Saturday, December 9, 2017

Students at the Center

I had the brilliant thought to travel to a conference in December, through what happened to be one of the driest seasons in Southern California. Fires. Everywhere. But since it is important for me to make sure to keep up on learning, off I went, and I am so thrilled and grateful I did! What moments I would have missed if I had decided to stay home? What insight and connections with like-minded educators would I have not made?

(*all @ connections are the group or person's twitter handle)

I was able to attend the California League of Schools Fall Conference (@clsfall2017)  in San Diego, California. The focus was "Students at the Center", and my thought was "Of course! As they should be for all educators!"

As we know, we all experience cycles that require an extra motivational boost and personal reminders as to why we are in education. Why do we go everyday to deal with students, who may not want to be there, and families who come with a plethora of problems?

I especially feel it working in school administration where we tend to get busied by the management of the details and volume of tasks at our school sites.  Student behaviors, lack of academic growth, teacher overload, new teachers needs, professional development, data meetings, staff motivation, budgets, schedules, the list goes on.  Still, I packed my bags and went to learn,  hoping to get infused with a good dose of reminding myself of what matters most, the students! If we aren't in this field for the students, then why are we here?

What I found in the conference sessions I attended, was that the focus was not necessarily on the grade-level content standards, or the assessments by which we jockey position in our state and districts. Too often sessions can be dry and we try to decipher what we can do to improve test scores. This was not the case at CLS.

This professional development conference clearly had the focus was on relationships, putting students at the center of every decision we make!  Every decision. We should be asking ourselves "Are we doing what is best for students? And not just for student learning, but for the student as a whole child?!?"

This conference focused on positive connections with students and colleagues. It focused on making smart decisions for student engagement and learning. The power of positive was in every session at the conference ~ I loved it!  My thoughts were "I have to spread the word and bring all of my staff (wish I could)! But I have the power to bring this back with my renewed attitude to share with my school, they have to hear this!"

What was most refreshing were the presenters' take and sharing of connecting with students. Building positive relationships is paramount to truly learning  and shared repeatedly by a variety of speakers. We listened to ideas of exciting ways to engage our 21st-century learners and keep them motivated.

Our visually-bombarded students need visuals to connect. That's how their brains are wired. They are hooked on phones, games, TV, iPads, computers, all visual mediums. But through a variety of thought provoking visuals, used appropriately, we can spark rich conversations and encourage critical thinking throughout our lessons. Student's need voice and choice in their learning to maximize the impact of what they learn. We are raising leaders, young people who will make decisions for the future. It is our duty to push for their best by giving ours.

If you are in education for the paycheck, the accolades or glory, you are definitely in the wrong business. Our job is not to see what test-taking robots we can create to produce admirable data. Our job and ultimate goal is to create critical-thinking leaders, as borrowed from Julie Adams (@adamsteaching). How do we take what we learn about the young brain to prepare and engage students in meaningful ways that will create truly long-lasting learning? What does that look like?

We have to be willing to step out of our confidence circle (@LaVonnaRoth , Ingite your S.P.A.R.K.) into larger circles of influence, but be willing to be silly and turning our weaknesses into non-issues.

What has been holding us back to bring our personalities into our profession? (@burgessdave) "Teach Like a Pirate" guru Dave Burgess shared his experiences and challenges us to find our personal passion incorporated into our professional passion. What a difference would that make in your day? How much more satisfied would you be with your day-to-day work? But most importantly, what barriers would be toppled by you, as an educator, sharing what you love with your students? It is all about relationships. Relationships and authentic connections with students. That matters. It matters to our students. It should matter to you.

We need to know how our students learn, so we can create learning experiences and activities that encourage them to step out, be daring, and try something new. Students need to know that their thoughts and opinions are important. They are the leaders of the future and their ideas matter!

How do you create critical thinkers?? By allowing them to think! To challenge them, to encourage them, to question them, to model for them, to connect with them, to show mistakes to them, to show patience, and grade and love to them. They need YOU! The educator. Whatever your role may be, they need to know face-to-face, that you care about how they are, who they are, and what they are doing. Despite socio-economic levels, despite language or ethnicity, students want to connect. Students grow through those connections, so do their teachers!

