Recess Pay Off

“Hands up!”

I say this so many times during recess. It’s a shortened version of what my staff and I have taught students since the first day of school. We even recite a line of our pledge daily that says “respect other people and their property”.

At the elementary level – I’ve never had a fight start out of pure hate. It’s usually horseplay that goes awry after a minute or so when one student takes things a step too far. I’m very consistent with my “hands up” rule and students know it.

A few weeks ago at lunch recess it was the first nice day in a while. I ended up telling a student multiple times to keep his hands to himself and finally told him to take a two minute time-out to regulate himself. He wasn’t malicious, but was struggling to control his excitement.

After one minute…maybe less…he came up to me and asked how much time he had left. I answered that he still had one minute. He then reached into his back pocket and said “I hope I can change your mind”.  He then pulled out a $100 bill that he made. I still have no idea where he came up with a green crayon and paper.

I took the fake $100 and told him that he if he put his hands on anyone else he would owe me a real one. (of course I was joking). The rest of recess went off without a hitch.

Later that day, at dismissal, I debriefed with his mom through the car window. She appreciated me filling her in, and we got a good laugh over his creativity and antics. She promised to have a conversation with him about appropriate behavior for recess at home and to “please keep her updated”.

Some will say I’m a pushover, others will criticize me for my amusement, but in the end – the relationship I built with his mom in this instance will overcome any future obstacles.

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Square pegs don’t fit round holes. The question is…can you appreciate the 90degree angles?

Top 10 Things to NOT Say in an Interview

interviewIt is interview season!

I will never forget my first principal interview. When the board was super friendly and low key I became a little too transparent…not one of my better moments! In light of this stressful time of year, I’d like to reflect on some things NOT to say…if you are a candidate looking for a new position. To be fair – we’ve all made mistakes in interviews.

  1. I don’t get an opportunity to practice my Spanish much in this school…so I use it with my Polish speaking students. I mean, I get that they probably don’t understand me.
  2. At my current school, I’m surrounded by a bunch of, like, 30 year olds. It’s super disappointing that there is no one younger.
  3. I would like this job because it would shorten my drive in the winter months. Driving in the snow is terrible.
  4. I believe in a lecture model, I have proven that it is effective.
  5. There is this one student that I “hate”, I mean…have.
  6. I often have students that try to hide from me, but usually I just know to check the closet.
  7. I don’t teach the way it’s “supposed to be taught”. I find my own way much more effective.
  8. My centers are based on skills the kids can’t do, for exposure.
  9. I planned a lot in the first semester of student teaching, and now, like most teachers…I started coming to school in January thinking “what am I going to teach today?”
  10. I love Read to Self the best – typically I sit in the back and watch them.

(All responses may be considered ‘hypothetical’ situations)

Cowgirls Don’t Cry

“Her Daddy gave her first pony.”…”She climbed high in that saddle, fell, I don’t know how many times.”…”It taught her a lesson that she learned, maybe a little too well, Cowgirls don’t cry.”

Classic Brooks & Dunn.

I can count all of the times I remember crying in my life, on two hands.

Tears are weakness. Sadness is an armor default. Most of the tears I have shed are silent, controlled, and muffled.

For the sake of my family, I need to make it clear that these assumptions were never imbedded through explicit conversation or implicit actions. These were conclusions I came to all on my own.

As an educator, I’m comfortable with “root cause analysis”. As I dig deep into the cause of these rare tears, it results from a feeling of inadequacy. To be clear, not a single person sets me up for unrealistic expectations…but myself.

Lately this is the reality. Setting up unrealistic expectations for myself. Who am I kidding…”lately”?! More like – my entire reflective life. However truth is:

I can not –

  1. Have a perfectly clean house
  2. Devote excessive time to exercise
  3. Please everyone
  4. Solve all problems
  5. Be perfect

I realistically know I can not do the “afore mentioned items”, however I continue to hold myself to those expectations. Rachael Hollis told me “Stop Breaking Promises to Yourself!”. Does she realize that statement just gives me additional guilt for the things I don’t feel that I am doing exceptionally well?

Cowgirls may not often cry on the outside…but just so ya’ll know – we’re fighting one hell of a battle inside.


Power of Contact


I’m short a certified lunch supervisor this year. Daily I fill in for this position.

The students love when they see me standing at the door of the cafeteria. We do handshakes, fist bumps, high fives, and other variations of making positive contact. This day was a tornado high five!

Touch is the first sense to develop in infants and has been proven as the most effective way to read an individuals emotional state.

I always give students a choice. As they walk down the hall towards me I’m calling out “it’s chicken wing day!” And they know if they walk past me without an elbow raised I’m not going to chase them down…but you better believe that I’ll find them during lunch to just see how their day is going.

Remember those professors in undergrad who said “never give a hug!” or “beware of lice!”…crazy.

Who Wins? What If?

I remember the first time that my mom asked if I wanted to stay in the car while she went to grab a loaf of bread from the grocery store. I eagerly replied “yes!” excited to be exercising my new-found independence. Not long after my mom went into the store, it started. The “what ifs”. What if someone knocks on the car window, should I roll it down? What if my mom doesn’t come back out? What if someone tries to steal the car and I’m inside?

This is my first memory that included a trail of “what if questions” that constantly ran through my brain. Whenever I discussed this personality trait, many couldn’t believe the pessimism from these questions. Occasionally I agreed, but as an elementary principal, this constant running stream of questions have been a blessing.

