Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Readers being Leaders!!!!

Our amazing 5th grade students (and some special guests) helped support National Read Aloud Day at Vero Beach Elementary which takes place Feb.1st at schools across the nation.  We are so proud of our 5th grade leaders encouraging our younger students to be readers!

Check out the Flipgrids.

Click the link to see them all. VBE Reads

Feel free to leave a positive comment for the readers to see.

Also, please take a look at our Little Indian Updates to see how we are bridging the gap between our families and our school.  We are #strongertogether

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Who has time for that?

I was talking to an administrator colleague last week and I mentioned that I needed to create our February "Feel the Love" calendar, the response I got was, "That's great and all, but with upcoming testing and informals who has time for that."

It's not the first time I've heard this kind of response.

Teaching is hard. There’s no question that there are incredible barriers that stand in the way of educators being able to master sustainable growth for every single student. It can be draining, it can be emotionally exhausting, and it can bring even the strongest teacher to a decision to leave the profession entirely.  Our goal is to ease this burden of these ongoing barriers.  What can we do as administrators to keep our staff healthy and stable?

In my opinion, in today’s current educational climate of testing and accountability, we are obligated to find the time to shine light on our amazing educators and staff.  It’s not a question of “if” we will build a culture of affirmation and positivity, but “when and how.”  Here are the questions I ask myself often:

How am I showing my staff I appreciate the extra things they do each day to keep our school moving forward?

How do I utilize the data from the previous year to ensure that teacher burnout is minimized and we are building our culture around positivity, kindness, and progress as a tribe?

We commit to accountability, but as a leader am I also finding time to commit to celebrating our staff?

There isn’t a team more deserving than one that is leading the way of transformation of a once underperforming school.  However, when the staff takes on the challenge, with a smile on their face, they truly deserve a standing ovation!  Obviously, we can’t do that each day, so here’s a great list of things WE CAN do to promote the kind of climate and culture that will help our staff feel the love.  I can guarantee you that most of these ideas are stolen from amazing principals throughout our country, including those that participate in my VOXER PLN #principalsinaction and #momsasprincipals So many of these ideas also come from amazing chats that take place on Twitter, such as #kidsdeserveit #leadupchat and #piachat  
If you aren’t a part of a strong PLN I strongly encourage you to jump on in.

Pre-School Events

How are you building up the new teams that have been created and encouraging a climate and expectation of collaboration?  Have you tried a Summer Retreat?

At VBE we get together for a few hours to hit on our summer PD and create a challenge board for embroidered school polo shirts.  We continue the competition into the first week back and include the activities that aren’t always fun as part of a goosechase.  This is a super fun interactive scavenger hunt app that gives a great platform for the competition.  Here is the link to our theme UP, UP, to an A!!!  It also includes how we welcomed back our staff, our schedule, and an awesome "Flipgrid" resource we used so our staff could introduce themselves before the retreat, which ended up being a LOT of fun.


We have a coveted front parking space that is up for grabs each week. Staff simply nominates a colleague on twitter with the #VBEVIP and we select a weekly winner and announce them in our weekly Principals Press.


We love recognizing the incredible things our teachers are doing through our weekly newsletter.  It goes out to the entire staff and is our platform for ongoing PD and getting our message out each week.  BONUS- It has cut down tremendously on the number of emails our teachers receive too.  Here's an example Principals Press


At our monthly faculty meeting we begin with our Golden Arrow Awards.  It starts at the beginning of the year with 3 administrative nominees.  We write a certificate explaining why this person embodies our school VBE VIBE and they get to take a picture with the award and keep it for the entire month.  They then select the next winner.. and it gets passed around our campus, each month to three new winners!  We post the pictures right outside the staff lounge so the recognition continues all month long.

Claim it EXPLAIN it

We sometimes use this as a fun way to shine light on great displays, student work, or activities taking place in classrooms.  During a faculty meeting we simply share a picture of what we would like to showcase and the teacher then,“claims it and explains it” to the entire staff.  We usually follow this with a “Coke and a Compliment.”

"Soda"lighted Attendance Initiative

    • We are super appreciative of our teachers that come to work every single day for our students.  To show them the love we recognize them quarterly with a surprise soda delivery of their favorite carbonated beverage!

