Principal Expert of the Week

Transforming School Culture: Know It, Feel It, Live It

When I first arrived, Lake Shore Middle School (LSMS) was on the verge of a state takeover. With an F grade for two straight years on the state report card, LSMS was plagued with a host of problems including discipline issues, an unclear academic focus, a discouraged staff, and students who had embraced a failing attitude. Where was I to begin, and how was I going to turn this school around? (more…)

Student Voice and Choice Through Personalized Learning Time

Each year I invite our teachers at Montour High School to participate in the Shadow a Student Challenge. For one week, a group of teachers spends time following students around the building, attending their classes, and joining them in lunch, activities, and more. Afterward, the teachers and I get together and talk about their shadowing experiences. It was during one of these afternoon conversations that changed the direction of our school community for the better.

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Five Simple Ways to Boost Social Capital in Schools

Guest post by Nathan Boyd, director, African American Student and Parent Services for South Bend Community School Corporation

Whether it’s Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram, or the app du jour, our kids are digitally connected to one another in more ways than I can count. Despite their virtual connectedness, kids seem to be more isolated and alone these days. Their sense of belonging and esteem is lacking, which has detrimental effects on their personal and academic success. How can school leaders help students connect to one another in the real world? (more…)

Good Enough is Not Good Enough: Soliciting Feedback for Professional Growth

Guest post by Donald F. Gately, principal, Jericho Middle School, Jericho, NY

I recently prepared introductory remarks for our end-of-the-year concert. Using the same  “concert introductions” document that I’ve used since I became a principal, I cut and pasted the elements that need to be repeated every year: Turn off your cell phone, don’t yell out your kid’s name, stay until the end of the concert, thanks to our dignitaries for attending.

Despite the canned reminders, I always craft different remarks as part of my introductions. At this event, I referenced a study done by the renowned neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks about the positive effects that learning to play a musical instrument has on the brain. My mentor taught me that any time you address a large gathering of people in your role as principal, it is an opportunity to reinforce the vision and mission of the school. (more…)

Three Ways to Inspire Teachers

Guest post by Danny Steele, principal, Thompson Sixth Grade Center, Alabaster, AL

Teachers are hungry for inspiration. They are committed to their work and see the value in it… but it can still be draining. They want leaders who will refill their bucket. In my experience, these three strategies can go a long way toward energizing teachers:

1. Support them.Over the years, it has become clear to me that support is the number one quality that teachers desire in their administrators. (more…)

Schools Could Learn a Thing or Two From Driver Education

Guest post by Brian M. Stack

I have spent more than a decade as the principal of a high school that has gained national recognition as an early adopter of a competency-based learning model. As one who has been a part of this transition and implementation since its beginning, I am always happy to offer practical advice to fellow principals on the topic. The most popular question I am asked is about how to introduce the idea of competency-based learning to parents and other stakeholders who do not work in the education field. To date, I have found no better way to do this than to relate it to a very common assessment experience that most adults have in common: obtaining a driver’s license.  (more…)

The Poor Man’s Guide to Family Engagement in Our Schools

Guest post by Patrick Arguelles

Doing more with less

Virtually every school district in the nation is dealing with budget reductions. For most school leaders, there is little unjustified spending to cut, no easy targets, no low-hanging fruit. At the Early College Academy and Career Enrichment Center in Albuquerque, NM, we have examined our vision and mission and aligned budget expenditures to them. Challenged with sustaining the core function of our school—college and career readiness—yet also making budget reductions that could affect the educational experience necessary for student success, we stepped outside the box to scrutinize our options. Initial conversations were filled with lots of “less”—less materials and supplies, less technology, less PD, less electives, even less pay. What could we have more of that would not cost us any money? (more…)

Everyone Has a Story

Guest post by Brandon Mowinkel

The role of a principal is complex, tiring, and stressful, to say the least. Balancing the needs of your staff, students, school, and community can wear on you, especially as the school year winds down. Tensions seem to run high as patience wanes.

It is vital for principals to keep the focus where it needs to be—on the students. The demands of the job can pull us in various directions and our need to keep students at the forefront of what we do becomes muddled in the minutia of school life. Every principal must find a way to remember his “why” and continuously keep the focus on students and their learning. In my practice, I use three constant reminders to keep me focused on what matters most. (more…)

AVID: A Transformative Pathway for School Improvement

Guest post by Nick Nelson

During the 2015–16 school year, The Dalles High School in Oregon was awarded a state grant for AVID training. We didn’t know much about AVID at the time, just that it was a philosophy centered on writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading, and that its goal was to close the achievement gap.

The grant allowed a team of five teaching staff, me, and one additional administrator to attend the initial summer AVID-training session. After that session, our team began to grasp more concretely the significance of what we were involved in and the potential impact AVID could have on our instructional practice with targeted students and schoolwide. What we didn’t know was how instrumental AVID would be in creating a powerful cultural transformation for our high school. (more…)

A Professional Learning Community That Achieves Results

Guest post by Jack Baldermann

At Westmont High School (WHS)—a Title 1 school just outside Chicago, IL—our team has sustained tremendous growth and significant gains in student achievement. WHS continues to rank in the top 1 percent in Illinois and in the nation for its graduation rate. Over the past five years, 98.5 percent of our students have graduated on time, up from a 10-year average of 90 percent. For five years straight, 100 percent of Latino and African-American students at WHS have completed all graduation requirements on time. In addition, WHS can also claim one of the most improved and top performing AP programs in Illinois and in the nation.

What has caused our substantial growth and gains in student achievement? (more…)