Monday, October 4, 2010


I am sitting in Bellevue trying to absorb all the knowledge, skill and inspiration from the past two days at the Association of Washington School Principals' Conference. A few highlights:

*Teacher Evaluation: Sunday's sessions focused on teacher evaluation. In a three-part series, we learned about legal guidelines of evaluation, new standards and criteria, and my favorite, from a favorite presenter Heather Knight, Coaching to support teaching.

*Professional Learning Communities: Bob Eaker and Janel Keating spent 4 hours Monday morning as our keynote presenters. What a gift! I have attended the Solution Tree Institute on PLCs before, and I completed the SPU Superintendent's program with Janel. I am always so excited after hearing information from them. Key points:

Four Questions to Guide the Work of Professional Learning Communities:

  • What do we expect students to learn?[Focus on essential outcomes, power standards, learning targets, pacing.] Question to consider: What would this standard look like in student work if the standard was met?
  • How will we know if the kids learn it?
  • How do we respond when students experience difficulty in learning?
  • How do we respond when students do learn?

Other Key Highlights:

  • This work needs to be done kid by kid, skill by skill (not just looking at school level data)
  • Find a way to have multi-dimensional feedback loops. How do teams share information with building leadership and district leadership? How does the district leadership facilitate the process?
  • Be specific about defining the role of teacher leader and providing opportunrities for training and skill development
  • Different teams will be at different levels of implementation and success; we need differentiated leadership and instruction for our teams just like we do for our students
  • Make sure teachers understand the larger theoretical framework for PLCs and that we develop common language/understanding around our work; for example, does Formative Assessment mean the same thing to all people?
  • Limit initiatives; celebrate the fact that we're doing the SAME WORK year after year, to a deeper level
  • Use this filter for our actions, behaviors, and decisions: "Would this be good enough for our own children?"

Spent the afternoon learning about the Lincoln Center, a School-within-a-School at Tacoma's Lincoln High School.

And, my day ended with Marilyn McGuire: Gaining Power and Strength: Strategies for Navigating Through and Out of Difficult Terrain


  • Stop "Shoulding" on ourselves and others
  • Allow ourselves to "Recalibrate" and do over when things didn't go the way we would like
  • When things go better than expected, stop and think about what made that possible. Replicate those actions and decisions!
  • Where is your loyalty: to a person or a purpose?
  • Always come back to intention
  • Avoid "Blargeting": Blaming and Targeting
  • Be intentional with language: "I'm unclear" vs. "I'm confused"
  • "We judge ourselves by intent; we judge others by behavior. Turn that around."
  • Produce a "Success Memo" at least annually
  • Find a new "F" word on the job: FUN!

My brain is full and happy!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Are the math standards too high?

I just got off the phone with a reporter from a local newspaper. He's preparing an article about No Child Left Behind and the fact that the schools in our district did not make AYP in the area of mathematics.

He asked me this question: "Is the bar too high for math?"

Emphatically no, I replied.

Why do I believe that? As I have watched my own kids come up through elementary school, I observed the heavy, heavy emphasis (dare I say bias?) placed on literacy. The school work kids were bringing home was reading and writing. Homework? Reading and writing. Enrichment? Reading and writing.

I have a degree in English, so believe me, I value literacy. I just can't help but wonder, though, what would happen if we placed the same emphasis on math as we do on literacy, what would happen to our math scores?

I drove by a lot of schools this summer. Wanna know the most common reader board message? "Have a safe summer. READ!"

What if we were broadcasting messages about math?

What if we made it easy to practice math on a daily basis?

I truly believe math achievement is a function of time. We need to spend more time practicing math!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Weekend

We've somehow managed to make it to the weekend -- three weeks of school are under our belt. We sent 100 kids to camp for a week, our HS Band is performing in it's first field show of the year (UPDATE: They placed 3rd), and we had film director Tom Shadyac at our school on Friday to show his new movie, "I AM". It's amazing how many cool things are happening.

But partially because of all those cool things, I find my weekends more often than not devoted to recovery. I just awoke from a nap on the couch. I put on exercise clothes this morning, and am still wearing them in hopes I'll find the motivation to work out -- I need it for many reasons.

I can't help but wonder why I work so hard during the week but find it terribly difficult to be motivated to do anything on the weekend. Totally exhausted. There has to be more balance to life than this.

What do others do to keep that balance between work, home, and health? I'm going to get on the exercise wagon now...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Daughter

I started this blog, "Other People's Children" because my greatest fear is that I am better raising other people's kids than my own. It's a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but it's also a constant reminder that I need to have meaningful experiences with my kids on a regular basis. This year -- 2010 -- has been filled with just such adventures.

