Friday, December 25, 2015

A Little Vacation Time

Standing by the fire after the sleigh ride.
Being the Headmaster of a small international school is a difficult task. There is a load of work to do -- discipline cases, organizing meetings, observing teachers, organizing events, writing recommendation letters for seniors, uploading transcripts for seniors, processing student visas, WASC accreditation work, and the list goes on and on. It is very easy to overwhelm yourself by not getting rest, but it is important to recharge your batteries because being completely exhausted doesn't help anybody (including yourself). This winter we decided to visit my family for the first time during the winter holiday. It is the first time in 14 years together. Aysem has never been with my family during the holidays before, so not only was this a chance to rest, it was also a chance for her to experience something new. It was also an opportunity for her to see a "normal" Christmas in Montana.

We stopped at the railroad tracks for a photo.
The highlight so far from the trip has definitely been our sleigh ride in Trego. The Cripple Creek Horse Ranch offers a sleigh ride plus dinner and the experience is simply amazing. We were lucky because my mother read about the sleigh ride in the Mountain Trader and booked the event for us while we were still on Saipan. The whole affair feels like something out of a movie or a novel. The stillness of the forest after a snowfall was beyond explanation. Two different herds of deer watched us as we rode along through the silence. Everything was covered in a blanket of white with only the sound of the bells on the horses as they trotted along following the trial in some areas and breaking trial in others.

The Cripple Creek Horse Ranch offers four sleigh rides a day. You can arrange a simple sleigh ride or a sleigh ride with dinner. The
The mountains looked blue in the snowy sunset.
owners of the ranch are incredibly nice people and helped to make the experience even more memorable for us. If you visit western Montana in the winter, this is one event you simple must experience. You will not regret the time and money you spend!

Spending time doing these type of activities and enjoying our family and friends in Montana is definitely recharging my batteries. By the time January 5 rolls around, I will be ready to start the second semester with all of its events -- NHS/NJHS Induction, WASC accreditation work, the Spring Musical, SAT10 testing, Graduation, and 8th Grade Promotion. This was the vacation I needed to get me through until June 2016.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hey Admin, Make a Real Connection!

International Thanksgiving Feast
Hey admin, if you want to really make a difference in the lives of your students and teachers, make a real connection with them. Students and teachers both need to know that you actually do care about them. It is difficult to get out from behind the desk sometimes, but walking around campus during lunch and having simple real discussions with students and teachers can work miracles. Especially for students or teachers who are struggling, knowing that you are seriously committed to them and what is important to them means the world. I was reminded of this fact once more during our Saipan International School International Thanksgiving Feast. The parents, students, and teachers enjoyed sharing their cultures with others the whole day. Every booth from each cultural group displayed their love for their culture, but also their openness to everyone else through sharing. It was a day filled with conversations and each one of them was important, even if they were simple. Each discussion demonstrated concern and care for someone. Those moments define administrators, because they allow people to see you as a real, genuine person. I have announced my departure from SIS at the end of the year, but it didn't change my willingness to engage in conversations with people about the school, the island, their children, their jobs, their lives. It was care they witnessed, and care they felt. It is genuine care that makes a difference in someones life, because they see that you are invested in their future. When someone else invests in your future, you feel compelled to invest in your own future as well. Real connections, real conversations, real care -- them make a difference.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Rewards of Coaching/Mentoring

One of the greatest parts of being an administrator or technology coach is the mentoring/coaching experience itself. Helping another person grow professionally is rewarding. Every time I provided in class support or co-planning to a colleague or offered a PD session in the Fish Bowl, I left the session feeling wonderful for being able to help someone else improve. When I have discussions about teaching, learning, or student matters with a colleague, it also makes me feel good, because it enhances both of our knowledge and abilities. Not enough time is built into the school day or calendar for these types of activities, I'm afraid. I know in Japanese schools a good portion of the day is spent in collaboration with colleagues. I imagine that it must be very rewarding to spend a part of every day working on improving your skill as a teacher or administrator.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Principal Appreciation Month

I received a very nice email from a parent. It is nice to feel appreciated every once in a while. I asked his permission to share this on social media.

Dear Mr. Bray,
For this Principal (Headmaster) Appreciation Month, you are thanked for all your efforts and hard work that makes SIS a better school.
As a SIS Board member, it was a privilege working with you and seeing first hand your ability to bring SIS through a difficult transition, overcome enormous challenges, and improve SIS numbers and the quality of its education.  As an SIS Capital Improvement Committee member, I appreciate your help in identifying what SIS most needs for long term improvements and sustainability of its quality education and other programs.  As an SIS parent, I'm grateful for all you've done to improve the opportunities of students and encouraging more parents to become involved in SIS activities.
For keeping SIS on the right track moving forward, you deserve recognition and appreciation, and are wished a happy Principal Appreciation Month, a happy Halloween, and a happy weekend.

