Sunday, August 25, 2013

I Am a Nine

In case you haven't heard, the whole educator evaluation process here in NYS has changed dramatically over the last two years. Although there are many significant changes, the one that stands out the most is that we are being rated and evaluated out of 100 points - 60 points come from the district level based on observations, activities, etc; 20 points come from how our students perform on local assessments; and finally, 20 points come from how our students perform on high stakes testing - this is known as the Growth Score (check out this cute little video NYS made for us so we can all understand how the growth score is calculated). 

Well, last week I received my Principal Growth Score as a result of our performance on the 2012-13 New York State Common Core Tests. I am a nine. A nine out of twenty. Less than half. Barely in the effective range. I am a nine. Although I was initially frustrated by the score, I have accepted my nine. Nine isn't the worst number. I loved my ninth birthday. My son is going to be nine this year. I have been a building administrator for nine years. Maybe nine suits me pretty perfectly - better than I initially realized. 

Unfortunately, there is another side to this nine - the not so nice side. You see, because of this nine, no matter how many points I get out of the other 80 possible points I can earn, I cannot be rated highly effective. That's it - no matter what else I may have done this year to push our building forward (our staff did INCREDIBLE things last year), advocate for the needs of our children (our staff worked tirelessly to meet the needs of each child), or support various community efforts (we flattened the walls to our school and made things even more transparent for the community), I will only be effective, at best. Don't get me wrong - I am not driven by a label - throwing the word HIGHLY in front of EFFECTIVE doesn't mean very much to me. I am fine with being effective because it means there is room for growth; room for risk taking; room to be better for our community. 

So, in the spirit of being better... and looking to learn and grow, I would like to share nine things that I think the NYS Department of Education and our esteemed Commissioner of Education, Dr. John King, should consider when planning for the future...

1) Our children, staff and communities are much more than a number. Instead of trying to reduce us all to a number (evaluative scores, test results, rankings, etc.) please take the time to get to know us and know what we are doing well because we are more than a number. 

2) Figure out what schools are doing well and try and emulate those practices instead of trying to make us all fit into the same box. I understand it's difficult to know what's going on in each school because there are thousands of schools in NYS, but a more robust understanding of the current landscape throughout the state would be greatly appreciated. Are there issues throughout the state? Yes! Are there schools and districts that need to improve significantly because the children deserve better? Yes! But, why must educational reform in NYS be rooted in what's wrong in our schools instead of what's right in our schools? Instead of feeling pressured to get our test scores up, I would much rather spend time sharing and collaborating with colleagues from around the state about best practices - these practices are what make a difference in the daily lives of children.

3) Give us time to shift, implement and take risks with our practices! We just adopted and implemented the Common Core State Standards all within the last year (many districts are still working on the implementation) and yet already, we are all being assessed against these standards. How is that fair? Just because a teenager passes his/her permit test and takes a few driving lessons, doesn't mean he/she are ready to race at the Daytona 500! Instead, we need time to experiment, fail and problem solve without being judged. Give us time!

4) Take feedback from the people working in schools, with children, to help enhance, modify and improve various mandates and policies. We are living APPR each day - let us tell you what should change! We administered the Common Core NYS Tests to actual children - let us tell you what happened and what could be changed. We are struggling to "fit it all in" - let us tell you what could possibly change. Instead of implementing all these sweeping large scale changes across the entire state, things should have been piloted or tested in pockets so State Ed could have worked out the kinks before imposing it all on every child and educator in the state. 

5) Evaluating a teacher based on how students perform on high stakes testing is not a reliable measure (check out this article about the issues with value added models). The scores for individual educators will go up and down each year with little ability to predict where they will end up. So, what's the point? For example, I know of an educator who received a 2 out of 20 last year but this year received a 13 out of 20. My guess is that next year the same educator will have a totally different score because of the student population. The number fluctuates dramatically each year and that is because there are too many variables to control for when evaluating an educator against how their students perform on high stakes testing. Eliminate this part of the APPR plan - let's implement something more robust and thorough (maybe a digital portfolio) and less quick and dirty (ratings that are based on high stakes tests that rely heavily on multiple choice questions).