In situations throughout the day I find myself weighing the risks and rewards. Every decision is a calculated formula that fills my mind with a variety of outcomes and best/worst case scenarios that I take to extreme in order to fully prepare for possible outcomes.

For example: A student brings a stack of Pokemon cards to school and refuses to leave them in his locker. He is distracted from his work and is beginning to distract others.

What would you do in this situation?

Some will be turned off by my next comment, please know it’s coming from a good place. I need to make sure that I win. If I win, the student gains. Every single time. In reality, we both win. What do students gain? They gain; social emotional growth, learning (instead of suspension), and often an opportunity to build trust and have a relationship with a consistent, but forgiving adult. In this situation, I immediately take what I know about the student and his trauma as well as how he has handled passed confrontation and apply it to my “What ifs”. The objective of winning is often not immediate, but more long-term and takes extreme patience and zero ego.

Have you decided what you would do? While you’re thinking…I’m share my thoughts.

I will not:

  • take the cards away (he would state “ripping out of my hands”)
  • threaten him with no recess (he cares more about the cards than recess anyways)
  • publicly state my disappointment/disdain for toys in the classroom (he would state, “making an example out of me”)

Each of these situations would result in a possible escalation of behavior, a break in trust, or is an unrelated consequence that will not lead to sustainably changed behavior.

I will consider:

  • Asking him if we could spend a few minutes looking at the cards together in the hallway (Lord, knows I could use a lesson in Pokemon!) and then store in his locker so we could play together during lunch recess.
  • Removing students who are easily distracted from his group, in order to preserve their learning opportunities.
  • After school, calling his guardians to request that “extras” be left at home so that we can continue our focus of academic and social success.

This last consideration may shock you – ignore the distraction and revisit it when circumstances have changed. If you will not be able to confiscate, store, or convince the student without a scene…let it go. I know that I will lose more instructional time by the need to win “in the moment”, then if I let it go until there is an opportunity for a completely discreet and private conversation when he is at his best emotionally and appears willing to be flexible.

To summarize this specific situation, I was able to play Pokemon at lunch, call his guardian, and eventually we agreed on a safe place in my office to store his cards. The next day – “I noticed your pants don’t have pockets today. I have a special secret container in my office that I think might work pretty well for those cards. That way they can stay safe while you’re learning.” Done.

Situations aren’t always this easy, nor to I pretend to have all the answers. What I do have is a rock solid persistence to create long-term positive relationships that won’t crumble under pressure. What if we didn’t always have to win immediately, but practiced long term gratification? What if we allowed each child to learn at their own social emotional pace? What if we were consistent, but flexible, in meeting the needs of our vastly different students? What if we didn’t take resistance as a personal threat, but as an opportunity for improvement?

In the end, when mom went into the grocery store, I always locked the doors. Unexpected and unpredictable things may happen…the only power I have, is to manage and control my reaction.

Lunchroom Duty

When a task is called a requirement, there is resistance, just for the sake of it.

I spend time daily in the cafeteria with students. It’s called lunchroom duty.

According to Merriam-Webster-
Duty: obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position

When I excuse myself from a meeting or a conversation to attend to “lunchroom duty”, I often see an expression of empathy on adult faces. They are likely imagining a mob of children pushing and shoving towards food, unopened fruit cups, and endless milk spills…all at a deafening volume.

I have a secret. I’m about to let you in on it.

“Lunchroom Duty”, shouldn’t even be considered such a thing. Lunchroom Opportunity? Now that’s more like it.

It’s my time to connect on topics not related to education, or behavior. It’s my time to have conversation and enjoy students in a low stress and relationship building manner.

Here is a few conversation starters from today –

“Hey! Mrs. S! How much is 50 Yen?”

“Bet you don’t know who XXXTentacion is!”

“Do you know how to say ‘it’s okay’ in sign language?”

In those moments two things happened:

  1. My phone had a heck of a workout
  2. I now know that 50 yen is about .44 cents, XXXTentacion was a famous rapper killed in a robbery, and “okay” in sign language resembles a motion that a middle school student I once had gave me (he was less than pleased)

Lunchroom duty is an opportunity to meet students where they’re at. Lunchroom duty is an opportunity to capitalize on the unique curiosity of a child. Lunchroom duty will continue being a duty – until more adults spend time in this space where kids start the conversation and communicate with curiosity.




Balancing Act for Balanced Accountability?

If you didn’t already know, “I Love You.”

That was all it took for me to join the 100k viewers that have started a movement after Freethink posted a video about Principal, Hamish Brewer. Currently a phenomenon exists that has started to change the face of educational leadership. No longer are impactful leaders expected to wear a tie, sit in their office, and assign punitive punishment.

Principals like Hamish are taking back charge of their positions in school by servant leadership, but he isn’t the only education rock star who is unapologetic about his approach.

Jeffery Zoul and Anthony McConnell’s book entitled The Principled Principal, discusses the People Principle, and the importance of leading with a human element that allows empathy, intent listening, vulnerability, and FUN!

“The school leader embodies a school’s culture. It’s leader’s words and actions represent a school’s priorities and concerns. We get a sense of culture when we witness a school leader.”  – Hacking Leadership, by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis

In this shift to primary culture builder, where does the balance exist with examining data, teacher evaluation, and state identified school designations?

This is a current reflection of my thoughts after Illinois just released designations for each public school across the state. With this in mind it’s my goal to continue to publish my process, reflections, and new learning as our school digs into the Illinois Balanced Measures of Accountability in relationship to the Every Student Succeeds Act.