A Principal’s Spring Break Message to Staff

A Principal’s Spring Break Message to Staff

August 2014, three teachers stood in the rotunda of Quincy Elementary , holding a sign that said, “Congratulations! Welcome to the Q…”.

It was surreal, I was not sure what to think. I was so excited, but this was a big deal. Moving my family, changing jobs after 14 years at one school, uprooting our lives. I couldn’t say yes quite yet because I needed to talk the position and reality of the move over with my husband. But in that moment, my heart screamed yes!

Many of us have experienced the sudden whirlwind of relocating. Like you, we had to sell our house, buy a new house, settle the kids into new schools, say good-bye, pack and unpack and everything in between. Through the chaos, through the ups and downs, there were times I was homesick for the life we left behind, but I never had a second thought about the decision I made to become the principal of Quincy Elementary.

The staff is crazy, so I fit right in. Not in the crazy like looney kind of way, the crazy like, “Woah, you think we can really pull that off? Okay, let’s do it,” kind of way. They are dreamers and doers and hard-workers. They love each other and they love our students. They want to provide an outstanding learning experience for our students. 

They are stubborn, they are critical thinkers, they ask lots of questions.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

They smile and do goofy things, and laugh, and cry together. 

The bottom line is that they give their ALL for our students and for each other.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Thank you Quincy staff for choosing me. I feel blessed beyond measure. I work hard every day to live up to be the principal that you deserve. My palms sweat before every staff collaboration because you deserve your time to be well spent on things that matter to you and to your students. I want to be a ray of sunshine in your life, and a facilitator of continuous growth. I want to ask questions that make you think in a way you never have. When you come up with great ideas, I want to help you make them happen.

Thank you for allowing me to be on this journey with you. Have a restful and peaceful Spring Break! You deserve it!

What Is Your Top Ten?

What Is Your Top Ten?

“If they don’t stand for something, they will fall for anything.”  -Gordon A. Eadie

What do you stand for? Who are you as an educator?

I have been working with my staff to come up with our school’s “30-second elevator story” and we have a solid shared vision that will continue growing and evolving as we grow and evolve as a staff. It got me thinking–what is my 30-second story as an educator?

I admire people who whole-heartedly know exactly what they stand for. I don’t think I have that crystal clear vision of who I am and what I stand for. Or do I? I was brainstorming ideas, and I came up with this top ten, in no particular order. 

  1. Strong positive relationships
  2. Need-satisfying environment for students and staff
  3. Supporting student emotional intelligence and character development as much as academic growth
  4. Empowering students to be curious life-long learners
  5. FUN, including lots of laughter and light-heartedness
  6. Assuming good intentions
  7. Continuous improvement
  8. Listening to understand
  9. Looking for strengths
  10. Solution-oriented, keeping problems small

I know I will refine this list and change it as I continuously learn and grow as an educational leader. Educators out there, I am curious, what is your top ten? Comment on this post or share your top ten on Twitter and include @allysonapsey.

    How I Avoided the Chopping Block my First Year of Teaching

    How I Avoided the Chopping Block my First Year of Teaching

    I stunk it UP my first year of teaching! I mean that I was so bad that there was talk of not having me back for a second year. I made many mistakes that first year, but let’s start with the biggest mistake I made–getting into power struggles with students.

    When I started teaching I thought things could go one of two ways in my classroom–MY way or the students’ way. I remember telling students to do something like their work, apologize, etc. and they wouldn’t do it. Wait. What?!? Did you miss the part that I am your teacher?

    I would dig myself into a deeper hole by continuing down the line of demanding that they do things that they were not going to do. I found myself in a hot mess as I tried to figure out how to get out of the situation without giving up the little control of the classroom I had left. I couldn’t just let this student ignore my directions. AAAGGGG! What could I do?

    Over time I learned a few tricks to avoid power struggles. The most important thing I learned is that it does not have to be my way OR the students’ way, it should be OUR way. The students’ needs for power, freedom, fun and belonging must be met within the functions of the classroom or they will work against me to meet them. Either way, they will meet their needs. I just needed to decide if it was going to be in defiance of what I asked them to do, or if I was going to ask them to do things that would help them meet their needs while they learn. 

    Here is a short list of things to include in your classroom to avoid power struggles and to make it a need-satisfying place for learning. I made it into a cute acronym: CRAFT.