6) Change the NYS Tests! Instead of letting them be so one dimensional with an over abundance of multiple choice questions, give our children an opportunity to show you what THEY know and can do in the areas of literacy and mathematics. Instead of trying to trick them with multiple choice questions that many adults cannot answer and trying to exhaust them with days of testing, give them a chance to evaluate, synthesize, think critically and apply the skills they have to solve real life problems and situations. This way, we can have a true understanding of what our children know and can do. Instead, currently, all we can really figure out is if they bubbled in the right answer - not WHY they bubbled it in just if they did. The current testing situation, where the results are used to evaluate educators, does NOT work. Furthermore, it seems that NYS is saying that we can assess college and career readiness with how students perform on multiple choice tests - REALLY?!? We need to consider multiple data points - not just the results of one test! By considering multiple data points we do not have to rely on annual standardized state testing to evaluate our students or educators. For example, our students could be tested independently every three years, starting in third grade, using a standardized test. This way, we will have data points that span from elementary to high school graduation. Additionally, there should be group task oriented assessments during the years between standardized tests where the students must collaborate to solve a set of real life problems. Furthermore, our students should be expected to maintain a digital portfolio that will feature work from all content areas that will be scored against rubrics generated collaboratively between teachers and students. By integrating all these assessments we can use multiple data points to determine student growth over an extended period of time and across all content areas, not just in Mathematics and English Language Arts. Multiple data points mean that we do not have to rely on summative assessments for evaluation purposes and instead we will have access to formative assessment data that can help us meet the needs of our students in real time and give every student an entry point to learning. 

7) Give us data we can use to inform instruction and help our children learn and grow! Our children spend hours taking these tests, which we are never allowed to see again, and we receive the results just in time for the next school! What's the point? We cannot do anything with this information because we don't have all the pieces in a timely fashion. As educators, many of us dedicate our lives to using as many assessment points as possible to help us plan and guide future instructional decisions to best meet the needs of our children. The data from NYS seems to be used for one purpose, and one purpose only, to judge.       

8) Implement policies and mandates that foster and expect the use of 21st century skills and innovation in our schools! Challenge us to make technology a regular part of instruction- not an add on. Ask us to encourage our children to collaborate for the purposes of thinking critically and creating - that is the root of innovation. Innovative thinkers who are willing to keep failing until they perfect their vision are the ones changing the world and affecting the global economic landscape - not the people who can pick the correct answer on a multiple choice test.

9) Don't use our children and educators as pawns in some massive money making scheme. Let Pearson figure out other ways to make money. Don't try and privatize public education and turn it into a business. Our children should be the focus - each and every day we should be driven by doing what is best for our children; not what is going to put more money into the already fat pockets of different individuals and corporations. 

Although this list can go on and on (please leave a comment below and add to this list - let's help NYS get better) because there are always things we can be doing better, I am only a nine. I am a nine who will not this nine define me, our students, staff or community. In the end, I am happy to share that name is Tony and I am a nine!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ode To Paul

In many of my previous posts I have mentioned my son Paul because he has been a tremendous influence on me as a person, educator and leader. I have alluded to the fact that Paul has various medical issues, that he has an IEP and that he requires the assistance of a 1:1 aide because of the many issues. Here is the bottom line - Paul is a lot more than just my inspiration and influence - he is my heart and soul, living and breathing outside of my body. And because of that, Paul deserves his own post... 

Paul was born on a cold December night in 2004 and from the moment he was born, my heart was flooded with emotions that I never experienced before. I immediately understood what people meant when they said they would give their life for someone else. I immediately understood the phrase unconditional love. I immediately understood what it meant to put someone else's needs before your own. Paul changed my life in an instant. Unfortunately, the incredible joy was overcome by a bunch of other emotions because Paul was born with a clubfoot, which in itself isn't the most serious situation but could be indicative of other problems or issues. So, because of the clubfoot within the first three weeks of Paul's life we saw several pediatricians, pediatric orthopedists, cardiologists, geneticists, developmental specialists - you name it, we saw the doctor! Fortunately everything else seemed to be fine and aside from some minor issues, we were starting to get into a "normal" routine. 