Do you remember your best grammar lesson from school when you were growing up? How about that content-rich biology/science lesson? The majority of us would say that we remember the teacher. The feeling in the classroom. The wonder. The encouragement. The love.

What do I remember? I loved my 5th grade teacher. She was tough and strict and expected our best. I cried when she corrected my writing. I was called "teacher's pet" by other students because she complimented my hand-braided barrettes (yes they were a thing). But I will forever remember she made me feel as though I could learn anything. I will tell you I remember the Stock Market she set up in our room. Everyday for one month she would put the daily stock reports from the newspaper on the back counter and we would have a play "stock market" complete with banks, buyers and sellers. I loved being a banker. We arranged our desks so students would come sit across from us and have to re-conciliate their checkbooks based on their gains and losses. I remember being excited to check my stocks everyday. I loved going to school, even when it was challenging and tough, I loved it. She cared I was there. So I cared I was there, and I gave her my best because of it.

What I never realized until much later in life was that she was teaching us how to convert percentages into decimals and back. She taught us about business. She taught us about resilience...with the 5th grade stock market. Brilliant. She created an environment that looked like nothing else we had experienced before. In her class and through her activities and encouragement, I learned I was a mathematician (despite having struggled with math for years and being told by my 3rd grade teacher I would never understand numbers), I was a reader, I was a writer, and I was an artist. Do you remember the teacher(s) who made you feel important, valued, loved? Do you remember those who didn't? Which would you rather be?

This was not just good conference, it was a great conference! Just what I needed at just the right time. With the typical "holiday slump" I needed that injection of positivity. And I got spades!

I want to continue to be a #positiveprincipal, spreading and sharing the good, and encouraging students and staff to do their best.  I am committed to look for those "moments" where I can connect with students, with staff, with families. I know I can make a difference and I want to continue to encourage other educators to do the same!

Teachers, Educators, Administrators, I implore you:  Find your reason "why". Find your positivity. Find your passion. But most importantly, keep students at the center.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Making School Irrestible!

Making School Irrestible!
Successful School Culture Through Attendance
by: Susan Denton, Principal (TK-5)

We know that coming to school everyday is essential for students to progress in their academic success. But how do we get students who are reluctant to attend to want to come to school everyday, and how do we impress upon parents who were not successful in schools themselves, to encourage daily attendance for their children?

Our answer is make learning fun and make everyday one that students would not want to miss! How students feel at school can have a direct correlation to their willingness or reluctance to attend everyday. When students feel loved, supported, and valued, we know they are more apt and excited to come daily. As our TK-5 school has implemented these strategies over the past four years, we have seen a significant growth in student daily attendance percentages and a dramatic decrease in chronic absenteeism.

Here are a few ideas to get students to WANT to come to school everyday:

Create School Spirit Days

We have created one day per month as “Dress-Up” days where the students and staff dress as a theme. Staff may enjoy these days more than students! There are so many themes schools can use. We find that our attendance percentages increase on our dress-up days.  Here are few we have found to very successful with student and staff participation.

September - International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Pirate Dress-Up)
October - County Fair Day (Western Wear Dress-Up) Halloween (Favorite Book Character Dress-Up)
November - Veteran’s Day (Camo/Patriotic Dress-Up)
December - Winter Holidays (Warm PJ Dress-Up; Who-ville Dr. Seuss Day; Ugliest
January - Superbowl (Sports Jersey Dress-Up)
February - Valentine’s Day (Wear Red Dress-Up)
March - St. Patrick’s Day (Wear Green Dress-Up), Dr. Seuss' Birthday
April - State Testing Month (Superhero Dress-Up), April Flowers (Flower-Power Dress-Up)
May - May-the-Fourth-Day (Star Wars Dress-Up); Cinco-de-Mayo
June - Year-End Celebrations (Aloha/Hawaiian Dress-Up)

And, of course, Fridays are school colors days. Staff may dress more casual on this day each week and all staff and students are encouraged to wear school colors. We find that this creates a stronger sense of school pride and community on the campus.

