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The 25' Airstream at the Coast Guard Campground

Last week we did one of my favorite things at school. We visited the homes of our students.

I learned about this from Rob Carroll and I just loved the idea.

It's got to be hard not having a home, especially in middle school.

I went back to work last week, but all my teachers came back this week. We also did something really cool: Home visits. I'd like to share the video we made with you. Click HERE to watch it. We visited 460 students' homes and even a couple that we didn't know about that were around.

We broke up into pairs of dedicated teachers and visited the home of every student that we had an address for (and even some new move-ins we hadn't met yet)!

There was even a student who had an address of "25' Airstream at the Coast Guard campground"!

The best part of the visits I did that day was visiting the student who was at the Coast Guard campground, who didn't have a home to live in yet.

Being a middle schooler, and living in a camper trailer that your family just towed across the country would be difficult in the best circumstances.

We made sure that this kid who didn't have a home knew that he had a home at the Middle School. We are excited he made it here and we can't wait for him to be a part of our school.

What a fantastic day.


✓ Home Visits!

On August 19th, 14 dedicated teachers, 3 super-star paraprofessionals, and a mental health clinician joined Assistant Principal Damon Hargraves and myself as we visited the homes of all 435 students in our school! We originally got this idea from the1199 and added our own Kodiak twist to it.

It was amazing.

Why?

We wanted to make sure that every student had a positive interaction with an adult before school started.

There was a little surprise and skepticism that we could actually pull it off, but I knew we had enough dedicated staff to be sure we would make it happen.

We delivered planners, a bookmark, and a ticket for a free smoothie on the first day of school if kids answered one of four questions.

Feedback

Take a look at our facebook page to see some of the positive feedback we got. Students and parents alike were very happy to see us. Many people commented that they saw us out and about.

Communication

We let people know about it by creating a communication calendar. We used social media, a presentation to the board, and an all call to make sure the word got out. The school board supported the idea.

Coast Guard

Normal civilians are not allowed on the Coast Guard base without an escort. Thankfully, we had two teachers who are Coast Guard dependents who volunteered to be the escorts for me and Mr. Hargraves. We notified the CO of the Coast Guard early on to make sure we would be able to come visit, and they were very supportive of the visits.

Logistics!

Oh, man, this was crazy. We had to figure out how to visit 435 homes with limited staff and a largish geographical area, including a Coast Guard base.

We worked with our student information system managers to export a list (CSV) of students from the system which included:

  • Student name
  • Address
  • Zip code
  • Phone number
  • Dad name
  • Mom name

We added a couple checkboxes to the end to track if the student was home or not.

After the export was completed the information manager for the district found a way to place all the students’ names on a map on Google Earth. It was amazing. Sadly, the file got corrupted, and we had to start that process over. We used a web site called batchgeo to do the same thing. The free version is limited to 250 addresses, so we had to run two of them. When you download a map for Google Earth, you need to place a “kml” in the URL after the /map/, as seen in this support article. This was difficult to find, but eventually we figured it out. We just opened up that file, and it overlaid on the map in Google Earth.

There was a problem with the output file in that it didn’t have the addresses labeled on the map. What I mean is there weren’t student names visible on the map. To rectify this, I opened the KML file in TextWrangler and did a find for:

<styleUrl>#0</styleUrl>

and replaced it with:

<styleUrl>#pointStyleMap</styleUrl>

The only way I knew about that was because I compared the code between what the information manager had done with a non-corrupted KML file he had sent earlier said and what the one said that we downloaded from geobatch. #pointStyleMap for the win!

Once we had a map with marks for all their houses, and student names visible, we took screenshots of what we thought would be good routes and printed those out for our teachers to carry around with them.

After all the routes were printed out, we had to arrange the students. We went back to the spreadsheet and and added a column that designated route. Damon took the map, and typed the names into a Google Doc, while I had the Google Doc open behind the spreadsheet and searched for the student names, and added the correct route to the spreadsheet for that student. What? Are we crazy? Yes. Yes we are! At first Damon was reading the names to me, but it went much faster to have him type them and we could each go at our own speed. Each route took about 10 minutes to type up once we figured out the right way to do it!

When all the names had a route, we had a few that didn’t show up on the Google Earth screenshot. They didn’t show up because we didn’t know where the address was, or because they were overlapping. So, we just looked at those ~20 addresses and made a call for the route.

Then we sorted the spreadsheet by the route column and made sure every group had a manageable number of students to visit. I think 75 was our highest number of students on a route.

We gave everyone a map with student names on it, their list, and their goodies to hand out and sent them on their way.

Mission Accomplished

All in all, it took 18 adults from 9 am to 2:30 pm to visit all the homes in our district. Organization and effort on the part of Damon and me ensured that teachers got out of the school on time and were able to get to the houses quickly. A couple people finished before lunch, and the rest finished after lunch. The fact that we finished in less than a school day is pretty amazing.

