Friday, December 25, 2015

A Little Vacation Time

Standing by the fire after the sleigh ride.
Being the Headmaster of a small international school is a difficult task. There is a load of work to do -- discipline cases, organizing meetings, observing teachers, organizing events, writing recommendation letters for seniors, uploading transcripts for seniors, processing student visas, WASC accreditation work, and the list goes on and on. It is very easy to overwhelm yourself by not getting rest, but it is important to recharge your batteries because being completely exhausted doesn't help anybody (including yourself). This winter we decided to visit my family for the first time during the winter holiday. It is the first time in 14 years together. Aysem has never been with my family during the holidays before, so not only was this a chance to rest, it was also a chance for her to experience something new. It was also an opportunity for her to see a "normal" Christmas in Montana.

We stopped at the railroad tracks for a photo.
The highlight so far from the trip has definitely been our sleigh ride in Trego. The Cripple Creek Horse Ranch offers a sleigh ride plus dinner and the experience is simply amazing. We were lucky because my mother read about the sleigh ride in the Mountain Trader and booked the event for us while we were still on Saipan. The whole affair feels like something out of a movie or a novel. The stillness of the forest after a snowfall was beyond explanation. Two different herds of deer watched us as we rode along through the silence. Everything was covered in a blanket of white with only the sound of the bells on the horses as they trotted along following the trial in some areas and breaking trial in others.

The Cripple Creek Horse Ranch offers four sleigh rides a day. You can arrange a simple sleigh ride or a sleigh ride with dinner. The
The mountains looked blue in the snowy sunset.
owners of the ranch are incredibly nice people and helped to make the experience even more memorable for us. If you visit western Montana in the winter, this is one event you simple must experience. You will not regret the time and money you spend!

Spending time doing these type of activities and enjoying our family and friends in Montana is definitely recharging my batteries. By the time January 5 rolls around, I will be ready to start the second semester with all of its events -- NHS/NJHS Induction, WASC accreditation work, the Spring Musical, SAT10 testing, Graduation, and 8th Grade Promotion. This was the vacation I needed to get me through until June 2016.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hey Admin, Make a Real Connection!

International Thanksgiving Feast
Hey admin, if you want to really make a difference in the lives of your students and teachers, make a real connection with them. Students and teachers both need to know that you actually do care about them. It is difficult to get out from behind the desk sometimes, but walking around campus during lunch and having simple real discussions with students and teachers can work miracles. Especially for students or teachers who are struggling, knowing that you are seriously committed to them and what is important to them means the world. I was reminded of this fact once more during our Saipan International School International Thanksgiving Feast. The parents, students, and teachers enjoyed sharing their cultures with others the whole day. Every booth from each cultural group displayed their love for their culture, but also their openness to everyone else through sharing. It was a day filled with conversations and each one of them was important, even if they were simple. Each discussion demonstrated concern and care for someone. Those moments define administrators, because they allow people to see you as a real, genuine person. I have announced my departure from SIS at the end of the year, but it didn't change my willingness to engage in conversations with people about the school, the island, their children, their jobs, their lives. It was care they witnessed, and care they felt. It is genuine care that makes a difference in someones life, because they see that you are invested in their future. When someone else invests in your future, you feel compelled to invest in your own future as well. Real connections, real conversations, real care -- them make a difference.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Rewards of Coaching/Mentoring

One of the greatest parts of being an administrator or technology coach is the mentoring/coaching experience itself. Helping another person grow professionally is rewarding. Every time I provided in class support or co-planning to a colleague or offered a PD session in the Fish Bowl, I left the session feeling wonderful for being able to help someone else improve. When I have discussions about teaching, learning, or student matters with a colleague, it also makes me feel good, because it enhances both of our knowledge and abilities. Not enough time is built into the school day or calendar for these types of activities, I'm afraid. I know in Japanese schools a good portion of the day is spent in collaboration with colleagues. I imagine that it must be very rewarding to spend a part of every day working on improving your skill as a teacher or administrator.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Principal Appreciation Month

I received a very nice email from a parent. It is nice to feel appreciated every once in a while. I asked his permission to share this on social media.

Dear Mr. Bray,
For this Principal (Headmaster) Appreciation Month, you are thanked for all your efforts and hard work that makes SIS a better school.
As a SIS Board member, it was a privilege working with you and seeing first hand your ability to bring SIS through a difficult transition, overcome enormous challenges, and improve SIS numbers and the quality of its education.  As an SIS Capital Improvement Committee member, I appreciate your help in identifying what SIS most needs for long term improvements and sustainability of its quality education and other programs.  As an SIS parent, I'm grateful for all you've done to improve the opportunities of students and encouraging more parents to become involved in SIS activities.
For keeping SIS on the right track moving forward, you deserve recognition and appreciation, and are wished a happy Principal Appreciation Month, a happy Halloween, and a happy weekend.

