Monday, January 20, 2014

Tips for a Great School Day Start

by Mike Nitzel, Principal
Thomas Jefferson Elementary School
Rock Island-Milan (IL) School Dist. 41
Milan, IL

Are mornings a struggle in your house?  Do you find it difficult to get the kids up and get everyone out the door on time?  Here are a few simple tips to help you get your kids—and you!—off to the best possible start to the school day.

1)      Prepare the night before. The start to your day actually begins the night before.  Make sure clothes are laid out, backpacks are packed and lunches are in the fridge and ready to go.  Get the kids to bed at a decent hour and help them get all of the sleep they need.  Here is a quick guide from WebMD regarding how much sleep the kids need:
Age 3-6: 10-12 hours per night
Age 7-12: 10-11 hours per night
Age 12-18: 9-10 hours per night

2)      Set a wake up time so that you’re not rushed.  What sets a better tone for the day, rushing around or being able to take your time and attend to what needs attending to?

3)      Eat breakfast.  It really is the most important meal of the day.  It fills the gas tank for the day.  Whether it’s at home or at school, save time to make sure the kids get a healthy breakfast.  My kids do well with proteins and whole grains.   

4)      Be positive.  No matter what last night brought, start your kids’ day with a hearty and heartfelt “Good morning!” and a smile!  Each new day is a blank canvas.  Treat it that way.  Let your kids know that you are counting on them to be their best at school that day and every day!

5)      Let your kids know that you’re going to think about them during the day.  Whether you tell them directly or leave them a note in their lunchbox or backpack, your kids love knowing that you’re thinking about them during the day.

6)      Ask your kids, “Is there anything I can do before you leave or I drop you off to help you have a great day?” This is a good way to be proactive and to deal with potential problems before they occur. 

7)      Dress appropriately for the weather, especially during cold weather.  I’ve seen some kids “snow” their parents (no pun intended) into letting them leave the winter coat at home.  They say things like, “I’m only going from the car to the front door” or “We’re not going out for recess today.”  Um, what about a fire drill or other emergency that might require them to leave the building?  Ask them to make sure they have a coat.  However, I would not get involved in a protracted war about the issue.  Natural consequences work wonders.  If they have to go outside for any length of time and it’s 20 degrees, they’ll quickly learn to take their coat from then on. 

8)      Dress appropriately for school.  Know your school’s dress code and abide by it.  It’s there for a reason. 

9)      Tell your kids you love them.  Make sure these are the last words your kids hear before you see them again at the end of the day.  It’s also a harsh reality that the last time you see someone could be the last time you ever see someone.  We don’t like to think about that but it’s an unfortunate fact in today’s world.  Make sure that what could be your last words are loving ones.  There’s peace of mind there.

These are just a few things that we have found through trial and error over the years to help us have a decent start to our school days in our house.  I’d be interested in hearing what you think.  Please leave a comment or two and as always, thanks for taking time out of your busy lives to read this.  I genuinely appreciate it! 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tips for Creating Your Own Happy New Year

By Mike Nitzel, Principal
Thomas Jefferson Elementary School
Rock Island-Milan (IL) School District
Milan, Illinois 

At the beginning of every new year most of us are wished a Happy New Year.  Happy new years, however, don't just happen on wishes and dreams. Happiness takes work-24/7/365.  I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert on happiness nor do I have any big secrets to share with you. What I can share with you are several things that have worked for me that have helped me become a happier and more content person. Here they are.

Surround Yourself With Positive Energy—Nothing can drag you down more than being around what Spiro Agnew called those “nattering nabobs of negativism”. Stay away from them insofar as you can. Put yourself with positive people. They will lift you up. Twitter can be a great place to surround yourself with positive people; my PLN is proof of that! 

Choose Your Attitude—Let’s face it. In spite of your best efforts to avoid them, you’re going to find yourself surrounded by negative people from time to time. Remember that when you are, you have a choice as to how you react to them. You can allow yourself to be dragged down into negativity or you can make a conscious choice to stay above it and stay positive. Find something to think about that makes you smile. For example, when I’m starting to feel negative about this or that, I sometimes think about the song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python’s, “The Life of Brian”. It always makes me smile.   

