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Principal Carol Leveillee: The Culture Builder

Principal Carol Leveillee: The Culture Builder

Principal Carol Leveillee

Principal Carol Leveillee

The Culture Builder, Star School Leader Recipient

When we spoke with Principal Carol Leveillee of Frederick Douglass Elementary School, she shared some tips on how to reinvent a school’s reputation. This is the sixth spotlight in a series of twelve, in which we feature the winning recipients of Kiddom’s annual Star School Leader Award. Look for the others over the coming months by signing up for our newsletter, or check out our School Leadership page, which we will update with each new spotlight.

 

 In a healthy environment, and with a little imagination, children begin to construct the lives they want to lead. Teddy bears can serve as patients in their play clinic, and emerge with a toddler’s solution to whatever ails them: Play-doh, maybe, or a sticker. These remedies hold as much weight as do complex procedures. When you’re young, the means to an end is always within reach.

For some kids, there’s less of a stretch to make when dreaming of their future lives. Principal Carol Leveillee’s favorite toys growing up were a chalkboard slate, a red pen, and stickers. The seats of her classroom were eagerly filled by stuffed animals until she left them behind for an audience of 5th-grade children. Leveillee taught for 11 years before moving into an administrative role. Her warmest memories still come from the classroom.

“When I left (teaching), I made myself a promise that every single thing I do, I’ll never forget what it’s like to be a teacher because it’s the best job ever.”

— Principal Carol Leveillee, Frederick Douglass Elementary School 

Her fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Peretti, inspired Leveillee to go into education. She had early exposure to the ways a teacher can enrich your life with more than practical skills and assessable information. From her teacher, Leveillee learned how to be comfortable in her own skin. “I had to start wearing glasses when I was in fourth grade and she wore glasses too. I remember that she made me feel that it was OK to wear glasses, that they made me look smarter—that kind of thing.”

A Star School Leader Spotlight from Kiddom is hardly the first award Leveillee has earned in her 36-year career. Before being called to the principal’s office, she won the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award from the Washington Post, as well as Teacher of the Year. This caught the attention of the principal at the second school she taught in. Fresh from completing a Master’s degree in reading, Carol was somewhat disappointed to realize that she “wasn’t able to do anything with it other than grow my mind.” The principal of her school approached her with a 75% scholarship to another Master’s program, more closely related to school administration. “They need good teachers to be administrators,” her mentor told her. “You should think about it.”

Their investment in Leveillee reared commendable results. She was later honored by the Washington Post once again when she was given the Distinguished Educational Leadership Award in 2006. On a national level, she represented the state of Maryland as a National Distinguished Principal in 2008.

It has been a long time since stuffed animals filled her classroom seats. Today, her awards and honors could do the trick!

Mastering the Winds of Change

Since stepping into the role of principal at Frederick Douglass Elementary School in Seaford, DE (nicknamed “Fred”), Mrs. Leveillee has certainly done her community proud. Of the 200 elementary schools in Delaware, Fred was performing in the bottom 5% when Principal Leveillee came onboard four years ago. Data on climate, academics, assessment, and more painted Fred as an undesirable place–even the current parents didn’t want their kids there.

Principal Leveillee’s ambition and pragmatism came up with a clear place to begin: the climate. “It was toxic. Staff didn’t like kids, kids didn’t like staff, front office didn’t want the phone to ring or people to come to our window. I knew that climate had to be the first place to start. Knowing that instruction is how we’re judged, but until I got the mindset of a lot of key players to change, stellar lessons weren’t going to make a difference.”

The first step Leveillee took to turn the school culture around was to do a book study: ‘The Energy Bus’ by Jon Gordon. “I spent a year and a half drilling that in. That was our mission every day: are we going to be a Negative Nelly or are we going to be on that bus working together for the good of our school?”

