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Transformative Principal is 

May 30, 2018

Join me for the Transformative Leadership Summit

Vision Mission Strategic Goals

Strategic goals line up with the district’s strategic goals. Our vision for Tanana is “give people what they need, when they need it.” This vision applies to staff, students, parents, and other community members as needed.


Our vision for the future of Tanana is clear and has been reviewed throughout the year. Here is the updated 4 year plan. At two times this year, I have met with each teacher individually to discuss the vision for the school and ensure that we are able to make collaborative decisions about the future. Additionally, the Leadership Team Running Agenda reviews and gives information about the trajectory of our school, as well as our Faculty Meeting Running Agenda and our PLC Session Board.


Data for Informed Decision Making

While academic success is surely one of our goals at Tanana, in this building year, there has not been a lot of focus on traditional school data. While we have certainly analyzed and reviewed MAP data, PEAKS data was essentially not useful, and we have focused more on other issues.


One of the major areas of concern related to attendance and tardies. We have systematically documented tardy issues and found that typically less than 5% of our students are tardy, which indicates it is a small problem, and not a widespread issue. We have identified 19 students who are consistently tardy and in the halls and have created a student contract for them. To enable us to identify the students who were the ones causing issues, we created hall passes for teachers to use to monitor student hallway use.


Additionally, we used informal qualitative data to determine next steps for our school this year, asking teachers the areas in which we needed to focus. A review of our progress will be completed at the conclusion of this school year.


Furthermore, at the beginning of the year, Dr. Orr and I met with each teacher to review MAP data and how it would impact their classrooms. We used the documents in this folder for our review with the teachers.

Empowering Work Environment

At Tanana Middle School, our success cannot be dependent on the principal’s ability to manage many different initiatives. That is a recipe for disaster. Teachers and other staff take a prominent role in ensuring that plans are successful.


One such area is our advisory options. Each teacher (and staff member that wants to) may submit a new advisory option every two weeks. This list shows all the different options that have been created this year. Each teacher takes responsibility for creating something of value for students. Many items on that list are also student-generated ideas that came from students wanting to have a bigger say in what we do.


Our school librarian was given the directive at the beginning of the year to make the library a “place where we learn and create” and has been given decision-making authority to accomplish that. Mrs. Martin redesigned the library, removed a wall, facilitated technology distribution, and created makerspaces in the library, that change nearly every single day.


Mr. Balash has adjusted his way of delivering instruction in the classroom to ensure all students are engaged in the process of learning and acting.

The beginning of the year, end of the year, and many other activities throughout the year have been organized by teachers working in committee to make meaningful change to our school.

Continuous Improvement

One of my favorite ideas is that we are never done improving. It doesn’t matter how much we do or don’t do, we can always get better. There is always room for growth, no matter what we are doing. One small example is that our hall passes were not as effective as we wanted, and so we created a second hall pass that met the teachers’ needs. One group of teachers needed additional support, so they created their own processes for dealing with hall passes in their section of the hallway.


A good example of our belief in continuous improvement relates to the Leadership Team Running Agenda. On the April 25 agenda, we had this posted on our agenda: Reevaluate schedule B, please…comment from teacher ”Does Schedule B really help us grow into the schedule we want for the future?  Does it help train students to be ready to handle the freedom of an open schedule?”


Even when we make a decision, we know that we have a long way to go to be where we want to be. Nothing in our school is too sacred to talk about.

Celebrating Success and Acknowledging Failures

Each faculty meeting, we start with celebrations. There are many areas when I have failed at something this year. I usually refer to those on my podcast. One of the failures that we had this year was an attempt to roll out a school-wide service learning program. A couple teachers came to the leadership team with an idea, and we tried to roll it out to the staff. It was too soon, and I let the leadership team know that I had jumped the gun too much on that.


