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5 Common Burnout Symptoms Principals Can Look For

 

principalsWe can usually spot a passionate teacher, someone who is on fire for the profession, a mile away. But it’s often harder to spot a teacher who is burning out. So that you’re not broadsided by a teacher’s sudden (or what appears to be sudden) resignation, we’d like to share five common burn-out symptoms from Barbara Brock and Marilyn Grady’s book, Rekindling the Flame. In our next blog, we’ll follow-up by sharing a few ways principals can better engage teachers and help them rekindle their fire for teaching.

Physical
Teachers who are burning out often experience chronic exhaustion, which leaves them unable to complete tasks or face other people. Sleep patterns are disturbed; these teachers may either experience difficulty sleeping or sleep excessively.

There are other physical symptoms we can be on the lookout for: Recurring physical ailments such as migraine headaches, anxiety and social withdrawal.

Intellectually
Burnout often inhibits teachers from making what would ordinarily be considered simple decisions. These folks may also delay or vacillate in their decision making.

Additionally, they may also have difficulty processing information or experience an inability to focus on a single task because they are distracted by all of the competing issues. Some people appear preoccupied, dazed, or overwhelmed. Others are easily angered and resentful of their workload.

Social
Brock and Grady also point out that burnt out teachers often withdraw from colleagues and students or report that they feel too exhausted to engage in hobbies or to socialize with friends after work hours.

With burnout, teachers are less likely to be sympathetic or to become involved in their students’ problems. Instead, they behave in a callous, cynical, or indifferent manner, and they display a lower tolerance for classroom disruption.

When the teacher does communicate, it is usually to indulge in cynicism and caustic humor to release frustration. The teacher lashes out at colleagues and students and is contemptuous toward the administration or school district. Humor takes the form of malicious jokes with references to students, parents, colleagues, and administrators.

Emotional
Initially teachers deny the existence of burnout. Later, the teacher may project blame onto someone or something else rather than identifying the source and attempting to address the issue. Paranoia becomes a problem when teachers doubt their own competence and become defensive, competitive, and territorial—safeguarding their jobs. Trust becomes distrust.

Like we said in our first paragraph, we never like discussing problems without offering solutions, so stay tuned for our next post where we’ll offer a few teacher-engagement strategies.

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Building a Reciprocal Relationship with Parents

 

parent engagementIt’s an academic sin to begin any piece of writing with a dictionary definition, but since there are so many varying opinions about what parent engagement means, I thought it might be helpful to share the definition I’ll be working from. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines parent engagement as an “ongoing, reciprocal, strengths-based, collaborative partnership that promotes a shared responsibility for observation, decision making, and action.” I like this definition—but how do schools actually nurture this kind of partnership? How do we truly engage parents in a reciprocal relationship?

To help answer these questions, I’ve pulled a few tips from Motivational Interviewing in Schools, a book by Keith Herman, Wendy Reinke, Andy Frey, and Stephanie Shepard.

Start of the Year
To start, we must show parents that their child’s personal and academic success is inextricably linked to their involvement. Parents are more likely to engage when they understand how instrumental their role is in their child’s success. Newsletters and letters from the principal are certainly two ways you can convey this message to parents, but if you truly want to build a shared vision, you will have better luck with surveys or “get-to-know-you” visits.

Arranging home visits is time-consuming and requires an extraordinary amount of work, but you will be rewarded for your efforts. During these visits, treat the parents as the experts. They know their child better than you do, so remind them that you are there to learn from them. You may want to discuss some of the following:

  • Systemic issues that might interfere with home-school communication
  • Ways to overcome these barriers
  • Classroom visits and volunteer opportunities
  • Resources available to parents

Frequent Positive Communication
Many of us do a fine job of communicating with parents on a frequent basis. The problem, though, is that we are communicating—and frequently so—about the wrong “stuff.” I like this little analogy Herman, Reinke, Frey, and Shepard use:

Think of your interactions with each parent as a piggy bank. For every positive interaction you have with a parent, you make a deposit into the relationship bank. Every negative interaction or feedback requires a withdrawal.

