My Office as an Assistant Principal

During the COVID-19 closure my office got painted, and in the process I had some time to make some design updates to my assistant principal office to make it more welcoming and friendly to families and students that I wanted to share.

  • Social justice + STEM art: I keep Amplifer’s art on rotation in my frames, and this year’s campaign encouraging women in STEM is the current focus in my office, including Spanish posters. All of their artwork can be downloaded for free. Then, I had the full sized posters printed for under $6 each at Costco. Next year, I’ll be adding into the rotation some “I am a Scientist” posters from Plenary, which are now available for pre-order (check out their slides for free download as amazing resources to share with students)!
  • Plants + lighting: Always keeping neurodivergence in mind, I avoid using the overhead fluorescents. I want a place where we can have conversations, not a space that feels like an institution.
  • Television facing seating: This screen is an extension of my computer and plays a rotation of student images celebrating diverse groups of student achievements, and it also plays announcements about mental health, letting students know I can escort them to a confidential counselor, graduation requirements, and a weekly school calendar. I can also pull up their current grades and records and put them on full display so we can have a conversation about the data, rather than awkwardly talking about something behind my screen that they can’t see, potentially creating mistrust (I do have private screens back there)
  • Little Library: There’s a selection of about eight books I bought from our media specialist’s summer reading challenge. For students who just need a quick break from class without the formality of ISS, I have a cafe hightop table with barstools outside of my offices and they can choose one of the titles to read.
  • New faux leather seating: My old seats were school provided fabric lobby seats that I added throw pillows to. By switching to faux leather, I can ensure that I can sanitize chairs between visitors safely.
  • Sidetable: On my sidetable, there’s a bowl of fidgets. With this bowl, it’s always pretty easy to tell the more neurodivergent students from the neurotypical ones who don’t understand the fidgets! I’m usually able to recommend that they can get fidgets and recommend them as a coping strategy. They’ll typically see me out in the halls during lunch with these too. Unfortunately now, I’ll have to take care to sanitize these too, but I’m glad to be able to serve students that need the stimulation to focus, as well as parents who bring small children into my office. There’s also 211 cards, and a box of tissues.
  • Wall of celebrities at PCHS: So far, I have four photos on campus with celebrities. Three are SEC coaches, one is from when Good Morning America was on campus!
  • Other favorites in the photo: I love my framed articles featuring either my students or me, rather than just keeping them in the drawer. I also love the framed photos my students have given me over the years. The one on the far right is from a former student who’s authored a book, so it sits with her book. In the first photo, there’s a couple of plush animals, one from my AP CSP & Esports kids when I left, and another from a tech support kid when he went to visit Silicon Valley before moving there for coding school! I also have a board of all my tags, buttons, and other memorabilia from conferences, including press passes from the White House for President Obama’s campaign and Mitt Romney’s run for the presidency when I got to cover it with my journalism kids.

New on ASCD EdAdvantage

Today I was published on ASCD’s EdAdvantage on Faciliating Professional Learning. The article, “Showcasing Teachers to Enhance Professional Development”, highlights the work I helped led with teachers and administrators at Bloomingdale High School as a Teacher Talent Developer to increase all areas of professional development, instructional leadership, and teacher leadership on our culture survey and improve the school grade 80 points in two years. It’s a three page read full of ideas you can implement at your own school—check it out!

School Apps

In an effort to communicate better with parents and students in a mobile culture, I started the Bloomingdale High School app in the Android and iOS stores in July 2014. In nearly three years it has over 9,500 users and has had over 258,000 views! Recently, I started an app for Boyette Springs Elementary, my kids’ school, that brought the school apps back in the spotlight.

Our app features social media feeds, like our Twitter run by our principal and our WBUL Youtube channel, so that they can see the latest news from these outlets without having to be a user of that social media network. Our course and club directories are featured, as well as current sports schedules. Guidance, news and grades are a click away, as are lunch menus, maps, the student handbook, and the calendar. You can email your teachers, or call the school at a click. Next year, we’re going to try to do salad and sandwich line pre-ordering via app too!

We use AppMakr/Infinite Monkeys as our publisher. It’s important to understand why we use this route: to publish in the Android store is a $25 one-time fee; to publish in the Apple store is a $99 annual fee. With a coupon code for student apps, the cost to us is free, avoiding the $99 annual fee (message me to learn more). It’s also a what you see is what you get editor, which means you can drag and drop icons in and adjust your app without any programming knowledge! My favorite part is that it pushes out instant updates without having to wait for Apple to approve the update!

You’ll spend the most time building the app itself. It needs clean, consistent graphics with a uniform look. There are some icons to pick from, but I prefer downloading my own from Flat Icon. You’ll want to create a banner for the top screen of the app as an image. From there, it’s deciding what features you want to include.

The most important thing to know about the Apple Store is that you only get two shots to get it approved, or you’re permanently banned. Here’s what you need to know to get approval:

  • Make sure your graphics are on point. If they’re misaligned, or inconsistent in appearance, they won’t approve of the aesthetic. Give the background a color that matches your banner (best bet is to learn the hexadecimal color value and use the same color).
  • Apple requires interactive features. That is, they don’t want your app to be a mobile website in function. Use AppMaker’s wall and chat features to allow parents to communicate, and add it in the app description. (Remember how I told you it makes instant updates? When we get our apps approved, we immediately delete these features! The thought of unregulated conversation on school apps scares us a little. Or a lot.)
  • Make sure that each link is good–is there content under each click? The AppMakr has a demo view and will allow you to text a web preview to your phone to try it out.

Once you get Apple approved, it’s very easy! Android access is immediate without approval, and they send you all the graphics and uploads you need for a successful Android launch. I recommend you get your webmaster behind this, so they can help you in keeping it updated regularly, and download the Bloomingdale and Boyette Springs apps for inspiration. Happy app building!