Another area where I failed this year related to collaborating with principals relating to personalized learning. I attempted to have weekly meetings with other principals around personalized learning. Nobody showed up, and so I waited “by the phone” each week. I’ve recently started doing a Fairbanks mastermind with four other principals in the district on Friday mornings. This has been a much better solution and much more powerful because there are just a few of us. Even so, we have only had a couple meetings, so we will see where it goes.


Personalized Learning Student Reflections - One of our teachers


Ideal Week Schedule

Each week, I schedule out my week and plan to spend the morning with teachers. I used to think that I needed to be in classrooms observing teachers, but I’ve realized it’s much more powerful when I think of that time as coaching teachers. I might be in their room while they are teaching, or I might be talking with them during their prep, talking about how we can meet their goals. Other items that I time block include writing newsletters to parents, collaborating with my assistant principal, and making time for district-focused work each Tuesday afternoon.


Having time blocks has really helped me to be present in the moment so that I can devote attention to the things that are really important.




Systems Leadership

One of my goals this year after reading “The One Thing” has been about being more proactive, and less reactive. We’ve established Key Responsibility Areas for our special education staff, office staff and a couple other positions. It is easy to float through life, reacting to every situation, but it is so much more valuable to be proactive and lead with vision for the future. A shining example of the focus on systems has been to create strategies for recruiting top talent to our school. A recent full time certified hire told me, “I wasn’t going to work here, but then I came and heard your vision for what the school could be, and I knew I had to stay.”

Having a vision and sharing it with people is what makes them join the work. This one teacher who joined our staff will have a tremendous impact on our ability to reach our goals.


At the beginning of the year, we established new school rules. These rules are “Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible.” These school rules are clear, and easy to remember. They also allow teachers, students, staff, and anyone else in our building to support the rules by asking three questions about any student behavior:


  • Is it safe?
  • Is it respectful?
  • Is it responsible?


If the answer to any of these questions is, “No,” then we know the behavior needs to change. We have high expectations for students to always be safe, respectful, and responsible, but we also understand that it takes different students different amounts of time to be successful at the expectations.



One area of communication for which I am especially grateful is managing conflict at our school among adults. Despite our best efforts, we adults can sometimes be the most challenging to communicate with. In my own experience, I come across and stern and strict many times, when that is really quite opposite from who I really am inside. Teachers and staff in the past have complained that it is difficult to talk with me. I’ve made great strides in being more approachable, but still have a ways to go. One of the strategies that I have used is called “Communication cards.” These cards hang on my door so that anyone who needs to have a difficult conversation with me can have a difficult conversation knowing that I am going to respond a certain way when the communication cards are used. This has really been beneficial to me to diffuse difficult situations. Thankfully, these cards have sat largely unused for most of the year. That means that I am getting better in my interpersonal communication skills because people don’t feel the need to use the cards to communicate.


Constant communication is important. I’d like to share some stats from our newly-created-this-year social media accounts. It is important for us to be everywhere for our families and support them in making sure they know what is going on at our school. We have a long way to go to be there for everyone, but we are heading in the right direction.


This account has 95 posts as of 04/25/2018 and 88 followers. Most posts generate about 10-15 likes. Dr. Orr and I are the only ones who post to this account.



This account has 207 likes, and is climbing the charts in relation to the comparison schools. In three years in Kodiak, I got that page up to 700 likes, so we are making a good progression towards that. Our highest usage of our facebook page is between 4 and 8 pm and at noon. If we do any facebook live events, noon would probably be a pretty good time to do it. Our most popular posts average 10 reactions.



Our Tweets earned 5.3K impressions over the last 28 day period. We have 57 followers and 800 tweets so far. Our most popular tweet over the last month was related to a student mastering his math facts up to 14x14! That’s pretty positive. This account is mostly automatic tweets from facebook and instagram.



The fourth way we communicate with families is through our newsletter account in Mailchimp. Our emails usually get about 35-40% open rates. That’s pretty good.


