approach/tool/resource (such as at a district professional development day), a lot can be determined about a district’s culture based on the autonomy teachers have in implementing what they learn.

Two years ago when I was teaching fourth grade, I was leading a session for other fourth grade teachers at an in-service when the topic of standards-based grading came up. After discussing the significance of redos and retakes and how we could implement them in our classrooms, another teacher announced something to the effect of, “Yeah! But we need to wait to see where the district wants to go with this.” This statement caught me off guard, as it was the first (but definitely not the last) time I had heard such a proclamation.

While I do agree that certain policies, such as grading, should not vary greatly across a district, I do think the whole “But we’re waiting for district direction” approach can be yet another excuse to not move forward. Or, on the other hand, teachers might feel so “beaten down” that (1) they don’t think their thoughts, ideas, and actions can make a systemic difference, and/or (2) they’re afraid of getting in trouble for taking risks in their own classrooms. So, they play the waiting game…Nonetheless, in “the best districts,” I do believe change generally starts with those in the trenches.

We are in for a world of hurt if teachers don’t feel comfortable communicating real and honest thoughts with administrators. As Ed Catmull explains in Creativity Inc., “Believe me, you don’t want to be at a company [or school] where there is more candor in the hallways [or faculty rooms] than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or matters of policy are being hashed out.”

As an administrator, I’ve learned it is not enough to wait for the teacher honesty to come to me. We have to go out and get it by being in classrooms, establishing relationships, and creating the conditions in which teachers feel comfortable speaking their minds (albeit respectfully)…As George writes in his post, “One thing that I would always say to my teachers as a principal is that ‘I cannot solve problems that I don’t know exist.’”

One of my goals this year has been to actively solicit feedback from teachers, particularly in regards to our implementation of Writing Workshop at the elementary level. Getting into classrooms, candid conversations, and anonymous surveys have helped to promote this dialogue. Another idea: At the end of professional development sessions that I facilitate/co-facilitate, I believe I can further encourage teacher voice by displaying a slide with my email (and possibly my cell phone number) and telling teachers to not hesitate to contact me for any reason at all.

These three problems emphasize the significance of continuous and open dialogue (not monologue) between teachers and administrators. When the hierarchy is flattened (at least to some extent), and open/trustworthy conversations take place, (1) district direction is clear, (2) teachers feel supported in proactively bringing about change in their classrooms and systemically, and (3) powerful cultures are built because teachers contribute to change as opposed to being on the receiving end and “having it done to them.”

By Ross Cooper

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Monday – STAAR Testing- Math 3rd & 4th grade, 5th grade Math Retest, Grades are due

Tuesday – STAAR Testing – 3rd grade Reading, 4th grade Reading, 5th grade Reading Retest, Progress reports go home

Wednesday – STAAR Testing – Science – 5th grade, Faculty meeting – 3PM, Boo-Rays Spirit Night for Cystic Fibrosis – 5-9 PM, Happy Birthday to Janet Dickerson!

Thursday – STAAR Make up tests, Summative Conferences continue, Saginaw Elementary visits Liink, Bryan to teach in 5th grade

Friday – STAAR Make up tests, Summative conferences conclude, Bryan teaching in 5th grade, Last day to check out books, Mom’s event 2:40-5PM

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· Kim Meadows & Candice Martin were able to get seven flat screen Tvs donated to us by UNT which is a real win for our school. Talk about resourceful & useful! This was an incredible donation/gift all because they took the time to ask. Nice-going ladies!

· I want to thank Tim D’Amico for taking the initiative in bringing Google Expeditions to our campus last week. The feedback was very positive & the kids literally had a “new world” opened up to them – their excitement was contagious! Thanks Tim for making that happen!

· KUDOS to Regina & LaRae for helping Kelli hang signs late one night for this week’s testing. Your help was invaluable & Kelli sincerely appreciates it. Thanks also to the second grade team for helping cover signs as well. Ya’ll are super!

· Finally, we appreciate the PTA mom’s who helped cover lunches last week with your teams. That’s about a once a year treat but such a significant one, so we owe them a debt of gratitude.

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