In addition to the principles covered in Gordon’s book, Principal Leveillee introduced Fred to the three R’s: respect, responsibility, and the right to learn. “I said the three Rs so many times that I would have dreams about it. But it really helped. Our climate is a much better place. We’re no longer a Focus Plus school. We just missed exceeding expectations by 0.4%.”

Of course, you don’t see results like that by simply hanging a few inspirational posters. Once the atmosphere and people’s feelings toward the school improved, Principal Leveillee targeted math as Fred’s next area for improvement. At the time, instruction relied heavily on worksheets and didn’t allow for engagement or even conversation between teachers and students.

“We burned the math workbooks.”

Principal Carol Leveillee, Frederick Douglass Elementary School 

Three years into her tenure, Principal Leveillee made Fred’s lesson planning more standards-based. Gradually, she showed the teachers how to teach in small groups and use technology to make class more interactive. Rather than accepting conventions, Leveillee reviewed how paraeducators were being used in the classroom. Eventually, the state of Fred’s math got to a much better place.

Of all the work that she has poured into Frederick Douglass Elementary, Principal Leveillee says that it’s the small successes that make her the most proud. “You know, the child that maybe didn’t want to get out of their car, and is now coming in. Or the teacher that said, ‘Nope I’m going to do my worksheets and you’re not going to tell me otherwise.’ And now I walk in their room and kids are in small groups with the teacher facilitating the learning.” Seeing the culture change infused into daily encounters provides more affirmation than an assessment rubric could hope to.

Disowning “On Your Own Time”

In order to create lasting change in a learning community, you might have to unlearn what you’ve been taught. Traditional practices might not be as constructive or even straightforward as they could be with a new perspective.

When asked how she created a school culture that enabled teachers to collaborate and support each other, Principal Leveillee gave us the rundown on her way of reinventing the seven-hour school day:

“One of the first things I did was totally recreate the schedule. I wanted to make sure that every teacher was free for 90 minutes, at least once a week, to collaborate, to plan, to talk, to kid-talk, to brainstorm, to score papers, to edit.”

With this new schedule, educators are able to complete important professional development on contract time, rather than putting in unpaid hours that decrease their job satisfaction as well as their return on emotional investment. Meanwhile, the students have 90 minutes each week to practice new hobbies and skills, including Pokemon Masters, drumming, coding, kindness club, calligraphy, cheerleading, and chess. “The nice thing is that kids aren’t just on busy work and people aren’t just babysitting while the teachers are collaborating.”

In my heart, we’ve got to do what’s right for kids and for staff. That’s the way I’ll always be.

— Principal Carol Leveillee, Frederick Douglass Elementary School

Teachers also use this time to share what they’ve learned at recent conferences. “It just has to be that way because no one person can do it all.”

Tools for Success

Through patient coaching and innovative thinking, Principal Leveillee has implemented changes that demonstrate care for every member of the community. The general perception of technology is that it cannot do the same. Despite that, she has fit it into the mold.

Every student at Frederick Douglass has a Chromebook that allows them to do research, create projects, and design artwork. Much like a differentiated assignment, the Chromebooks allow Fred students to complete work that reflects who they are just as much as it demonstrates what they’ve learned.

While the Chromebooks foster independence, Principal Leveillee employs other technology to bring the community together. “We start every day here with live-stream morning announcements, and it’s not just the pledge and the menu. I go on and talk to the kids about kindness or caring, or I’ll take kids on with me and they’ll share a goal that they’re working on.” Voicing their goals in front of their peers might just get students closer to reaching them.

With technology, Principal Leveillee has also reduced printing costs and saved time at the start of a new school year. Meeting notes and other important information is stored and easily accessible on Google Drive. Gone are the days when she and her secretary would assemble two-inch binders for each staff member at the beginning of the year. “Now I can spend that time looking for training camps or other things that teachers don’t know about.”

