My One Word: Connected: Welcoming All Families

As a teacher, I thought I knew the value of good relationships with parents. In truth, though, I focused on relationships with students; if possible, I tried to make sure parents understood I had their child’s best interests in mind.

As a principal, I have learned the true value of family engagement. When I interviewed for my position, I talked a lot about the importance of bringing in families and helping them see the school as their school. I held that as a core value, but in reality, I never had to put it into practice.

The National PTA shares information about Family-School Partnerships. The PTA even shares National Standards for Family-School Partnerships:

  • Welcoming all families into the school community
  • Communicating effectively
  • Speaking up for every child
  • Sharing power

Over the last year and a half, I have learned what those standards look like in practice. In August of 2014, Clintonville Middle School had a negative image reflective of its toxic culture. From day one, we worked to make the middle school a place that welcomes all families into the school community. We worked with staff and a fledgling PTO to spread the word that the middle school was safe for students, and families started to ask about enrolling their students at CMS. Before we knew it, private school students started walking through our doors on a regular basis – and many of them stayed.

Welcoming all families also included working with students and families who had not had positive experiences at the middle school. Some of that negative experience stemmed from the fact that the middle school originally served as the high school, and some of that negative happened inside that walls of the middle school.

My principal, Scott Werfal, and I greet families at the door and always want to know “How can we help you?” It seems simple, but an office design focused not on the adults in the office but on customer service for students and parents has made a world of difference. The change seems subtle, but parents now have room when we ask them to wait, and the new flow in the office allows us to have a friendly face greet all comers. Students, parents, subs, and community members have all commented on how friendly the school and particularly the office feel. We are proud that people don’t automatically look at the building or the office with distaste and disdain.

I strongly recommend that educators read Beyond the Bake Sale.  You will start to see the importance of trying to form true school-community and school-home partnerships. Joining Twitter chats will also afford you the opportunity to collaborate with people who have already made inroads to become more connected with families. You may even develop your own cohort who will go through the process with you.

What do you think? What experience have you had with trying to cultivate positive connectedness with home?

My One Word For 2016: Connected

I cannot even remember my One Word from 2015. I know I shared it with my Varsity PTCamp Voxer group, but it says a lot about my commitment to my word that I cannot even recall what I chose.

I want to commit this year. I want to go beyond “dabbling,” so instead of just uttering my word to my PLN, I created a graphic and chose to write a post.

When most people hear the word “connected” coming from a principal, they probably think about Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall’s The Connected Educator. And certainly, educators using Twitter and other social media tools to reach out to the broader world has much merit. I try to get my staff connected all of the time.

But if our definition of “connected” stops at the internet wall, we do not give enough credit to the power of being “connected.”

In the summer of 2014, I met a group of people who have become some of my nearest and dearest friends. While I have only met one of the face-to-face, I talk to all of them nearly every day. We began our journey together reading Beyond The Bake Sale, and we talked about ways to improve our efforts at Family and Community Engagement. Once we all realized how diverse, yet common, our experiences were, our conversations quickly moved beyond just how to improve family engagement.

Jay Posick, a principal from Merton, WI has not missed a day of running in more than 10,000 days. Back when our group first met, though, Jay was approaching the 10,000 day milestone and Geniene Delahunty, our “cruise director,” planned a special day for Jay. She orchestrated a project where many members of our group “ran” a copy of Beyond The Bake Sale from Australia to Merton, and Geniene delivered it to Jay in a special ceremony that Jay’s school and district kept secret from him. When I tell people about that event, they just stare, unbelieving.

BoonetoMerton

After all, who drives over six hours to deliver a book and a hug to someone they have never met? When you become “connected,” you’ll understand what kind of person does that. Our group connected with more than just digital tools. We care about each other and we want to help each other succeed. We understand the importance of relationships to the personal and professional well-being of everyone. Most of all, we remember what is was like before we connected, and we never want to go back there again.

This year, my “One Word” blog posts will talk about a number of different ways I strive to stay connected. From digital to analog to face-to-face, I hope I find ways to become more connected to my family and friends, my school, my peers, and my PLN. I have committed to these connections, and thanks to a nudge from Don Wettrick,  I have committed to writing about this year’s journey.

I hope to become more connected to those of you I see in my Twitter feed. If we have never met in person, I hope to change that.

Here’s hoping that we connect…and stay connected.

When A Good Friend Passes

Well-drawn characters can make great friends. Sometimes they can feel like your best friends – better than the real-life friends you have at certain points in your life.

My middle school years had the typical highs and lows, but like any early adolescent I focused often on the lows. My father and I had a love/hate relationship back then, but through my jaded eyes I could only see the hate.

Coming to a close-knit community as an outsider made friendships precious but difficult to find at times. I could not always turn to friends as a respite from the challenges I felt at home.

As a result, I spent many an afternoon with Holden Caulfield and Yakov Bok and Aslan and Bilbo. They all helped me during those difficult years, inspiring me and protecting me and captivating me. I also fought at The Alamo alongside Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie. Buck was with me as we shed civilization.

