Be the change, being a teacher, being me, building community, making a difference, new year, principals

Dear Administrators, Please Don’t Forget About the Little Things

Dear Administrators,

I know you are excited.  I see it on Twitter, I hear it on Voxer, and in the conversations I am lucky enough to be a part of.  School is starting and another year is about to begin.  The big ideas are ready, the new initiatives, the dreams, hopes, wishes that come bundled with the start of a new school year.  There is so much potential surrounding you.  So much to do.  And so little time to waste.

But before you get too far in your dreams, think small first, please.  Before you roll out all of the new initiatives, the changes that you know will make everything so much better for everyone, yourself included, make me a promise first; promise to take care of the little things as soon as possible.

Yes, I know it is not fun or exciting to think about those things that you promise teachers that you will do, like approving a form, emailing a parent, looking up that long lost order.  But those little things?  They make a big difference to us teachers.  Those little things that you may not think deserves your limited time right now, those are the ones we need you to also take care of because those things add up to a whole lot of stress for us when left undone.  In fact, some of those little things may be stopping us from fulfilling our big dreams, hopes, and wishes.  

An amazing school doesn’t just come from dreams.  It is built upon a foundation of trust, of accountability, of feeling respected.  And all three of those are built on getting the management side of your job done for those who need it.  There are certain things that we teachers can only ask you to do, we don’t mean to burden you, we don’t mean to add more tasks to your already busy day, but there are some things we are not allowed to do or we are not capable of doing.  There are some things we need you for to make our jobs easier.

So this year, please do dream big.  Please do work for change.  Get excited about the big things.  But don’t forget the little things, those boring to-do tasks that don’t seem pressing.  To you they may be able to wait, but to me, it matters so much that you got them done.  That I can trust you to get them done.  That I know that even the small things deserve attention in the journey we are on.  

Thank you,


PS: Shannon or Jason, if you read this, you do this.  Thank you from the bottom of my very excited heart.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Be the change, principals, reflection

Dear Administrators, Have You Taken the Pulse of Your Building Lately?

image from icanread

“Yeah……I did it.  I goofed.  I pulled a Dufus move. No, it’s not the first time (that number wouldn’t fit in this post) but it was a mistake I should have known not to make. Granted, it was made out of zeal and innocence, but mostly it was made because I focused on my goals and not the goals of my teachers.”

So writes Tom Whitford, a principal here in Wisconsin I greatly admire, in his post “Learning With Your Mistakes” a must read post if you haven’t already.  Tom’s words have stuck with me.  It is not often that we teachers get to look into the mind of an administrator when they make a mistake.  It is not often that a private screw up becomes public knowledge because let’s face it, whether we are teachers or principals, there is some sort of expectation of perfection.  That we always know what we are doing, that everything we do is a good thing.

For years, I have blogged about the mistakes I have made and how it wasn’t until I started asking my students what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to learn, and whether I was doing a good job or not that my teaching truly changed.  Sure, being told that you are boring, or that something you feel passionate about is not liked by others, is hard.  But every time a child has told me their honest opinion, I have thanked them, what courage it must take for a 10 year old to tell an adult that there are better ways to teach something.

So in the spirit of Tom’s post, I wonder how many administrators keep a finger on the pulse of their building?  How many principals ask their teachers how they are doing, and not just at the end of the year, but monthly or more often?  How many principals create opportunities for their teachers to give them advice or to help them change something.  Sure, we can think that we teachers will tell our principals if something is not working, but let’s be real.  Many teachers are afraid of administration and what may happen if they do, even if they are friendly with them.  Some don’t think their words will ever make a difference, while others don’t want to take more time away from a principal’s already busy day. Whatever the reason, and there can be many, I think we need to encourage more open dialogue in our schools.

I am not proposing a free for all, but rather the chance to start a conversation.  That teachers be asked, “How are we doing, what should we change, or how can I be a better leader?” much like we should be asking our students.  Sure, the answers may be tough to hear but taken in the right spirit, like Tom did in his school, everyone will benefit.

When we are not afraid to start hard conversations, we can grow, whether in our classrooms or in our schools.  When we can create environments where teachers trust that they can speak to their administrators even about tough subjects, then we can grow.  We work so hard to create communities of open dialogue in our classrooms, why not extend it to the rest of the school?  We are all human, no one is perfect, and it is time we start talking about it more.  Not just at the end of the year or the beginning, but throughout, as we all create the type of school we would want our own children to be in.

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” can be pre-bought now from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Be the change, being a teacher, motivation, principals, reflection

Dear Administrators, Please Rescue the Staff Meeting

image from someecards

There are few things that induce quite as visceral reaction as bringing up staff meetings to teachers.  (If in doubt check all the someecards that have been made discussing it!)  It is not that teachers are opposed to meetings, after all most meetings mean collaboration, the reaction is more to what we think happens at staff meetings:  you sit and get information and then you leave.  Not exactly the most inspiring use of anyone’s time.

But it doesn’t need to be like this anymore.  Technology has provided us with the tools to communicate what we need without people being present to hear it thus removing most of the time usage at most traditional staff meetings.  Now I am not here to say we shouldn’t have meetings, I love meetings, I am here to say they should be a better use of everyone’s time.   So why not reclaim the traditional staff meeting and make it something every teacher looks forward to?