Warrior Wampum Drawings

    • We are a PBS school and have wampums that our students earn for showing our VIBE expectations.  We shower our teachers with the same kind of love.  They earn WARRIOR WAMPUM and four times a year we do a celebration and give out amazing prizes for our staff.  #staffdeservesit

Coke and Compliment
Just a super fun way of spreading love.  You give a Coke to someone and share a compliment about them.  That person then does the same for another colleague.  Great way to get in the mindset for an after-school activity.

Phone Calls Home
Phone calls home to the staff members family.  Nope.  Not kidding.  This is a great way to let someone that the staff member chooses hear the incredible things they are doing on campus.  This also helps the family member understand why they are coming home so exhausted each day!

Some Themed Monthly activities
First Semester  Here is the link to our theme UP, UP, to an A!!!  It also includes how we welcomed back our staff, our schedule, and an awesome "Flipgrid"resource we used so our staff could introduce themselves before the retreat, which ended up being a LOT of fun.
This is a great time to begin a school wide book study slow chat.  We utilized twitter and collaborated with schools from across the country with the #kdislowchat for the book #kidsdeserveit The book is filled with incredible real-world application opportunities to get your staff excited about making school engaging every single day for kiddos.  Check it out on twitter.
Winter Time
#elfhunt   We hid 8 elves around the campus the day prior to winter break.  Our teacher LOST their minds hunting down elves throughout the day.  A great way to diffuse some of the holiday stress.

12 Day Countdown to Christmas Break-  Check the link here for our 12 day countdown.
Second Semester
Feel the Love February Calendar Challenge (Thank you Jessica Gomez)

Feel the Love Fridays in February

Monday, January 1, 2018

I Almost Gave Up...

They say the second year is harder than the first when you’re a Principal.
Coming into a turn-around school I thought, there is no way that’s true.

January 11th is officially my two year “work” anniversary at Vero Beach Elementary and I have to admit, this year has been rough.  We made incredible gains, but I was hyper focused on what progress still needed to be made.   Our tribe worked SO hard to bring our school up two letter grades in one year, but I couldn't help but dwell on the barriers that still existed.   I don’t know if that will ever get easy to accept.  Whether it’s homelessness, mental health concerns, or just trying to ensure basic needs are met, it’s hard to not get personally invested in every single situation.  Each of these situations involves a child. A kiddo that deserves our very best.  I  lost a lot of  sleep and in some cases, I feel like I lost a little piece of the “spunk” I had.

I write this not to vent, but to provide hope for those of you currently going through a rut.  Keep pushing through, the spunk is never lost!  Sometimes you just have to look outside yourself.

It’s been hard.
There’s been doubt, a lot of self doubt.
There’s been broken promises, mostly in my part for being present and “there” for my family.
There’s been #failforwards and constant reminders that I can (and shouldn’t) do this alone.
There’s been been times when my need for control stifled others growth.

The reality is-
I almost gave up.

I let my self doubt take over.

I had to ask myself one of the hardest questions about my purpose recently that can be like a kick to the gut:
Was I doing what’s needed for kids, or was I doing things to make myself look good?

I got some great advice from my Superintendent who told me to focus on “less.”
He gave me permission to unplug, disconnect, and reflect.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.  It saved me.

Through the struggle and challenge... I found that the one thing I needed most of all was to push aside the “I” and focus on the TRIBE!!!  This is why my #oneword2018 is.... SYNERGY!

By involving those around me in the process, I’ve found happiness and was reassured that this journey is meaningful and necessary to continue our path to success!  I refuse to be another adult that abandons what’s right for kids. The fight is too important.

The change came when...

I asked for help.
I asked for forgiveness.
I forgave others.
I asked for the leaders around me to share their strengths.

By embracing my tribe, both family and work I’ve found what was missing, my purpose!

This year I will focus on Synergy!  Collectively we are stronger together.  With this, our tribe will be unstoppable!

Watch out for #VBE2018
WE have only just begun!

Friday, November 3, 2017

That VIBE!

We are ALL in!

It's the time of the year where we can already start seeing the progress and growth of our TRIBE!  We have devoted ourselves this year to improving instruction and increasing family engagement.  All data shows we are on our way!

Today we devoted our Grade Chair Meeting to doing something a little unconventional.  Inspired by the Jimmy Fallon school instrument skit we decided to perform our VBE VIBE song written by our amazing music and band director, Helen Newhouse.  Sometimes the growth of our school shows in the smiles on our students faces, sometimes it's determined by data from testing, but today it was measured by the opportunity we had to spend time together doing something FUN for our staff and kiddos!

