Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 5.16.32 PM“Wow, I’m going to have to up my game with you here. Thanks!,” commented one of my teachers as we ended a conversation. It was my second official day on the job and I was feeling grateful for each “get to know you” conversation I was getting the opportunity to have with teachers and classified staff members throughout the day. As I drove home and thought about my day, this statement really stuck with me, “I’m really going to have to up my game.” What had I said in my less than 48 hours in my new position as the superintendent/principal of our school district?

A Culture Focused on the Positive: As staff and teachers told me stories about individual students who they thought I should be aware of, I asked, “What can you tell about ________’s life?” I was answered with heartbreaking stories that are all too familiar to the seasoned educator.

“His mom lives in Tennessee and I’m not sure if anyone knows who his dad is. He doesn’t seem to get much supervision.” A child looking to be loved?

“She always runs away from adults and her parents have told us that her ten year sister is in charge of her.” A child looking for attention?

We’ll be focused on positive reinforcement and interventions this year and looking specifically at the function of any behaviors that get in the way of learning or a student’s social emotional success. If a child makes a mistake or does not behave to expectation, we’ll use the opportunity to teach them how to make the situation right and know what other choices they can make if a similar situation arises.

Investing in Our Staff: Like many teachers, our staff is wrestling with teaching the Common Core Standards. They reached the 800 API threshold earlier than surrounding school districts and continued to grow each year. Not only are they comfortable with the California State Standards and their curriculum, but they were successful with the criteria they had been given and were recognized as a School of Choice. The organization found itself in an extended transitional period just as the transition to Common Core occurred.

We’ll be in investing in the professional development of certificated and classified staff so that you feel comfortable and confident in your knowledge and skills to teach Common Core Standards. We will engage in exploration of curriculum and instructional strategies that meet these standards, support innovative thinking and provide teacher support. I don’t expect us to master everything right away. We will establish a one year and three professional learning plan for us as a group and individually. Remember FAIL – First Attempt In Learning. We’ll be learning a lot together.

Future Ready: This is movement that I’m 100% behind. It is essential that we are preparing today’s students for their future, a future that we can’t even begin to imagine.

While “technology tools” is a thought that many jump to right away and the Future Ready Pledge focuses on digital learning, our work will embed digital literacy as we focus on how to support students in being skilled communicators, collaborators, creative and critical thinkers as they engage in a digitally supported 21st Century learning model. We’ll incorporate the work of Carol Dweck as presented in Mindset.

Open Door: Staff kept closing my door as they came and went. Knocks on the door were hesitant. Clearly this was an expectation for them somewhere along the way. It made me uncomfortable and a couple of hours into the day, I made the announcement, “My door will always be open unless I’m having a confidential conversation. Please come in any time. I will always have time for you. Whatever is on my desk can wait until we’ve had a chance to talk about what is on your mind.

My office was set up with a desk and a square table. This first thing I asked the custodian was where I could find a round table to replace the square one. “That’s funny,” she commented, “we used to have a superintendent who had a round table, but the last guy wanted a square one. The old round table is in the cafeteria. Why round?” It’s the difference between having the opportunity to sit with you versus across from you. I’m hoping that our conversations and learning will be about us being able to sit together, not across from one another.

Somewhere along the way, one of my teacher leaders with a reputation for being good at his craft felt that he is going to need to “up his game.” I’m always looking to up my game and am feeling blessed that one of the leaders in my new District feels the same way and will be setting this example.

Posted by Pam Gildersleeve-Hernandez

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