Emailing to Inspire, Not Baffle

Emailing to Inspire, Not Baffle

Have you ever checked your email and groaned for one of these reasons?

  • You see your principal is in “communication mode” so you know you will have a barrage of emails from him/her. While teaching students, preparing for the next day, communicating with parents, etc., you are supposed to read each email thoroughly and remember everything you read.
  • You trepidatiously open an email with one eye open, one eye closed because you know will be the length of a novel because every time this person emails you it is the length of a novel. 
  • You carefully read an email searching and searching for the main message, but you cannot filter through all the words to glean it out.

You can avoid being the reason for the “email groan” by taking the advice of these famous writers:

Brevity is the soul of wit.  -William Shakespeare

Implement the “no scroll” rule for all your email communications. Your message should fit on the screen when a recipient opens it and not require them to scroll. Getting right to the point, skipping unnecessary words or information, or limiting the number of topics in an email can help you implement this rule.

Clarity is the counterbalance of profound thoughts.  -Luc de Clapiers

Use the subject line to communicate the main message of the email. Help your staff avoid the guessing game by making the point of the email crystal clear.

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.  -Leo Tolstoy

Save it up and send a weekly memo. Some principals send a Monday Memo or a Friday Update to share important information with staff members. Save up all the things you want to tell staff for this weekly communication. As you are tempted to press send on an email to the staff, ask yourself if it could wait for the Friday Update. Nine times out of ten, it can wait. Besides the benefit to staff inboxes, it also makes the weekly communication more meaty and therefore increases readership.

Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor.  -William Cowper

Use a variety of communication techniques–make funny videos, create an “auditory email” by starting a podcast for staff, write handwritten notes, etc. Having novelty and variety benefits staff just like it benefits students.

The smartest person in the room, is the room.  -David Weinberger

Staff meeting time is precious and should never be used for something that could be communicated via email. Reserve meeting time for topics that require collaboration, not as a time for a principal to simply give information.

These thoughtful email practices will help you be a model of effective communication and garner gratitude and respect from your staff. Words are a leader’s most important tool, wield them carefully.

I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve, I wear them on my waist

I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve, I wear them on my waist

When I was in fifth grade, I would say a little prayer each night. I prayed that I would be skinny when I woke up.

I wasn’t fat, I was a little rounded. But, ironically, the way my body looked was beside the point. The way I saw myself was the point. The terrible way I felt about my body at ten years old creeped its way into all aspects of my life and settled there. I was insecure, I doubted myself at every turn, and it influenced my friendships, my school work, and my relationships with my family. I am insecure, I doubt myself, and it influences my friendships, my work, and my relationships with my family.

The first time I lost a significant amount of weight was seventh grade. I was twelve years old. As I said, I was not fat, maybe ten or so pounds overweight. However, I lost more than twenty pounds through eating about 500 calories a day. That was the beginning of the unhealthy weight roller coaster that has been a defining issue in my life.


This very public admission is very difficult for me as I have been ashamed of my weight for as long as I can remember. The physical changes with the ups and downs of my weight is obvious to all who know and love me, and the story behind my weight fluctuation likely mirrors the story of many others. I don’t necessarily wear my emotions on my sleeve, I wear them on my waistline, on my hips, and in my double chin.

When I chose ‘wellness’ as my word for 2017, my weight was on my mind and at the core of the word. 

Yet, I know that wellness is about much more than weight. Physically, wellness is about health, strength, and energy. Mentally, wellness is about learning everyday, embracing challenges as opportunities, being vulnerable and not afraid to fail. Spriritually, wellness is about my connection to God, my connections to others, being emotionally able to be the person I want to be. 

For sure weight falls into the health category, being at an optimum weight has significant health benefits. For me, my weight also falls into the ideas of strength and being emotionally able to be the person I want to be. If I am beating myself up each day as I get dressed and feeling like I am never enough, I cannot lift others.

I have been reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, and the first chapter is focused on our cultural problem of scarcity. Here is a quote from the book,

“We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants.” -Brené Brown

She goes on to share that our obsession with “never enough” starts as soon as we wake up each day–we never have enough sleep, enough time, enough…you name it. The feeling that I am never enough is the core of my struggle. No matter how much I weigh, I find issues with how I look. In order to embrace ‘wellness’ as my one word for 2017, I have to embrace the idea that I AM ENOUGH.

