Monday, May 30, 2016


Upon arriving at the school in January, I began to just listen and watch.  I was looking for how they did business here.  I was looking for specific things such as:
  • Was there a specific way students were expected to move around the building?
  • Did students know what those expectations were and were they following them?
  • How were students arriving in the morning, was there a clear path of parent drop-off and buses?
  • Were students beginning their day quickly and calmly?
  • Were teachers greeting students at their doors?
  • How many students were coming in late each day?
  • What was dismissal like?
What I found was that the systems they had were not working well, but because of the constant chaos in the building no one really noticed.  

A simple first step was to spread students over more space to help keep it quieter and calmer in the morning.  They had been using the main hallways to house all students until they entered their classrooms at 8:45 a.m..  So, I just spread them out throughout the building and began sitting them by their class instead of grade level so that there were fewer students in a small area.  This helps to keep the students calmer and consequently when handed over to their teachers for class, they are not as wound up and more ready to learn. 

My mantra has become, "Divide and Conquer."  Because of the volatility of our students when they are in large groups, it becomes chaos very quickly.  We must in all things make sure that what we do is in manageable pieces and that it makes sense to all stakeholders.  Many times change is hard for people even if they want or need it.  When in the game it is hard to see what exactly is causing the issue so sometimes even after explaining the only way to get buy in is to show them it is better with a new system in place.
Each time we have implemented a systems change this year, I have tried to be as transparent as possible and given everyone enough notice that it will not be a surprise when it happens.
Adding the cones created a clear path for traffic 
Two other areas that needed to be addressed immediately were the cafeteria during meal times and the parent drop-off area.  I started with the parent drop-off area by purchasing 50 orange traffic cones and creating a very well-defined traffic pattern (They now call me the cone lady).  Previously there was a pattern, but it was two lanes and no one was really taking control.  People would just pull up in one of the lanes and students would just run to the cars.  Also, the parking lot emptied into the street right at the crossing guard entrance making the flow difficult because of the constant stop and go.  Now everyone enters and exits at the back of the school away from the crossing guard and there is only one lane with the passenger side door opening to the sidewalk area.
Front view of the tables, we fill the one side of the table so everyone is facing forward
The cafeteria can sit up to 11 classes at once.  Changing just a few things in the cafeteria helped keep the student cross-table conversations at a minimum.  First I pushed all the tables together so that all students (with the exception of a few) were all facing the same direction.
Side view with area on the right where classes line up in front of cones on the lines for teachers
Second, I alternated classes, for example when the kindergarten came in they went to even-numbered tables and when fifth grade came in they started filling in odd-numbered tables.  This way kindergarten and fifth graders were not turning and talking with each other.  This eliminated much of the talking across tables and ultimately the overall noise level in the room since they were talking with those in close proximity.  We also created system of students cleaning up the area: 1 is gather garbage, 2 is stand-up and 3 is dump garbage and line up.  We just hold up the fingers for them and they know what to do.

What I have found is that nothing comes naturally here.  Everything is like a second language and must be thought through before action can happen. Very few do anything naturally, so my goal is to make it so that everyone feels safe enough to make decisions and suggestions to better enhance our environment.  If people do not feel safe they will not step out and make suggestions or take chances and I want them doing both.  So, until such time I will keep praising what I see that I want repeated, address what needs to be shaped, and continue to do what is best for kids.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

I was sitting in my office waiting for my supervisor to come, he had emailed me the night before that he would be by to see me first thing in the morning.  I had a nagging feeling that something was about to happen, but what came out of his mouth left me speechless.  The district was asking me to move mid-year to a high needs school in our district.  He went on to list why he felt I could do this and how this step will begin to move me in the direction of where I may want to be in the future.  The problem was, I didn't really know where I wanted to be in the future.

The truth is that I was at my school for 2 1/2 years and I was very comfortable.  It was a magnet school and with a magnet school came everything a principal wants: parental involvement and support, financial support from our families and community, very few student behavior issues and academic success.  Since this was my first principalship, I had become very comfortable in my role and was enjoying each and every minute.  Until that fateful day in December.

It has been just over four months since I started at my new school.  It has been a roller coaster of an experience from tears to anger to joy, often in the same day!  I do not even remember much of January and February and it is only now that I feel like I am starting to get my legs under me.  Moving schools is an emotional experience at any time.  You pour your heart and soul into what you are doing each day no matter what your role, but moving mid-year was more of a personal loss to me.  Everything I had planned for the remainder of the year was lost and would never be experienced.  I came to the realization that things that I had supervised and labored over I would never get to see come to fruition.  It took me about three months to get through the 5-stages of grief, and that was exactly what it was: grief.  A loss of something that I loved and was never going to enjoy again.

But now I am in the reflective stage.  Looking back at what we have accomplished over the last 4+ months and how we can continue to move the school in a positive direction, starting with retaining the staff and changing student behavior, has been current mode of thinking.

I believe that the biggest change since moving schools has been in myself.  I realize that I am more than a boss or instructional leader,  I am a coach.  I need to use the same principles used in team sports to support, nurture, train, and develop everyone on my campus.  I created this blog to journal the experience of going from a Magnet School Principal to Turn-Around Principal in hopes of being able to support all those coming after me that will walk this walk and need to know that the cycle is predictable and wonderful.