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The obvious & the amazing: 3 workflow strategies in action

I’m consistently trying to find ways to simplify my workflow as an elementary principal so I can spend more time with students and staff. In going through the day, I was reminded of a favorite Derek Sivers video clip that presents a compelling reminder to share what we do, even if it is a seemingly simple workflow strategy…or three…that are helping me this year.


Computer Post-It: While I am a big fan of digital resources, I sometimes need an ‘in plain sight’ reminder of next steps or critical tasks. I use my calendar, Google apps and Voxer voice notes digitally, but I always keep a Post-It on my MacBook with simple bullets of things I must do. I keep that list short and focused.

Desk reminder: Each week I prepare an internal staff communication, The Friday Flight, and publish a joint publication of our school and Parent Teacher Association news, The Lowell Memo. In addition to labeling items for inclusion in my email and using one week’s publication as a base for the next, I keep a hard copy note on my desk as topics frequently come up during calls or when I’m checking email before or after school. I’ve also added a space for cards as a reminder to praise, thank or encourage others during the week. And, of course, there’s an ‘other’ category to use as needed! Part of my end-of-week routine is to remove my old list and add a new one to start Monday fresh.


2016-17 files: This week I spent some time ensuring our staff Google site was updated with important information for my staff. Thanks to the fabulous power of Google Docs, I took 5 minutes to open essential documents like our master schedule, lunch/recess supervision schedules and supply ordering, and make a copy of each and rename the files for 2016-17. In sharing these with my office staff now, we have a shared accountability and an efficient way to plan and reduce unnecessary oversights that would negatively impact others.



IMG_3254I’ve been away from my blog for a long time, which will result in a different, more ‘challenging to write’ post along the way. Thanks to the power of my #leadwild and #principalsinaction networks and the goal I set for myself in my own family’s goal setting talk, I’m committing to writing more about both the ‘obvious’ that comes from sharing an idea or strategy that is part of my practice and the ‘amazing’ that comes with deep reflection and dialogue with others.

What workflow strategies have helped you the most? What is ‘obvious to you, but amazing to others’?

Human connections

AL&SThis week, it sure would have been fun to be at #ISTE13 !  Again, through the power of Twitter and blogs, I was able to access much information that was shared in conference sessions, and that access to ideas and resources still amazes me. The parts I was missing the very most, however, were the face-to-face conversations and fun with those I’ve had the good fortune to meet (and karaoke with) and the opportunity to meet more people from my PLN. I could tell I wasn’t alone as the #NotAtISTE hashtag started trending as those unable to be there lamented, shared humor, and talked about the elements of their life that kept them home this time around from babies, to plays to budget cuts. Sure reinforces the philosophy that social media can really enhance our human connections rather than limit them, doesn’t it?

Monday morning, though, I got to experience a different type of human connectedness as the Oswego community gathered in remembrance of Kerry Anne Engdahl, a district teacher and parent who passed away after courageously battling ALS. It was very sad to see Kerry Anne’s husband and daughters follow her casket both into and out of the mass. While the service was so thoughtfully prepared, those moments really jumped out at me. I couldn’t help but think of the joy that must have accompanied Kerry Anne and her husband’s trip up the aisle getting married with no inkling of this eventual sadness, and how their next family walks up the aisle should have been for their young daughters’ weddings or other happy milestones. Not for this.

At the same time, it was impossible to ignore the positive connections Kerry Anne inspired. The picture above became the mantra for her journey, as she chose to define ALS as “Always laugh and smile.” In her years as a teacher, she developed many strong friendships with colleagues and families, and, though I didn’t know her for most of those years, it seems she had many laughs and smiles to share along the way. It was a privilege to see her volunteer in her middle daughter’s classroom this year and to be part of the team that supported her family in their journey.  And that team was amazing; the social worker and classroom teacher that supported her daughter moved forward with grace and with the honest, firm, yet loving hearts that their little girl needed and that they as parents needed to move forward.

She was a teacher to countless kindergarten students by choice. During her illness she also chose to be a teacher to many of the high priority we should place on our time with one another, on selflessness, and on the power of optimism and hope. It is SO hard to capture that in words without sounding trite and oversimplifying something that is really so powerful.   From family to friends to teaching colleagues to school social workers to her children’s teachers to the people that cut her hair, I looked around the church and saw sad yet determined people committed to carry Kerry Anne’s memory onward. Collectively, we knew that despite the many ways she was supported and honored in life, important work on her behalf was still ahead.