“[Principal Leveillee] has brought so many ideas to our school through book studies and motivational speakers. Most recently she took a few staff members to a “Get Your Teach On” conference where staff brought back numerous ideas. Now she is allowing us to share and implement new engagement strategies school-wide. She also has inspired us to build those meaningful relationships with each other and our students and I believe that has helped us turn our school around.”

–Jacqueline Allman, teacher at Frederick Douglass Elementary School

It wasn’t long ago that parents were concerned about sending their kids to Frederick Douglass Elementary. In less than four years under Principal Leveillee’s leadership, Fred has improved its academic performance as well as its reception by the surrounding community. Regardless of what a formal evaluation would say, Fred exceeds expectations by offering kids a chance to explore new interests, and by showing teachers that their time and contributions are valued.

While she laments the fact that she didn’t start a blog on her first day to help other principals, Principal Leveillee offers this advice to administrators that may be taking charge at a school like Fred. “Have a 3-5 year plan: don’t expect change to happen overnight.” With hindsight, she notes that her own ambitious plans at the start of the new jobs were a little unrealistic.

Leveillee also advises new administrators to surround themselves with strong people—which could mean rearranging the people you have into positions that suit their strengths. “If you were to look at my roster from July 2015 and compare it to my roster today, there’s a lot of people that have been counseled to a different job. It’s what our kids expect us to do as principals.”

As quickly as things change, there are plenty of community staples that stay the same. Principal Leveillee tends to leave the door of her office open so that a particular first grader can get their daily hug.

Recap: What Makes a Star School Leader?

Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.

The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:

  1.  Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
  2.  Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end. 
  3.  Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development. 

To read about the rest of the Star School Leaders, visit our recipient announcement page.

 

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The Best Educational Apps Connect Three Workflows on One Platform

This is the second article of a 3-part series on how to save time and money throughout the school year. This post discusses the often overlooked side effect of relying on multiple paid services to complete multiple key functions–all of which fall under your job description. You can read the other articles as published here:

If we were to ask you to name the best educational app that you actively use, it might be tough to know where to start. Before you could name a winner, you might need to categorize your apps by what they do. Most schools use at least 3 different educational apps to create, approach, and track progress on their goals for the academic year: school leaders will use one system to oversee curriculum management, another to coordinate learning and instruction, and a third for data assessment.

Many times, these systems can’t interact, creating a technical challenge for the teachers who must use their time bridging the gap between them. Weren’t these tools meant to make your school run more efficiently?

Fortunately, schools now have the opportunity to replace these piecemeal systems with one that can address all of their curriculum, instructional, and assessment needs. 

The best educational app can perform as many jobs as you do.

With so many variables to student achievement, you need a baseline curriculum so you can make adjustments to instructional practices and materials. But this is no good if it isn’t responsive—like an at-risk alert system, you can use Kiddom to discover students whose grades are slipping early and provide them with personalized support. When all stakeholders can access the same platform and collaborate in real time, you also have less time wasted on meetings.

With all workflows on one platform, imagine the following scenarios:

Curriculum planning becomes responsive:

These sessions would be much more efficient if every teacher and supervisor walked into the room with a full understanding of which curriculum resources are working, which ones can be cut, and where common leverage points exist.

Kiddom allows admins and teachers to collaborate as they build curriculum together and iterate as soon as results come in. This way, they’re able to scale best practices to other classrooms and reuse for new semesters. 

Teacher observations become informed:

Administrators have to do less digging and teachers have to do less justifying when all of the artifacts of student learning are organized right along side the curriculum. This allows administrators and teachers to spend more time on collaborative efforts rather than repetitive explanations.

Kiddom keeps administrators caught up on what’s happening in the classroom so observations can be planned at a time that is better for teachers and students.

 

Parent-teacher conferences become proactive:

Despite every teacher’s best intentions, eventually a parent may take issue with an assessment or instructional decision made in class. When a parent feels their child has been wronged in some way, the conversations can quickly become emotional. But imagine having all of the reporting and assessment data at your fingertips at any given moment. Now administrators won’t have to call a teacher from class to gather pertinent information about a student, but can access all necessary records as needed.