  • How about skipping all of the information giving?  Send out on email instead and then expect people to read it.  Most email services have a function where you can see whether someone read it or not.  Make it part of the job and if it isn’t read then those people can attend a special meeting where the same information is presented.
  • Make it hands on professional development.  With all of the new roll outs facing all of us, I would love work time to try things, discuss things and attack something as a staff.  Staff meeting time would be perfect for this.
  • How about making it collaboration time when possible?  One of our staff meetings a month was made into collaboration time several years ago and it has been incredible.  To be given the gift of time to either meet in an action team or with your grade level is truly one of the best things we can do for staff.
  • Make it in the morning.  After school I usually have 5 fires to put out before I go home, or it feels that way anyway.  I get that contract time starts at different times, but I would rather have a short 25 minute meeting before school than a long 45 one after school.  When there is a bell deadline there is a sense of urgency that simply is not present in the afternoon when we are all distracted.  However, if staff meetings become awesome then perhaps we would all be more focused during them.
  • Spread the responsibility.  Whoever decided that principals should be the only one in charge of meetings didn’t consider all of the teacher leaders that can exist at a school or even the immense work load carried by all principals I have ever met.  If you want to make it professional development, put others in charge.  Let teachers teach teachers and let us work on something, not just sit and get.
  • Bring in parents and students.  Too often these stakeholders are left out of a school’s professional discourse.  I would love to hear from parents and students how they would like to be taught something or the ideas they may have.  Also, I wonder how many experts do we have among our parents that could teach us something?  How often is this part of our population left out of decisions and discussions?
  • Teach us something.  I would to leave each staff meeting knowing something new or armed with a new idea to try in my room.  But we need time to share those ideas, we need time to try new things and figure them out.  Why not make the staff meeting a central component of what we should be learning?

What did I miss?

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

principals, reflection

Can A School Be Great If the Principal Isn’t?

image from icanread

I have been thinking a lot about principals lately, and not because I am here to say they are not needed, but more considering just how important the role can be to a school.  In fact it seems that so much depends on the principal.

The principal is the natural face of the school, they serve as the filter for district administration, the state, media, and anxious new parents.  They serve as the mouthpiece highlighting hopefully all of the amazing things that are happening.  They are the ones that praise and share all the great work that is done at their school.  They are also the ones that add new team members and try to guide teachers to become more effective.  They are in a sense the connecting point of the school; a steady presence with ever evolving teachers and new students.  They can unify a school or tear it apart.  They can lift a school up or bring it further down.  They can highlight or they can forget to mention.  They can advocate and practice unity or they can cause true separation.  And while they are not the only parts of the school that make it run or function, they are unique in their singularity; no one else carries as much overall responsibility as they do.  No one else is looked to as the point that connects everyone else.  No one else seems to have so much say, so much weight to their words, so much power behind their decisions.  At least not anyone that I can think of within a single school.

So it leads me to wonder; a school can be filled with all the best teachers, but can it truly be great if the principal isn’t amazing as well?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

end of year, feedback, principals, reflection

Principals; Please Let Your Teachers Evaluate You

I am here today to really ask one thing; principals, please let your teachers evaluate you.  And although it may not be my place and you may find it odd that I dare say it, I will tell you why I ask.

Please let us evaluate you so that we can tell you all of the great things you have done for our school.  So that we can tell you where we have grown as teachers and how you have helped foster that growth.

Please let us evaluate you so that we can tell you our vision for our learning environment and we can figure out how it fits into a whole school vision.

Please let us evaluate you so that we can tell you how the school’s climate is doing from an individual classroom standpoint.  We know you have the overall feel, but let us fill in the gaps.

Please let us evaluate you so that we can help you grow like you help us grow.  We are all human, we all have areas we need to focus on, yet sometimes our own judgment or priorities cloud what is most pressing.  Sometimes teachers or even students are the ones that can keep or put a whole school on track.

Please let us evaluate you so that we know that how we feel matters.  So that we know that much as we should be listening to our students and to you, you will also listen to us.

Don’t make it anonymous; people need to stand behind their words.  But please give us the chance to speak those words to you.

We know time is of the essence, and we all know how much there is still to do, but please let us evaluate you so that we can continue to grow together.

PS:  I let parents and students evaluate me every year, and every year, I grow from it, even if some evaluations are not as positive as I could hope.  We will not grow if we do not ask the people who we effect how we are doing.

principals, reflection

Can We Have Courageous Conversations With Our Principals?

I am always struck by passion of the principals I meet in my travels and this weekend, at EdCamp MadWI, was no different.  I was in many frank conversations with principals who had questions for me or just had really amazing ideas.  Their passion for their staff and the betterment of their school poured out of them.  As I returned to school today, I wondered; where are those conversations between teachers and principals in our buildings?  What holds us back as teachers in starting frank and honest discussions with our very own principals on a regular basis?  Fear?  Apprehension of misunderstanding?  Past poor experiences?  Or is it simply time and a strictness of protocol?  Do our home schools have a power hierarchy that we cannot bridge in the same way we do at EdCamps?  Do we walk around our schools afraid of having courageous conversations with those closest to us?

I think it is time we start those courageous conversations with our administrators.  It is time for us to realize and acknowledge that our principals were teachers once as well, and that they too functioned under a principal, with every self doubt that implies.  It is time for us to not be afraid and to speak to our principals and administrators the way they deserve to be spoken to; as human beings rather than just our bosses.

I know I fall victim to stereotypes myself;  assuming that someone in a principal job does not want feedback, does not want ideas, does not want honest discussion.  I am not sure where this idea started from but it seems to permeate many schools.  Perhaps the very role of principal means there is a glass wall between us.  Perhaps it is their sheer busyness that creates a natural distance.  I am not sure but we must discuss, we must reflect, and we must have conversations that push the boundaries much like we would with our colleagues because even though principals are in leadership positions they are still our colleagues as well.

While I know many principals tread water all day, floating from one fire to another, there are still many moments for us to discuss and reflect together.  I think we need to bridge that unspoken gap that exists between teachers and principals and somehow find a way to grow together, rather than the more typical path of us versus them.  We must approach our every day as we would an edcamp; there to learn, there to think, there to connect.  It is time we give our principals a fair chance.