While we are urgent, we are also in a place to have FUN! 

That's what the #vbevibe is all about!!!  Making school engaging, relevant, and inspiring.

How have you shown that #vbevibe today? 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

If You Think I'm Urgent...

Complete transparency...  I lose sleep from feeling insufficient to lead such an amazing team.

I've been reflecting a lot on feedback I recently received as a leader.  I was told that I'm urgent and passionate and that I need to accept that it makes some people not want to work at VBE. 

Ouch.  Just ouch. 

I considered many things in reflection...

Should I tone down my passion and excitement?

Should I abandon accountability to be more likable?

Should I put kids second to ensure adults feel comfortable?

The answer is no.  

I certainly didn't get into education to be mediocre for kids, or run a sub-par program.  

We are on the rise because our team is urgent. 
Our teachers are invested.  
Our staff believes in the ViBE.  

We KNOW we can be the change in our kiddos lives! 

As a leader...

If I don't have a sense of urgency to help fill the academic gaps of our incoming kindergarteners, how can I expect our educators to?

If I'm not set on fire each day to give high-fives, hug kiddos, and show love; how can I encourage others to do the same?

If I don't insist that every child receives the services and interventions they need to improve, how can I expect the adults on our campus to?

If I don't stress over every piece of data, analyzing what adjustments can be made to help drive instruction forward, how can I expect our teams to?

If I don't commit to building relationships with our families and stakeholders, how can I expect VBE to fulfill its purpose in our community? 

If I don't show grace to students who need re-teaching and support to grow in their social emotional learning, how can I expect teachers to?

If I don't take time to value the importance of professionally growing through reading and collaboration, how can that be a goal on our teachers professional development plans?

If I can't be patient in helping #failforwards become learning opportunities for growth, how can I set that expectation for classrooms? 

I humbly say... if you think I'M urgent... you should meet my amazing staff!

If you think I'm passionate you should meet the principals I connect with daily on Voxer and twitter in #momsasprincipals and #principalsinaction

Passionate educators create passionate learners! 

So next time I hear, you're very urgent and passionate, my response will be, "thank you!"

Next time I hear I missed out on someone who thought VBE would be too much work, my response will be, "that's probably what's best for our kiddos!"

I'll take passionate and urgent over stagnant and complacent ANY day!

Maybe we can all use a little more

Thursday, September 14, 2017


I think we have all been through events that have felt stressful and sat by and watched how leadership handled the situation.  Some leaders are only meant to survive. Unfortunately, not all of these scenarios are worthy of a blog post of recognition.  There are some leaders who become agitated.   There are some leaders who find the negative and multiply misery through constant complaining.  There are some leaders who become angry micro-managers. There are some leaders who shut down completely.  Then, there are also some leaders who THRIVE!  I was humbled to be a part of a system of true servant leadership amidst the chaos and trauma of Hurricane Irma, as part of the TRIBE who worked at the Freshman Learning Center,Vero Beach High School Red Cross shelter.

I want to begin with Chief O'Keefe, the Principal from Vero Beach High School.  Shawn O'Keefe was everything you would want from a leader.  I've known him as a colleague, but I could have never imagined the strength and heart he showed throughout our time in the shelter.  He was planned out, calm, an advocate for his facility, and an even stronger advocate for the people of the shelter.  He was a true humanitarian throughout the 60 hours that we spent together, insisting that every single client at the shelter be treated with respect and dignity.  I watched as he led through his actions, not his words.  Personally, seeing him grab cots, blankets, and pillows for some of our elderly clients, setting up areas that would make them more comfortable through the storm.

 I watched as he participated in the events we had, made jokes with our new friends, and shared his love of helping others. He inspired his entire crew to go beyond just "running a shelter" and encourage us to create an environment that would ease the stress of the impending storm and possible damage to our area.  Kudos to O'Keefe for strong leadership!

Shawn O'Keefe also led and inspired a team of administrators that went so far above and beyond the
call of "shelter duty."  Vero Beach High School Assistant Principals Greg Ahrens, Rachel Serra, and Megan Kendrick; along with District Director of Assessment and Accountability, Chris Taylor.  We set up an environment that became far more like a cruise ship, then a shelter housing the elderly, homeless, and evacuees from the storm.  With over 400 people in the shelter, we managed games of Bingo, chairobics, a National Guard led kids dance off, movie night, and an acoustic musical review. We were entertained by the hourly updates over the sound system by Rachel Serra, keeping us amused, informed, and calm throughout the entire experience.

