Friday, April 1, 2016

March: The Worst Month of the Year

Many educators believe that the month of March is tied with the month of May as the worst time of the school year. Truthfully, I don't think it's even up for debate; March wins hands down.

May is just filled with fun. Cinco de Mayo placed delicately during the first week of May. We have the excitement of meeting the current 5th graders for the first time during our annual 5th grade walking field trip. Summer, a yearly opportunity to reboot, is that much closer. Tax season has long passed. We can see the finish line for our ready-for-high-school 8th graders.

None of this is true for the month of March.

March is just a challenging month. Every year, I suspect our students, parents, teachers, and administrators dread these four long weeks, slowly drudging toward the highly anticipated spring break in April.

Last year, I shared a theory with our staff at one of our Wednesday meetings. Our parent community seemed a bit stressed. Many of them had communicated as much to me via email, in person, or over NextDoor. When our parent community becomes stressed, their children often absorb similar emotions and behaviors. These students would then bring these concerns into the classroom, often creating challenging experiences for their classroom teachers. Next step: Our staff becomes stressed.

Stressed from the inquiries from over analysis of missing assignments... Stressed from the modified schedules that forces changed lesson plans and classroom procedures... Stressed from students who seem to believe it's already Summer...  And thus, our teaching staff becomes a bit unnerved by these behaviors and I don't blame them. The month of March is a house of cards that's held together by a bit of luck and an absence of wind.

This past week was increasingly unique. Each day brought a different challenge.

On Monday, we had our monthly optional Instructional Leadership Team Meeting. This meeting gave me the opportunity to share the recent staff feedback on our site administrative team and address any staff concerns. One of the present staff members requested to have more all staff conversations during our staff collaboration time. I shared that we don't use our staff collaboration time for all staff conversations. We share positive thoughts, get a quick ASB update, review the weekly pre-delivered Memo, include any all staff announcements, and then a raffle for a $5 Starbucks card. I then explained that my past experience with all staff conversations often leads to hurt feelings, infighting within the staff, and no significant outcomes. Furthermore, I explained how decisions are best made in small informal settings, through face to face conversations, and throughout the school year. The previous principal instituted this strategy and it's one that I wholeheartedly agree with.

No matter my explanation, this staff member did not seem to agree with the reasons behind this decision. It's ok that we disagree; I don't expect to agree on every topic. Still, even after a check-in after the meeting was over where I thanked them for their input, they responded with a comment that made it clear that they weren't feeling heard. It wasn't a great ending to a challenging Monday.

Tuesday began with a parent meeting regarding the behavior choices by one of our students. The conflict this student was having in the classroom was exacerbated by a verbal exchange with one of their teachers. Even though the student and the teacher often have a great relationship, the student spiraled into the office, initially refusing to take any responsibility for his behaviors. The parents were very supportive of the teacher in the situation, but I could tell that they're struggling on how to best support their student... similar to what I'm feeling as the site principal. This was a hard week for all of our students.

The afternoon was my annual budget meeting with the district office. I found out that despite an increase in students for the upcoming school year, our school budget would be taking a substantial hit. I'm not sure if we're going to lose any programs or people due to the lower provided funds, but it's an issue that I'll have to review as we build our budget for the next school year.

Wednesday was actually one of the best days of the year, but it's also one of the longest. It was Open House for our district's middle schools. A flood of current students bring their parents onto our campus to show their learning for the school year. This year, we had a significant number of parents not yet part of the Union Middle community visit with their 5th grade students. It's a bit of teacher-shopping and school-assessment on a random March evening. I also had to prepare and deliver my annual Open House speech to our parent community. Even to this day, I still get significantly nervous in the days leading up to any public speaking opportunity. Lately, I've been attempting to present without any sort of notes to engage a bit more with the audience. This means I spend a good bit more time memorizing my speech and working on the related slides to make sure I'm well prepared.

Knowing it was going to be a long day, I got up extra early to place and pick up a bagel order for our staff. We are blessed to have a supportive Home and School Club to help fund these morning breakfasts. Even with the over-ordering of bagels, they were completely gone by the end of the school day. That's a lot of hungry staff members.

Thursday came too soon. The school day that follows our Back to School and Open House nights are always a challenge. In conversations with my fellow educators, it became very obvious that we were in survival mode for our last day with students until Spring break. Today also included a breakfast pick up for the staff. Possibly the best part of my day was seeing the smiles and hearing the thank you's from our staff for providing today's breakfast. Truly, I'm blessed with a great staff.

The rest of the day was a challenge. One of our feeder schools had scheduled a conflicting event with our annual 5th grade walking field trip. We were left scrambling to change our event to accommodate their conflict. Luckily, in coordination with our other elementary feeder schools, we were able to locate an alternate date that worked for everyone. It did mean that we'll need to move a few events around at the last minute, but we're going to make it work.

The day ended with another parent meeting, this time again with concerns regarding their student at the local high school. It was a class credit question wrapped in a larger concern about their customer service experience in trying to get the issue addressed.

But Friday was just all sorts of awesome.

Today was our staff development day, led by our CTO Andrew Schwab. He brought to our school district around a dozen edu-famous CUE Rock Star Presenters to lead our educators in a day of technology and pedagogy learning. Just a quick follow of the event's hashtag #USDlearns on Twitter shows the amazing sessions we had the benefit of attending. The day ended with two of the three awards going to #teamUMS staff members for their daily efforts. It left me a proud principal and reinvigorated to start again on Monday as we run through the finish line of June 9th.

And that ended the month of March. Stressed parents. Silly kids. Everyone ready for spring break. I'm glad we get an 11 month reprieve until we have to experience the month of March again.

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