Posted in Admin, Friday Five

Top Five Takeaways Week 3

This week was a whirlwind, but it was AWESOME. I was privileged to attend our district’s administrative retreat. During the retreat we were able to really hone in on goals, our district’s vision and mission, how to utilize data to drive our efforts, and a process called Design Thinking to take our innovation to the next level. I could probably write two or three blog posts with the takeaways from this week however, I have found that the process of selecting and editing the absolute best of the week really helps to memorialize what happened and help me focus in on how to use those takeaways to improve my practice.

1.) How Do You Tell YOUR Story?

This was a continual theme for me throughout the event. The process for telling your story starts with having a good idea of WHAT EXACTLY that story is. I really appreciate the fact that our district has honed in on a data approach to this process. Everything starts with data. I love that because it is similar to my classroom practice of Notice/Wonder where you look at what is in front of you, in our case this would be data, and you begin to NOTICE what is there and also tell about what you wonder from that same information. The Design Thinking process that was presented really got me thinking about how to really sit with this first stage longer and really take it all in.

Often we complain about how our story is being told and I am so glad that we are not going to take that anymore. We will take control of how our story is told. We will be able to show our community and the world how we put students and student success first. I loved the conversation we had about how to effectively use Twitter to help with the story telling process. We had a rich discussion about how to utilize Twitter (and social media in general) in a professional way so that we can model to our students how to appropriately use this amazing medium. This discussion was also very convicting to me. I needed the reminder that my Facebook, although hidden from the general public, can be found and that I need to handle myself professionally in all realms of social media. I “knew” this already however the discussion today helped me to remember and I think will stick with me for a while as it is true that we are held to a higher standard in these positions. If one of the lessons that I learned today was about “how do you tell your story” and I don’t live my life in such a way that if it is on display that it does not show what I value then I really need to re-evaluate. I do not want all of the awesome work that we are doing to go away because of poor decisions with regard to social media. I remember from customer service training that one bad experience with a customer requires over 100 good experiences with other customers to overcome the negativity released into the community. I want to be a driving force for good and the positive story telling of our work as a district.

2.) Seek first to understand, then to be understood

I loved the presentation from Dr. Echols this week. She truly lived into her mantra of seeking first to understand and then to be understood which is a quote by Stephen Covey. She modeled this throughout her presentation and I found myself pausing several times throughout the week to really get to know what others had to say before I shared my point of view. This is a process for me and I hope to one day be really good at it. Until then, I will just keep working on it.

Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 8.38.46 PM

3.) Modeling

I love this idea so much. Dr. Thomas modeled how he would like all of our presentations to start with the district mission, vision, and goals and that idea carried through all of the district presentations. I loved how Dr. Bornes went “meta” and discussed how he circulated the room, paraphrased and summarized the thinking of the people in our discussion and really highlighted the strategies that he was using. I would love to be more deliberate about pointing this out in my classes as well as with my department. I hope to create laminated Math Practice standards to have on my board to really highlight when we use the standards, similar to how he did that during his presentation. Through modeling concepts, people are more attuned to what you value and how you want those concepts to be used.

On a separate modeling idea, we created prototypes, or models if you will, of our ideas for a media center redesign. I loved the “quick and dirty” nature of the activity because it forced us to edit our ideas and really prioritize the most important parts. The prototype stage of the Design Thinking process can take on either a physical model or an experience format. One of our groups did both and I loved how it really helped me understand the vision and how this activity could be useful in other applications in our school.

Our media center prototype

4.) Various Forms of Data

I love data. I like collecting data in a systematic way, discussing what we NOTICE in the data, and what we WONDER about (see what I did there). This week really helped me to understand how we can start to leverage data more to help drive instruction and help our students succeed.  We learned about how to “read” data about student achievement provided by ECRA. I loved how Dr. Storey helped our staff to understand the “statistics” behind the data and really get us thinking about how we can use the data to tell our story.

Additionally, this week has highlighted the fact that data can take on a variety of forms. I will collect data as I do pop-in visits with my staff this fall. I hope to use ECRA data to identify small groups of students to video interview to really dive deep into how to better assist them in their pursuit of success through having teachers view their data and videos to determine a course of action. It’s all data and our charge is to NOTICE what the data is telling us and WONDER about the data to ensure that we make informed decisions.