Reward good attendance!

  1. Recognize  Perfect Attendance each quarter &  at year-end awards.
  • Students earn certificates and incentives (such as attendance dog-tags) for having perfect attendance during a quarter
  • Students earn certificates and are recognized at the year-end awards assemblies for having perfect attendance

  1. Play Attendance Classroom Bingo:
  • Track each day the class has 100% attendance on 100’s chart  (use small post-its, stickers, dry-erase marker)
  • Make a “BINGO” across, down, diagonal
  • Notify Admin for class prize. Admin brings a prize to the class (pencils, stickers, erasers, bracelets, dog tags, etc.)
  • Prizes get better each BINGO!
  • 10th BINGO = Class party (100 days perfect attendance demands a celebration!)
  • Takes a class photo for the “Attendance Hall of Fame” wall in the cafeteria or other public place
  • Track Bingos in a public place (chart, tally, etc)

    3. Weekly Grade Level Attendance Winners:
  • Weekly top attendance percentage per grade level
  • Earns a small trophy to keep in the classroom (Oriental Trading has great inexpensive trophies)
  • Weekly winners are posted in a public place (i.e. Week #1 Winners!)
  • Takes a photo for the “Attendance Hall of Fame” wall

    4. Monthly Classroom of the Month:
  • Groupings:  TK/K, 1-2, 3-5
  • Class per grouping with best overall attendance data for the month
  • Class per grouping with best overall behavior data for the month
  • Earns a large travelling trophy (Used year after year)
  • Earns “Cookies & Milk” class party (coordinate date with admin/kitchen)
  • Hang class banner in the office for the month
  • Takes a photo for the “Attendance Hall of Fame” wall

Ultimately, we want students at school.  While our focus is always academic growth and success, we want to remember to create a school environment that students just can’t resist! School should be an exciting and wonderful place to be and these fun activities help drive that idea.

Make your school irresistible, make it fun! Work hard, play hard!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mom's Life

Yesterday I spoke at my mom's funeral and celebration of life in Tucson. I represented our families through sharing a eulogy and stories from her life. After I have time to process more, I will post more thoughts.
We honored our mother, connected with family and friends through stories, laughter and tears. We will continue to celebrate her life and legacy in June in California with more family and friends. If you knew mom and would like to attend, just contact me.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fist-Bumps and Smiles

Mornings are great when you are greeted with fist-bumps and smilesEvery morning my Vice Principal and myself greet students at the school entrance with these friendly gestures, waves to parents, and often hugs. How can you not love what you do when that is how your work day begins?!?

Too often I think leaders in education set up a stoic stance in an attempt to maintain law and order. I remember seeing school administration when I was in school and they seemed unapproachable.  This just does not fit with my personality or leadership style. Is that how I would want to be greeted if I were a 6, 8, or 10 year old student? What if the best part of my day was the structure and support I received from the adults at school because my home-life was anything but stable?

When our elementary students are grown, I want them to have memories that they were greeted warmly and welcomed into the school each day. Despite what may have happened the weekend or night before, or even that morning, they know that someone was genuinely happy to see them. That someone cared. That they were loved and valued.

Leading from the Heart

Leadership is more than just managing. It is more than setting up schedules, doing evaluations and ordering supplies. Leadership is found in relationships.  It is in modeling. It is in having a servant's heart toward others. It is about empowering others to grow and lead on their own. It is about demonstrating grace, toward students, families, and staff.

Currently in my 10th year of administration, and my 4th year at my current site, I have learned so much about improving school culture through relationships.

Relationships with staff takes time. Trust needs to be built. Camaraderie established. Listening to concerns and ideas. Consistency in decision-making. Building strong teams. All great ideas but they won't work until you have relationships with individuals. You have to learn your staff.

I recently read the "5 Love Languages at Work" by Gary Chapman and Paul White. Everyone has a different way they feel valued, respected, and appreciated. I feel called to get to know my staff members and be able to connect with them. I want to help them with struggles or concerns, and celebrate their successes. In every organization, there are those who appreciate public praise, and those who shy away from it. Introverts, extroverts and every combination. Each person has a different way they express and receive appreciation. But it is my job to get to know them well enough to provide support for them to do the best job they can. That takes time and an attitude of wanting to continuously to learn about my staff. That is my servant's heart.

