It’s the beginning of the school year and many educators are revisiting their WHY. WHY are we in this profession? Seeing lots of activities on social media surrounding your WHY and even participating in an activity of my own during staff development, I decided to dedicate this blog to my WHY.
Twenty-plus years ago, I graduated from college with my undergraduate degree in Mass Communication. I had big dreams of being a TV journalist. My plan was to eventually be the main anchor on the nightly news. I graduated on a Saturday and began working at a Houston news station the following Monday. I worked my way up from working on the assignment desk to being an Associate Producer.
After getting married and expecting my first child, I did a little soul-searching. I had grown a little frustrated with going to work each day spending my time writing about the latest shooting, stabbing, robbery, or whatever the crimes were for that day. I felt that no one on this planet was better because Paula Patterson was on the earth. I decided I was put here to make a difference in people’s lives and to help make this world a better place. This realization led me to education.
I left journalism, went back to school to get my teacher’s certification, and entered a profession where I felt I could make a difference in the world. I taught in the district in which I grew up. I was thrilled to give back to my community. My career has taken me to four different districts in the Houston area. My location and position may have changed, by my charge, my commission, my assignment has not… my WHY is to change the world…. one child at a time!
What’s your WHY?
After year one as principal at one of my campuses, I realized that I had grown weary of always focusing on the staff members who were not meeting campus expectations. I also realized that it was only a few staff members who fit in that ineffective/rebellious category, but that small percentage of teachers were sucking the energy out of me.
The next year, I decided to focus on the positive. I still dealt with teachers who were not meeting expectations, but it no longer consumed me. Instead, I used my time to commend those staff members who were doing the right thing. Read below for some of the ways I showed appreciation for those staff members who were doing a great job.
Staff Development Kudos
I began my weekly staff development sessions with a kudos. We had staff development every Monday for an hour. On Monday, while around campus and in classrooms, I looked for things to for which to praise teachers. I looked for teachers who were engaged with their students, teachers who were teaching the character education lesson as expected, teachers who were on schedule, teachers who were doing Fundamental 5, etc. The first thing on the agenda was kudos. I began the meeting with a kudos to teachers who were caught doing the right thing.
Each Friday, I emailed the campus newsletter to all staff members. The newsletter had all the things I needed to share with the staff. I never believed in faculty meetings… where you bring the staff together to share information. That’s a waste of time. In the newsletter, I had a section for Kudos. Each week, I listed one staff member (or group of staff members) for something I noticed. The kudos in the weekly newsletter was different from the kudos during staff development. Only teachers were at the staff development session, so I only gave kudos to teachers. In the newsletter, I took that opportunity to give kudos to any staff members. I might list the PEIMS Clerk for getting through Snapshot error-free. I gave kudos to the assistant principal for a job well done with testing. I might have given kudos to a paraprofessional for helping a student in need.
At staff development meetings after big district benchmarks, I gave teachers a certificate and coupon from a local restaurant for the following:
At the end of the awards assembly for students, I recognize teachers who had perfect attendance for the grading period. During the assembly, I award the teacher with the certificate, a free jeans day, and lunch on me.
How do you lead with positivity?
The beginning of a new school year is like New Year’s Day for most educators. We begin the year with a list of things we are going to improve upon. One of the things that are probably on every administrator’s list is “stay organized”. There is one strategy I have been given in my years of administration, suggested by Sean Cain, that should prove most helpful for principals and in turn help teachers.
The Organized Principal
One of the best pieces of advice I received as a principal was to schedule my day. Sean Cain, author of “The Fundamental Five” suggests administrators schedule their day in order to make sure they get into classrooms each day. I created a schedule each day and posted it outside my door. I dedicated two hours a day to instruction, but in one hour increments. I would schedule one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. During my Instructional Focus time, I went to classrooms. Depending on the time of the year, I either completed power walks, formal walkthroughs, or appraisals. Having the time scheduled forced me to get out of the office and into classrooms.
I trained the front office staff on how to respond to parents who called or came in outside of the time I had scheduled for parent concerns. They would say, “Mrs. Patterson is in classrooms right now helping with instruction. Her parent concern time is xx. You can either leave a message and she’ll call you at that time or you can come back at that time.” After implementing this one office “strategy”, I had very few parent complaints at the district level and miraculously had time to focus on instruction.
The Teacher Effect
Scheduling my day also helped me model for the teachers how they should fit all of their instruction into one day. I asked teachers to post their class schedules outside their doors so that we knew what subject they should have been teaching when we went into classrooms. In elementary, we can sometimes ignore certain subjects like Writing, Science, and Social Studies. Asking teachers to schedule their content instruction and post it, helped me monitor classroom instruction and make sure it was happening in those sometimes ignored subjects.
What are some strategies you’ve used that have been successful in making sure you get in classrooms as an administrator?
Paula Patterson is a Superintendent of Schools who shares practical points on leadership.