To echo the authors’ point, we must do a better job of communicating positive news to families. If parents are only contacted when things go wrong, they will associate the staff, the teachers, even the building, with negativity. Here are a few ideas for better communication:

  • Post a “topic of the day” through Facebook, daily e-mails, or on hardcopy handouts, and encourage parents to talk about these topics with their children
  • Send home “Table Talk” notes that encourage conversations at home about topics the child is learning about in school
  • Offer a variety of activities and opportunities from which parents can participate beyond volunteering!
  • Consider encouraging parent-to-parent connections, establishing parent leadership committees, family fun nights, or setting aside space in the building for a parent resource center

Establish Positive Local Norms and Expectations about Supportive Services
Parents’ receptiveness to support services (the school counselor, psychologist, or behavior support team) often rides on how we market them. Pay close attention to the language you use to describe support services and avoid problem-focused words like “treatment” or “intervention.”  Instead, focus on better outcomes that promote “health,” “wellness,” and “support.” 

In addition to being mindful about the language we use to market our services, Herman, Reinke, Frey, and Shepard also encourage us to “involve parents as liaisons to communicate positive expectations and beliefs about the services.” This is, by the way, one of the oldest and truest marketing strategies in the book: When customers participate and benefit from a product or service, they are more likely to talk about it and spread the word.

If parents are enthusiastic about your services, ask them to talk about it with other parents, write up short testimonials, or share their experience at a PTA conference.

If you’re looking for more parent engagement tips, check out one of my recent posts, “5 Ways Schools Can Improve Parent Engagement.”

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Avoiding First-Year Blunders: 5 Tips for Principals

 

effective principalWhat makes an effective principal? This question used to have a fairly standard answer: someone who serves as a mentor and inspiration to educational staff and students…someone who keeps the supply cabinets stocked and the busses running on schedule, and so on. While the above still holds true, there are also complex social dynamics that principals must also master. To help you navigate your way and avoid common first-year blunders, we’ve pulled a few pieces of advice from Marilyn L. Grady’s book, 20 Biggest Mistakes Principals Make and How to Avoid Them.

Avoiding First-Year Blunders: 5 Tips for Principals

Say Hello
It may be necessary to lock yourself in the office every now and again, but even then, make it part of your daily schedule to greet teachers, students and support staff.

There are innumerable ways to interact with students and teachers: try greeting students in the mornings as they step off the bus; attend sporting events and sit with a different group of students each time; visit classrooms; sit in on a ceramics class and spin some clay…whatever it takes to interact with students.

Teachers and students may grumble about your policies and take issue with some of your decisions, but ultimately they crave your support and attention. As Grady points out, “Although one may assume that teachers, as adult professionals should be able to experience their own self-actualization on the job, in fact teachers look to the principal for direction and support.”

Be Mindful That You are Not Playing Favorites
It’s a fact: You’re going to connect with some of your teachers and staff more than others. But as a principal, you must keep yourself in check and never play favorites.

Do you visit some classrooms more than others, or share inside jokes with a select group of teachers? Be careful about this.

While we wouldn’t go so far as to say that you should not befriend your colleagues, we do agree with Grady’s assertion that “Principals who build their friendship networks at school with students, faculty, and teachers often tie themselves to personal relationships that thwart their ability to make sound professional decisions. 

Make Yourself Visible
Principals are social creatures who have learned to tolerate social scrutiny. Make yourself visible: build relationships with the local media, attend as many after-school events as you can, and arrange community meetings and discussions. These opportunities must occur regularly so that the principal has current and accurate information about community issues and concerns.

One last note on visibility: Be well-rounded in your attendance. People notice if the principal attends basketball games, but does not attend school plays or band concerts.

Pay Attention to the Written Word
We all have unique talents, but if writing is not your specialty, for goodness sakes recruit someone to provide constructive feedback and proofread your work before you ship it off to parents, students, or the media. You could be the most brilliant person in the world, but if you are using incorrect spelling, syntax or grammar, you’re intellectual credibility is going to be placed under considerable scrutiny.

In addition to this, keep the following in mind:

  • Communicate regularly
  • Consider the audience and be careful not to condescend
  • Stay positive—never write when you are tired or on edge
  • Be direct
  • Be readable—the human eye is drawn to bold headings and bulleted information
  • Always make a copy and save it when documentation is needed for a continuing problem
  • Keep it brief
  • Don’t hide behind a letter. Nothing replaces face-to-face conversation

Accept that You Will Be Compared to Predecessors
Knowing ahead of time that everything you do will be measured against your predecessor will save you a lot of grief and restless nights. Comparisons are going happen. You are going to hear things like, “Principal X didn’t seem to have a problem with this,” or “Principal X would never have done this.” Ditch your gut reaction to react defensively and use these moments to ask questions and engage in an open discussion.