Thanks for the kind words! It means more than you can ever know.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Instagram for Collecting Observation Artifacts

Students enjoying water colors in art class.
Saipan International School uses McREL Power Walkthrough for teacher observations. It is a great tool that I really enjoy using, because the program focuses on the learning that is happening in the room. I noticed in a recent update that McREL added a camera icon to the walkthrough forms, so an observer can add a photo. I was happy to see that now it would be easy to click a photo of what was happening in the classroom at the moment I was there as a visual record. Photo artifacts are a great extra tool to use and it is nice to be able to show a photo of a teacher teaching or students learning when you talk with parents, students, and teachers about learning. I loved the idea, but felt that it needed to be taken one-step more -- social media! If you are an avid or casual follower of my blog, you knew I was going to go there, because I'm Mr. Social Media, right? But I think it is wonderful to be able to share what is happening in classrooms with the community. Parents should see their children actively engaged in classes and enjoying their school life; plus, it is a great advertisement for our school. What I have been doing this year during walkthroughs is to take a photo or two of what is happening and then sharing the photo with Instagram. Instagram is great because I can do some simple editing of the photo and then send it out to Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter, so I hit all my major social media outlets in one quick share. It spreads the word about the great things are teachers are doing with their students to the entire community. Especially when I throw on a few hashtags to the post like #saipan #cnmi #sisgeckos and then a hashtag for whatever the subject is like #art in the case of the first photo in this post or #english for the second photo. The teachers are enjoying it as well, because many of them don't have photos of them in the actual act of teaching to put in a portfolio or to share with their families. Everybody wins!
Ms. Bevas providing feedback and guidance.

Monday, September 7, 2015

What Would Gus D'Amato Do?

"Cus D'Amato, Boxing Icon" by Unknown - Steve Lott.
Licensed under FAL via Commons
The Marianas Variety had an interesting article the other day about a doctor who moved to the island and left the very next day. Although I find it surprising that a doctor, someone who has sworn an oath to help people, would flee a disaster area after only one day without even treating one person, I can understand the mixed feelings the guy must have felt. He isn't he only person to run away from the aftermath of typhoon Soudelor.  Rumors abound about people leaving the island permanently or closing up shop after the typhoon permanently. The Thai House Restaurant, for example, has lost its entire roof and the damage to the interior is substantial. I haven't been able to contact the owner and ask if it will be rebuilt or relocated, but no work is being done on it currently, which isn't a good sign. Gus D'Amato, the legendary boxing trainer, would always tell his fighters that the cowardly person and the courageous person feel the same feelings, the difference is how they handle those feelings. Or in other words, it isn't the problem, but your reaction to the problem. Would Gus quit the fight? Never.

Now to admit a painful truth... After the storm, I wanted to flee. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed to admit it. I'm human and I have human feelings and emotions. There have been days since that I have felt despair and frustration and thought to myself, "Tim, just leave this mess." But every time I collect myself and think about our teachers and students. What example would I set for them by fleeing? Our school is founded on six virtues: integrity, compassion, respect, perseverance, initiative, and scholarship. Does running away show perseverance? Integrity? Respect? Compassion? No. If I don't believe in our virtues, then who will? This is the exact time that leaders are needed; decisions must be made; plans implemented. Others need to be encouraged to continue in the face of adversity and you can't to that from the seat of an airplane as you leave. You need to be on the ground, in the foxholes with the troops. They need to see that survival and recovery are worth the effort. Besides, school has a normalizing tendency; it is a way to feel like things are getting back to a regular routine, even if the new normal is quite different than what we remember.

So I'm not ashamed to admit that I felt like fleeing, but I'm proud to admit that I have conquered that feeling and I continue to fight the good fight. I think Gus D'Amato would smile.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Update from Saipan -- Life with Generator

The 9kw generator powering the high school.
Old -- but it works.
The new normal of life on generator power has been a little difficult, but we are making it work. We are currently running four different small generators to power the basics -- photocopy machines, fans, water pumps, and wifi. No lights, but wifi -- priorities! The teachers and students have been great about being positive and making the situation work. There are very hot days and they are difficult to get through, but things are tough all over. We need to move ahead with the learning in face of the challenges and we are doing it. Some new duties that have been added to the regular role of principal are generator maintenance and repair, refueling generators, and generator storage. Oh, and let's not forget things like covering the generators when it rains. The morning begins with our current maintenance person refueling and starting all generators. I chip in on most mornings by either moving generators or stringing power cables from one room to another and to the photocopy machine.
Refueling the 55-gallon storage drum.
Donated by Tan Holdings.
In the afternoon, the process of shutting everything down and storing them occurs right after the school is over. We leave the office generator a little longer, so my business manager and I can accomplish some more work. Around 4:00pm I shut that one off and place it in storage. This is when things are "normal" now. However, there are non-normal days like yesterday. The generator that powers the office and middle school was acting up by to some bad fuel. Every 30 minutes it would cough, sputter, and die. Finally the gas was drained that a quick cleaning of the filter was done, but by the time it was up and running again. It was already 4:00pm. Luckily today it is running pretty well (only coughing and sputtering every once in a while -- fingers crossed). Over the weekend, Steven will clean the filter completely and we should be back up to 100% capacity for life with generators. We got this SIS!
Generator storage house, made by
Barnard. Keeps kids safe, the generator
dry, and safe from theft.