5.) Applying Design Thinking 

I LOVED the presentation on Design Thinking. Everything from the very first team building activity to personally feeling uncomfortable with parts of the process (yet understanding that the discomfort was really ok and just part of the process). I’d like to apply this process in my department meetings. We have several problem spaces to work with: class failure rates, curriculum alignment, classroom space usage, classroom management strategies, lesson planning. I’m excited to learn more about this process and hopefully apply it.


Side Note: Talent 10 (I couldn’t resist to include this activity, it’s my blog so I can do what I wanna)

We had the opportunity to take a survey provided through HUMANeX and the results of the survey were shared. Out of 22 leadership indicators we were able to see each of our top ten characteristics, the school leadership team’s characteristics, as well as the district office’s characteristics. It was awesome to see the traits that were inherently part of us that we shared as well as our unique differences. I liked working with that data set and am interested in learning more about what this company had to offer. One trait that we noticed that was not on our top ten was that of COURAGE. Therefore, to step out in faith and practice this trait I am going to take a courageous move by publishing my top ten. For taking this assessment at about 10pm one evening last week I am impressed with how I feel like this is a pretty accurate description of my top ten traits. I LOVE that my number one is trust building as I like to hang my hat on that one :). I LOVE that team building is so close to the top given that I LOVE creating opportunities to build teams to create success. I loved seeing what my teammates’ strengths were so that we can really capitalize on what we have to offer and in the future supplement our team with areas that we could use more talent in.

My personal traits


Posted in Admin

My Top Five Takeaways, Week 2

My days really do fly by on the job.  I wonder if it will always feel like that.  Anyway, I am attempting to achieve balance in my life by taking the philanthropic/mini vacation/competition event that we planned to do LONG before I ever considered becoming an administrator.  The event is called Relentless and it is a powerlifting meet that is a charity event for Hope Kids, an organization that strives to give kids who have life threatening illnesses hope through sponsoring events to keep their spirits up.  When kids have major illnesses in their lives parents often do not have the time or resources to be able to plan outings like trips to the ballpark.  HopeKids helps make this possible.  I’ve always been impressed with the event and am excited to go.  However, I have had serious FOMO (fear of missing out) with regards to work as we have been really going hard to get things working well with our master schedule.  I totally see the benefit of reflecting so here are my top five takeaways from this week, albeit a short one.

1.) Interviewing Is Just Data Collection

In the process of going through the master schedule we were able to find a need to fill a full time teacher as opposed to a split position. Due to the current board of education scheduled meeting as well as next week’s administrator retreat I was already pressed to get my interviews done for the full position that we determined. Then, with a change to the retreat as I originally thought that I would’ve had Monday to conduct the interviews, I suddenly was put in a position to do interviews with less than 24 hours notice to the candidates.  I didn’t think that this was possible however, my Associate Principal basically said, “You can do this. Just call them and get it done.”  So I did and we ended up finding a great candidate.  I’m so glad that she encouraged me to do that. I had no idea that that part of the process could be so quick. Additionally, I learned that I really could’ve interviewed those candidates at basically any point as interviews are just data collection. In order to improve the process in the future, we could interview the potential applicants much earlier (say last week, or even before) and then wait to put through the recommendation until we are certain about the master schedule positions and the postings have been up long enough. I learned so much during the process. I was happy about how quickly I could put the interviews together, get questions together, ensure that the room and schedule were prepared. Moving forward we need to look to find ways to increase our applicant pool and I want to ensure that when candidates walk in the door they get the feeling that this is a place where I can work. Since it is summer, the hallways are filled with chairs as custodians are diligently cleaning rooms. I personally understand the environment but potential applicants might not. I want people to feel welcomed into our school and feel like this is the place where they want to work.  I was reminded of my days in my sorority during rush/recruitment. I finally became aware of how recruitment is a mutually selective process and just as much as we wanted new members, they wanted to be a part of our organization. This process is very much the same.