I will add photos later as time is limited, but did want to share about a couple of things we have done this summer.

Girl Fest: My daughter and I spent the day in Seattle on August 28, 2010, with hundreds of vendors and presenters, music, fire department and police officials... you get the idea. My daughter was chosen to go on stage to play a game with Radio Disney officials, we learned how to make our own safe face paint for Halloween, met the Sea Gals and Miss Seafair, listened to some amazing local and national musicians, and of course SHOPPING! We both came home with lots of fun treasures.

Camping: My kids and I spent a week at the Sequim/Port Angeles KOA. We had a great time. Molly attended the Girl Scout Day Camp in Port Angeles and Jack and I hung out and relaxed. We studied rocks, played mini golf, rode bikes, and hiked a little. One day we took a long walk on the beach at Dungeness Spit looking for wildlife in support of his Tracking Merit Badge. I think that would make an excellent digital story....

Vacation: The three of us also went to Nice, California for a week. We recently joined World Mark and this was our first vacation with that organization. We met wonderful people while hanging at the pool -- Molly has a couple of pen pals now, and we met a great family from the Tacoma area. Turns out we have a mutual friend, too :)

I hope my kids will have good memories of our time this summer. Hard to believe it's almost over -- back to school in about a week!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Math in K-12 Schools

Seems everyone these days is talking about math, and for good reason. Our students are performing well below standard as the norm.

"Teach to the test" I hear quite a bit. Causes shivers to run up and down the spines of most teachers. I wonder, though, if we've ever stopped to think about that phrase.

Why SHOULDN'T we teach to the test? Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about exclusively teaching to a test, but if we believe that the test is based on the standards, and the standards guide our curriculum planning, and our curriculum planning forms our instruction, and student performance on formative AND summative assessment also guides our instruction... I ask again--albeit in a different way--why shouldn't the test also guide our curriculum planning and instruction?

I have often shared with people that I do not believe that the textbook used makes a difference in the achievement of kids in mathematics. I believe that students can experience success with any tool. My perspective on that is changing a bit. We embarked on the "integrated math" plan about 6 years ago with the belief that it would be easier to supplement skill work into a problem solving program then the other way around. This has turned out not to be true -- since our teachers are expected to teach 5 of 6 periods a day, when would they have the time to develop a comprehensive supplemental instructional program???

At a recent board meeting, the superintendent mentioned we may need to fast track a new textbook adoption for high school math.... I quickly asked, "Can we have that done before September 7th?" The board meeting was August 25th. But then I started thinking... why do we need expensive textbooks? Is anyone out there teaching high school math, particularly Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II, without textbooks?

I want to be careful, though, that we don't then default to becoming "Ditto" from the movie "Teachers", or mistakenly think we can plug kids into computers without the benefit of any direct instruction or support from a teacher with whom they have a solid relationship -- I think we need an exciting, interactive, paperless, textbook-less (is that a word??) alternative.

A final note on math: I truly believe it's a function of time. Drive by any school in the summer, and what does the readerboard say? "Have fun, be safe, and READ!" Very good advice... but why are we not encouraging kids to work on math? Why, in teacher prep classes, do we always take "Reading in the Content Areas" but no "Teaching and Learning Math in the Content Areas"?

Enough of my soapbox.....

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gearing Up for School

I wonder if I will ever feel completely ready for a new school year. It seems that each year, I know more about how to plan for the year, and yet because of that, there is always more to do. I'm beyond excited about the upcoming school year, and yet I feel totally buried (literally) sitting here at my desk.

I also got to thinking that non-principals might not think about the same things that I do this time of year. So, here's a little humor (at least attempted): the Top 10 things on my mind with 7 work days before the first day of school:

10: Technology: how do we get enough access for teachers and students to use it to its full potential?

9: And speaking of technology, I want to explore more Digital Story Telling -- my own, the staff, the students... What about parents?

8: Graduation requirements: The State of Washington truly believes in keeping us on our toes -- it seems like the requirements are different for every class -- a major challenge in tracking, communicating....

7: Scheduling: Math MSP scores were just released this week. I've been waiting for these for weeks, and now I need to get to the business of organizing information and placing students

6: New Staff Orientation: and I mean this broadly! How do we welcome new staff to our building, bring them on board with previous programs, and help them start to build positive relationships with staff, students, community....