 This team of servant leaders went beyond the call of duty, including Megan Kendrick calling in friends and family to bring extra blankets, pillows, and even giving away her own belongings including air mattresses to ensure others were comfortable.  We watched as each leader's passion for helping others led to 20 hour days of true humbled actions.  Helping our new friends get to the restroom, sharing stories to help ease stress, and watching as our shelter began taking on it's own life of inspired volunteerism.

Here is a short video of some of the events that took place over the 60 hours we were with our clients.  Its worth the minute to watch it all in action!

The leadership didn't stop with administration, VBE School Nurse, Claudia Viladrosa, was a part of the incredible team that assisted.  She even brought her daughter Angelica and her friend, Bradford Heidrich along to help.  Angelica and Bradford, both college students, spent over 55 hours, including night shifts, volunteering in the shelter assisting the elderly, helping set up, caring for our new friends.  Two of the hardest working kids with the biggest hearts, kudos to you both for RISING UP.

Our team watched as the kindness began to spread.  We witnessed incredible acts from our very own evacuees.  Children from our local schools began walking water and snacks to our elderly and disabled patrons.

 Families gave up their belongings to help others in need.  Others jumped right in to assist; spending hours setting up areas and moving belongings for others so they would feel safe and settled through the stress.  We watched as Jhonathan Vite, Sebastian River High School Sophomore and his father helped over 30 families not only set up, but break down their sites once the storm passed by.

We watched as inhabitants became friends.

We even had time to learn stories like Papo Hernandez, who has taken on the role of being the sole 
caregiver to a co-worker he had in the past.  Papo spent the majority of his time in the shelter not only helping Andy, but many other elderly patrons throughout his time with us.  Such incredible acts of human kindness.

Overall, I couldn't be more humbled, inspired AND PROUD to be a part of the SDIRC community.

Thank you to all the Red Cross, EOC District Personnel, National Guard, and First Responders for everything you have done throughout the storm to keep our citizens safe!  We are SDIRC STRONG!

Also- Thank you to WAWA- who insisted on giving us free coffee the day we came in before setting up the shelter.  Sometimes, it's the little things that make us feel "warm" and comforted!

It's amazing to see others in the community that attended our shelter taking time to write about the experience.  Thank you Avalon Mcgann for the wonderful article in the TCPalm. 

Monday, September 4, 2017


It's taken me a while to write my first post for the new school year.  Maybe because we've been busy, but more likely because things haven't gone as smooth as I had hoped.  My own ego and pride stopped me multiple times as I began writing and had to walk away.  Here's the truth, it's been an interesting start at Vero Beach Elementary this year.  In order to keep the integrity, I must honor the intentions of being vulnerable, real, and reflective about our journey.  Here's the truth:

This school year did not start easy.

However, for every single area of concern, I feel like we have overcome them because we are:

We have increased our attendance, which is awesome, but also resulted in needing more teachers than originally accounted for.  We recruited and brought in incredible talent to VBE to ensure we are #tribestrong

Luckily our entire staff understands that we are greater together when our heads and hearts are aligned!  Our grade levels have already put in an incredible amount of work to keep our focus on engaging Science, Literacy, Inquiry, Design, and Engineering units as we continue our SLIDE into innovation.  Which is only possible when we are #tribestrong 

We have new Little Indians to our mix, which we need to learn about and build relationships with.  We love growing our tribe, but can't ignore that this causes some growing pains.  We will show them what it means to be #tribestrong

Luckily, we have the ability to teach and re-teach our expectations, showing our new students, and our returning students, how to self regulate, develop a growth mindset, and thrive.  We will teach our kiddos what it means to be #tribestrong

We have some new staff and have been working tirelessly to ensure that no students regress as we build up those around us.  Accountability depends on all members sharing what works best for our students by ensuring our teams are collaborative, data driven, and #tribestrong

As leaders, we will continue to advocate so every child, every day, is given what they need to be successful, challenged, and loved. We will embrace the struggle, but demand progress by being #tribestrong

Finally, we have had a slight back slide in our behavior data as a result of the changes.  We acknowledge it, adjust our path, and move forward.  As a tribe we refuse to let anything stand in our way during this journey #onourwaytoanA

This work is too important to do alone.  To truly continue with the progress we've made already moving up two letter grades in one year, we need to build each other up and continue to be #tribestrong