Photo credit: Gentleridevan / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Painless Language Fluency: 5 Tips for Language Translators

 

language translatorSince language is a translator’s livelihood, they can’t afford to let their skills slip. Sure, translators regularly work with their target/source language, but time constraints and never-ending deadlines often keep them from keeping up with the latest colloquialisms and cultural trends. Here are 5 simple ways you can keep your second, third or fourth language skills sharp:  

Painless Language Fluency: 5 Tips for Language Translators

Listen to audio books in your target language
According to a 2012 study report by Texas A&M, the average American commuter spends the equivalent of a week at work stuck in traffic every year! How about those of us that reside in large cities like Washington D.C and Los Angeles? According to the same study, D.C. and L.A. commuters spend a whopping 67 and 61 hours stuck in traffic, respectively.

This is a long way of saying that commuters have a lot of idle time they can use productively by listening to audio books in their target language. Granted, many translators work from home…but even so, consider how much time you spend in the car or on the train just running random errands every week!

Keep a notebook in your target language.

Do you keep a journal or a blog? If you do, switch from writing in your first language to your target language.  This is a good way to keep your grammar and vocabulary skills sharp.

Join a language group
Odds are that there are people in your community who want to improve or maintain the same target language that you do. We’re members of a Meetup group called the Metro-Detroit Spanish Speakers. Each group is unique, but ours meets once a week at a local coffee shop to hang out, speak Spanish, and enjoy drinks amongst friends.

Teach your target language at a community college
If you live in the States, have a master’s degree, and are fluent in another language, you can teach at the community college level. Teaching will not only improve your mastery of your target language, it will also give you another source of income and get you out of the office for a few hours every week!

Become a community volunteer
Obviously, volunteering for local charities is good for the community, but it can also benefit translators who want to practice their target language. Here in Detroit, for example, there is a large Spanish-speaking community on the south-west side of the city called Mexicantown. Most of the community speaks our target language and offers a variety of opportunities for us to put our passion for language and helping others to good use.

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Step By Step: A Goal-Setting Strategy for Principals

 

goal-setting strategy for principalsIt won’t be long before the school doors open and the hallways are buzzing with chatter and the bustle of life again. Before that happens, though, we’d like to talk a little bit about goal setting.  

Goal setting not only has the potential to enhance the learning experiences of students, it can also positively influence our school culture, and unite our staff in a shared sense of purpose.  To help principals establish a goal-setting sequence and put it into play, we’d like to share a step-by-step process from Abby Bergman, Judy Powers, and Michael Pullen’s book, The Survival Kit for the Elementary School Principal

Step By Step: A Goal-Setting Strategy for Principals

Step 1: As you form your committee, solicit the help of as many stakeholders as possible. You will always see more “buy-in” when you involve teachers, staff, and parents in decisions that impact the school.

Step 2: The best place to start is by reviewing the district goals with the committee.

Step 3: Next, review the needs of the students. Sometimes, a needs-assessment survey precedes the goal-setting process. In other instances, you may refer to a state or district benchmark that sets a specific target for student performance.

Step 4: Once student needs and data patterns have been identified, gather your committee together and begin to brainstorm initiatives (these can be very broad at this point). List everything. Nothing is unreasonable at this point!

Step 5: Now that you have your big list, it’s time to pare it down and look at it with a critical eye. Consider feasibility, resources required, and whether or not the idea actually addresses a need. Now may be a good time to refer to previously established district goals for comparison.

Step 6: Have each member of the committee think about how to achieve these potential goals. What are some specific activities that would support fulfillment of the goals? What resources would be needed? How will we know that we have achieved our goals?

Step 7: Set another meeting to refine these goals (Don’t be surprised if you find that some of these ideas no longer seem appropriate or feasible).  

Final Thoughts
As you craft your goal statement, keep in mind the SMART Goals plan (which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based) and ask yourself the following questions:  

Specific

  • Is the goal well defined?
  • Is the goal clear to anyone who has basic knowledge of the goal?

Measurable

  • Can the goal be measured and by what means?
  • What evidence will indicate achievement of the goal?

Attainable

  • Is the goal realistic in terms of its reach and time frame?
  • Does the goal represent a true stretch in achievement?

Relevant

  • Does the goal address the need(s) identified?
  • Will it “make a difference?”

Time-Based

  • Does the goal have a clear time frame including a target date?
  • Are the assessment devices available prior to the target date?