Forget Resolutions and Think Life Changes—The shelf life of resolutions is not very long, unless you’re willing to commit to changing your behavior. Think about “going on a diet”. If you approach losing weight as a diet, the very word implies that it’s temporary. If you really want to lose weight, you’ll determine to make a permanent change in the way you eat and you’ll increase the amount of exercise you do. You will need to make these things habits and habits usually take somewhere around 60 days to form. Once you’ve formed a habit, you’ve made a lifestyle change. True, you can slip back into old habits, but you’re less likely to do so if you view what you’ve done as a permanent change rather than a temporary one.

Determine to Learn Something New—Learning something new keeps your mind active and sharp. An active mind, engaged in an activity you want to do, makes for a happier mind. Maybe you want to learn more about Google Apps; get after it!  Perhaps, like me, you want to learn a new language. Let’s get going! I’m going to work on my Spanish. 

Set Time Aside for Yourself Each Day—Life is so frenzied these days, isn’t it?  It’s easy to find yourself buried under things that you have to do. It is important that you save time each day to do something you WANT to do.  You’re important and the things you want to do deserve your attention.  I reserve the time after 9:00 p.m. each day solely for things I want to do. Some nights I might read. Some nights I might write. Others I might watch TV.  Whatever the activity, it’s time set aside to do something I enjoy and to let my mind slow down a bit before I turn in for the night. 

End Your Day with Wins—We have a tendency to dwell on the negative.  How many times have you tried to go to sleep at night, only to have the negative things that happened in your day flood your mind? Instead, take 10 minutes before you go to sleep and think about all that went right during your day. It’s not meditation, exactly, but rather focused thought. It takes some practice to keep the negative thoughts at bay, but once you get the hang of it I’ve found that it really works. Give it a try! 

Get Plenty of Sleep—Sometimes this is easier said than done. I know. I’ve suffered from sleep onset insomnia for years. I would lie in bed for two or three hours before I could get to sleep. It’s awful. I’ve tried every medication in the book and while they worked initially, after a while they no longer did the trick. And I’m not wild about the side-effects of medication. I’ve found that changing my routines before I go to bed at night has been effective for me in terms of getting better sleep. Spending time at the end of the day doing things I want to do and thinking about my wins before I try to go to sleep have worked to put my mind in a more relaxed state and one that’s ready for sleep. Also, I rarely watch television or work on my computer in bed. The visuals can activate centers in the brain which can impede sleep. 

Healthy Eating and Exercise—I’m feeling like a bit of a hypocrite on this one because over the last couple of years I’ve begun to look more than a little like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. However, I’m going to do better starting immediately. I’m going to change the way I live and do a better job of eating and exercising. To help motivate me I’ve joined the #500in2014 challenge on Twitter; it’s a good support system and I find that goals are more attainable when you work alongside others. My goal is to run 250 miles and walk an additional 250 miles over the course of the year. Coupled with a change in my eating habits (sorry M&M’s), I’m hoping to drop 20 pounds and get back to a healthier weight. I may not run/walk 500 miles every year for the rest of my life, but I am going to establish and maintain healthy eating and exercise regimens that are realistic for me. 

Do Something for Someone Else Each Day—Doing something nice for someone else is the best way in the world to make you feel good. It doesn’t matter how small the effort might seem to you—a short note to someone saying you appreciate them, a treat dropped in a mailbox—these simple things can really work to lift someone’s spirits. It’s not about the “thing” the other person receives, it’s the simple gesture of letting someone know you’re thinking of them that counts.  And something else—whatever you do, do it anonymously and expect nothing in return. Try to do this once a day. 

Save Time for Personal/Professional Development Each Day—Spend some time reading, spend some time on Twitter, do something to grow personally and/or professionally. For example, I try to spend at least 30 minutes a day with my PLN on Twitter.  I ALWAYS learn something from my PLN every time I go on Twitter! 

There are so many other things that you could do to make a happy new year for yourself.  These are simply some of the things that have worked for me.  I would be very interested in hearing some of your ideas!  Please share a comment or two!  Thanks for taking time out of your busy lives to read this.  As always, I genuinely appreciate it!  Oh, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!    

