Soaring News

May 16, 2016

Principal's Message

Critical Conversations are Part of the Deal

Some call it a necessary evil, others just call it honesty. Whatever or however you refer to it, critical conversations happen each day in life (not just schools). Below are challenges that I'm choosing to share to help everyone have the courage to engage in these pivotal discussions.

It was several years ago when I had a conversation with a group of educators and I left extremely disappointed. The four of us were discussing a transitional student and it was clear to me that the student had special needs and would require additional support. Throughout the conversation I listened to other educators explain why they had not broached the subject with parents. Simply put I felt the "buck" was being passed.

This conversation brought a few emotions. First, I felt disappointment, I was upset because my mentality is and always will be that we are in this together. We don't pass off issues...we deal with them. We are the professionals and professionals must be willing to have critical conversations.

Second, I felt sadness for other schools and educators. I imagined other schools that now would have to talk to parents and bring up difficult truths. This isn't easy, because sometimes parents don't want to hear it, or get so upset that they pull their child from the school. It's sad.

To be candid, I don't relish confrontation or tough conversations. I certainly don't go looking for them, but I'm willing to be honest and share my thoughts. One major hurdle for me was my position or standing. As a classroom teacher I had a very difficult time confronting my colleagues. Repeatedly I would witness things that saddened me, but I was reluctant to do anything about it. There was a time that I would make a point to NEVER go in the teacher’s lounge.

Over time two things changed, experience and my position.

Experience can be a game changer. When you come to peace with what is truly best for kids it becomes easier to engage in critical conversations. It is unfortunate how many times the conversation will be twisted and turned and the focus becomes the individual and not what is best for kids.

Another struggle I often have is internal. When I need to have a tough, honest conversation with someone I analyze how it will be received. Will the individual grow from the conversation? Will this person shut down and become defensive? Is this the conversation I need to have for the best interest of my students and building? Simply put, is this where I draw my line in the sand?

I'll be straightforward, I choose my tough conversations carefully. Often times, I will think, is this critical to our students? That one question drives my decision making. If it isn't critical then I begin to think about the building culture. The reason I think about the culture is that a negative tone spreads much quicker than a positive tone. It doesn't take long for people to become negative, yet it feels like forever to swing people to the positive side.

Over the years I have learned and continue to learn new strategies for dealing with critical conversations. Below are my 2 cents on engaging in tough conversations.

First, make the conversation safe. What this means is, don't engage someone in front of others. Find a quiet place to have the talk.

Second, try hard to not be abrasive. We are all human beings and criticism typically doesn't feel good. Be a human, empathize, but also be strong enough to get the point across.

Third, control your emotions. This is vital. If it is one thing I can assure you it is this, sometimes individuals feel that criticism is a personal attack and then they strike back. Do not engage in personal attacks. Stay cool, stay professional and try to refocus the conversation if it turns personal.

Fourth, treat the individual with respect. It is important to go into a conversation with a plan. My best advice is to be honest and human. Don't lose sight of the goal. Don't over think the situation, focus on what is best for students.

Fifth, your best friend can often be documentation.

Too often individuals dodge the tough talks because they believe they don't have enough supported facts. Don't let this be your downfall. Document and reference moments of concern.

Sixth, this is not about winning and losing. This should be about doing what is best for students and the school. Anytime I fear a conversation I come back to one simple thought, "Is this helping or hurting our students?" Sometimes that simple thought spurs me into action.

Seventh, when it comes to critical conversations you need to find inner strength and also inner peace. The strength to have the conversation, and the peace to move forward once it is over.

We have important roles, we work with kids and we help shape the future. Day in and day out we teach students to stand up for themselves and do what is right. Yet often times as adults we don't follow these same words.

This Week's Big Questions: Are you willing to engage in the tough conversations with colleagues or parents? Have you ever felt disappointed in someone that you knew was unwilling to have the tough talks?

Check out the Movie Clip 42 in the video section for a classic crucial conversation.

Is there anything you would add or change to this? I'd love to get feedback from all people. Share your take on crucial conversations with me.

Articles Worth Reading

Videos Worth Watching

Jury Duty | Sebastian Maniscalco: What's Wrong With People?
What are you going to make?
42 Movie CLIP - Do You Think God Likes Baseball? (2013) - Jackie Robinson Movie HD


* Thank you to the following people for helping make the Spring Concert such a success.

-The day and night custodial staff at Newtown for their assistance with the enormous set up/clean up!

-The volunteers who contributed to the program: Jesse Ellison for covering your room with gold paint, Lacy Davis for stepping in to take pictures, Kevin Rickard for handling the traffic, Gretchen Yobp (who took on the construction of the mummy costumes!) & Ms. Waters, Ms. Hill, Ms. Doughty, Ms. Waters, & Ms. Quiero.

-Our incredible office/security staff who fielded questions & P.E. staff who helped supervise rehearsals.

-Dr. Stacy Sedory and Shannon Panko who were willing to go the extra mile to give their support – from sending alerts to mopping floors!