Well, that all changed when Paul was about 7 months old and we noticed that every time he sat up he would tilt over to one side. I tried to chalk it up to the fact that he was still learning how to sit up but my wife knew something was going on. I always preferred the route of denial while Kelly (his incredible mom) was always about methodical research and analysis and she knew something wasn't right. Fast forward to our monthly check up at the orthopedist for Paul's clubfoot where we pointed out the lopsided sitting situation. One x-ray later and we found out Paul had a bunch of vertebrae that did not form completely on one side and that his spine was a "mess." The doctor explained that Paul would need surgery to address the issue and thus the journey began and the new normal, for our family, was born.

Since that day in August of 2005, Paul has had eight surgical procedures, seven of which required general anesthesia and each one of them has changed our family (some positive and some not so much). Although we are incredibly grateful to Paul's doctors (including his most amazing anesthesiologist) for addressing the issues, my heart breaks every time I think about the pain Paul must feel. The unkind words that might be hurled his way because of the visible curve in his back. The poor self-image he may develop because he looks different. The list goes on and on but the fact remains, I would give anything to trade places with Paul so that he could have a pain-free and healthy life filled with only happiness and wonderful things! 

Of course, as every parent knows, that switch isn't possible. There is no quick fix and so Paul must navigate life in the way that it was intended for him. Paul still needs to have surgery every six months for the foreseeable future so the rods in his back can be extended as he grows. There is at least one major procedure looming ahead of us once he outgrows the rods. There are still a lot of questions about what the future holds. I know it may not be a "typical" life in some ways but I believe Paul will grow up to be an incredible person because of the things he has experienced. He is strong. Brave. Courageous. Positive. Thoughtful. Loving - incredibly loving. Smart. Aware. Accepting. Respectful. Understanding. Wise beyond his years. Paul is all of these things and so much more. Paul is an inspiration to many based on what others have shared with us. And honestly, that is why Paul influences every decision I make in life, especially at school. Paul makes me want to be a better person. A better educator. A better Lead Learner. Paul makes me want to take care of all our students at Cantiague. Paul is my heart and soul.

I share this Ode To Paul because he had surgery recently and he pulled through like a champ. Incredibly strong and brave. Braver and stronger than I will ever be. But, that is not the only reason I share this very personal story. I also share this journey because as educators, especially those of us in leadership positions, we need to know that everyone has a Paul in their life. Every one of our students has a Paul in their lives. Every one of our staff members has a Paul in their life. It may not be someone struggling with medical issues but instead it might be someone struggling with a learning disability; someone struggling with a drug problem; someone struggling with no job; someone struggling with divorce; every person in our community is impacted by a Paul - some more positively than others - and as educators we must take that into consideration when speaking, listening and making decisions. The people in our schools, sometimes the students themselves, are affected by a Paul and we need to be aware and connected because whether we realize it or not, they are bringing their Paul with them to school each and every day. I know because I speak from experience. So, lets remember that our students, teachers, faculty and entire communities are much more than a number. Much more than a test score. Much more than a homework assignment. Much more than a parent teacher conference. There are a lot of "Pauls" out there and we should embrace the opportunity to support them and learn from them as we look to grow as educators, leaders and people.

Thank you Paul for being such an incredible inspiration. I am who I am today because of you!     

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Educational Philosophy: All About Heart

As we enter Week 2 of the incredible #SAVMP (School Administrator Virtual Mentoring Program) we have been challenged to reflect on our philosophy of education as it relates to our roles as leaders and what our schools should look like for our students. Well, in order to best answer this question, I dipped into an old blog post that speaks to my philosophy!

The root of my educational and leadership philosophy is rooted in my role as a father. From the moment our son, Paul, was born almost eight years ago, my goals as an educator began to evolve, grow and expand. I instantly wanted to do whatever I could to keep Paul safe, happy and fulfilled on every level. Initially it was difficult to see how this unconditional love for Paul would manifest itself in my classroom and shape me as an educator. However, six months later, after I began my first building administrative position, that parental love quickly molded me, impacted me and became the anchor for my approach to being an instructional leader... a leader with heart! That is very much at the core of my philosophy - my heart and soul!