    • C:  Choice must be incorporated throughout the day. It can be small choices, like where to sit during independent practice, or it can be a big choices like researching a topic they are passionate about. Choice is power and freedom, it is a double whammy of need-satisfaction in the classroom.
    • R:  Relationships need to be positive and strong, and students need to understand how relationships work. When I was teaching my students about relationships, I liked to describe them as checking accounts. All the positives you put in to a relationship are deposits, and any negatives like excluding someone or teasing are withdrawals. You never want your account to go bankrupt, so we make sure we make many many more deposits than withdrawals.
    • A:  Ask, don’t tell. Students are smart and know so much more than we think they know. When there is a problem, simply saying to a student, “What do you think should happen next?” can empower them and give us insight into their thinking. Other questions you could ask are, “If you were the teacher in this situation, what would you do?” or “How do you think we could resolve this situation?”
    • F:  We always need to remember to have FUN! Not just teacher-prompted fun, but student-prompted fun too. I will never forget a student from my first and second year of teaching named Ryan. He taught me more about classroom management than four years of college did. We had lots of power struggles my first year of teaching, but I got to teach him a second year and guess what? No struggles. I was a quick learner! One thing we did to help him have a great year was to give him a stage for his funny antics. He had the best grandma dance ever, so we started having “Disco Lunches”. We would turn on music and allow students to come to a performance area to dance for their classmates. It was a blast, and it was just what Ryan and probably many other students needed at that time of day.
    • T:  Turn it around! I learned how to back that thing up and work my way out of a power struggle. I get to practice this as a principal too. If I have asked a student to do something and he/she will not do it, I can simply say something like, “I see that you are not ready to work this out. I will check back with you in…”. 

      There are many other tips and tricks to use to help classrooms and schools be need-satisfying places, and ways to avoid or work your way out of power struggles. CRAFT works for me…what tips do you have? 

      Please note: This blog post is based upon my experiences and the teachings of Dr. William Glasser and Choice Theory. I learned about Choice Theory and Reality Therapy through training with The William Glasser Institute and reading many books written by Dr. Glasser.  If you are interested in learning more about the work of Dr. Glasser, I recommend reading Choice Theory (Glasser, William. Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. , 1998. Print.) or visiting http://www.wglasser.com for training opportunities.

      What Would Lucille Ball Do?

      What Would Lucille Ball Do?

      What’s that quote…something about only regretting the things you don’t do? Let’s go with a quote from Luicille Ball, who said, “I’d rather regret the things I have done than the things I haven’t.”

      Four years ago today my mom died. She wasn’t even Irish, yet she passed away on St. Patrick’s Day. We were fortunate though, we had warning and we knew it was coming. We had a chance to say the things we wanted to say, and do a lot of the things we wanted to do.

      Back on August 12, 2011, my mom was turning 61 and we figured that it very well may be her last birthday. We didn’t really celebrate her 60th birthday because she was going through her first round of chemo, so we wanted to do something special for this birthday.

      My sister, brother, dad and I arranged to throw my mom a surprise party. We had tons of family and friends over, some who flew across the country to be there. It was beautiful and she loved it.

      I, being my usual crazy self, wanted to so something that was very much out of my family’s comfort zone at the party. I wanted us to deliver speeches to my mom. I didn’t want to wait until her funeral to talk publicly about how amazing she was and how much we love her. I wanted my mom to hear the words. 

      So, we nervously got up in front of our family and friends. I could tell we were weirding my mom out a bit. She was looking at us out of the corner of her eye. She laughed and was a little embarrassed as I read my corny poem. My sister and brother felt awkward as they said a little something. We all giggled and moved on, shaking our heads about the crazy things I make them do.

      You know what, seven months later I read our eulogy at my mom’s funeral. I cannot tell you how glad I was that we made those speeches to my mom when she was alive. I wanted her to hear those words more than anyone in that room, and she had heard them on a beautiful night when we were able to celebrate her, with her.

      My lesson from that experience is to not wait a minute to celebrate all that is good in your life, from what the amazing big things to the simple little things. Live life out loud. Make every day count and realize that there is a much bigger chance that you will regret things you haven’t done that things you have done. Just ask Lucille Ball.

      How will you make sure you seize the day and have no regrets?

      A favorite pic of my mom and dad

      Too Impatient to Write a Book? Blog!

      Too Impatient to Write a Book? Blog!

      Ever since I found a passion for writing in college, my biggest fan–my dad–has encouraged me to write a book. I dream of ending up with an engaging fictional story that inspires a better understanding of human behavior and therefore we are happier and more emotionally intelligent. Or maybe historical fiction. Or maybe an autobiography so everyone can learn from my mistakes. But, alas, I am too impatient.

      I picture holing myself up, writing away, for weeks, months, years, until I come out proudly with a finished product that could be amazing…or could end up on only one bookshelf–mine. I can’t get past the idea of pouring my heart and soul into that work and having it be lost after I finish it.

      On the other hand, with blogging, I get to reflect and grow through writing and sharing my written thoughts with family, friends, colleagues, and strangers across the country or world immediately. I get feedback about my ideas right away through comments and the number of times it is shared. I learn through the writing process. I also learn about what resonates with people through the sharing process, and that is fascinating.

      I have a small but very important audience for my writing. I can’t even describe the pleasure I get when someone tells me how something I wrote inspires them.

      • …a teacher I work with told me that during a road trip her friend was describing how someone was being mean to her, and she read this blog to her. 
      • …a friend of mine told me that this blog inspired someone she knows to download a running app. 
      • …I wrote here how my writing inspired my brother, the guy who is probably still confused about how they let his little sister run a school.

      The list goes on and it fills my heart. The feedback fuels my writing and inspires me to continue to reflect, grow, and share.

      I am just beginning a new journey. I am part of the Compelled Tribe, a group of educational leaders who reflect, write and inspire each other to get better every day. We read each other’s blogs, comment and share them. Through this collective effort we will get to know each other, build relationships and push our thinking–all for the benefit of our students.