Friday, January 3, 2014

Blogging Challenge, Sunshine Award, Homework Meme, Etc., Etc...

So my friend Tom Whitford tagged me for this PLN Blogging Challenge. I'd like to publicly thank Tom for this opportunity. He clearly knows how much I like to write or talk about myself…NOT!  However, I will endeavor to do my best to answer the questions he's posed and in so-doing, help those of you who carve out the time to read this some small measure of assistance in getting some sleep. I strongly recommend you save this for your night table reading. You'll be out in no time.

Here are the rules of the challenge:
1) Acknowledge the nominating blogger (check!)
2) Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3) Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4) List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
5) Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you).

Here we go…

Eleven Random Facts About Me:
1) I am married and have two boys ages 17 and 13. We have two cats, Wrigley and Ivy. Like my nominator Tom, I used to have a dog--a cocker spaniel named Shiloh. He was great and I miss HIM. But honestly, I don't miss having a dog; they're more work than I have time for right now and that's not fair to the dog.

2) I was born in Moline, Illinois and with the exception of two years of college and three years of working in school districts in central Illinois, I have lived in the Illinois Quad Cities my entire life. Some would consider that depressing. My opinion on the matter is not a static one.

3) I was a social studies teacher at the high school level before becoming an administrator. I have been principal of both a high school and an elementary school. I moved to the elementary level to have more time with my family. I know…AWWWWWWWWWWW. Hush up! I approached the job with some trepidation but I have found that I love being an elementary school principal.

4) I wear a size 12 shoe.
5) I like to cook. My family knows when I've had a challenging day because I usually end up cooking something rather elaborate for dinner. Cooking forces me to focus on that one thing when I need to my attention away from other things for a bit.

6) I love baseball, in particular the Chicago Cubs which means I'm a sucker for hard-luck cases. My office has been decorated to look like Wrigley Field complete with a brick wall, a basket and ivy. There was even a write up about it in our local paper, The Dispatch.
7) I love to read and my taste in literature is rather eclectic. I just finished reading a great piece of fiction called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. I'm currently reading the newest book by Doris Kearns Goodwin called The Bully Pulpit about TR, William Howard Taft, and the Muckrakers.

8) I used to love to refinish and build furniture but I don't seem to have the time for it anymore between my job and my two boys and all of their activities. I'll get back to it someday. My dad was a carpenter and taught me some things before he passed away. Woodworking is one way that I can make it feel as though my dad is still with me. Whenever I'm able to solve a particularly challenging problem or finish a difficult piece, I always look over my shoulder and say, "Thanks, Dad."

9) I'm involved in the #500in2014 challenge on Twitter. I'm looking forward to getting back into some semblance of shape.

10) I had a music scholarship my first two years of college. I played classical clarinet and jazz saxophone. I was in the Illinois Music Educators Association All State Honors Band my senior year of high school. I considered becoming a music teacher for a time but my love of history and the social studies won out in the end.

11) Many of my friends believe that I would make a good game show host. I think they're right. Listen to this…"Thousand dollar space on the wheel and the category is Before and After." "Nuff said! 

Now to Answer the 11 Questions From the Challenge!
1) Chicago Style or New York Style Pizza? This is a trick question. Pizza should never be a this OR that proposition but a this AND that one. Both styles are delicious and represent well in their own right.  However, if you put a gun to my head and force me to name my favorite pizza I would have to say sausage from Harris Pizza, a local place here in Rock Island. Their sausage pizza is the best!  It's "Quad Cities Style Pizza" which is probably different from the pizza that most of you know. I strongly urge you to try it if you ever find yourself in the Quad Cities. Let me know you're coming and I'll be happy to serve as your host!

2) I know it should be pizza, but what is your favorite food? It is, in fact, pizza. Hands down. There are so many different varieties with so many different toppings, I could eat it every day for every meal.

3) What is the best leadership book you've ever read? There are so many. Everything written by Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker) would have to be on the list but of all of his books, the one that has probably been the most influential on me is What Great Principals Do Differently. I also have described Shifting the Monkey as transformative in terms of how I handle my work.