You have a clear view of your entire school or district’s progress towards your new social emotional initiative and you know exactly which classrooms need more support. You’re able to reallocate funding to those who need it the most. Lucky for you, your Monday morning dashboard just got a serious upgrade.

Calculate how much time and money your school could save with a single platform for all your instructional needs:

At a typical Kiddom school, hands are in the air, there’s a buzz in the room, and teachers and students are energized. Kiddom was designed to help improve teacher retention and increase student performance and graduation rates.

For the first time, the most important parts of teaching and learning are connected and simplified in Kiddom. Curriculum lives in one place and is easily measured and refined, instruction is personalized to meet the needs of each student, and data serves as a powerful system of support for every member of the learning community to keep students on track.

What People Are Saying

“Kiddom is great for assessing data and then assigning appropriate work based on individual student performance. I love that it's very easy to attach standards and rubric to every assignment.”

Jackie Curts, Middle School Teacher

“Using Kiddom has made me stop and ask ‘Am I just letting this student repeat what they already know or am I really challenging them?’”

Ann Leghorn, High School Literacy Specialist

“I can see where my class and any student is at any moment in their educational journey. This way I can take action to assist them to work towards mastery.”

Mr. Albrecht, High School Teacher

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Principal Sarah Hays: The Motivational Coach

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Principal Sarah Hays

Principal Sarah Hays

The Motivational Coach, Star School Leader Recipient

Principal Sarah Hays shared her tips on how to bridge the gap between school and community. This is the fifth spotlight in a series of twelve, in which we feature the winning recipients of Kiddom’s annual Star School Leader Award. Look for the others over the coming months by signing up for our newsletter, or check out our School Leadership page, which we will update with each new spotlight.

 

“Emily Dickinson has grit.” An elementary school in Bozeman, Montana brings new life to a dead poet’s name with a motto that pulls no punches. At its helm, Principal Sarah Hays brings more than two decades of classroom experience to the front office, making sure every teacher has the support they need to excel at their work. And their students are all the better for it.

“[Our teachers] want the very best for [our students]. And our kids do well: they score well, and I think they love school. That’s one of the most important things.”

— Principal Sarah Hays, Emily Dickinson Elementary

For Principal Hays, education has always felt like home. She taught English and math at the high school level for sixteen years, and “loved everything about it.” But over time, her connection to the classroom stretched as she stepped into more administrative roles. Though she had never felt the desire to become an administrator, she has crafted a new home for herself in a different part of the school building.

 

The Principal is a Teacher’s Pal

In her current role, Mrs. Hays communicates with her staff frequently in order to advocate for them as best she can. During her own classroom years, she experienced first hand the way a teacher’s motivation can crumble without the proper feedback and support.

Today, Principal Hays creates a sturdier foundation for her teachers than the one she once stood upon. “I really work to make sure that they feel like they can come to me with concerns, that I’ll have their back when a parent comes to me, that I recognize their strengths.”

The payoff comes when teachers feel confident enough to bring innovative solutions to the table: “We help support them so that they can continue to learn and grow and then that spreads across the school.”

Sarah encourages us to set personal and student goals (short and long term). She encourages teachers to work together to help find a way to help all learners. Working with a variety of personalities, Sarah is able to meet all of our needs and to encourage all of us to be the best educators we can be. She wears many hats and is always positive with the staff, parents and most of all our students.

— Tina Martin, teacher, Emily Dickinson Elementary 

 

From Cursive to Coding: Education’s Evolution

Aside from being a champion of teachers’ needs, what’s most remarkable about Principal Hays is her willingness to embrace change. As technology progresses into the classroom, the landscape of a lesson has shifted as well.