  

Today we learned of the passing of Alan Rickman, the man who portrayed Severus Snape in film versions of the Harry Potter books. I hated Severus Snape from the moment I met him in Harry Potter and the Sourcerer’s Stone. He obviously despised my Harry, and so I despised him. And I loved him for loving Lily enough to protect her son.

  
When we learned about Snape’s true nature and fate, I cried like most readers. As a dad who read the Harry Potter books first to and then with his daughters, I remember the agonized wait for my daughter, Meghan, to read that part so we could console each other.

I’m particularly torn at the loss of Rickman because I had already lost Snape once.

Because so many beloved books become movies, we lose characters in writing and then the people we so closely associate with them in real life. (Or maybe I’m just being silly.)

Anyway…Alan Rickman…Always.

Engagement Means Taking Risks (And Maybe Even Making Mistakes)

On January 30th, I opened an email from Lois Graper, our GT Coordinator at Clintonville Middle School, and the organizer of our Geography Bee:

Mr. See,

Please take the geography bee video off of YouTube

The rest of the email went on to say that the national organization overseeing the Geography Bee was upset that we had broadcast the Geography Bee live and that we needed to take the video down and agree to honor that particular rule in the future if we wanted to keep our winner eligible for future competitions. I completely understand the rule, and we of course took down the video.

To be honest, we only intended the broadcast as a test – and it worked!
Clintonville Middle School used to be Clintonville High School, a traditional high school building constructed in 1954 with the same design as many high schools of the time. Lots of brick and mortar, a few windows on the outside, and a majestic appearance.

ClintonvilleMiddleSchool

Since the middle school served as the high school from 1954 to 2003, most people in the community have memories of our building, and not all of them are pleasant. When I attended the first PTO meeting of this year, I encouraged members to consider meeting somewhere other than the library at the middle school. Could we go to the local coffee shop? The public library? Somewhere else?

I could only imagine how intimidating our physical structure seemed to countless people who had perhaps had a negative experience while attending Clintonville HIgh School. Those folks would always view our building as the high school. In fact, after the new high school was built, we became the middle school by simply removing the word “High” from the letters attached to our brick facade.

One of the challenges facing my building principal, Scott Werfal, and I was that we needed to find a way to make our building accessible again for students, parents, and the community. After accepting my position as Associate Principal, I visited the Clintonville Middle School Facebook page and saw the magnitude of the problem. The page had a mere 44 “Likes,” and the single post to the page read, “Clintonville Middle School, where the teachers are bigger bullies than the kids.” We have since turned that around, and we plan to keep bringing stakeholders into the building, literally and virtually.

FacebookPage

So, while we made some mistakes by broadcasting the Geography Bee, we needed to try something, ANYTHING to tear down the walls and allow parents and the community back into our building. We needed them to see the AWESOME going on at Clintonville Middle School so that they can eventually view us as CMS, and feel the #CMSTruckerPride we feel every day.

Part Two of this thread will detail the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of our broadcast and talk about plans to continue tearing down the old brick walls of the high school to reveal the magic of Clintonville Middle School.

Meeting The Important Needs

http://www.spreaker.com/embed/player/standard?episode_id=5623438

Last week, a student in real need brought back memories of a time when I needed real help or my wife and I would not have made it. In a day and age where we have become so focused on standardized test scores, I sometimes hear colleagues say, “I feel bad that students might not have had breakfast, but taking the test is what’s important right now.”

Really?

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, Kaitlyn, I received a layoff notice from my employer. At the time, Jenny was finishing classes for her dental hygiene license, and we were just barely able to get by with her working limited hours. Then came the layoff notice, and our life was turned upside down. Thankfully, programs existed that allowed us to eat well, so the baby could grow healthy. My union also stepped up and provided us with additional groceries and a few dollars to help pay for gas and rent. And the Wisconsin Medical Assistance program ensured that well baby visits could continue. Without a helping hand from a variety of sources, I do not know what would have happened, and I cannot guarantee I would have started college that fall. Once at school, I got a job on campus and Jenny started as a full-time hygienist, so we survived the storm and could move forward.

But what about our students who come to school every day having not eaten breakfast? What about those who have had little sleep for a variety of reasons? That they come to school every day amazes me. That many come to school every day and thrive inspires me. That some come to school only some of the time or struggle once here surprises me not one bit.

I know first-hand how difficult not having the bare necessities can make challenges seem insurmountable. And I only had to get through six months of uncertainty. Some of my students have experienced years of turbulence and uncertainty. And so they come every morning to the one place that provides a level of certainty for them. A level of security.

So when we want to “hold schools accountable” and base every measure off of a test score, let’s remember that we cannot measure all variables. I don’t know what device measures the impact of hunger on test scores. I don’t know what device measures the impact of watching your mother suffer abuse at the hands of a boyfriend on test scores. I don’t know what device measures the impact of sleeping in a freezing car on test scores. I don’t know what device measures the impact of __________________________________________ on test scores.