Relationships with families takes effort. Making connections with parents and caregivers takes time. Calling parents for "positive referrals" as opposed to only calling a parent for a problem behavior, means making time in the day to make those calls.  Sharing the good things happening at our school and with their children is important. We have to share our school's message. If not us, then who?

I always want parents to know I am available to them. I hope that parents are surprised when then come to meet with me in my office and find that the "Principal's Office" is not that scary, or confrontational. I am not angry when we talk. My goal is to listen and seek to understand. With a box of tissue and a bowl of candy nearby we sit next to each other at a table. Rare are the days when I meet with a parent at my desk. That is not the message I want to convey or the relationship I wish to build. We may not agree, but I will always work towards a solution. The raising of a child is tough, and our school plays a small role in that. The stronger the home-school connection team, the better the chances are for student support and success.

Relationships with students takes energy. Building time in the day to be in classrooms, on the playground, in the cafeteria. Connecting with students. Asking about their day and listening. Providing gentle correction, positive feedback and praise. Celebrating their successes, big and small. We are a PBIS school (Positive Behavior Intervention System). All of our behavior norms for students fall into 3 categories: Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible. As we have grown our program every year, we now have a common language for not only school rules, but how people should treat each other. Our students have changed and grown. Our staff has changed and grown. This philosophy spills into the home as I talk with parents. We celebrate students' success through these tenets. Our goal is to help raise thoughtful and caring students. We have to find ways to connect with our student interests, to show we are invested in them as people. Our relationships help us with this.

One student recently told me about the family dog having puppies. This student, often thought of as aggressive and disruptive, talking about the new puppies with excitement, joy and pride. (My heart melted a little in that moment.) Previously, I had a difficult time connecting with this student as we were working on addressing problem behaviors. But on that day, we talked about new puppies. That was it-that was the open door! As a dog-lover, I found it easy to connect with the student that day. The conversation helped the student open up, unlike in year's past, and this student now seeks me out to talk in the hallways, cafeteria, playground.  We start with talk of puppies and then on to other topics. I always try end our conversation with something like, "Show your teacher how amazing you are and work hard today." I want this student to know I see and I care. That is connection. That is relationship-building. That is leadership.

Leadership is not an easy path. There are daily struggles, dramas and situations to handle. Issues have to be managed and problems addressed.  But each day as those smiling faces walk to school or tumble out of their family cars in the morning, I am reminded why I am here.

To build relationships.
To connect.
To make a difference.
And it begins with a fist-bump and a smile


You can follow me on Twitter @SusanDenton27 and my school @StandardElem

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Do Anything

Have you ever just thought about what you would do if you could do anything? No restraints. If money is not an object. Where would you go in the world? What would you do with your time? Who would be with you?

Such a fun way to daydream!  Often, my family and I have discussed other places we might like to live than the central valley of California. We all love the mountains, with tall pine trees, windy roads and the pine-needle bedded trails. It is calm. Quiet. Not rushed. Peaceful. 

When we have time to travel, not for a family or work event, we usually choose a mountainous region. There is just something about being in a cabin with a roaring fire, board games, a good book and even better glass of wine, surrounded by your family, THAT makes my heart sing. 

A longtime favorite of ours has been Hume Lake Christian Camp. My husband and I began our life as a dating couple with youth group trips in high school. We continued after we were married with couples' retreats. I have attended with groups of friends and my sisters on womens' retreats.  My daughter and I now enjoy Mother-Daughter camp. My son attends camp now with his youth group. It is such a lovely place. Touched by God. Peaceful. Invigorating. Restorative. Blessed. We have such great memories there.

Image result for hume lake christian camp
Hume Lake, CA

One of our newly discovered favorites is Lake Tahoe. My husband and I had an anniversary trip there a few years ago and fell in love with the deep blue lake and beautiful terrain. We knew we had to bring the kids someday. Someday is quickly approaching. We have plans to go. To unwind. To relax. Hiking. Driving. Biking. Kayaking. Napping. Perhaps boating. To disconnect so we can reconnect. 

