This past summer I had the opportunity to read the book "Lead Like a Pirate" by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. At the time, I was looking for something that would continue to cultivate my passion for leadership but also to guide me in how I can continue to transform my school to make it an amazing place for my staff and students. In a previous blog post, (https://richardhayzler.weebly.com/blog/a-pirates-life-for-me), I talked about the PIRATE acronym and how I would look to put it into practice this year. For the past five months I have worked to lead with Passion, Immerse myself in my work for students, build a Rapport with the Community, Ask a lot of questions, make positive Transformations in the building and be Enthusiastic about learning. It all paid off as my school was faced with tremendous adversity this past week. As captain of "the crew" we were about to head into uncharted territory...........
I received a call on Sunday afternoon from my Superintendent that there had been accident in front of my school that knocked out power to my building. Fortunately, the person was okay, but the telephone poles were not. If we were going to have school, I was going to need to relocate 550 students and staff to the high school and figure out a way to keep instruction going as the high school was having a "normal" day of school. After the initial "how I am I going to do this?" feeling, I sat down, collected myself and said, "What would a PIRATE leader do?" The course had been charted, it was time to set sail......
I have a passion for excellence. If we were going to do this, I wanted it to be as perfect as it could for my students and staff. I knew that people would be scared to send their students to the high school. (After all, it was only a few short months ago, some started middle school!). I immersed myself in the process of making this happen. I knew it would be important to have a plan in place before we notified the community. I worked out a schedule, in collaboration with my Superintendent and the high school Principal, and began to ask questions....
1) How many open rooms does the high school have in their normal bell schedule?
2)How was I going to get the students in the building, take attendance and centralize
3) How am I going to review security procedures and communicate with building staff?
4) What will learning look like?
5) How can I give my teachers time to get prepared to provide instruction when all of their materials are at our school?
6) What can we do to ease the concerns of the community about this scenario?
I was going to need to transform my school into a learning environment that was meaningful, relevant and powerful enough that the community would buy into it in the event that we would need to be here for multiple days. Regardless of what was going to happen, I needed to be enthusiastic that it was going to work! I set up a Google Doc that I shared with my administrative team and off I went in preparing for the day. T-minus 12 hours........
After organizing a bell schedule, building teacher schedules with room assignments, organizing a school wide lunch, creating an opening assembly for the students, developing an "afternoon" activity, speaking with company that runs the cafeteria, and discussing procedures with our Director of Security, I was ready to communicate the expectations to the parents. I sent a community email out to the parents explaining the expectations, I tweeted out from our School Twitter handle (@PVPantherPride), posted to Facebook and our school website. I did everything I could to assure parents that the day would be one filled with learning and FUN! I then set up a Google Doc with my staff and they began sharing lessons and resources. In the event that we were going to be at the high school for more than one day, we needed sail through Monday on calm seas.
When I arrived at the high school at 6:30am I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I put on a pirate hat that I had in the back of my car (I learned to always be prepared from Jay Billy at EdCampNJ). I was ready to captain the ship. I met the staff at 7:30am, had a quick meeting with them, explaining that our motto was "Win the Day." We greeted the students at the door as a staff and guided them into the auditorium where they sat by their first period class for attendance. I reviewed the day with them and then sent my teachers on their way to plan for the day.
The previous night I organized an assembly that I wanted to do with the students on "Learning in a Climate of Curiosity." I happened to be moderating the #learnlap (Learn Like a PIrate) chat on Monday night so I thought it would be neat to test out the questions and have a "Twitter chat" with the entire school. We had a four question "chat" in which they discussed "What makes them curious?" "What resources do they use to learn more about a topic?" "What happens when their learning doesn't go according to plan?" "In what ways do you learn best?" We had some great conversations with students talking with each other and with me about how to make our school a better place. It was a great way to kick off the day!
Following the assembly, we then had three instructional periods. Students and staff went to assigned rooms. Some classes were held in the auditorium, on the stage, in the cafeteria, in the media center, and in the gym. The high school staff was gracious enough to allow us to use empty classrooms as well. We were able to arrange for the high school students to meet with my 8th graders to talk about high school in the first instructional block. My staff did an outstanding job of keeping instruction meaningful. Being a 1:1 school we were able to continue learning with our chromebooks. It was a proud Principal moment for me. All of the hard work that we had put in as a staff over the past five months was on full display. We were truly a BOLD SCHOOL (great book by Weston Kieschnick) as we blended "old school" wisdom with new school technology.
After eating lunch as a whole school, I arranged for the end of the day for the entire school to watch the movie, Wonder. It was recently released on DVD so I was able to preview it the previous night and created some discussion questions that would follow the next day for the students in the event we would be back at the high school. It was also pretty neat that the Oscars was on Sunday night so we decided to have a "PV Goes to the Movies" portion of our day. My staff and students were all together in the auditorium as the movie played. It was certainly interesting watching the students respond to the movie. There are so many key topics that are vital to the life of a middle school child. Friendship, overcoming challenges, bullying, communicating with family and acceptance are all areas that need to be addressed with this age group. Since we did end up coming back for a second day, we had grade level assemblies with the three grades in which we highlighted each one of those topics and then had students design their own precepts that we will post throughout the school.
Following the movie, the staff walked the students out of the building (about 15 minutes before the high school dismissal) and ensured that all students left with a parent. We then held a staff meeting to review the day. It was one of the most rewarding and exhausting days of my career. I was so proud of the way that the staff and students responded. Little did we know that we would back for Day 2 on Tuesday!
It began the same way with students meeting in the auditorium. Now that we had experienced what a day at the high school was like, with the help of a few of my teachers, we designed a full instructional day with all of the teaching periods. We used the auditorium as our home base in between each period. We would gather there, take attendance by period and then head off to classrooms. Again, the staff and students rose to the occasion! We had our class assemblies as I mentioned earlier, to discuss "Wonder" so the staff could regroup and get ready for the second half of the day. We dismissed the students successfully and had a meeting to end the day.
I explained to my staff that you can never prepare for days like these but the true character of a person is shown when they are faced with adversity. This was not a one man show. This was a true team effort and I could not thank them enough for everything they did for me and for the students. Regardless of how rough the waters were, we were able to immerse ourselves in our work with passion, enthusiasm and a spirit like I had never seen.
At the conclusion of the day I had a staff member come up to me and say, "We would follow you anywhere." Another said, "I know you told the students that we wanted to show the community what our school was about, everyone in this room wanted to do it for you and John." (John is my awesome Assistant Principal). I have never felt more humbled and proud. We are a PV Family and to watch the staff and students come together to make school AMAZING, is everything that a Pirate leader searches for!
Unfortunately, Wednesday we were hit with a major snowstorm that cancelled school for the next three days. I can't wait to get back to the students and our school on Monday! As Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like home." In the meantime I sent out a moderated Flipgrid, https://flipgrid.com/77901c, to the parents and students asking for their feedback about their experience and what they learned from Wonder that will make our school a better place. All of the feedback has been positive with some students saying, "They couldn't wait to spend the next day at the high school!" and "I can't wait to go back to school!"
Learning can happen anywhere, a middle school, a high school, or in a snow storm. When you focus on building relationships, being passionate with your staff, immersing yourself in the success of your school, creating rapport with the community, asking questions, transforming learning and being enthusiastic, it is amazing what your school can be capable of doing. I was blessed over these past two days to be able to Lead Like a Pirate and sail into uncharted territory.....find me that horizon!
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator and current Principal of Pequannock Township High School in NJ, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.