-Theresa Leigh, our wonderful one-day music teacher, who always asks how she can help with a beautiful smileJ Thanks for your unwavering support!

-All of our amazing Second Grade Teachers and Assistants: Mrs. Sharp, Ms. Bradberry, Mrs. Holl, Mrs. Phillips, Ms. Messick, Ms. Taylor, Ms. Roehm, Ms. Keane, Mrs. McGirt, Mrs. Staton, Ms. Murphy, Ms. Lewis, Ms. Barkley, Mrs. Siwek, Mrs. Owens, Ms. Burns, Ms. Blackwell, Mrs. Mainor, Ms. Shuler, Ms. Bogdanova, Mrs. Lane, and Mrs. Pitts. Your input, support, and flexibility is appreciated. A project of this magnitude is not possible without the support of many people working together. You helped our students shine!

*Ms. Metz... You are amazing! Thank you for all your hard work with the students, the script, the songs, and pulling it all together. Our students, teachers and families are lucky to have you here!

* Thank you Kevin for all of your hard work and help in constructing our new strawberry beds in the courtyard! It looks AMAZING! ~The Gardening Club, Amanda Howse, and Colleen Kelley!

* Thank you Ms. Simpson and everyone that helped with the Leader in Me performance. It was an excellent show and students provided great examples of leadership. ~Dr. Sedory

*Ms. Simpson, you are simply amazing! Your tireless dedication to our students at Newtown shows daily in the students you develop through your Leader in Me club. The performance last week was top notch and the students were truly the Kings and Queens of the night. Your creativity shown through your own written script, ~Shannon

*Way to go Wendy Lyle! We have our very own concert pianist on staff! Thank you for always willing to play piano for our student performances. To watch you play without music and encourage our students at the same time during the program is amazing. ~Shannon

*Congratulations Jessica Johnson on your graduation from ODU! Everyone is so proud of you! ~Your Newtown Family

*Congratulations to Jennifer Blais and Katie Lewis for being identified as Design Fellows for the upcoming school year! So proud of you both. ~Shannon

*Kudos to Colleen Kelly, Torie Garrett, Jamelia Fisher, Cassie Johnson, and Juliann Slayton for their willingness to step out of the box to provide targeted specific instruction to students in room 1! You ladies rock!!! ~Shannon

*A big shout-out to Kevin Rickard, Jen Blais, and Heather Messick for coaching several teams throughout the year in preparation for this past weekend's Great Computer Challenge. Your time and dedication paid off this weekend as the Second grade Publishing team got an Excellent. The Second Grade Graphics team scored a superior. Our Third grad teams did not place. ~Shannon

*Thanks to our custodial crew for their hard work getting our cafeteria ready for the numerous performances we have had lately. The building always shows itself off well thanks to you! ~Shannon

*Marlena Parra for organizing our after school SOL tutoring program! Thanks for the extra effort you have put forth on behalf of our students. ~Shannon

Upcoming Events

This Week

May 16: Shannon to Digital Anchor Principal Mtg (12 pm)

May 16: Shannon to Teacher Assistant Reception (5 pm)

May 17: FOHTA teacher training 4:00 pm

May 17: FOHTA parent training 5:30 pm

May 18: Shannon to Elementary Principal Mtg. (1:30-4:30 pm)

May 20: Field Day (you may wear shorts if you desire)

Coming Soon

May 23: PAC Meeting

May 25: Mandatory Staff Meeting for SOL training

News to Share

~Formative Option #2 in Talented is OVERDUE!

~There are planters that need adopting by classrooms in the courtyard. Please see Amanda Howse or Colleen Kelly.

~VBEF Grants are available!

Fall - applications due Oct. 7, 2016:

  • Sustainability Impact Project Grants - up to $1,000 for projects that involve math andscience and engage students in the process of researching aspects of our local watershed.

  • Innovative Learning Grants - up to $2,000 for innovative learning projects benefiting students.

~The Career Teacher Application for 2016 will be available for downloading from the Intranet (Forms/Human Resources/Career Teacher Application) beginning in February.

~Check out the info on the new BE Well program VBCPS is offering. You can track your healthy habits and earn up to $500 a year!


I, Lori Schools, would like to pass the I Make A Difference Award to James Parra. Mr. Parra has shown the dedication and enthusiasm of the Newtown family from his first day here. He is always willing to assist in any way he can with the day to day demands of the students and staff. His calm, pleasant demeanor is an inspiration to us all. Thank you, Mr. Parra!


Dr. Sedory has created a blog, My AP Tried It, where she will share out new ideas for using web sites and apps in your classroom. Some may help with classroom management while others may have instructional ideas. The blog will hopefully have new ideas each week!

This week's post is about At this time of the year, everyone can use a brain break every once in a while. This web site will provide ideas and activities for you to use with your students!


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Shannon Panko: May 16

Anna Keane: May 16

Candice Siwek: May 20

Alexandria Blackwell: May 22

Darnita Pearce: May 25

Paulette Brown: May 29

Wendy Lyle: May 31

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