Photo credit: twicepix / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Photo credit: plnaugle / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 

 

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So You Want to Be an Administrator? 5 Tips for Aspiring Principals

 

aspiring principalYou’ve already spent years, maybe even decades, in the classroom as a teacher, you know how to lead and organize, and you certainly have the “in-the-trenches” perspective that every administrator worth his or her salt must have. Now what? What should you do to make the prospect of becoming a principal a reality? To help answer these questions, we’d like to share a few tips from Peter Hall’s book, The First-Year Principal.

So You Want to Be an Administrator? 5 Tips for Aspiring Principals

Skip the resume—for now
Your first inclination may be to dust off your resume and start looking for open positions, but as Hall wryly notes, the “application” process begins long before resumes, long before you had the crazy idea that “13-hour days with no lunch sounded appealing,” and long before you even had the slightest inkling that you wanted to become a principal.

Hall suggests that you start with “those people with whom you have worked, the contacts you have made, the folks from whom you have earned support and respect.” Do you need to “schmooze” these people? Not at all, but keep in mind that “relationships with credible professionals” are a form of currency—and that currency is priceless.

Stay in the moment
Regardless of their career aspirations, aspiring principals should always “stay in the moment.” For Hall, this means that you must continue to “focus on students in your care and your current school organization as a whole.” In addition to this, it means aligning your “work practice and decision-making with the established school goals.”

For Hall, there is “no reason to focus on anything but excelling in your current position.” This means going where no teacher has gone before: Set and exceed new standards of excellence and watch as your name becomes associated with positive results.

Involve yourself in projects beyond your current position
So you’re continuing to perfect your craft and excel at what you do? Good. Now it’s time for you to do a little more. Start by participating in district activities, committees, panels, focus groups, and other school or district groups and organizations. Just don’t take on so much that you begin to shirk your current job responsibilities or your students; doing so will only undermine the benefits you are hoping to gain from joining these organizations.

Be respectful to everyone you meet
You’re an educator, so you already know that the job doesn’t end when the bell rings. This is especially applicable to teachers who live in small, rural towns, but even those of us who live in the city will run into students, parents, and colleagues at the mall, the grocery store, or in restaurants. We may not even see these people, but you better believe they see us and they take note of what we say, do, and how we behave when we’re out in the community. Eyes are always on us. Keep this in mind not only when you are in the classroom, but outside of it as well.

Find an experienced mentor
There are plenty of books offering advice for aspiring and first-year principals, but few are as wise as someone who has been doing what you hope to do for the last five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years. Seek out a mentor and learn from him or her. Hopefully, this relationship will not only reaffirm your passion for the position, but also help you become better prepared for the road ahead.

 

 

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Word to the Wise: 10 Tips for First-Year Principals

 

first year principal

By the time they step into the position, most principals have already spent years—even decades—in the classroom as teachers. This experience certainly comes in handy, but rarely is it enough to keep first-year principals from being broadsided by new challenges. While experience is often the best teacher, we’d like to help new principals avoid common first-year blunders by sharing 10 tips from real principals. These tips have been adapted from Tena Green’s book, Your First Year as Principal: Everything You Need to Know That They Don't Teach You in School.

Word to the Wise: 10 Tips for First-Year Principals

  • Principals are forced to make decisions on a daily basis. Some of these decisions are run-of-the-mill, but others are high-stakes and have far-reaching consequences. When it comes to decisions, Veteran principal James Gasparino suggests that first year principals do two things: First, resist the urge to react impulsively. Second, learn to “differentiate what needs to be settled right away and what…require[s] reflection and input from others. First-year principals may want to do everything right away, and by themselves. It is difficult, if not impossible, to get buy-in from others if they did not have a voice in the decision-making process.”

  • First-year principals often fall into the trap of trying to do everything for everyone. According to veteran principal John Fielding, it is imperative that new administrators realize (and realize quickly) that they cannot—either physically, mentally, or emotionally—“be everything to everybody.” Keep in mind that “If you are too tired to move, you are no good to anybody else. You do not really have to know and do everything yourself. That said, you do need to know these things that require your attention and those you can let others handle.”

  • Echoing Fielding’s advice is principal Jory Westberry, who urges first-year principals to “Avoid thinking you should have all the answers” or that you “have to make all decisions quickly.”

  • Despite the fact that most principals have spent years in the classroom as teachers, many of them forget—or at least appear to forget—what it’s like to teach. Principal Barry Pichard reminds us that we must never forget what life is like in the classroom and remember that teaching is “one of the toughest jobs around.”