      I am not completely giving up my dream of writing a book. Actually, I have written more in the past three months than I ever thought I would. I am excited that through blogging I can test out ideas, I can explore my passions, and I can be supported in my writing. 

      Compelled Tribe members and all other bloggers, what fuels your writing?

      Let’s Be Candid, Important Work Is NOT Always Pretty

      Let’s Be Candid, Important Work Is NOT Always Pretty

      This morning I listened to a thought-provoking podcast on BAM Radio Network with Ben Gilpin (@benjamingilpin) and Brad Gustafson (@GustafsonBrad). They interviewed Starr Sackstein (@mssackstein) about a blog post she wrote encouraging teachers to speak candidly.

      You can listen to the podcast HERE

      I have been thinking about this podcast all day–all the way back to days earlier in my career when my motto was, “Shut up Allyson” in order to avoid conflict. Today, as an elementary principal, I value candor from the teachers I am fortunate enough to work with.

      My philosophy is that I work FOR the teachers, and unless they tell me what they are thinking, I cannot serve them well. Setting ego aside, I have to be willing to modify or even dismiss my ideas when we decide together that they won’t work. Collaboratively we come up with amazing things that would never be possible alone.

      When relationship-building is embedded into the culture, it is assumed that we will follow the golden rule and not disagree just to be disagreeable. We recognize each other’s strengths while continuously reflecting and collaborating. We NEED to be challenging the way we do things when we are talking about something as important as student learning. We can do that in a way that feels like professional discourse, not arguments.

      As with any relationships, there are bumps in the road and occasionally feelings are hurt. If the culture is there, those bumps can be talked through and worked out pretty easily when addressed right away. Important work is not always pretty, it doesn’t always feel good. We will fail many more times than we succeed. But–if we have each other’s backs in an honest way, we feel like we can do anything.

      Thank you Starr, for your willingness to stick your neck out there and encourage teacher voice! As always Ben and Brad, you entertain and inform every time!

      If I am being chased…I best hide

      If I am being chased…I best hide

      Running has taught me a lot of things…one is that if I am being chased, I best find a hiding spot.

      I started running about seven years ago and I am not really sure why. Running just seemed to be the thing to do, and although I never thought I could run, I gave it a try. I started with a couch to 5K app, and kept challenging myself over the years to the point that now I regularly train for half-marathons.

      I definitely don’t run because I think it is fun. I run because I like to eat. I run because I feel good when I am done running. I also run because it is a mental challenge for me, and because it has taught me a lot about myself. I have found running to be a metaphor for life.

      So much of life is actually just a mental game. When I first started running, I couldn’t imagine running for twenty minutes. When I was training for a half-marathon, seven miles seemed so long, but then I was running eight, then nine, etc. until I was running over thirteen miles.

      You know how it is, after you are running as much as thirteen miles, a six-miler seems like easy street. The crazy thing is that when I set out on a quick three-mile run, I am tired and ready to be done at the end of the three miles. But, when I set out for a six-mile run, I am going strong as I finish mile three, ready for more. If you dream it, you maybe can do it. If you determine to make it happen, and you are willing to put in the hard work, you definitely can do it.

      Running has taught me that mental perseverance, patience, and just putting one foot in front of another can take you the distance. With any hard work, what is happening in the moment can seem so hard, but just holding out, pushing a little harder, results in gratification that is so worth it.

      I also learned the power of negative thinking, and the toll it takes on your body physically. There are so many times where I was running down the road and found myself drifting into self-defeating and negative thoughts–about money, about future goals, about a challenge at school, whatever it might be–and all of a sudden I physically could not run anymore. I would have to take a walking break. I am aware of that problem now, and I can quickly identify the destructive path of my thoughts and turn my thinking around so I am focusing on problem-solving and what I can control.

      Running is my meditation. I am a storyteller when I run, I tell the story of events in my life, and think through them from different perspectives. I dream about the future and set goals. I find myself “saving” something to think about for my next run. When I am not running as much, I notice that I have not been as reflective. I need processing time, and the distraction my reflection provides helps me forget how much I don’t like running.

      I am not superwoman, but running has taught me that I can accomplish almost anything. I have the grit, and I know the recipe. Getting a little better each day–going just a little further–can help me reach goals that at one time seemed impossible. When I am training for a long race, I don’t just bound out of the house and run thirteen miles. I start with five, then go to six. Maybe then I will stay at six for a couple weeks before moving up to seven. Slow and steady wins my race.

      Being slow is okayI may be slow, but I am thoughtful and calculating. I am a critical thinker and need processing time, but in the end, I will have looked at a problem from many angles and perspectives, which will lead to a better result. Taking the necessary time to think through things also helps me not act upon my emotions–to analyze things more objectively.

      Although I am not really sure why I started running, I am thankful that I did. I am stronger than I thought I was and running has helped me hone me a mental strength that I didn’t know I was capable of. Although at times I consider switching my exercise of choice, I don’t want to lose the lessons that running has taught me. So I imagine that whether I like it or not, I will continue running for as long as I am able.