Again, my words don’t really do this  justice. If you want to honor Kerry Anne, start by honoring those around you in the moment. Who does your work honor? How do you inspire others? Do you take time to enrich the human connections in your life? I know I can do better. How are you doing? What needs to change? Much to think about, for sure.


Worry & Images: Thoughts on Boston


As I write tonight, I definitely have a heavy heart for those impacted by the tragic events associated with today’s Boston Marathon. When one of my third grade daughters came in our room post-bedtime tonight asking to sleep by us, I didn’t hesitate to say yes and keep her close. At this point, we haven’t talked to our kids about what happened and she seemed a bit surprised at my quick response. My thoughts have ranged from sadness for the loss to anger for senselessness to hope as we see those who respond and do good in the midst of such horrific, violent acts.

These shouldn’t be our worries…

Just a week ago Friday I was with my 5th grade son at his first official junior high event, his beginning band appointment. He went from seeming like a big kid…my oldest…to a little guy again as we walked into the junior high. I was so excited to see his enthusiasm, yet said some prayers for his courage, good decision making, and the hopes of good friends and good staff as he grows older. I think about the kids getting older, learning to drive, going to college… These should be my “Mom worries”.   In the past year, however, we’ve seen places like elementary schools, movie theaters, and, now, an athletic event turn into nightmares.

These shouldn’t be anybody’s worries…

Just yesterday at church, our pastor shared the story of Lopez Lamong, one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan who has grown to be an Olympian. His story starts when he’s a 6 year-old child taken by rebel soldiers. 12 years ago, when I was a 6th grade teacher, my student, Lum, couldn’t understand the magnitude of 9/11 because he and his family had been run from their home and their life in Kosovo through violent means; violence was his reality.

Be mindful of images…

Like many, I couldn’t believe today’s news as it unfolded in Boston. I’ve competed in the Chicago Marathon once (Well, competed might be a strong word 😉 ) and been a spectator numerous times as friends and family have taken the challenge to run. I’d agree with commentators I’ve seen throughout the day that few places are as motivating as a marathon. We see people from all walks of life accomplish something great. We think we can accomplish something great, too. As a mom to two Ethiopian-born daughters, I’ve pointed out the Ethiopian flag and talked to them about the champions from such events over the four years they’ve been with our family. Marathons are amazing events where people that don’t even know each other come together to cheer and encourage; if you’re in Chicago, you can even catch a really good Gyro at mile 16.5.

In messaging with Lauren Mazza tonight, though, the horrible images from the media really stood out. Just weeks ago, large media outlets refrained from replaying Kevin Ware’s hoops injury en route to a Louisville championship, citing respect for the athlete and his family. Today, though, graphic, alarming images were shown repeatedly from the scene in Boston. These people, too, are someone’s son, daughter, mother… We have to consider that. Recently, I was struck by the images from an Illinois school bus accident, and, just today, a car accident in our community. I lost my own grandparents in a car accident when I was 16, and I frankly don’t want an image from that scene to become the lasting image in my mind. I hope people in media will consider that. I hope that the power to portray the good in people eventually prevails.

I know that while days like today can fill us with worry and sadness, they can also inspire us to do better on behalf of those who no longer have that opportunity. Let’s try to share the good we see in the days that follow and in the other unrelated bright spots of our days. I owe that to my Tessa, who is taking up 2/3 of my bed right now as she safely sleeps. We all owe it to each other.

Being that engaged parent

This morning I was catching up on some reading of my often neglected feed of blog posts and came across two separate, yet very connected, blog posts. One was from George Couros, called Engaging Parents in the Learning Process. The other was over at Nerdy Book Club, called The Great (inbe) Tween by Lindsey Leavitt. George writes, “Being able to engage in the process with your child, like reading, will help improve their learning.  That type of engagement brings learning to a different level in the home.” As a mom to four elementary-aged children, I often consider  my own kids and how their interests and experiences apply to my work with kids at school. Likewise, as decisions are made at my school, I think about how I might feel in that parent role. This perspective often gives me common ground with our parents to acknowledge what we truly want for our kids.

This takes me back to a couple of weeks ago when my son, a huge fan or Star Wars, came home from school talking about Tom Angleberger‘s upcoming local author visit. My son and I had the opportunity to see Tom upon the release of his last book, too. That first night, Mark, my son, and I enjoyed the shared experience of a dinner out and seeing some of his classmates at the book signing. Most recently, my husband, Jim, took all of our kids and they were joined by his brother and our nieces, too.