Over the course of her 25 years in education, the average K-12 classroom has evolved: fewer templates and worksheets survive from year to year, and more assignments can be tailored to fit the needs of a particular student.

Principal Hays holds one truth certain: “Technology should be helping us gain the information, and then do something great with [it].” She calls her school of 530 students a “Google school,” referring to the apps they use in their 3-5 classrooms.

Emily Dickinson Elementary has implemented curricula from Project Lead the Way, a non-profit that introduces kids to coursework in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science. In this way, technology has become a tool not just for sleek email and chat integration, but also for students to create and imagine new paths for themselves beyond school.

Technology is definitely a tool. To me, it’s a lot like the pencil was when we were younger. It’s a tool that we’re using to learn and explore and produce.”

— Principal Sarah Hays, Emily Dickinson Elementary

The Bozeman, Montana school district uses standards to ensure that technology is being used effectively. All teachers have been trained on using Chromebooks in the classroom, and K-2 students have access to iPads for production. The school library features a 3D printer that students can use to create monuments and bring other historical figures from the textbook to the trophy shelf.

Students at Emily Dickinson use 3D printers to build statues and monuments, but how does Principal Hays go about creating the foundation they stand on? That relies on the foundations that support students at home. “Build investment in the school by getting to know your teachers and your families.”

After all, a school without parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, and caregivers would not go by the same name. “Once you can build those relationships you can go a long way in steering different things. But it doesn’t happen without that commitment to building relationships with people.”

Recap: What Makes a Star School Leader?

Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.

The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:

  1.  Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
  2.  Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end. 
  3.  Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development. 

To read about the rest of the Star School Leaders, visit our recipient announcement page.

 

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Principal Faith Stroud: The Passionate Leader

Principal Faith Stroud: The Passionate Leader

Principal Faith Stroud

Principal Faith Stroud

The Passionate Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

We spoke to Principal Faith Stroud about how to instill worthwhile values in an engaging way. This is the fourth spotlight in a series of twelve, in which we feature the winning recipients of Kiddom’s annual Star School Leader Award. Look for the others over the coming months by signing up for our newsletter, or check out our School Leadership page, which we will update with each new spotlight.

 

Making The Decision to Become a Star School Leader

Principal Faith Stroud of Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy wears the badge of “NERD” with pride — as she should. Through hard work and leadership, she lives her principles rather than simply lecturing them, and encourages the members of her school community to do the same. But where did Stroud’s path to leadership begin?

After earning her History degree, with an emphasis on African-American History, she began her career as a substitute teacher. Stroud then completed her alternate certification as an educator through her university. Noting the lack of representation for black students and educators in math and science, she entered the field as a permanent teacher of 7th and 8th grade math.

For Stroud, the transition to an administrative role was defined by the ability to impact more students. Citing the self-management book Good to Great by Jim Collins, she describes the shift in her career as being able to go beyond technical solutions to land on adaptive solutions. “Individually in my classroom, I don’t have those adaptive processes at my core. I believe that all kids learn absolutely. I believe all kids will learn at a great level. The challenge pushing all of the administration has been: how do you then impart that passion and belief into others that might not necessarily start with that?” 

 

“It’s kind of like The Matrix. You know, sometimes you have to go into the Matrix to help solve problems. And so I decided to become an administrator. I had great success as a classroom teacher, so I was hoping as an administrator I would be able to have success systemically and impact more scholars than I would be able to in just one classroom.”

— Faith Stroud, principal, Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy 

Into the Matrix: Becoming a Star School Leader

As an administrator, Principal Stroud has earned accolades and trust, allowing her to lead in the spirit of innovation, not tradition. Before there was Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy, Stroud stepped into her role as principal at one of the lowest performing middle schools in the state.

Under her leadership, the school narrowed and refined its focus to exclusively serve sixth graders. “The ACT study talks about sixth grade as the year that determines a child’s future success,” she says. “We try to do as much as possible to ensure that when our scholars leave our academy, they’re on a trajectory to be college and career ready.”