2.) Even Not Great Interviews Are Good

Less than positive interviews helped really highlight for me how great one of our applicants really was. Additionally, I was even MORE thankful for the staff that we employ at our school. Our staff is personable, friendly, and knowledgeable. During the not so great interview I was able to reflect on how awesome some of our people are and how we have to work together to ensure that 1.) they know and understand how appreciated they are and 2.) we can hold on to them for as long as we can.

3.) Who Needs An Office?

So I have an office. It’s not vacated yet, but that is ok. I have worked on the fly in a couple of locations and it has actually helped foster even better relations with our clerical staff (who deserve their own blog post on their awesomeness and all kinds of other praise but that can wait for another day).  I realized this necessity when I looked down at the confidential interview documents on a table. I actually DO need an office. Additionally, I needed an office when I made my phone calls for interviews. Not that I considered NOT having an office but it became apparent that the need is a little higher on my priority list than originally planned.

4.) Bible Study Is So Good For My Balance

After working so hard the last week I considered not going to Bible Study and staying home to get prepped for basically a week and a half away from home (Relentless Thursday-Saturday, Sunday I come home, Monday-Friday at the retreat).  However, my group is AMAZING and the study is really speaking to me in this moment in time (Pricilla Shirer is an amazing speaker and I would like to see her in person). During our small group discussion, they really helped me adjust my focus and see things from a different light. It was sooooo helpful when I returned to work and put the ideas learned into place. I practically feel like a new woman when it comes to how I am dealing with one of the significant challenges at work. I am grateful to God for putting these awesome women in my life and for giving me the strength, courage and faith to step out and do what I have been called to do.

5.) I Like My Job

I said it out loud to my mom and I meant it! This is probably my favorite takeaway from this week. I like the problem solving, helping students to get their preferred classes, working with the amazing team in place, and feeling that I can help and make a difference.  I love learning new things every hour. I love appreciating the staff we have and realizing more and more the potential we have for even more greatness. I am just so psyched :).


That’s it for this week.  I have a feeling next week might necessitate TWO blog posts 🙂


Posted in Admin

Just Push Publish….My Top Five Takeaways During My First Week as an Administrator

I just completed my first “full” week as an administrator for my district. The debate over maintaining this blog has raged in my head since I walked out of the doors of my school that warm day in May. However, there were way more pros (I LOVED the educator I became when I regularly reflected online, I feel more connected to my PLN/MTBoS when I am writing, I continually focus on “at least one good thing” because who wants to read about negativity which then keeps me in a more positive and growth mindset, Make It Stick spoke about how reflection is a great way to learn) than cons (the possibility of my writing getting me into trouble, the stress of keeping up with a blog). Additionally, when I started this administrator journey I realized that I kept looking for administrators who looked like me (females, people in math, people in Chicagoland, etc) and I was often coming up short on resources. So the blog continues in hopes that someone in the great big world out there can benefit from my triumphs and my mistakes.

New to my blog is this week’s topic, My Top Five Takeaways. I might edit the number but five seems to make sense with five days a week.

1.) There is so much more than what meets the eye.

I’ve often complained about “why did Mr. Soandso do this?  Does he have a brain?”. Now I am Ms. Soandso and I TOTALLY understand why some people have made the decisions they have. One decision has about fifty pieces of input, data and other resources that went into what hopefully is best for students. Case and point, the way that we deal with credit recovery. The blog post about how to prevent students from failing courses is long and might be a good dissertation topic ;-), THEREFORE, we will just go with what is currently in front of us (which is another of my takeaways from this week). We have a number of students who are missing freshman level credit. We have a number of options available between running an entire section for students who need to repeat the course, allowing students to do a computer based recovery course, making students only attend summer school, to potentially decreasing our four year graduation rate by making students make the course up in a subsequent year. None of the choices is great but we are forced with making one. As a classroom teacher, I TOTALLY have an opinion on the topic but as an administrator, I have to do what is best for ALL students and that is much more daunting than coming up with a solution that I personally think is best. I am feeling better about my decision making (asking for more data and talking to staff about their thoughts, experiences and feelings). However, I wish I could go back to the overly critical Jackie Stone of several years ago and try to get her to see the much bigger picture that is at hand.