This fall, I was gifted a photography session for my family. I loved the idea of having family photos on our property. Yet, I almost didn’t do it…because of my weight. We have never had a professional family photo taken, and I was cursing myself that at this one opportunity, I was heavier than I had been in years. I didn’t want the way I currently look to live on forever in our family pictures.

However, I am making progress. 

In the next breath, I said to myself, “…but this is who you are. It is who you are to your family and they love you. They see you like this everyday and still think you are pretty special. You are enough. It’s okay.”

And we took the family photos. And I am so glad we did.

This beautiful photo was taken by the talented Samantha Kraker. You can see her other work at http://www.samanthakraker.com/

Who Champions Teachers?

Who Champions Teachers?

Walking down the halls of Quincy Elementary, I feel a little bit like the Pied Piper. Children scramble to give me hugs, to tell me a story, or to just say hello. It fills me with joy and brings meaning to my days. I absolutely love it.

What do teachers do as I walk down the halls at school? Do they rush to give me hugs, to share a story or a smile? Or, do they try to duck into their classrooms before I reach them? Does my presence lift teachers up or bring them down? Do I make them nervous or excited? 

I have written about this idea before in a post called I Serve Teachers. Here is a quote from that post,

“As lovely as it is to connect with our students…I have no business spending my time doing so.”

Like the quote states, I have no business spending time connecting with students if I am neglecting to connect with my teachers–to find out their strengths, passions, and next steps for continuous improvement. I need to know what gets in the way of performing at their best. I want to know what dreams they have for their students, and what brings them joy at school. Let’s take that idea a step further and face another reality. I am marshmallow fluff to my students. The teachers are the meat and potatoes.

Granted, I am a positive adult who believes in our students; my presence and everything I do has a strong impact on the culture of the school. But, when it comes to impacting their educational experience in a direct and profound way, I am relatively insignificant.

Let’s look at this idea mathematically. 

As an elementary principal, I am with students a lot. I stand in the center of the school every morning to greet as many students as possible. I try to visit every classroom every day, even if it is just for a few minutes. I take my rolling desk out into the hallways and do my work out there for many reasons, and one is to connect with students as they travel in the halls. I am in the lunchroom and out at recess every day. At dismissal, you can find me telling students how much I will miss them and can’t wait to see them the next day. 

Even with all these opportunities, I will only have a maximum of 5-10 minutes with any student on any given day. That equals a maximum of 50 minutes per week. Teachers are with students for the rest of the time, and when we take out planning time and lunch, classroom teachers are with students for about 1,500 minutes per week. Compared to my paltry 50 minutes. That is why I am marshmallow fluff.

If I want to greatly influence the education of students at my school, I must lead adults. And leading adults is hard. 

Most principals started their careers as teachers, and if they became principals, they were probably pretty good teachers. That means we are good at leading children. It does not mean we are good at leading adults. I stunk at leading adults at first (read about that here), and in my thirteenth year as a principal, I still have much to learn. 

It wasn’t until I learned to listen to teachers that I really started feeling like I could effectively lead them. 

It wasn’t until I learned to ask questions to seek to understand that I felt like I could be THEIR champion.

I am excited to explore the idea of being a #Champion4Teachers in 2017. I whole-heartedly believe that teachers need principals to be their champions. In turn, teachers will be much better equipped to use those 1,500 minutes a week to champion their students. 

How about a positive note or call to a teacher every day for the rest of our school year? 

Let’s say YES more often.

How about never making a decision without first talking to the teachers who will have to implement it? 

Let’s model risk-taking and publically try new things. Let’s not be afraid to fail.

What ideas do you have to be a #Champion4Teachers in 2017?

Listen to a podcast of this blog post HERE

August, 1995 and an Unexpected Turn of Events

August, 1995 and an Unexpected Turn of Events

August, 1995

I walk into the counselor’s office at a swift pace, wanting to figure out solutions to my scheduling problem right away. Classes were set to begin in two days and the sudden cancellation of my general psychology course is not an expected turn of events. Looking at options in my community college’s course description booklet, I was not impressed. I want to take a class that will help me understand the grown-ups I will be working with in my business career. I don’t see any classes that fit that description and will work in my schedule. Oh boy.

“Hello, how can I help you?” the counselor looked up eagerly.

“My psychology class was just cancelled,” I explained.

“Let’s take a look, how about we start with your name?” She replied.

I quickly responded, “Allyson Wisner, thank you so much for your help!”

I sit down while she looks over the course booklet and pulls up my schedule.

“It looks like the only option you have is Educational Psychology, it will fulfill the humanities requirement and fits right into your schedule. What do you think?”