I made it my goal to keep my students safe, happy and fulfilled on every level. I made it my objective to keep our staff safe, happy and fulfilled on every level. I made it my mission to blend all the theoretical stuff I had learned in "educational administration school" with what I knew made sense to me - yes, being logical, practical and rational were all critical keys to my success as a leader (they help me shift those monkeys and put out those fires) but without heart, soul and passion, my success, our success as an educational community, would be non-existent.

So, what does leading with heart look like? What are the little tangible things that leaders with heart do on a regular basis? How does a leader with heart differ from the typical building leader? Although I am certainly no expert on the matter, I share with you the little things I do because I love being an instructional leader and leading with my heart is all I know how to do (sometimes it can make things challenging)...

1) Know the names of every one of our students; these children are so incredibly important to me and I feel that if I can say hello to them by name when I pass them in the hallway or sit next to them in their classroom or play handball with them at recess, they can begin to understand that they are valued and appreciated!

2) Know as much as you can about each staff member (whatever they are comfortable sharing) and their lives beyond the school building; as a parent it has become crystal clear to me that many of the things that happen in my personal life directly shape and impact the decisions I make in my professional life; by knowing our staff, on a somewhat personal level, I am better able to understand each person's perspectives, decisions and needs, which are critical to the success of our school! For example, if one of our teachers gets a call from her child's school that her son is sick, then my priority becomes arranging coverage so she can go be with her child, which is the priority!

3) Make special announcements each morning - keep them short but try and personalize them! For example, I announce the birthdays of each student and staff member during our daily morning announcements. Although this is not a big deal, I do believe it means something to our community- people feel special, acknowledged and connected.

4) Be visible everyday to everyone (at least that is my goal until the administrative stuff gets in the way - but I limit that too and will address that later). Be in the classrooms, the lunchroom, at recess, in the gym and in the hallways all day. I literally avoid my office because I want to know what is going on in our school, in our classrooms, in the lives of our students and staff. By being connected to the daily happenings in our building, I am able communicate our successes from within certain spaces to the community at large!

5) Maintaining honest, clear and consistent communication are critical keys to leading with heart!

  1. I write a weekly newsletter for the staff, Fast Friday Focus (thank you Todd Whitaker for this amazing idea and many others that I learned from reading What Great Principals Do Differently - a must read for all instructional leaders - check out these other materials), where I spotlight all the amazing things happening in our school. I spotlight varied instructional techniques and approaches because that type of sharing helps foster a professional learning community.  
  1. I also maintain this type of communication with the families of our children. Our district has gone paperless and 99% of our communication is via email so I email the parents at least 2-3 times a week. I quickly realized this regular email to the parents (known as the Cantiague Daily Update) could be a powerful vehicle for spotlighting all the amazing things our kids were learning each day with their teachers! This information has garnered a lot of feedback from the parents - many of them have thanked me for sharing the specifics of the teaching and learning happening in our building because they are now able to engage their children about these experiences.
6) Try and bring people together on a regular basis. In regards to the kids, we are fortunate enough to have an auditorium that holds about 450 people and since our school has only about 400 kids, we are able to be in that space at once. This builds community. Familiarity. Belonging. Although we don't have whole school assemblies regularly we do them periodically and they are critical to helping build community and fostering connections across grade levels! In regards to the staff, host a breakfast or luncheon during the year to bring everyone together in a comfortable and relaxed space. The daily pressures of being an educator, especially in this day and age, can be brutal so coming together to just eat, chat and laugh are crucial to sustaining the emotional well-being of each person in our building. It also helps nurture those common visions and goals.

7) Leave handwritten notes for staff members on a regular basis. The note may thank them for an amazing lesson or for their efforts in helping a specific child or for sharing with colleagues or it may simply help put a smile on their face when things have been difficult. Whatever the goal or reason, a handwritten note can go a really long way! In an effort to save paper, I often use the Penultimate app to email "handwritten" notes to our teachers while I am in their classrooms or right after I have left! 