70% of students at Robert Frost enter the 6th grade performing below grade level. For Principal Stroud, this statistic defines her purpose rather than challenges it. Since its opening four years ago, the Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy has seen steady upward progress, soaring out of their previous bracket as one of the lowest performing schools in the state.

“Mrs. Stroud is a very strong leader and true advocate for our scholars and our staff. She doesn’t ask anything of us that she is not willing to do herself. She has worked to put a Chromebook in every scholar’s hands at our school, which for our district is not the case everywhere else. She works and budgets to set up field trips for our scholars that have real world ties to their curriculum and provides them with experiences that they may not be able to have otherwise. She is a fully transparent leader who works diligently to provide our scholars with the best educators in their field.” 

— Sandra Stinson, Teacher at Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy

So, what’s a day like at Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy?

Beyond exploring new talents, sixth graders at Robert Frost Academy feel connected to their school through the curriculum that colors their class time. Principal Stroud challenges her staff to collaborate in lesson planning and provide a seamless interdisciplinary experience for their students. “We truly try to increase the relevance of what kids are learning to make it more meaningful and engaging to them,” she shares.

Principal Stroud’s background in African-American history influences her views on education as a gatekeeper. At Robert Frost, students are more than just sixth-graders: they are citizens. “It’s youth who have led many of the revolutions that helped change the course of where society was headed,” she says.

As an administrator, she works from within “the matrix” to ensure that her school, staff, and other influencers of learning treat their charge with the same reverence. This means strengthening the connection between lessons and life outside the school’s walls.

Regardless of benchmarks, every student under her purview has an equal opportunity to broaden their horizons and find a passion that tethers them to the community. “I’m a firm believer in exposure to the arts,” she adds. “Every scholar in my building takes music, whether it’s band, orchestra, or chorus.”

“Fundamentally, education is one of the greatest civil rights that we have afforded to us. And so it’s my passion to try to empower scholars and equip them with the skills necessary to be successful.”
— Faith Stroud, principal, Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy  

The school also emphasizes mindfulness, which ensures that students aren’t just ready to place into the next level of math, but also capable of weathering whatever the world may send their way. “I believe that all kids learn absolutely. I believe all kids will learn at a great level. The challenge pushing all of the administration has been: how do you then impart that passion and belief into those that might not necessarily start with that?”

What are you most proud of as principal?

In its four years of operation, Robert Frost has seen fewer and fewer behavioral issues throughout the school year, allowing teachers to focus more of their time on instruction. Principal Stroud accredits this trend to the expectations and systems set in place by her and the rest of the staff.

Contributing to this trend of improvement is the nature of the school as a boon for the surrounding community, providing glimmers of hope to students and bringing far-off experiences into reach. One of these initiatives includes a music festival that showcases student talent in a competitive environment. 

“I had a scholar who came to me after they went to the music festival. There were so excited because they were Distinguished in music sight reading. But this is also a scholar who, when they started the year, was a novice in reading overall. So the fact that you’re able to help show people that there are multiple types of gifts. That one area of growth doesn’t define you.”

The mission of the Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy is “to empower scholars to be 21st century leaders and soar to new heights.” The school carries out this goal by empowering students with knowledge as well as courage and confidence.

Behind Principal Stroud’s desk hangs a Marvel comics flag that is reportedly matched by superhero posters throughout the entire school. Principal Stroud uses these visual aids to impart the fact that greatness is an aim, not an accident. “A superhero is just an ordinary person that’s doing extraordinary things,” she says.

Students leave Robert Frost Academy knowing that their future is theirs to build, regardless of what came before it.

“So many heroes have tragic stories, but tragedy doesn’t define you. You can overcome in life and use it to your advantage because of your resilience and your grit. You can really almost do more than other people can.”
— Faith Stroud, principal, Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy 

What should be technology’s role in the classroom?