I sigh, “Well, the last thing I want to be is a teacher, but if it will do the job, let’s go ahead and schedule me into that class.”

Walking out, with schedule in hand, I wonder if I would be the only person in the class who doesn’t want to be a teacher. I not only do not want to be a teacher, I want to be anything but a teacher. Spending the rest of my life in the school system I just got out of sounds like the worst kind of torture.

I think back to my elementary years as I walk to the parking ramp. Why did I hate school so much? I do what I often do, talk to an invisible audience inside my head.

It wasn’t really my teachers’ fault and I went to really good schools.

I just wasn’t a ‘do what you’re told, be quiet, walk in line’ kind of girl.

I was more of a ‘challenge the system, explore curiosities, talk all the time’ kind of girl.

That kind of girl and school did not mix.

I didn’t get into trouble often, but I did get looks of disapproval quite frequently. I can count the number of times I got into real trouble in elementary school on one hand. Speaking of counting, one of the first times I got into trouble was for counting…counting crayons to be exact. I was in first grade and I was what I like to call ‘inventive’. My teacher called it ‘cheating’. I was counting out math problems using the crayons in my desk. The teacher reprimanded me and had me move my desk close to hers so she could keep an eye on me. That was when I first learned that I was a little bit naughty.

Since I was a little bit naughty, I often found fun in school in despite school. I never found fun in looking up vocabulary words or long division. I never found fun in copying sentences from the board. I never found fun in dittos (we did not have “worksheets” back then). I did find fun in passing notes and in girlish drama (when I wasn’t the target).

I went to Catholic school and I have a confession to make as an example of my bad behavior in elementary school. I ate hosts when I was preparing for a church ceremony with some classmates. If you are not familiar with the Catholic church services, let me explain without too much detail–hosts are little wafers distributed to eat during communion. We were in one of the back rooms of the church one afternoon and we put flavored lip balm on the hosts and then ate them. Now, that was naughty, but, in our defense, it wasn’t really sacrilegious because they were not consecrated yet and therefore were not yet “The Body of Christ”. Okay, that might have been too much detail, but I thought you should know. I was sneaky and we never got caught.

As I said, I remember being naughty in elementary school. I remember hating those vocabulary note cards that were a staple of third grade. I remember a classmate stealing my journal and reading it to the boys in seventh grade. I remember loving to diagram sentences in eighth grade because my teacher loved diagramming sentences. I remember teachers always telling my parents that I was not living up to my potential, that I needed to work harder

There are many things I don’t remember about elementary school though. I don’t remember any teacher ever pointing out any “gifts” they saw in me. I don’t remember exploring any of my curiosities in school, only outside of school. I was a passionate reader and I would read all the time, but I don’t remember a single book I read in elementary, junior high, or high school.

I reach my car as I end the speech to my invisible audience. Talking to myself always helps me reflect. I put the key into the car door to unlock it and decide that I needed to have a better attitude about this class if I am going to get anything out of it. Maybe it will help me understand my educational experience better.

Educational Psychology, here I come!

Image credit

 

 

The Bright Flame of Hope

The Bright Flame of Hope

When we have hope, we have everything.

Hope is like a candle burning within, sometimes a bright flame and sometimes a little flicker. When there is hope, there is potential, there are dreams, eyes are bright and looking forward.

We all face times when hope is about to be extinguished, when that last wisp of flame slowly burns out. Doubled over with the gut-wrenching feeling of the single ember that remains.

In those times of despair, hope can only come from within, from faith in the person you are. Know that there is an element of control in your grasp, always.

I get to chose the person I want to be. I can approach life, through the ups and downs, in the manner I choose.

In sickness, in health, in relationships struggles, down to the lowest of the low like losing the people you love the most or doubting your own dreams, you get to be you. No matter what. Every day.

Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. -Eleanor Roosevelt

Image credit: here

Reflecting on #MEMSPA16

Reflecting on #MEMSPA16

Relaxing after a very busy week at the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association’s annual state conference, I am reflecting on the “big rocks” I took away from the three days of learning. I know I won’t do the presenters justice in this post, but I will sure try.

Our conference kicked off with a keynote from Dave Burgess (@daveburgess). I was not expecting that level of energy! It was electric. We all walked away from his passionate presentation inspired to INSPIRE our students through the curriculum. If you have not read Teach Like a Pirate, do it now and then share it with educators you know and love.

Dave asked, “If students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty classroom?”

I heard, “If teachers didn’t have to be at the staff meeting, would you be rambling on to an empty room?”