8) Lead by example. For instance, I am really passionate about learning, teaching and curriculum so I try and learn something new each day that I could share with our staff. Whether it is the reading and writing workshop models for literacy instruction or the power of using Twitter (check out this great blog post by my friend Brad Currie, who I never would have met without Twitter) for staff development, my goal is always to share what is current, powerful and what could impact our children in the classrooms. I am always reading, learning, exploring and doing because I want our school to be the best one on the planet for each child!

9) Block out "observation" time in your calendar throughout the week and do all the administrative work (the paper pushing, email sending, etc.) either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. It is so important to be visible in the school community and I feel strongly that the last place people should find me during the day is in my office. Ok, so sometimes I "get in trouble" with colleagues or supervisors because I didn't respond to an email fast enough (even though I do see every email on my iPhone) or didn't return a phone call immediately or am running late to a meeting but the bottom line is that our kids and staff come first and the administrative stuff can wait, even just for a little while. (I will say that being late to a meeting is not cool so I am really working on that piece because I need to be respectful of other people's time).

10) Love what you do. Wear your philosophy on your sleeve! Simply put, aside from my family, I live for being an educator and instructional leader and my passion for education is something I wear on my sleeve! I want to be a part of a team that creates a school that any child, family or staff member would be proud to be apart of!

Well, this list could go on but I think the essence is communicated - my philosophy of education and leadership is rooted in my heart. What is your philosophy? Where are the roots of your philosophy planted? Please leave a comment below and share...         

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why I Lead: Seizing Control

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in the #SAVMP (School Administrator Virtual Mentor Program) and I cannot even begin to describe how excited I am to be working with John, Kristen and Andrew as part of this experience. When our fearless organizer and leader, George Couros, posed the question, Why Do I Lead? many thoughts came rushing into my mind but the one that resonated the most was the fact that I never felt like I fit in as a student in elementary school. 

In retrospect, I clearly suffered from undiagnosed and untreated ADHD and sitting at a desk all day was not conducive to my learning style. Unfortunately, at the time the conversations never revolved around adapting the instructional approaches to better meet my needs. No, instead, the conversations revolved around the idea that I was a mischievous, unfocused, disobedient and naughty little boy. My teachers wanted me to fit the mold of the "good student" and when it became crystal clear that this wasn't going to happen, they resorted to endless punishments, consequences, threats and meetings with my parents, which led to even more trouble at home but that's a whole other story. Can you visualize the proverbial square peg being jammed into the round hole? Well, let me introduce myself, Mr. Tony "Square Peg" Sinanis. Needless to say, my years as an elementary student shaped my attitude towards teaching and learning and it was not a positive one.

Fortunately, at some point in college I realized that I wanted to be an educator and after several years in the classroom I knew I wanted to affect change in an entire building - not just one classroom. I wanted to be an advocate for all students, especially my fellow square pegs. I wanted to be part of creating a culture and community that was rooted in happiness, trust, respect and excitement towards learning. I wanted to help nurture a school environment where having fun and learning went hand and hand. I wanted to give our students what I never had as a learner. That is why I chose to lead. 

But, choosing to be a leader is just the first step in the process. Being a leader brings with it many responsibilities, expectations and challenges. Being a leader means fighting for what is best for kids even when it is not easy. As I am about to enter my eighth year as a building leader at the elementary level there are many things that concern me, frustrate me, consume me but above all those are the many things about leading a school that bring me tremendous joy and fulfillment. 

Lately I have been thinking a lot about some of the posts I have written over the last year related to the many mandates and policies that have been imposed on educators from the federal government and here specifically in New York State (Squashed LearningOpportunities, Dear Dr. John King, Dear Arne Duncan, etc.). The changes to our Annual Professional Performance Review in NYS, the whole Race To The Top incentive program supported by the Obama administration, the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the direct connection between student performance on standardized tests and educator evaluation here in New York State.