Image result for lake tahoe
Lake Tahoe, CA

I think that may be why we all enjoy those family times. To reconnect. Now this does not mean that we always love hanging out together and life is just "peaches and cream." We are a very normal family. Arguments, disagreements, pet peeves, annoyances. Especially having both a daughter and son. Very different but very similar. Typical sibling rivalry. Joyously bonded and very protective of each other. One of the best things we like to say is that we have raised children who are also friends. Who both love the mountains. And the quiet. "do anything" list I guess is this: 

  • To always travel with those I love
  • Making the most of the time I have with them
  • Enjoying nature with them 
  • Enjoying the beautiful Earth God gave us
  • Loving every minute of it!


 Thanks for sharing!!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Delicious Easy Chicken Bake

My daughter sent me a recipe she wanted me to try. I watched the video on Instagram, amazed at how a visual helps, and went shopping. 

Here is the video to this Recipe on Food Videos and DIY on Instagram @foodydiy! This is a great profile to follow as there are literally hundreds of easy recipes!!

Directions for Easy Chicken Bake


Chicken tenders (or breasts cut into strips)
4 Baguettes (makes 8 servings)
Flour (I use gluten free)
Seasoned bread crumbs (can use gluten free)
4-6 Eggs (beaten)
Mozzarella Cheese 
Chopped/Minced garlic
Basil or Rosemary
Olive Oil
Oven at 375

1. Begin by setting up your breading station. Flour, beaten eggs, and bread crumbs in separate bowls. 
2. With a large pan, heat Olive Oil, generous layer (about 1/4 inch in pan)
3. Bread chicken breasts. Layer flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs.
4. Place chicken into the pan and cook each side until golden (chicken must fully cook)
5. Hollow out each baguette. First cut off the ends of the baguette, and cut them in half. Using a bread knife just inside the crust, carefully remove the inside of the bread, leaving a hollow tube.
6. When chicken tenders are complete, place one tender inside each bread tube.
7. Add a slice of Mozzarella cheese next to the chicken inside the bread tube.
8. Mix olive oil and minced garlic. Brush over the top of each bread baguette. Lightly garnish with chopped Basil or Rosemary.
9. Place on a baking sheet and bake the baguettes for approximately 30 minutes covered (aluminum foil). Remove the foil after 30 minutes and continue for an additional 5 minutes.
10. Remove, let cool, and enjoy!!

My family loves this dinner! Makes for great leftovers the next day. While I use gluten-free flour and bread crumbs, this is for me. My family gets the baguettes and I have the chicken over a salad. Works well for differentiating a meal that everyone can enjoy. 

Like this recipe and post? Please share and comment!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Cue Rockstar Admin 2017

If you have not been and you are a leader in education-you need to sign up!!

It has been an inspirational rush to learn new tips, tricks and ideas using technology in education and leadership. At this CUE Rockstar Admin camp, there are so many educators leading their students, schools, and districts into the future through critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creating.

There have been such a plethora of RESOURCES at this CUEROCKSTAR ADMIN conference that it will literally take me weeks to work through them all, but what exciting research! 

Leading learning should be our primary focus as site leaders in education. If I can learn and teach others, they can utilize those tools in their classrooms, engaging students in meaningful ways. My school district has 1:1 devices K-8 and Google Suite for staff and students. With these tools in place, our goal is learn how to capture student imagination and expand their thinking in more meaningful ways. Continuing to learn as educators keeps our skills sharp, opens our minds to new possibilities, and helps us connect to peers and colleagues worldwide. Such an exciting time to be in education!! 

I will have the opportunity to share more nuggets of new knowledge in the near future, but here is a brief summary of  My Hero's Journey and my big takeaways. 

Here are some of my new tools!!!

And still just scratching the surface...More to come!

Happy Tech-Learning in 2017! Go-Lead-Do!


Students at the Center

I had the brilliant thought to travel to a conference in December, through what happened to be one of the driest seasons in Southern Califor...