Parent Feedback

Around the middle of the year, I asked parents how much they were satisfied with their Tanana experience:


With a 10% response rate, we have about 73% of parents who are satisfied or strongly satisfied with the work done by Tanana staff with their student. That’s very positive. Those in the middle left some comments about improving communication, and one notable comment said, “Your personalized learning plan was a pretty sh*tty idea.”

The Blog

We started a blog for our school relating


Perhaps the best outcome from all this parent and community communication has been the increase in parent involvement and community engagement. Nearly every week, we have had parents or community members in our classrooms working with our students. Our school is welcoming to many from outside who don’t typically have interactions with middle school students. A favorite story is from Nelda and Tom Nixon who are local watercolor artists who live close by. They came to our school and taught watercolor during advisory. This opportunity gave this retired couple an opportunity to see what is going on in schools today and be more engaged in the school process.


Our goal for volunteers was 500 in our school this year. At the semester break, we were at 250. As of today, we are at 384.

Leadership For Learning

If we aren’t moving forward in our efforts for helping kids learn, then all our efforts are pretty much wasted.


Our focus this year is on personalized learning and my expectations for staff have been very clear, and quite minimal. Each staff member needed to do one activity, lesson, or unit that incorporated personalized learning each quarter. This is not a high bar, but with a vision like we have, it makes it so much easier for them to be successful in implementing that. In fact, I’d say that nearly every teacher has done way more than just a 4 Personalized Learning activities this year. It has really been amazing to see how far so many have gone.


I believe that the reason we have been so successful is two fold. First, we have really great teachers who strive to go above and beyond. Second, we have a clear vision of where we want to go, and we know it is ok to not be there right this minute. As we converse about different ways to improve instruction, teachers take a little idea, and implement something amazing that they can do themselves.


For example, after our MAP meetings with teachers, Mrs. Garcia and Mrs. Chorley, and some other teachers found the MAP goal setting worksheets, and worked with students to make individual goals for where they could improve their learning.


Teachers who have been effective in implementing personalized learning have also been “visiting” the distinguished range of the Danielson framework much more often. It is really powerful to see them be so successful.


One area where we have a lot of work to do revolves around grading. Plain and simple: our grades don’t mean anything. In one class, grades mean something entirely different from another class. It is imperative that we work on getting on the same page with grading. The need to move to a competency-based system is enormous. This is a major area of growth for our school. When grades mean so many different things, it is very challenging to hold students to high standards. For example, an A in one class means that a student is compliant and does what the teacher asks. An A in another class means that a student did a bunch of work, but maybe didn’t learn anything. An A in another class could mean that a student has actually learned the content. An A in another class could mean that a student has just shown up every day, or even most days.


In the last few months, I have consistently been saying that an F means that the teacher has failed, while a D means the student has failed. We are having conversations about taking away 0 grades so as to not penalize students. This is a great podcast episode with Rick Wormeli about that very idea.



Over the course of this school year, we have focused heavily on professional development for our staff. Each week, Dr. Orr and I curate articles, podcasts, TED talks, and other resources to help our staff have meaningful professional development on their own time.

We have focused our Faculty Meetings and PLCs on providing value to our teachers. We have eliminated sit and get PD sessions and have made them personalized and interactive for all adult learners. We must model this for our teachers first, if we expect them to do it in their classrooms.


One of the major challenges we have faced this year relates to our suspensions of students of color. This is challenging because if we follow the district policies, we have to suspend students of color at a higher rate because their natural behavior is in conflict with our school district policies. Students of color are louder than their white counterparts as a whole, and that makes them easy targets for teachers or staff members when assigning blame for incidents they didn’t see themselves. Students of color are often accused or targeted because they are loud or animated. This is an area where we need to continually work to improve.


Outside of work, I have sought to improve my own professional growth by applying to present at the Alaska Principals conference, the National Principals Conference, ASTE, and the Personalized Learning Summit in San Francisco. For my podcast, since being in Fairbanks, I have interviewed  over 50 people for my podcast to learn how to be a transformative principal.