All these mandates and expectations are beyond my control and I must do my best to ensure that they are being properly implemented in our school. Do I agree with most of them? No. Do I think they will help close the achievement gap? No. Do I think they will help enhance our classroom practice? Not sure. Do I think they are in the best interest of our children? No - I don't think the focus is on our children. I think the focus is on accountability. I think the focus is on solving the "crisis" plaguing public education in our country so we can compete in the global landscape (is there really a crisis?). I think the focus is on making money for the likes of testing giant Pearson. The list could go on and on but in the end, it doesn't matter much what the intent of these policies and mandates are because there are people in our country lobbying to bring them to our schools and we have to deal with them. Dealing with policies and mandates is where their (politicians, commissioners, etc.) control over us should end!

From my vantage point this is where the power shifts… the power and control shifts back to us as educators who are working with children each day in the thousands of schools across this great country! Ultimately, we have control over how these policies and mandates manifest themselves in our schools. This is why I lead.

We still control what happens each minute of every school day in our classrooms, lunchrooms, recess fields and gymnasiums. We can affect how these policies and mandates look in our schools - not politicians, state education commissioners or lobbyists - we control the minute by minute decisions in our schools. This is why I lead.

We can decide if we want to go out and buy a basal series or an anthology or if we want to adopt the reading workshop model. We can decide if we want to buy workbooks to teach our children about the mechanics of writing and grammar or if we want to implement the writing workshop model and embed the instruction in the daily mini-lessons. We can decide if we want to use positive reinforcement when dealing with behavior issues or if we want to employ a zero tolerance policy. We can decide if we want to buy iPads or Chromebooks for every student in our school or if we feel that technology of this nature is unnecessary and that children should be using books to learn new information. We can decide if we want to use a traditional math series that emphasizes drilling of basic facts or if want to employ a philosophy of mathematics instruction that focuses on the development of deep conceptual understandings. We can decide if we want to use Twitter as a way to communicate with parents or if we want to ban all social media from our schools (please don’t do that). We can decide if we want to spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on test prep work or we can decide to have faith in the high quality instruction in our classrooms that will indirectly prepare our children for the high stakes testing game. We can decide if we spend money in the budget on hiring additional support staff to work with children or to create a position to deal with all the mandates and expectations. This is why I lead.

So, from my perspective it seems that we decide a LOT each and every day in school and these decisions are the ones that matter most to our children and their development. We have control over so many things that matter to our children and communities and that is something we cannot forget during the day-to-day stresses that can easily consume us. I guess in the end I also needed to write this post because I needed to recalibrate my focus and remember that I can make a difference in the lives of our students, not the many mandates we must implement. I needed to write this because it will serve as one of my most important goals of the school year – I am going to try and not complain about the current landscape of public education (believe me, it frustrates me beyond belief and change is needed) and instead, I am going to focus on all the amazing and important things that are in my control and work from there to best serve our community and to achieve my personal goal of meeting the needs of every child in our school! This is why I lead. 

Why do you lead?         

Monday, August 5, 2013

Social Media: Perception Builder

“People’s perception becomes their reality and so we must shape the perception to create the reality we want people to have when they think of us.” My superintendent, who hired me for my first administrative position (and taught me a LOT about the politics related to this job), used to say this to me on a daily basis. Initially it was rooted in the fact that I didn’t necessarily wear a suit or shirt and tie each day to school and he felt strongly that the way I looked shaped the way people viewed me and interacted with me. They had a perception of me that spread through word of mouth and thus became the reality. I was still relatively young at the time and would always fight back because I argued it shouldn’t matter what I looked like but instead my words and actions should matter. Eventually I started to think about the perceptions I created solely based on the way someone looked and I realized the only way I was going to get people to hear my words and attend to my actions was by creating a certain perception (that may or may not have been related to my appearance) and in turn my reality.

This idea came back up again about a year ago when I heard Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) speak about using the power of Social Media to our story and “brand” our schools. Brilliant - absolutely brilliant! Think of the Golden Arches - everyone knows about McDonalds and what a deal it is to eat there. Think about Apple - everyone knows they are always looking for the next iPhone or iPad - they are innovators and risk takers! Right now, I am in Aruba and they have branded themselves as One Happy Island and you know what? EVERYONE perceives this place as One Happy Island (because of the amazing people and their daily efforts). Branding is key. Telling our stories is key! Eric was 100% right and I knew that I had to get behind the idea and tell our story - I wanted to influence the perception of our school by sharing the daily realities. I wanted to help brand Cantiague Elementary School as the best elementary school on the planet! Why should we allow people to create their own perceptions, which could be rooted in misinformation, based on word of mouth or what is published in the local paper?