But I do know that children feel safe and secure and loved when we find a way to provide for their essential needs. Where is Maslow’s research in all of the testing gibberish? So, last week, when I had an opportunity to help meet the essential needs of a student at my school, I called out loudly and often. And people near and far responded with compassion, filling a void. To some folks a simple pair of shoes and some clothes might not seem like a big deal or even a necessity. To this student, however, they meant everything.

I saw her in the hallway today, laughing and smiling with friends. I will make sure to keep that memory with me throughout this year and the rest of my life.

Core Beliefs And Engendering Trust

I must begin this post by communicating that I have struggled in the beginning weeks of #PTCamp as I think of how I can immediately apply what I am learning. If I were still in the classroom, I see so many possible ideas. If I had my first principal position, I obviously have many possible plans to work on with my staff and home communities. Starting as a Technology Integration Coach next year, I will work directly with teachers to help them integrate technology into their classrooms. I’m hoping that at the end of these six weeks, I can see a way to work with my four building principals and varied staffs to look at ways to build parent partnerships.
 
Core Belief 1
All Parents Have Dreams for Their Children and Want the Best for Them
In my experience, this belief is vital, yet it too often reaches a sticking point at the high school level. Too many schools seem to want to tell parents, “We’ll take it from here.” And, unfortunately, too many parents don’t feel welcome to talk about their hopes and dreams for their children. This is my favorite of the core beliefs. Someone said this in one of our early voxes for this week: Every parent sends us their best kid. That really resonated with me this week. Parents want the best for their children, but sometimes life puts obstacles in the way that make it difficult for them to help as they would like. It doesn’t mean the dreams go away. When working with my building principals, I hope to find ways to help them build and broaden these parent partnerships by using the technology tools I am tasked to help them learn and implement. If I become a principal, I want to engage with parents early and often and focus on their dreams they have for their children and how I might help them.
 
Core Belief 2
All Parents Have the Capacity to Support Their Children’s Learning
This ties into what I wrote in Core Belief 1. All parents have the capacity to support their children’s learning. Maybe they can’t help their child with homework, but they can certainly help ensure it gets done. And, why are we sending home the hard stuff instead of doing it at school, where the expert teachers are who can offer necessary support? Some of you in our Voxer group have amazing initiatives in place that engage parents and help you to form true partnerships. I will have to fight the urge to try it all at once, especially if I become a principal. As a teacher, I know how these shifts in thinking get viewed as “initiatives” an immediately tossed into the “it’ll go away at some point” pile. I hope to use our shared Google Doc to identify ideas I might work on with my staff.
 
Core Belief 3
Parents and School Staff Should Be Equal Partners
This again ties back to #1. I hold this belief as dear to me. My high school colleagues want parent help with discipline and homework completion, but I do not sense a desire for an equal partnership. I hope to be able to help my staff (as a Tech Coach or Principal) to believe in the importance of an equal partnership to the overall well-being and vitality of our school community. My principal last year started a true parent advisory committee – one with actual decision-making power. When I presented a Volunteer management app to her, she immediately loved it, but she took time before having me present it to the advisory committee. I viewed the app differently than they did, and they provided crucial guidance about how to best use an app like this (They decided that booster clubs would make the best starting point for the app and that, if successful, we could look to expand to other volunteer uses). My principal let them make that decision, and the parents seemed to value that their decisions mattered.
 
Core Belief 4
The Responsibility for Building Partnerships Between School and Home Rests Primarily with School Staff, Especially School Leaders
Sea-changes like this don’t happen just because the principal says “Make it so.” We want parents to feel they are partners, but that starts with me and my staff. We need to reach out to parents and make this work. The principal at the school where I have the least FTE assigned has reached out and asked me to attend registration this summer, so I can help parents understand our new SIS. We have arranged to have Chromebooks on hand so that every parent can be “hands-on” instead of watching a presentation or receiving a users manual. I think this is a great step and one that invites parents in and starts the support and partnership before school even begins.

#PTCamp – Week 1 Assignment

This blog post serves as my Week 1 assignment for my work in the #PTCamp professional development opportunity created by Joe Mazza to help build parent/teacher home/school partnerships. The question of including parents and building partnerships has come up in several administrative interviews, so I thought I would write my post as if responding to that question in an interview.

We are charged with helping students reach their full potential, and we cannot help them reach that potential alone. True community partnerships that allow us to meet the needs of our communities begin with strong parent partnerships – partnerships, not “associations.” Research [In this case the text we are studying, Beyond the Bake Sale] points to many reasons for a strong parent/school partnership, but I’d like to highlight two:

  1. Students whose families are involved in their learning earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs, have higher graduation rates, and are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education.
  2. Children from diverse cultural backgrounds tend to do better when families and school staff join forces to bridge the gap between home and school cultures.

Vibrant parent/school partnerships allow us to move on the path to improve learning for all of our students. Parents know their children better than we do, and they have dreams of what they want for their children. If we partner together, a parent’s dreams and expectations for their child can meld with our school’s vision and expectations and allow us to form a true sense of community.