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.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Opening School After Typhoon Soudelor

The first day of school for Saipan International School was supposed to be August 5th, but we had a visitor to the island that made that quite impossible -- Typhoon Soudelor. On Sunday August 2nd, Soudelor rocked Saipan. Our school, luckily, was saved from major damage. We did lose the roof to our palapala and there was some water damage to ceiling tiles in several classrooms, but compared to what many people woke up to on Monday morning, SIS was blessed. In the face of no power and no water, we had to make some tough decisions. Several schools were damaged and simply could not open; plus, many families on the island had no homes left, or at least they were without power and water as well. Lines for fuel were four and five hours long and lines for water were similar. We had to decide when we would open for school. The teachers were the first to respond with those that could coming to campus to help clean up the school yard. Although we received very little structural damage, the trees lost many branches and the debris from the palapala roof was everywhere. Teachers came in for several days during that first week and attempted to clean up. Barnard, a local carpenter, came by, once his house was repaired, to assist us with our repair work and clean up. Steven Metayer was able to locate a generator and chainsaw on island for us. These items were not easily found right after the typhoon as people purchased everything they could in the aftermath of the storm.

Kyoung Min Song, the Treasurer of our Board of Directors, donated some of her workers to do the dangerous part of the clean up work which involved cutting down loose hanging branches from the giant trees in our school yard. The next round of help came from students and parents as they organized a major clean up day. Kyoung Min cooked a huge amount of curry and rice and served all the students, parents, and teachers who pitched in to help that day. It was a wonderful site to see -- the entire community pulling together to get the school back on its feet. Another member of the board, May Ling Colombo, help throughout the day as well -- cleaning debris and serving curry along side Kyoung Min. John Nersten, a new parent to SIS, volunteered to repair the palapala roof. Currently he is planning to finished the job tomorrow (August 19th).

Steven Metayer came in to help us with arranging generators and power to the buildings. The first thing we needed after the storm, in order to have school, was running water. Steven was able wire our generator directly into the regular circuit board, which supplied some power to the office and to the water pump for the elementary and middle school. Today we have the ability to run the server, both office computers, the water pumps, and a couple of power tools thanks to Steven's work. Without Steven, it would be impossible to even have school at this point.

Due to the efforts of many people and some luck, we were able to open school on August 17th. Students were happy to be back at school and feel that their lives were returning to some type of normal mode. It is hot in the afternoon, but teachers and students are trying to make the most of their time as school. Today, August 18th, we were able to get water running in the high school as well. As more generators arrive, we will be able to power more of the school. The next hope is to be able to run some fans to provide a little relief from the heat in the classrooms. Every day we are making little steps forward.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood

My mentor Larry Creedon told me often that people -- students, teachers, parents -- need to feel that they have been heard. He pointed out that this was extremely important to remember as an educator, but especially if you are an administrator. I was reminded of this lesson during my Montana School Law course I took last spring. To be honest, the course didn't cover any different information than the one I took from Arkansas State University. We all know that states require people to take the state version of a course to keep university professors in jobs, so there is no reason to get into the whole "why did I have to take school law twice?" discussion at this point. It is just life; it is simply the way things are in this world of ours. But I digress... Anyway... My School Law professor, Dr. Matt, said the same thing, but he had a very clever way of expressing it. His comment was, "Seek first to understand; then be understood." I really liked the way this expression caught me, because it was emphasizing that what you are really trying to do with the person is understand them. Hear his/her thoughts and concerns. Notice how Professor Matt didn't say, listen to what they say and then defend yourself or comment back. It was seek first to understand and then be understood. In other words, you don't have to agree with each other, but you do need to understand each other. This is a very important concept, because many times there cannot be an agreement, but there can be understanding. With understanding, there can be common ground discovered and explored, but neither side has to win or lose. All too often communication becomes about winning and losing rather than understanding and seeking shared beliefs and ideas. My goal this year is to practice the concept of seek first to understand and then be understood while I am communicating with parents, students, and teachers.