In her post, author Lindsey Leavitt makes the following statements that stand out to me looking back to meeting an author when she was a student:

  • “I’ve long forgotten my locker combination, the classes I took, some of my teachers names, but I vividly remember meeting Alicia.” Such a great example of an authentic opportunity! This takes writing from a pencil-paper task to connecting with the people that make stories come alive. It moves from stand-alone skill practice to a real, powerful, memorable experience. 
  • “I also remember thinking how ordinary she looked.” After the most recent author visit, my husband noted how Tom took time to talk with the kids and presented as such an ordinary person. This down-to-earth person wearing a Star Wars shirt connected with his audience in a way that made them feel they could become authors themselves. This doesn’t take away from the goodness of his work or make it more ordinary, but it does inspire kids, including my 5th grade son in his Star Wars shirt, to think that they, too, have stories to share.
  • “My seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Mullaly, did that for me, and now teachers and librarians are doing the same thing with my books.” (Referring to teachers and librarians bringing books to the kids that will connect with them best.) This reminds me of both the power we have as educators to offer such opportunities and connections. It also speaks to the importance as a leader and as a parent to thank and encourage the people who do add such value to student learning.

So Mrs. Witcpalek and Ms. Shammas, thanks from the Melton family. We appreciate you sharing these opportunities with us and our children. And thanks, too, to authors like Tom and Lindsey who model their experience for our kids.

Using the ‘A’

Last weekend I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of the ASCD’s annual conference in Chicago, just a short drive away. This conference boasted some amazing speakers, but it also provided an opportunity to simply spend time with educators I’ve met through my Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter. Outside of the prescribed conference sessions, I enjoyed meals and conversation (and even a little karaoke) with some educators who have pushed my thinking and helped me see what is really possible when we work together and encourage one another.  I was also with some educators I have the privilege of working with on a regular basis in my local school district and immediate community.

Perhaps one of the best ‘non-session’ conference sessions came in the final hours of the conference when my assistant principal and friend, Katy Schafermeyer, and I sat to catch up and talk about what we had experienced over the course of the weekend and what we might contribute at a future conference. Before long we were sitting with George Couros and Tom Whitby talking about being connected educators and the compelling need to share with one another for the sake of improving our practice. George and I had connected on Twitter and met in person at the ISTE Leadership Forum. Tom and I also had connected on Twitter through mutual acquaintances and met in person the day before we served on a connected educator panel at the ICE Conference earlier this month.

In the hour and a half or so we spent together, George talked to us about staring Connected Principals and Tom shared about the beginning of #EdChat. Before long, what started as reflection moved on to action. For Katy, it meant starting her own blog. Over the course of this school year, Katy got started with Twitter. George’s perspective that afternoon reinforced that people who don’t know Katy could learn from her through the public sharing a blog provides. We talked about some of the ‘uncomfortable-ness’ that comes with public declaration of our thoughts. A barrier to my own writing has sometimes been my concern with making a blog post a finished piece of work rather than simply my thoughts at a point in time or an experience I’d like to share. I’d also sometimes  gone from considering too many topics to write about to not writing about any at all. Interestingly, I believe that the steps I’ve taken with blogging and Twitter have made me much more comfortable, confident, and purposeful in some face-to-face conversations with other educators.

For me, that time with Katy, George, and Tom also resulted in changing my Twitter handle and moving my blog to my own domain. That’s where the ‘A’ comes in to the story. My principal title was part of both my blog address and my Twitter identity as I used @principalkmelt.  As George and Tom explained, changing both to a version of my name allows for me to claim that space for the long term regardless of the role I hold and makes me more easily remembered and accessible to others. Likewise, that change keeps the focus on me as a learner rather than me as a title. Admittedly, I got a little held up on the Kathy A. part, as I’d rarely used my middle initial, especially without my full name of Kathleen. So I could continue to think about it and possibly lose that space or I could go for it. Why not?!

Learning a new blog platform has been challenging, but the key is that I don’t have to learn it on my own. In the past couple of days, I’ve reached out for help and recommendations and have not fallen short on replies (Thanks, too, to Dean Shareski!). When thinking about my PLN, I am consistently amazed at the willingness of individuals to share their time and their resources with people, in some cases, they have seldom or never met face-to-face. At the core of that willingness is an unwavering commitment to support learners in the ranks of students, parents, and educators.  I want in on that. You should want in on that, too. That ‘A’ (stands for Ann, in case you were wondering..) now reminds me to take that Action.