  • A first-year principal may have only the best intentions when s/he replaces that tattered and creaky sofa in the lounge or when s/he boxes up a wall of dusty trophies to make room for a student exhibit…but faculty and staff may see these seemingly innocent changes as a direct assault on the school culture. Principal Roy Miller suggests that first-year principals proceed with caution and “learn both the culture and the ‘hidden culture’ of the building” before making any changes.

  • What’s one of the biggest mistakes a first-year principal can make? According to principal Michael Miller, it is “coming on too strong and feel[ing] you have to show [faculty and staff] who is boss. If you have to ever remind them who the boss is, you have a problem.”

  • Since we’re talking about faculty and staff, we thought Oliver Phipps’s tip would go nicely here: “Make staffing a priority. More specifically, though, make sure your staff is complete with people who share your vision.”

  • When discussing the burdensome responsibilities of principals, Tammy Brown suggests handling them “one at a time. I try to do the paperwork and office tasks early in the morning or after dismissal so that I can be in classrooms, halls, and in the cafeteria interacting with teachers and students as much as possible. Something often comes up that must be dealt with immediately, but most often, things can be prioritized.”

  • John Redd reminds first-year principals that it “is better to take your time before reacting to a situation. It will give you a different perspective if you take the time to get all the facts before making a hasty decision.”

  • Here’s another solid piece of advice from principal John Fielding: “Pick your battles. I always use the measuring stick of ‘is this decision good for the kids?’ If it isn’t, it may not be worth fighting for. There will always be one more silly thing that somebody thinks is important, but does it really help kids in a significant way?”

Photo credit: Farid Fleifel / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 

 

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5 Ways Schools Can Improve Parent Engagement

 

parent partnershipResearch continues to underscore what common sense has always told us: Families have a major influence on our students’ personal and academic success. According to an annual report by the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, students with engaged parents, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status are more likely to:

• Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs.

• Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits.

• Attend school regularly.

• Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school.

• Graduate and go on to postsecondary education.

So how do we better engage parents?

5 Ways Schools Can Improve Parent Engagement

Stop trying to involve; start trying to engage
Many of us have a habit of using “involvement” and “engagement” interchangeably, but I would argue that there is a clear distinction between engaging parents and involving them.

A school striving for family involvement talks; it makes a list of projects, needs, fundraisers and tells parents how they can help. But schools who engage rely on their ears; they view the school-parent relationship as a partnership, a reciprocal relationship where faculty not only leads, but also listens and allows itself to be led by parents.

Make the first encounter a positive one
Too often our first encounter with parents doesn’t happen until we either need something—volunteers, donations, and the like—or are calling them with foreboding news about their son or daughter’s behavioral or academic problems. This is a mistake.  

What if the first encounter was one in which we gave back to them, or one in which we simply called them to report good news about their child? No fundraising, no signup sheets, no membership recruitment or bad news…just a simple phone call where you call to introduce yourself and brag about something their child did at school.

Open new lines of communication
According to a 2013 survey by We Are Teachers, 64 percent of teachers still use hard copy flyers and notes to convey messages to parents, but it turns out that one third of parents prefer electronic communication. You may not be able to eliminate your ink, paper, and postage costs right away since not all families have access to home computers or smartphones, but you can open new lines of communication for free by simply starting a school blog or Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Follow up with parents
Have you ever given a gift, but never received acknowledgement or thanks from the recipient? That stings a little, doesn’t it? Imagine how parents feel when they volunteer at our schools, but only get a generic shout-out in the following month’s newsletter—or worse yet, get no acknowledgement at all. 

Always let parents know how much you appreciate them. You might consider sending them student-created thank you cards, hand-written notes from you, or even a short thank-you video that you post to your school’s social media pages.

Allow them to contribute more than their time
Partnerships, like relationships, thrive when both parties communicate openly. If you truly want parents to be a part of your team, allow them to contribute their ideas, not just their Saturday mornings or weekday evenings.

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5 Productivity Hacks for Language Translators

 

language translatorThroughout the day, language translators are bombarded by distractions—some of them self-induced, some of them not. Over the years, I’ve incorporated a few productivity hacks into my routine; they’ve served me well, so I thought I’d share some of them with you.

5 Productivity Hacks for Language Translators

Set your priorities and write them down
I like keeping to-do lists for a couple reasons. First, they help me remember and prioritize my tasks; just as important, though, is the feeling of satisfaction I get when I scribble a hard line through the task once it’s completed

Set your iPhone to “Do Not Disturb” mode
My cell phone is one of the biggest sources of distraction, but thanks to “Do Not Disturb” mode, I am able to silence calls, texts, notifications and alerts from every app and contact without blocking a specific person. If you’re unsure of how to activate this feature, click here.