Branding, which typically is a “business world” thing, is exactly what our schools need today! There is so much bashing of public education in the media today and the landscape of public education is not a pretty one but as educators - whether a superintendent, classroom teacher, support specialist, or the Lead Learner of the building - we still control everything that happens in our schools. And since we control what happens in our schools (even with state/federal mandates and policies, the final execution is our call) we know there are awesome techniques/approaches/etc. unfolding in our schools so let’s spread the word; let’s brand our schools; let’s fuel the perceptions; and let’s create our realities!

For me, that journey began with my iPad. I am fortunate in that my whole school is WiFi so this year I made a conscious decision that I was going to spend as little time as possible in my office and as much time as possible walking around the building visiting classrooms, talking to children, taking pictures, tweeting about our daily adventures, emailing parents with the highlights of our work and blogging about our successes in a weekly staff newsletter. Well, I am thrilled to say that one year in, and our school’s brand is really taking shape! Our community knows we aim to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of individual students. Our community knows we believe in as much small group instruction as possible and that whole class/direct instruction is at a minimum. Our community knows that we believe in the reading and writing workshop models and our goals are to nurture life long readers and to support passionate authors who cannot wait to publish their work. Our community knows that we are Bucket Fillers and that we support the Super Six - Be a SUPERStar by being responsible, respectful, positive, safe and kind (these are the pillars of our success). Our community knows that we work diligently to make technology integration a seamless and powerful component. Our community knows that we value two way communication. Our community knows that we invest in building school and community spirit. And most importantly, in my eyes, our community knows that we love our kids and are dedicated, not only to their academic development, but also their social, emotional and psychological growth.

I don’t share this information as a way to “toot our own horn” but instead to share that when a conscious decision is made to brand your school and tell your story, the possibilities are endless. I have seen conversations at our PTA Meetings go from talking about the logistics of fundraisers to discussing the concerns over high stakes testing or the power of book clubs as a way to differentiate instruction. Our community is informed and that is what we want at Cantiague. It means that we have to be transparent. It means that we have to be confident in our choices. It means that we have to be open to feedback - good and bad. It means that we have to show that with every success there are at least three failures. It means that we are comfortable flattening the walls of our school and proudly telling our story so we can shape perceptions and build realities.

If you are ready to brand your school and create your reality, here are 5 starting points...

1) Twitter - create a school twitter account (encourage teachers to do so also) and tweet about all the exciting things happening in your school and classrooms. Share your story - shout it from the rooftops before someone else does it for you! Don’t just use it to share when the next baseball game is happening or what time the bake sale starts - use it to share practice from inside the classrooms!

2) Storify - we used this resource to amass all our tweets from the week that were heavy on pictures and really helped shape the reality. Click here to check out the Cantiague storify page that features our use of Twitter - this is a great way to share tweets with families not on Twitter.

3) Email parents (if you can) and tell them about all the awesome things happening in your school across all grade levels! Click here for a sample of an email that I share with our community about 2 times a week.

4) Create a staff newsletter/blog and give everyone a glimpse into each other’s spaces so they can all see the awesome things they are doing! We often spend so much time in our own little spaces that we don’t get to share ideas and learn from each other - here is a great way to start that process! Click here for an excerpt from our staff newsletter!

5) Jump in the deep end of the pool and take a risk! Be the storyteller for your school and contribute to the perceptions that will create the realities - don’t let someone else do it for you!

Also, check out these other amazing educators who are telling their own stories in their own way...

Matt Gomez (@mattBgomez)

Erin Klein (@KleinErin)

Ben Gilpin (@benjamingilpin)

Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy)

Knapp Elementary (@KnappElementary) led by...

Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza)

Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher)

Jessica Johnson (@PrincipalJ)

Matt Renwick (@ReadByExample)

Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann)

These are just some of the awesome storytellers out there! Please leave a comment below and share examples of other amazing perception builders... share your story too!