Dear Mr. Trump,

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Dear Mr. Trump,

Recently I started to put together my school’s budget for the FY17 school year. Ironically, while doing so I was listening to CNN and a report came on discussing how you had announced that, starting in the New Year, you would start spending $2 million dollars a week on political ads. I wonder, would you consider just spending $1.9 million instead and donating the other $100,000 to my school?

I’ve been thinking about writing this letter to you since I first saw that news story over vacation. I am struck by the disparity that exists between the haves and have nots in this country. I am also struck by how much money is spent needlessly in this country each and every day while so many children struggle to get their needs met. How is that possible? I’m wondering if your campaign would notice the difference between $2 million and $1.9 million? How would that impact your advertising campaign? Would it impact it at all? I assure you, $100,000 a week, for even just four weeks, would have a significant impact on the children and staff at my school as our struggles are real and felt each and every day.

What I could do with $100,000 a week…even just for a month! Here’s my spending plan in case you are even considering this question:

Week 1: This week I would like to hire two additional teachers to reduce class size in kindergarten and grade 5. Currently these class sizes average 28 due to budget cuts last year. Have you ever tried to teach 27 five-year-olds at a time? It’s not easy and it isn’t much easier with 11 year olds – trust me. You are welcome to come and visit if you’d like to give it a try! We usually budget $63,000 for a teacher but, since it’s January, I would need $37,800 for six months so I could hire two more teachers for $75,600 leaving $24,400 for this week. I would like to bank that for now.

Week 2: This week I would like to hire two more teachers; this time to reduce class sizes in grade 3 and grade 6. These grades have class sizes that range from 26 to 32 again due to a budget shortfall last year. The additional staffing will be greatly appreciated by the children (and the teachers)! Again, let’s bank the $24,400.

Week 3: This week I would like to hire a social worker. Currently, with a school of 402, we only have one guidance counselor. We are lucky to partner with a fabulous organization who comes in to provide counseling to children 4 days a week, but we need more people to be able to support the mental health needs of our children. Along the same lines, I would like to provide the Responsive Classroom I course to all of my teachers – I have been trying to figure out where that $30,000 would come from since I started this position last year! This leaves $32,200 for the bank this week.

Week 4: Wow, now that we have the staffing we need, there are some projects I would love to fund so we don’t have to do fundraisers. We are looking to provide more activities for kids to do at recess and would love to build a gaga pit and a lego wall. We were going to do a fundraiser to buy the materials and build our own pit, but we can buy one for $4000 which will reduce the burden to our already financially strapped community, not to mention it will get the kids playing quicker! The Lego Wall, I am sure we could do for $1000 if not less! We are starting a school garden and $1000 should also cover our expenses there. Recently I have heard a lot of people talking about getting Spheros and drones in the hands of their kids – we could get a fleet of both for $4000. That brings this week to $10,000 leaving $90,000 for the bank.

What to do with the $170,800 that now sits in the bank? I am sure I could find a way to spend it but the fiscally responsible thing to do would be to invest much of this money so that we can continue to hire the above staff members in future years. It will be great to have them for the next six months but to truly make a long-term impact, we need them in future years as well. I would also like to set up a fund so that families who are struggling can reach out to us for support in terms of gift cards for clothes and food. Our community could really use this support.

What do you think? Can we make it happen?

Sincerely,

A Principal with Dreams for Her Kids

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We’re Better Together: The Power of the PLN

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Whether it was fate or just perfect timing, I will never know, but I could not have asked for better motivation this morning than #LeadUpChat. On Friday I am presenting about the power of a PLN to a group of elementary principals at MESPA’s annual Fall Conference. My goal is to illustrate the importance of developing a strong PLN and support participants in this effort by showing them how to begin with Twitter and Voxer.

I have been reflecting a lot about my presentation and had set aside time today to put those thoughts in motion. Coffee in hand, I sat at the kitchen table, opened my computer and decided to get some motivation from my PLN by hopping on Twitter for a bit! Here was the Tweet that flew across my feed:

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As we began the exhilarating, all-be-it intense hour, my introductory remarks began to take shape and then it hit me. Why am I starting my presentation speaking about my PLN? Why not let my PLN speak for me? I grabbed several of the Tweets that resonated with me and put together a slideshow of their words that screamed the importance of a PLN from the rooftops. Here are some of the highlights:

  • @lauriemeston writes: Yes! I’ve learned more in the last year supported by my PLN than I have in previous 30 yrs in eduction.
  • @brmohr writes: I also love that I can learn from my PLN anytime of the day or week – from all over the country
  • @PrincipalOgg writes: We help each other out when we can. We develop a growth mindset of learning and helping each other reach their goals.
  • @AmyHeavin writes: Through our conversation, we share insights & ideas. When we act on those ourselves, we grow. When we share others grow too!