Adopt an e-mail efficiency plan
Email can suck you right into a time warp (as can Facebook).  Keep your communications to-the-point and brief. Use the features your email system provides: highlight emails that need your immediate attention as opposed to those that can sit in the inbox for a little while. Here’s another idea: Log out of your email and only check it at specific times throughout the day.

Much of what you do is boiler plate in terms of rates/deadlines/review/approval periods, etc. Have descriptions typed out and cut/paste them into replies to save yourself from reinventing the wheel.

Rethink the way you spend your idle time
Down time is essential to your health and sanity, but many of us squander it on impulsive (as opposed to substantial) indulgences. Take time-sucker websites like Facebook, Pinterest, Tumbler and YouTube. For many of us, typing in the URL to these sites has become a reflexive act: we don’t even know we’re doing it. What’s worse, we passively spend hours a week on these sites without being able to recall a single moment of it. Why not skip passive activities like this for more quality engagement with family, friends, our pets and ourselves?

Can’t control your Web-browsing habit? There’s an app for that!
If you have trouble controlling your web-browsing habit like I do, give Write Room a shot. Basically, Write Room eliminates every opportunity for distraction by transforming your screen into a green and black basic word-processing page. Although WriteRoom won't allow you to create fancy layouts or insert tables and graphs, it will help you stay on track and get words on the page.

For those of you who REALLY can’t control your web-browsing habit…
Check SelfControl, a free Mac OS X (10.5 or above) app that allows language translators to block websites, mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. Simply set the period of time to block, add sites to your blacklist, and click "Start." But keep in mind that you won’t be able to cheat; once you’ve set the time, it can’t be disabled. 

Stop working beyond the point of productivity
I used to ignore that ache in my brain that was telling me to stop working and take a break. It took me a while to realize this, but productivity and time are not synonymous. In other words, just because I was working for long stretches of time didn’t mean that I was necessarily being efficient or productive. I may “lose” fifteen minutes by walking away to brew a fresh pot of coffee or take a short walk around the block, but when I come back, I’m usually refreshed and ready to get back to work. 

 

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Connect with Confidence: 5 Tips for Principals

 


principals
While there are a variety of factors that contribute to our students’ personal and academic success, we’ve always believed that relationships, specifically relationships between principals and parents, is one that is most commonly overlooked and underestimated. Below you’ll find five tips to help you cultivate better relationsips with parents and connect with confidence.

Eliminate Barriers
This is a tip from Carol Judd’s book, Principal Practices: Addressing Human Needs for Successful School Administration. As Judd points out, many of us unknowingly set up barriers between parents and ourselves. The good news is that eliminating barriers is often simpler than we might think.

We can begin by asking parents to address us by our first names and do the same with them. This makes us more approachable and allows us to work with parents on more equal terms.

Another way to eliminate barriers is to keep an open-door policy and encourage parents to drop in anytime. Recruit your secretaries and encourage them to eliminate barriers as well. When parents stop in to see you, have your secretary skip the “screening” process where s/he asks parents their names, purpose, and any other questions that may be off-putting. Instead, have your secretary simply stop in and ask if you have a minute to talk to the parents.  

Ask more questions
We spend a lot of time with students, but parents have spent far longer with them—which means they know more about them than we ever will. When you meet with parents, use this as an opportunity to listen and learn. The following questions are great starters:

  • What is the student like at home?
  • How does she learn best?
  • Do the parents have specific hopes and dreams for her?
  • Does the student have aspirations that you might not know about?
  • What did the student like about her last teacher? What didn’t she like?
  • What learning strategies did this teacher use that worked well for the student?

Call parents—all of them
A personal invitation to major school events is a great way to connect with parents. While you can’t feasibly call every parent on your own, you can round up the student council, ask for teacher volunteers, and host an evening in which the group attempts to call every family and personally invite them to major school events. If you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right—but the payoff is well worth it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Parents work hard for their families, but in spite of their busy schedules, many of them are still eager to volunteer at the school when they can. Assume that parents want to be involved. Reach out to them and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the number of parents who follow through.

Connect with parents using the tools they use

Not all parents have home computers or access to smartphones, but many of them do and prefer electronic communication over monthly newsletters sent through snail mail. Start by taking advantage of all the free technology at your fingertips: Facebook and Twitter are both excellent tools to help keep parents in the loop. 

 

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