2.) Make a decision based on what is in front of us

When dominoes fall it is easy to see the path they will take. Similarly, decisions made this week will have impact into the future. Often the team that I was working with (myself included) would start to follow along that path and we realized that we cannot plan for every outcome. The best decision is the one we can make based on the information we have. At some point, you have to make a decision and JUST MOVE ON or your lack of decision will have negative consequences. Sometimes I would remind my teammates about this and other times my teammates would remind me. I sincerely love the group of individuals that have been placed in company with me as I embark on this new journey. They’ve opened my eyes to not only my strengths but the areas of growth and luckily those areas of growth are places where my teammates excel.  I cannot wait to learn more.

3.) The art of negotiation

I never wanted to be a negotiator for our teaching contract because I can see where all of the sides are coming from, I can get emotional and I thought that was a flaw. However, I witnessed our awesome Associate Principal negotiate a situation with our District Office. I was impressed by how she was direct with her language but was able to “sell” the idea in a way that seemed beneficial to both sides. Knowing and understanding both sides is really a critical aspect to positive negotiating. What I thought was a flaw, is actually an asset for me. Only through knowledge and empathy for both sides can you present an argument that seems mutually beneficial. I will probably never forget how my mouth basically hit the floor when I realized EXACTLY where she was going with her argument but was so eloquent it seemed like no one could say no… we got denied… but I learned SO MUCH from the interaction that I am grateful that it happened. Additionally, sometimes the “no’s” can be strung together to create a situation for a more beneficial “yes” later. I felt like a young padawan that day, and I enjoyed watching a master do her craft.

4.) Be a better listener

This is a challenge for me. I LOVE to talk. I love to be agreeable. I love to make people laugh. But I talk too much. It’s ok. I can be reformed. This job requires, necessitates, and depends on me listening more. When you listen, you hear the needs. When you listen, you have time to think. When you listen, people appreciate being heard. When you listen, you feel more connected. I need to listen NOT to understand how to get my next point in. I need to listen to draw out the next point of the speaker. I’ve seen my newly minted Principal ask great questions and SINCERELY listen to the people he is with. How do I know he is TRULY listening? By how he eventually responds and how in tune he is with our community already. It’s really amazing and I think that I can learn so much from that style.

5.) Selah

Two days ago a situation changed with the Master Schedule process and I’ve been milling it over ever since I heard about it (about 6pm on Friday). I woke this morning with an idea that I KNEW was workable but I just needed more data so I fired off a couple of emails before I went to my last workout before my charity meet this weekend (shameless plug, you can still donate at my FirstGiving Page for Relentless (a charity that helps children who have life threatening illnesses). My Principal emailed me back (which again speaks to his awesomeness) and his first line spoke about how he was grateful that I was waking up to thinking about solutions. That SHOULD have been the eye opening experience I needed. Apparently God had other plans. At church today, the whole lesson was about the fourth commandment (keeping the sabbath holy). Selah in music means a pause and our lives need that pause. Today’s lesson was TRULY convicting. How often do I not only ignore that commandment but am almost proud that I break it? I kept thinking about how during the Angela Watson Professional Development series she speaks to creating margin in your life. My pastor talked about how we work so hard so that eventually we can enjoy some time off but maybe we should take some time off so that when we work we do so in a more purposeful, meaningful way. As I always struggle with finding balance in my life, I think that observing the sabbath (regardless of whether it is Saturday or Sunday) might create the margin I need to find that balance. I need to remember that when I am at home I am at home, when I am at school I am at school, and where ever I am, there I am.

Bonus Material: Parade Pictures

Here are some pictures from the Fourth of July Parade 🙂 which was AWESOME. Our admin team, football players, poms, and cheerleaders enjoyed walking Park Forest and enjoying our community. Plenty to improve for next year, but this year was super fun anyway. The left pic is of our Principal and an entering freshman (both about to embark on their first year as a Rocket).

And with that I will just push publish. Onward to a new exciting week ahead. Thank you for making it this far.