4) What is your favorite fiction book that is a series (at least 3 books)? I love the Jack Ryan series by Tom Clancy. The Hunt for Red October absolutely hooked me. I couldn't put it down. I can't wait for "The Shadow Recruit" to hit theaters in a couple of weeks. Chris Pine is now not only Captain Kirk but Jack Ryan, too! That dude has it made! It helps that he's a pretty good actor.

5) What is the ONE national conference you would like to attend?  ASCD. I've never been but would love to go.

6) What is the funniest thing you can recall seeing on Twitter?  The invitation to complete this challenge. That anyone would be remotely interested in any of this about me I find absolutely hilarious!
7) What or who makes you laugh the most often? My youngest son. He's hilarious and can make me laugh on the inside even when I have to be upset with him on the outside. I'm convinced that he's either going to host The Tonight Show one day or star in COPS--he'll be the one NOT wearing the badge.
8) Who, besides your spouse, children, or parents has made you a better person/teacher/leader?  This one's easy--Dr. Jeff Zoul, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning in Deerfield, IL.  (@Jeff_Zoul). I only had the privilege of working with him for a year but I learned more from him in a year than I learned in a lifetime of doing this before he joined us in Rock Island-Milan. Jeff made me believe in myself and helped me to recognize my potential. I've still got a lot to learn and there are a lot of areas of my work that I can improve on, but Jeff helped light a fire in my belly to be better by the example he set every day. He's a great friend and mentor and I hope to have the opportunity to work with him again someday.

9) Share a challenge you overcame that has made you a better person/teacher/leader. They never taught me in principal's school how to react when someone I work with sits on the other side of my desk and tells me that they have only a few weeks to live. You learn a lot about the value of relationships and the importance of community when that happens. I've had that happen twice now. I pray to God that it never happens again. But through it I became a more compassionate leader. I better realize how fragile and fleeting things can be. Enjoy the moment because once it's gone, it's gone. Care about people more than you thought possible and take care in what you say; you never know when you will  see someone or talk to someone for the last time…

10) What are you going to do with the $250 million you win in the lottery? After donating a substantial sum to my church, my employer and my kids' school district (with the requirement that they never, ever bother me for money ever again), I would make sure my children's educations were taken care of, set up a trust fund for them FOR LATER IN LIFE WHEN THEY'RE HOPEFULLY RESPONSIBLE ENOUGH TO HANDLE A LARGE SUM OF MONEY, set up some sort of charitable trust, and then probably retire to a life of volunteer work. I would also like to see some of the world that I've only read about in books before I'm too old and broken down to get around.

11) What one change would you make in education? Equitable funding. I've always subscribed to the belief that money will not guarantee a good education, but the lack of it will guarantee a bad one. I actually won the lottery once, not $250M of course but I won a three point shooting contest at halftime of an old CBA game and won 500 instant lottery tickets. I think I won around $750. I spent it on me.

My Questions to My Bloggers (listed below): I borrowed some of these or adapted them from Tom's list.  He never said that was against the rules!
1) Coke or Pepsi?
2) List the items you would have on the menu for your "last meal".
3) If you were not an educator, what profession would you have liked to pursue and why?
4) What is the best leadership book you have ever read and why?
5) What is your favorite movie and what about it makes it meaningful to you in some way?
6) What is the one place you would like to visit in the world that you haven't been to?
7) Who has had the biggest influence on your professional life?
8) Share your favorite joke.
9) Who is a hero of yours and why? (Caveat--You cannot say your parents. spouse, partner, or kids.  That's just a cheap way to win brownie points!)
10) What is one thing about yourself that most people would be surprised to learn?
11) Smooth or crunchy?

My Bloggers: I know some of you may have participated already. However, like Tom, I have a tendency to come into these things a bit late! And if you don't have a blog, I've included you on the list because you SHOULD have one! Hopefully this will give you a little push.

1. Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy)
2. Lolly Daskal (@LollyDaskal)
3. Tracee Orman (@MrsOrman)
4. Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher)
5. Michael Carton (@michaelcarton)
6. Michael McLendon (@mclendonm)
7. Seth Berg (@BergsEyeView)
8. Allison Jackson (@azajacks)--We're not letting up on you, Allison!
9. Becky Ince (@Ince22)
10. Jenna Shaw (@Teachbaltshaw)
11. Justin Baeder (@eduleadership)