Build the puzzle, but…about those pieces?


Confession: I am a planner through and through. So knowing my first day as principal would be Monday, July 3, a day in which many of the year round district employees would be on vacation (and rightfully so) meant I was going to do some serious legwork ahead of time to ensure the first day would get off to a smooth start.

  • Appointment with HR to get my credentials and secure a district ID and keys for my building. Check.
  • Complete the necessary forms as soon (and as diligently!) as possible to ensure payroll and benefits would be in order. Check.
  • Meeting with retired principal and my new supervisor featuring building tour and lunch to ask questions about current school/district procedures, school strategic plan, and teaching and learning. Bam!
  • Plan to meet with the I.T. department to access to email, staff intranet, and other online portals to understand the district landscape of teaching and learning. Nailed it.
  • Night before: Load car with personal effects and a few tools for hanging wall art. Check.
  • Make lunch for the day (or lunches for the whole week). Overachieving now.
  • Load iPhone with education podcasts (50 minute commute). Smooth operator.

So imagine my surprise when I arrived bright and early to school Monday morning, enter the building (keycard works. Oh yeah!), take out the office door key, put it in the lock and…it DOESN’T WORK.  So much for plan A. Now, truth be told, it wasn’t a big deal because one of the custodians was on the grounds mowing the lawn and he kindly let me in to the office; however, when you are on the “world-beater high” thinking about all of the things that you are going to accomplish  – where you’ll start, what you’ll do, who you’ll contact first, making sense of that picture you can’t even see yet? –  you run the risk of getting checked right at the door. In this case, literally and figuratively.

It was a beautiful morning, and I really enjoyed my extra walk across the playground to greet my custodian and ask him to please let me in. We also had a great conversation about the history of building locks and keys. In a way, that conversation set the tone for a fantastic day working with great people on a weirdly timed Monday before district shut down for Independence Day.  By the way I think the unofficial theme of the day was “Let me check if they are here today.” Here’s how the day turned out:

The facilities personnel explained the situation with the keys, and in this case, patience turned out to be my answer. The Human Resources personnel I met with today pointed me in the right direction to get my IT and finance questions answered. The information services (IT) personnel went above and beyond to ensure my login credentials were in order and contacted my school support technician about my computer (since I didn’t have one in my office yet). The technician, who splits time in my building and another, came from the other building early to meet with me adjusting their whole day’s schedule and set up, not one but, TWO computers for me to use. The finance personnel answered my payroll questions, and last but not least, I had a great conversation with the communications department about the school’s webpage and use of social media. They even updated my school’s page late this afternoon after I put in an upload request.

Through all this, I was reminded of a few things:

  • It’s all about people and relationships. If you make plans, and they go awry, something or someone can get you back on track and/or help develop a new plan. (My custodian unlocked my office door.)
  • If you go out of your way to smile, ask questions, and get to know others, they will go out of their way to help you. (The IT department got my access, set up 2 computers and communications updated my school webpage).
  • If you aren’t sure where to start, just make a choice and the rest will fall in line. (I went to HR and they contacted other departments who were ready when I got there.)

You don’t always need to have all the pieces to see a complete picture because if you seek the help of others, they can bring pieces that can fill in the gaps. Keep in mind everything fits together when it needs to, and with a balance of organization, flexibility, and sincere, genuine consideration of others, an unexpected situation can be a opportunity for great things to happen.

I’m excited for what’s to come on day 2, and I want to end this post with a question:

What pieces were you missing on your first day, and how did things come to fit together?


Stuck in the middle (of discipline) with you

A big part of my current leadership position includes student discipline. Yes, I’m the administrator who whenever I walk into a classroom, teachers ask, “Who do you need to speak to?” I’ve also been told, in jest, that I have the “not fun job at school,” and I’ve even joked that my position could be likened to “Dirty Harry” getting the short end of the stick on a job. I will grant that student discipline is a dirty job, BUT someone has to do it.

I am not scary or mean person, nor do I always need to speak to a student about a behavior despite having days when I have to do a lot of investigative work to construct an accurate picture of what really happened in a classroom. I love knowing that teachers and their work with students are supported each and every day through what I do with discipline. My mantra as a leader has always been “removing obstacles that inhibit learning in the classroom” and discipline is probably one of the most concrete ways to accomplish that.

Perhaps what I enjoy most about student discipline is that each referral is a new problem to solve, and after it is resolved, an opportunity for self reflection. I get to decide what approach to take (offer a carrot or bear the stick), if I am too lenient or stern when it comes to issuing consequences, or how I can make consequences meaningful. I have to choose my words carefully so I communicate to students what the appropriate behavior is and that students understand that even though they made a bad choice today, they are a still good person. We learn from it, don’t repeat it, and move on.

One of my favorite interview questions is the one that has to do with a teacher sends a student to your office, the student leaves with a smile on their face, and the teacher questions your method. Discipline isn’t about making kids cry and feel bad about themselves, it is making sure they don’t make the poor choice again and understand what to do better next time. It’s all about achieving positive results.

To borrow from Peter King king’s MMQB, here are the 10 things I think about discipline:

  1. The essential guiding question for discipline: How can we, as the adults in a situation, remove triggers that might cause students to act in an undesirable way or demonstrate negative behaviors? Start with this question and establish routines and procedures accordingly.
  2. Find ways to build relationships with students just as you did as a teacher. Students love when their principal plays games with them and shows interest in who they are. It gives you credibility, and students are generally more responsive to what you have to say if they do find themselves in your office.
  3. PBIS is awesome and proactivity is crucial. Clearly outline expectations from the start to set students up for success. We can’t assume they know how to behave in a given environment and they have to know that different environments call for different behaviors. Favorite analogy: They might both be musical performances, but I don’t act the same way at a rock concert as a I would a symphony.
  4. Biggest challenge with discipline at the administrative level = never experiencing what happened first hand. Move over C.S.I., I have to investigate just what happened to the missing lunch box in the kindergarten classroom.
  5. Most students will tell you they did nothing wrong and that they got in trouble for “doing nothing.” The teacher will explain what happened. I have to admit though, it is always impressive when a student can tell me exactly what happened while leaving out all the parts that implicate any blame on them.
  6. Natural consequences are highly effective. Picking up pea gravel on the playground, sweeping out a school bus, or wiping lunch tables are great deterrents for rocking throwing and making messes with food.
  7. If placing a call to a family about a discipline referral, and there is no answer or the voicemail box is full, send an email letting them briefly know what occurred. There is no reason for a parent to panic about a missed call from his or her child’s school.
  8. Contact families so they understand what happened before a student goes home that day. It’s an easy way to avoid a conversations with a concerned parent/guardian.
  9. Make sure families understand that you are there to help their child and believe that child is a good person. Parents always appreciate hearing something positive about their child (especially if their child is in the office frequently).
  10. Document, document, document. Keeping accurate, detailed records about discipline referrals can help you understand behavior patterns and respond more appropriate to student needs on an individual, classroom, and even the school level.

Stealers Wheel: Stuck in the Middle with you

Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see it makes no sense at all
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor?
‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you