Watch out Quincy Elementary! We have a Staff Collaboration Time on Tuesday morning. Let me just say–you will want to be there!

Dave also talked about the snowball effect. Don’t wait for agreement from all before making changes to improve. Like a snowball, start with a small group of like-minded people. Then, add to the movement little by little until it has momentum of its own.

Dave clearly communicates that curriculum standards are just where we start, they are the bare minimum. Bring your passion into the classroom because the emotional connection that students make to the content is what makes the learning STICKY. I also appreciate his point to deliver KEY content at the peak moment of student engagement.

The first round of break-out sessions came next, and Leading from the Inside Out was included in the line-up. The presenter was ME! I am not sure how the attendees felt, but I thought it was so much fun! Click here is to see my presentation slides.

The next morning started with a keynote address from Nell Duke of the University of Michigan. A conference attendee accurately described Nell as “magical”. She is SO smart and she speaks our language. She shared several essentials from this document with us. Follow her on Twitter (@nellkduke), get to know the document, and see her speak if you have an opportunity. Last year, I made a five-minute video describing the literacy essentials, you can watch it HERE.

Nell talked about Michael Pressley‘s study of exemplary and mediocre teachers. She told us that he found a key difference between exemplary and mediocre teachers. Exemplary teachers are always looking for ways to improve and are overly critical of themselves. Mediocre teachers think they are exemplary and want to maintain status quo. This interesting and important fact needs to be shared with all teachers. My guess? This is also the difference between exemplary and mediocre principals.

I had the honor to attend an awards ceremony where many Michigan principals were recognized. Among them was a colleague that I am proud to call a friend, Jon Wennstrom (@jon_wennstrom). Jon’s students and staff clearly think he is a superhero because of all he gives to them and because he is a passionate role model of continuous learning. Earlier that same day, I attended Jon’s session about growth mindset where he revealed all he has learned through his failures. He inspired me to embrace my many failures rather than be ashamed of them, focusing on what they taught me.

Nicole Airgood was MEMSPA’s Outstanding Practicing Principal for 2015-2016 and she ended her reign with an amazing speech. She shared a quote that I cannot stop thinking about: If you want to change someone’s life, hurt them deeply or love them profoundly. -Andy Stanley

The new Outstanding Practicing Principal was announced, and our friend Amy Taranko  (@ataranko11) was awarded this honor. Amy is a wonderful principal and a lovely person, and I cannot imagine a more appropriate recipient of this award.

Case in point: remember the Pressley study identifying a key characteristic of exemplary educators? Well, as Amy and I were standing in line to meet Dave Burgess (oh yeah!), we were talking about my upcoming presentation. I asked Amy if she ever presented at MEMSPA. She said that she thinks most of the things she does people are already doing, that she doesn’t do anything special.

WHAT?!? I have visited Amy’s school and I can tell you the ways they use data, the interventions they provide, the warm-demander that Amy is…ALL of it is worthy of sharing over and over. Think back to that Pressley study–see why Amy is extra-exemplary?

Our conference culminated with one last keynote. Dr. Adolf Brown (@docspeaks) ended our time together perfectly. There are so many things that he shared that resonated with me, with all of us. His presentation was so much fun, he purposefully added in laughter and music throughout.

He shared that every student has a second backpack, in which they bring all of their struggles. In fact, everyone does. Some struggle because they have a single-parent family…because of poverty…because their parents like their cocktail parties more than parenting… It is our job to find out what is in their second backpack, to understand their struggles, and to help them learn and grow. It is also our job to empty our own backpack before stepping into school.

Dr. Brown also shared something that didn’t resonate strongly until I had a conversation with a friend later in the day. He said perfection is a disease. I agree, we are in constant pursuit of perfection, yet it doesn’t exist because we are HUMANS. We are flawed, everyone is flawed. Let’s accept that, do the best we can every day, learn from our mistakes, and give each other a great gift–grace.

Beyond the keynotes and break-out sessions, one of the best parts of the MEMSPA annual conference is the connections we make. President of MEMSPA, Tom DeGraaf (@thomasldegraaf), is a great example of making connections and the powerful impact they can have on your professional and personal life. The support system we develop extends well beyond the three days of the conference. Through Twitter, Voxer, other PD opportunities throughout the year, we stay connected. I have learned so much from all of them and am blessed to call them friends.

Thanks to Mike Domagalski (@MrDomagalski), we get together every week! Join us on Thursdays at 8:00pm EST for #MEMSPAchat.