Principal Stroud is proud to be at the helm of a school with a 1:1 Chromebook ratio, which lends itself to the goal of preparing students for life beyond class. At Robert Frost, technology works toward two goals, both of which can be adapted to serve various levels of learning.

First, the Chromebooks are used to help scholars practice digital literacy. As technology becomes more and more expansive in reach, students come into school already well-versed in its use. These scholars come from a generation of content creators on YouTube, Instagram, and other social media apps. Chromebooks in the classroom can tap into that drive to create and redirect it toward educational content.

Secondly, technology enables personalized curriculum for students that range in learning styles and interests. “There’s usually about a standard deviation of fifteen on most of our data sets, which is a huge spread. Due to the level of differentiation needed for our scholars, the computers provide that,” she says. With the 1:1 ratio of Chromebooks, teachers are able to group students by levels of mastery and provide personal support.

Principal Stroud offers this advice to schools implementing a new technology initiative: “Provide examples of what you want (implementation to look like).” Inviting adults to visualize what can be accomplished with the new technology can help give them a goalpost to work toward.

Recap: What Makes a Star School Leader?

Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.

The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:

  1.  Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
  2.  Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end.
  3.  Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development.

To read about the rest of the Star School Leaders, visit our recipient announcement page.

 

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Principal Tammy Taylor: The Teacher Advocate

Principal Tammy Taylor

Principal Tammy Taylor

The Teacher Advocate, Star School Leader Recipient

We spoke to Principal Tammy Taylor about her process of teaching students to nurture a strong connection to their community. This is the third spotlight in a series of twelve, in which we feature the winning recipients of Kiddom’s annual Star School Leader Award. Look for the others over the coming months by signing up for our newsletter, or check out our School Leadership page, which we will update with each new spotlight.

 

To the compact gait of an elementary school student, the path between a teacher’s classroom and the principal’s office may seem far and long. Such is not the case at the Wellton Elementary School District in Arizona, where Principal Tammy Taylor leads her staff by example. Mrs. Taylor started her journey in education as a classroom teacher for fourteen years, and she continues to teach today, in addition to being principal of a school that serves K-8 students.

The Makings of a Star School Leader

In college, Principal Taylor made an honest effort to become a veterinarian, but her grades in organic chemistry wouldn’t cut it. (Who among us can relate?)

Her friends and family pointed out that she thrived in roles that let her work with kids: one job as a daycare provider, another helping kids find books at the public library. When she found her true calling as a 2nd grade teacher, she put away her chemistry textbooks and never looked back.

“The thing I like most [about being a principal] is being able to interact with all the students. Because we are a small school, everyone knows me. Seeing the kids outside the community and they still recognize you—that close-knit kind of a family atmosphere is what I really like the most.”

— Principal Tammy Taylor, Wellton Elementary School

Principal Taylor stays connected by regularly popping into classrooms to say hello. But these visits are strictly as a community member and not a supervisor. Under her leadership, teachers receive a lot of trust to lead their classrooms without intervention. “Unless they need help or I see a problem, I just let them do their job.”

Wellton Bulldogs and the Wall of Kindness

As a small school for a wide range of students, Wellton Elementary emphasizes a personal responsibility to the community. But the community wasn’t always so harmonious. After observing a need for dissolving conflict between grade levels, Principal Taylor implemented some creative ways to bring students together.

With the help of its students over the past three years, the school has added five murals to the campus, each brandishing quotes about kindness. Throughout the project, students had the chance to adorn the walls with their own handprints and express themselves creatively in honor one of the greats, Vincent Van Gogh.

Another way Wellton imparts a sense of kindness and responsibility is through a house system inspired by Harry Potter: every year, fourth through eighth graders are sorted into four houses. Through themed challenges and activities, they exercise teamwork, kindness, and inclusivity. This gives students a chance to work with people of a different ages and interests.