5: Professional Development: So much to do, so little time: the aforementioned Digital Story Telling, Navigation 101, Success at the Core, Strength Finder 2.0.... I could go on, but I won't :)

4: Hiring! Yikes -- still have one open position. Really hoping to have that filled (interviewed today --looks promising). So important to put in time up front to hire the best staff.

3: Student Leadership: where to put all our advisories, where the ASB officers should be housed, how to foster more student voice in our schools.....

2: Encouraging a stronger collaborative energy, with a committed focus on student learning in everything we do.

1: And the number one thing on my mind this time of year.... OUR STUDENTS! In particular, one new 6th grader who gets to have his mom as his principal. Love you Jack!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My first digital story

Just finished a two-day workshop with Dr. Helen Barrett on Digital Storytelling. What an amazing experience! Learned all kinds of technical skills, how to record and upload audio, how to blend voice over and music tracks, and most importantly, how to use Microsoft Windows Movie Maker.

So here it is -- my first attempt -- available for viewing at the following link:

Looking forward to your feedback

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I THOUGHT about writing yesterday.... If I had, here is what I would have written.

Today as I was going through books and moving into my new room, I came across a book I purchased some time ago, 365 Tao by Deng Ming-Dao. Over the last year, I have pondered whether I believe in fate at all. Are coincidences truly just chance, or is there something about our interconnected spirits that brings events to fruition and just the right time? Regardless, the fact that I picked up this book today was timely and appropriate if nothing else.

I read the introduction, well, OK, I skimmed the introduction, then moved on to read the first meditation. And it said this:


This is the moment of embarking.
All auspicious signs are in place.

Now, as I said, I am not sure I'm looking for signs at this point in my life, but a new beginning it is, and I love the idea of it being an auspicious beginning, a point of embarking. For there really is no where to look, but forward.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Clarifying: The Audience

The motivation for writing this has a lot to do with my potential audience. I am keeping three groups in mind as I tweak my focus.

First, I think of parents of middle and high school students. Many of us are embarking on secondary schools for the first time since we were there. For some, that school experience was not all that pleasant. For others, language or social barriers can make the school system feel unfamiliar and even, at times, intimidating. I would like to open the dialogue around this in order to make secondary schools more accessible.

Second, I think of the students, including my own children. Sometimes we have less influence in their lives than we could. There are things I could say to my kids but that they cannot always hear or understand. I hope this method of gathering my thoughts will become a resource for all youth working with adults -- teachers, parents, and so on.

Third, I think of other working moms who want the best of both worlds: the home and the career. I certainly have some success stories to share in this area, but more importantly I want to learn from others. Most of my close friends in school leadership do not have children, or they are already grown. It can be a lonely world, and I am hopeful that this will bring us closer to friendship and happiness.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Given that Easter is a time of rebirth and renewal, I thought it prudent to start my blogging experience today. As I write this, my daughter is sleeping beside me. She is eight years old, and it is not typical that she would nap in the middle of the day, but the rattle in her nose and the labored breathing tell me she is resting her body and on the brink of a spring cold. My son, almost 11, is frantically searching the house for his lost DS. A year ago, he decided he didn't like his DS anymore. Now, however, he found a game of interest and is somewhat surprised that he (1) can't find it and (2) can't get anyone else in the family to help him!

But the real reason I am here is this. For the past seven months, I have made a commitment to being happy. Before my mother died, she reminded me often to "lighten up". You see, I have a tendency to take myself a bit too seriously at times. Somewhere around August, with a new school year approaching -- the 18th of my career -- I decided that I needed to listen to that ghostly whisper bouncing around in my head. Lighten up!

At the beginning of this school year, I set myself some specific goals: spend more time with my own kids, smile more, get back in physical shape, attend to an appropriate level of stress and recovery (physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually). To my amazement, it worked. I lost 20 pounds without doing much other than walking more and eating less. I made new friends regularly. I had more time to spend with my own kids doing things we enjoy together --reading, movies, hiking, swimming, playing games. There was only one problem.

My marriage.

But before I go into that, I must explain the title of this blog. "Other people's children". I spend about 50 hours a week, give or take, spending quality time with other people's children, ages 11 - 18. I love being a school principal. I love working with kids. Somewhere a few years ago, though, I started to worry that I was better at being a principal than a mom. This blog is my attempt both to share my experiences at attempting to strike the PERFECT balance as a working mom, and also to elicit your feedback because I know you have stories to tell. Everyone has a story.

I just hope you find mine worth reading.

So, for today, I simply invite anyone who happens to stumble across this simple blog to share with me your answer to this question:

What have you always wanted to ask a middle school/high school principal but been afraid to ask?