Planning for the future

There are a couple things that would have made things easier. Here are lessons learned:

  • Plan earlier - we are going to do this again next year. And, knowing that, we can make some plans beforehand. Teachers will be able to go to kids they actually teach. We would also like to give students their schedules at this time.
  • Include more teachers - By planning earlier, we can help teachers know what will be happening before school starts. Many teachers wanted to do this, but were unable because of their travel plans.
  • Coast Guard Escorts - next time, we will ask the Coast Guard to supply escorts. They said they would, but I thought it would be easier with our Coast Guard dependent teachers. It worked, but there were a few places that people from the Coast Guard could have helped us find a little faster.
  • Provide more goodies/prestuff goodies - it would be nice to have some more fun things to give students, like school supplies, or something like that. It would be especially cool if we could give them some KMS Grizzly Gear. We will have to work on relationships with community organizations to make that happen, probably.

Some good things we did that we want to remember to do next year:

  • The day before New Teacher Orientation is a good way to get the new teachers to be able to join in on the fun. I’m glad we did it that day.
  • Wearing KMS shirts. All our staff wore KMS shirts and this let the community know that we were out in force!
  • Tell everyone. We told a lot of people what we were doing. There was a time that I wanted to forget about it and not do it, because it was hard. But, do you know what? We can do hard things.
  • Outreach. Reaching out to our students to say we love you is amazing. We are so glad that we did this. It was not only fun, but very rewarding. We built some great relationships. One student was waiting for us to get there, and was super excited to see us.

Uploads!

Want to see what we did? Here are some uploads:


Update from Alaska!

Moving

If you didn't follow along, Staci and I wrote a blog describing our journey up here. It was really fun, and our kids did a great job!

Kodiak Middle School

Starting as a principal at a new school has been such a fun learning experience. There is so much going on, and everyone says you don't really know what it is like until you are sitting in the principal's chair. Many of the principals I interview for my podcast have mentioned that. It is so true. And it is fascinating. I am having so much fun! I love new challenges, I love learning new things, and I love working with people to create something really amazing. So, let's get down to some of the nitty gritty!

Assistant Principal

Damon Hargraves is my assistant principal and he is a rockstar! I am so lucky to be working with him. We hit it off really well to begin with. When I was interviewing, and I came up here for an interview, he invited me to stay at his house. I was only here for a weekend, and he and I stayed up late discussing educational philosophy numerous times and recognized quickly that we are on the same page.

Damon has been in charge of a distance learning grant for the last couple years, and this is the first year that is off his plate as the assistant principal, and so we are both able to focus fully on our school, students, and teachers.

He and I agree about a lot of things, and we have the same goal, to serve children. But what I am really liking about Damon is his ability to see things differently than me and reel me back in when I get too far off. We've had many conversations about how to do things, and he is willing and able to say "That's not a good idea." It is so vital to have someone like that. For example, we were talking about our building inservice and I had planned something and put it into place. When I told Damon about it, he said that while we may need that information, it wasn't what we needed at that time. So, we cancelled. He was right, I was wrong. We trade positions on right and wrong often, call each other on it, make adjustments, and move on. It is awesome.

Damon is also willing to do silly things. Follow our facebook page for some of our antics. We have made a couple videos, and done some phone calls home to get some parents involved. It is fun working with him. Our relationship will drive our school in a positive direction, and it is worth recognizing and being on the same page.

District and Building Inservice

For district and building inservice we wanted to create a positive climate in the building. We played games and got to know each other during the first couple meetings. Damon and I made breakfast for our teachers, and then played some getting-to-know-you games. We played fox and rabbit, concentration ball, and had a teacher do a team-building activity.

Then the NORMS. Norms are an important part of any faculty, and I wanted to show teachers that I was going to trust them to come up with norms that meant something to them. We took a long time to do this, but I felt (and the feedback said) that it was worthwhile. {" It was a hard process to go through, but that is OK because we can do hard things."} The teachers really showed that they can do hard things that day, and they showed that by their responses to feedback about the opening inservice.

The Teachers

I am super excited to work with this group of teachers. They are excited and eager to help students learn. That is really a great place to start. With 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, we have one science, math, and social studies teacher per grade. We have two ELA teachers per grade, and two STEM teachers that teach all three grades.

iObservation

We are using the Marzano iObservation protocol for evaluations in our district. Going from a paper-based eval system in my last district to an all electronic version with support for walkthroughs is a game changer. The superintendent challenged us to be in three classrooms every day, and so far Damon and I have done a pretty good job of that. I know teachers are not used to that, but they have responded very well. We are learning this tool together and there is a lot of room for growth for all of us. But it is so fun to see growth after about 100 observations in the first month of school. As I said, our teachers are great, and it is exciting to see what they are doing. I've always said that when I was a principal, I would make it a priority to be in the classrooms to be that instructional leader, and it has been the best part of my job, so far. I love it!

It is going to be a great year!