World Kindness Day brought on another opportunity for the initiative — students wrote anecdotes about giving, receiving, or witnessing kindness on pieces of paper. These speech bubbles were housed in the cafeteria for several weeks. This let students read stories from their peers at lunchtime, and keep the theme of the activity at the top of their minds at least once a day.

How does Mrs. Taylor foster a supportive teacher community?

Wellton is a school of 200 students and 10-12 teachers. In many cases, there is just one teacher per grade level. As such, getting teachers to convene and align can be difficult, but Principal Taylor keeps an open environment for communication and colleague support holding morning meetings for professional development.

These trainings are sometimes divided by grade level, but are often conducted as a unified group where staff invent ways to collaborate across grade level. For example, in one meeting, the intermediate staff shared activities and games they created for the primary staff. 

Before she became principal, Mrs. Taylor worked with Donors Choose to get sewing machines for our school. Now as our Principal, she helps teachers apply for donations through Donors Choose. This is just one of the ways that Mrs. Taylor has inspired teachers and staff members at Wellton Elementary. With her positive attitude and incredible energy, she has been an excellent role model for our teachers and staff. 

— Lisa Jameson, Teacher at Wellton Elementary

The State of Technology at Wellton Elementary

For many school districts, technology used to be an afterthought, or a special treat. But Principal Taylor has witnessed technology tunnel to the forefront of her students’ lives and helped her school in the effort to become a 1:1 (student to device) community. “It’s not like when we were students and, you know, ‘Yes! We got a computer class this semester.’ This is their life.”

The longer we prolonged having (technology as) part of their educational and academic life—which is the majority of their time during the year—I think we felt like we were holding them back. So having added that in, to me, is just important.

— Principal Tammy Taylor

This initiative also helped Principal Taylor to extend a helping hand where her teacher’s didn’t have bandwidth. “We are short-staffed to be perfectly honest. So our ideas, we have incorporated this year some online tutoring.” Eighth graders that are eligible can take algebra online, which frees up the math teacher to work more closely with students still approaching that level.

Advice for Other Schools Implementing 1:1 Technology

As the principal at a 1:1 school, Taylor understands that implementing a new tech initiative can be scary. But first and foremost, it’s important to remember that everyone learns at a different rate. “Baby steps. Start with one program and get them to where they’re competent and then you can add another one. Even our most reluctant teachers have slowly started to use it more and more in the classroom.”

For administrators that are hesitant to embrace technology, Principal Taylor recommends leaning on the people and resources in your community as mentors. She notes that kids are often more likely to listen to other kids than to a teacher.

Just find those teachers and students that have those strengths, and use their strength. Having the older kids who know how to do it go in and show the little ones can take some of the pressure off the teacher trying to figure it out all on their own.

Whereas the teachers may be reluctant to use tablets and other devices as part of their instruction, the students themselves often feel right at home. “We had the 7th graders go in and help the kindergarteners learn how to log into the program and show the teachers how, for about two months.” By encouraging collaboration and relying on the students to step up for their community, Principal Taylor enjoyed a much smoother transition to using tablets in grade K. “By that time the kids could get in on their own. And the teachers were less worried about spending time with log in.”

This anecdote emphasizes the dual intent of technology at Wellton Elementary. Principal Taylor understands that it can be used to enhance the classroom experience in different ways. “At the primary level, it needs to be there to help support and help fill in the gaps of our students. In the intermediate, we have it to help and improve their comprehension and understanding of the subject areas, as well as knowing that our state testing is done on the computer.

All in all, what makes Mrs. Taylor such a sensational leader is her ability to pinpoint and rely on the individual strengths of people in her community. “The kids are why we’re here the most. The adults, we help guide them, but you have to trust them to do their job and that’s what I do. I trust them to do their job.

Recap: What Makes a Star School Leader?

Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.

The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:

  1.  Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
  2.  Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end. 
  3.  Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development. 

To read about the rest of the Star School Leaders, visit our recipient announcement page.

 

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