In the presentation (click here to download it in its entirety – it’s only 3.5 minutes) which will be my opening remarks Friday, there are 50 quotes representing NINETEEN states and three COUNTRIES!!!! What more powerful message do I need than that? In the past, to learn from that diverse of an audience, I would have had to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to go to a national conference. The power of PD in 2015 is that your PLN is there for you when you need them 24/7. The PLN breaks down, no smashes down, the walls of isolation in what can be a very isolating career.

PS: If anyone knows how to get a Power Point presentation to play as a movie WITH the music, please share your expertise in the comments below. I can save it as a Quicktime movie but the audio does not convert with it.

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Reflecting on Traditional Evaluations – Time Well Spent or Mandated Time Sucker? You Decide

I just spent the better part of my vacation week writing teacher final evaluations. Each evaluation took on average three hours to write well. Take into account the time spent prior to that on organizing meetings, conducting the meetings, watching the lesson and cleaning up the scripting, beginning to end the process takes close to ten hours of time for each teacher! An evaluator can’t help but wonder – is it time well spent or is it a mandated time sucker?

Sounds like a nice way to spend a vacation, huh? I have only myslef to blame. Each year I set a new goal that I will space them out over the course of the year. This year I did one in January – progress right? As we said about our beloved Red Sox here in Boston as last season wrapped up, next year is the year!

As I was writing, I couldn’t get a recent Kim Marshall workshop out of my mind. The administrators in my district traveled to hear him speak about mini-observations. Marshall developed a framework by which teachers are evaluated based on frequent, short mini-observations as opposed to the one-shot-deal approach of many of the traditional models. Needless to say our district has the one-shot-deal approach in which I observe a teacher conduct an isolated lesson and write the evaluation based on that one 45-60 minute lesson. I admire the efforts my current district is taking to bring teachers and administrators together in a working group to analyze the research surrounding teacher evaluation and work together to do this process better.

Until then, however, we continue with the old model. So back to Marshall’s conference. He opens by asking the crowd (mostly administrators) to raise their hand if they were evaluated under the traditional one-shot-deal approach. Most participants raise their hand. He then asks the crowd to raise their hand if this traditional approach significantly changed their teacher practice. At the workshop I attended only five (of 250!!!) raised their hand! As an administrator relatively new to this role in my fourth year, I was shocked. Really? Only 2% of the attendees benefited from the current evaluation method I was asked to use each year?

Part of the reason I was shocked was because I was one of the five who raised their hand. When asked by Marshall what worked for me, I actually ended up making his point! As a young practitioner, new to the teaching field, I had a lot of questions and felt as though I was in a constant state of inquiry. In my principal (Twitter @bwittcoff) I found someone who was willing first to listen and then to process and to reflect. Most importantly, I found someone who was willing to challenge me and stretch my thinking to help me become a better teacher. These conversations however did not just take place during my formal observations. They took place throughout the year and were part of an ongoing dialogue about teaching and learning. I grew as a teacher and changed my practice because of frequent feedback, frequent dialog and constant reflection.

Marshall’s book, Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation: How to Work Smart, Build Collaboration and Close the Achievement Gap, opens in the introduction with two powerful quotes:

  • “Principal evaluation of teachers is a low-leverage strategy for improving schools, particularly in terms of the time it requires of principals.” Richard DuFour and Robert Marzano
  • “Write-ups have low to medium leverage on influencing teacher practice.” John Saphier

As I wrote my evaluations this year, I wondered, will these write-ups make a difference? Will they influence teacher practice? If the research holds true, the document probably will not. The conversations we had in the post-conference were probably more powerful but only if that conversation was one in a long stream of reflections on teaching and learning over the course of the year. I am frequently in teacher’s classroom – at the minimum once a week for at least three to five minutes. Where I need to stretch myself is in those follow-up conversations that provide feedback and foster reflection after most visits.

I am interested to hear your thoughts on my reflection question that is currently at the forefront of my reflection:

How can principals provide frequent, timely feedback to teachers most effectively?