Strategy Lists

As a part of our teacher led PD project, we empowered teachers at our school to come together and share strategies they use that focus on specific topics that either improve questioning and discussion, or assessment. I’ve posted those lists on my website as resources, and for space, have condensed them as links here.


Questioning & Discussion:

International Teacher Leadership Conference

On March 2, I presented “Teacher Leaders Transforming Professional Development: Join Us in the Journey” at the International Teacher Leadership Conference in Miami with Florida Teacher Leader Fellows Pam Ferrante, Marti Ladd,  Sarah Barnett, and Amy DeCelle. We decided to use the Open Space format, where each of us had an opportunity to share our inquiry questions.

Here’s a synposis of my inquiry question from the conference.

Here are some of the resources I shared that I used in implementing personalized PD:

Making a list, checking it twice: Preparing for Winter Break

Here’s a few things to consider before Winter Break:

1. You need time to relax and decompress. Research on teacher well-being shows that this time is critical for you to recharge. Your families need you. You need to focus on them, and doing nice things for yourself. As professionals, there will always be more work to do. Now is not the time to try to do it, because you’ll just end up with more to do.

2. Don’t take a large stack of papers home to grade. If you do it, you’ll be miserable. If you don’t do it, you’ll be miserable Sunday night before we return. Nothing is worse than bringing papers home to grade then having to bring them back ungraded (which is why I swore off bringing papers home years ago). If your New Year’s resolution is to grade more often, being defeated over break isn’t the way to start. You will have planning time during exam week where you can catch up on grades if you still need to.

3. Unplug devices –coffee pots/Keurigs, TVs, lights, etc.– but not your computer (updates may run over break but you can turn it off and they’ll still run). Bloomingdale’s media center caught on fire on Christmas Day one year (due to no fault of a teacher, but a contractor doing renovations). There’s nothing more heartbreaking than hearing about that on Christmas Day and coming back to work to a soggy room full of ruined books (my apologies to English teachers who just died a little on the inside).

4. Make copies of your review materials now. Come back with a fresh start on Monday. Do everything you can now to prep the room, materials and lessons. Don’t have that Sunday night guilty feeling (which isn’t a bad New Year’s resolution–turning that feeling into one of excitement because you know your class/lesson is ready to go).

5. Get all food out of the classroom. Tis the season for holiday cultural celebrations, but coming back to bugs and other creatures isn’t pleasant. That means your emergency chocolate stash too (I know I can’t be the only one).

6. Give some love to your custodian. Maybe your hall can collect for a gift card (we did in my old classroom area). Find where you can deliver leftover treats to custodians instead of throwing them away. And please, with those holiday cultural celebrations, try to take out the trash yourself when possible (or least get extra bags–the mounds of plates and cups spilling out of the trash isn’t fun to deal with–multiply it by their hall assignments and Friday is a terrible day for them).

7. If you have a window, close your blinds and make sure the windows are locked. Keep valuables locked away to not make the school a tempting target for theft.

8. I hope my mentees take the Starbucks gift card I gave them and go enjoy a warm drink with someone you love. We are teachers because we care, and we need to remember to nourish our other relationships too.

Hope you all have a safe, wonderful, restful break!

Review Strategies

The most important thing I hope my mentees take away is to not just hand your students a packet of questions to answers or terms to define and walk away! Students need quality instruction and processing time to truly understand all of the material from this semester. Here are some strategies for review.

Student Created Questions
Some of your best questions can start with students. If they write them, they can understand content better (and there’s less work for you!) I recommend showing them Costa’s levels of questioning and pushing them towards Level 2 and 3 questions, as they’ll be more likely to see that on exams and EOCs. Check out this link for more, including stems for various content ares.

In this Kagan strategy, students create a question card. They then find a partner, quiz them on the card, answer the other students’ card, then trade cards. The students then find a new partner, and ask their new question. See this link for more detailed instructions and some variations on this method.

Break up your content into small chunks and assign it to different groups to present. I often ask them to make a poster with requirements to have a visual, and key information. This will look different depending on your content. You can also do variation where each student in that group writes a question then you create mixed groups, where a member from each table comes together with new questions.

With Foldables, students create their own visual/kinethetic study guide to review material. See the attachments for instructions and examples. This link goes to a social studies Foldable guide with tons of creative ideas on how to use them. Here’s another awesome link to more great Foldable and review ideas, including graphic organizers. There’s some science-specific content too.

With Kahoot, you can make multiple choice questions into trivia games. The students love it, but they need devices and WiFi to do it. Note that there’s many Kahoots that already exist, but they may not meet the needs of your students. Do preview all content! Making one is very easy too, and if one person in your PLC does it, then you could share with all (or jigsaw it, like where each PLC member makes one for different units)! Better yet, if you do the Jigsaw questions above, have each group pick their best question. As the students mingle together sharing their own questions, make a quick 5 question Kahoot with their own questions. Bragging rights, or extra credit to winners makes it even more fun and competitive! (Often, when all students are finished with their exam, we’ll go back for fun and play the Disney trivia or other previewed pop culture ones. It’s a great way to build community!)

There are Powerpoint templates out there that make the game playable as a PPT. If you need one, go this link (that also has other run review games). You can also go to this link for a web based version. You can add rigor by making students discuss their answers and come to consensus, or by using student created questions.

I like Quizlet because the students can download an app on their device and study with flashcards that go everywhere with them. They’re easy to create, and on a computer they can play games with the content, like Space Race, or matching games. I recommend demoing it so students take advantage of the power of it. Quizlet is also great for you as you study for your subject area or Professional Educator exam–for many tests, people have already shared their flashcard sets so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!