Thanks for the kind words! It means more than you can ever know.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Instagram for Collecting Observation Artifacts

Students enjoying water colors in art class.
Saipan International School uses McREL Power Walkthrough for teacher observations. It is a great tool that I really enjoy using, because the program focuses on the learning that is happening in the room. I noticed in a recent update that McREL added a camera icon to the walkthrough forms, so an observer can add a photo. I was happy to see that now it would be easy to click a photo of what was happening in the classroom at the moment I was there as a visual record. Photo artifacts are a great extra tool to use and it is nice to be able to show a photo of a teacher teaching or students learning when you talk with parents, students, and teachers about learning. I loved the idea, but felt that it needed to be taken one-step more -- social media! If you are an avid or casual follower of my blog, you knew I was going to go there, because I'm Mr. Social Media, right? But I think it is wonderful to be able to share what is happening in classrooms with the community. Parents should see their children actively engaged in classes and enjoying their school life; plus, it is a great advertisement for our school. What I have been doing this year during walkthroughs is to take a photo or two of what is happening and then sharing the photo with Instagram. Instagram is great because I can do some simple editing of the photo and then send it out to Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter, so I hit all my major social media outlets in one quick share. It spreads the word about the great things are teachers are doing with their students to the entire community. Especially when I throw on a few hashtags to the post like #saipan #cnmi #sisgeckos and then a hashtag for whatever the subject is like #art in the case of the first photo in this post or #english for the second photo. The teachers are enjoying it as well, because many of them don't have photos of them in the actual act of teaching to put in a portfolio or to share with their families. Everybody wins!
Ms. Bevas providing feedback and guidance.

Monday, September 7, 2015

What Would Gus D'Amato Do?

"Cus D'Amato, Boxing Icon" by Unknown - Steve Lott.
Licensed under FAL via Commons
The Marianas Variety had an interesting article the other day about a doctor who moved to the island and left the very next day. Although I find it surprising that a doctor, someone who has sworn an oath to help people, would flee a disaster area after only one day without even treating one person, I can understand the mixed feelings the guy must have felt. He isn't he only person to run away from the aftermath of typhoon Soudelor.  Rumors abound about people leaving the island permanently or closing up shop after the typhoon permanently. The Thai House Restaurant, for example, has lost its entire roof and the damage to the interior is substantial. I haven't been able to contact the owner and ask if it will be rebuilt or relocated, but no work is being done on it currently, which isn't a good sign. Gus D'Amato, the legendary boxing trainer, would always tell his fighters that the cowardly person and the courageous person feel the same feelings, the difference is how they handle those feelings. Or in other words, it isn't the problem, but your reaction to the problem. Would Gus quit the fight? Never.

Now to admit a painful truth... After the storm, I wanted to flee. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed to admit it. I'm human and I have human feelings and emotions. There have been days since that I have felt despair and frustration and thought to myself, "Tim, just leave this mess." But every time I collect myself and think about our teachers and students. What example would I set for them by fleeing? Our school is founded on six virtues: integrity, compassion, respect, perseverance, initiative, and scholarship. Does running away show perseverance? Integrity? Respect? Compassion? No. If I don't believe in our virtues, then who will? This is the exact time that leaders are needed; decisions must be made; plans implemented. Others need to be encouraged to continue in the face of adversity and you can't to that from the seat of an airplane as you leave. You need to be on the ground, in the foxholes with the troops. They need to see that survival and recovery are worth the effort. Besides, school has a normalizing tendency; it is a way to feel like things are getting back to a regular routine, even if the new normal is quite different than what we remember.

So I'm not ashamed to admit that I felt like fleeing, but I'm proud to admit that I have conquered that feeling and I continue to fight the good fight. I think Gus D'Amato would smile.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Update from Saipan -- Life with Generator

The 9kw generator powering the high school.
Old -- but it works.
The new normal of life on generator power has been a little difficult, but we are making it work. We are currently running four different small generators to power the basics -- photocopy machines, fans, water pumps, and wifi. No lights, but wifi -- priorities! The teachers and students have been great about being positive and making the situation work. There are very hot days and they are difficult to get through, but things are tough all over. We need to move ahead with the learning in face of the challenges and we are doing it. Some new duties that have been added to the regular role of principal are generator maintenance and repair, refueling generators, and generator storage. Oh, and let's not forget things like covering the generators when it rains. The morning begins with our current maintenance person refueling and starting all generators. I chip in on most mornings by either moving generators or stringing power cables from one room to another and to the photocopy machine.
Refueling the 55-gallon storage drum.
Donated by Tan Holdings.
In the afternoon, the process of shutting everything down and storing them occurs right after the school is over. We leave the office generator a little longer, so my business manager and I can accomplish some more work. Around 4:00pm I shut that one off and place it in storage. This is when things are "normal" now. However, there are non-normal days like yesterday. The generator that powers the office and middle school was acting up by to some bad fuel. Every 30 minutes it would cough, sputter, and die. Finally the gas was drained that a quick cleaning of the filter was done, but by the time it was up and running again. It was already 4:00pm. Luckily today it is running pretty well (only coughing and sputtering every once in a while -- fingers crossed). Over the weekend, Steven will clean the filter completely and we should be back up to 100% capacity for life with generators. We got this SIS!
Generator storage house, made by
Barnard. Keeps kids safe, the generator
dry, and safe from theft.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Opening School After Typhoon Soudelor

The first day of school for Saipan International School was supposed to be August 5th, but we had a visitor to the island that made that quite impossible -- Typhoon Soudelor. On Sunday August 2nd, Soudelor rocked Saipan. Our school, luckily, was saved from major damage. We did lose the roof to our palapala and there was some water damage to ceiling tiles in several classrooms, but compared to what many people woke up to on Monday morning, SIS was blessed. In the face of no power and no water, we had to make some tough decisions. Several schools were damaged and simply could not open; plus, many families on the island had no homes left, or at least they were without power and water as well. Lines for fuel were four and five hours long and lines for water were similar. We had to decide when we would open for school. The teachers were the first to respond with those that could coming to campus to help clean up the school yard. Although we received very little structural damage, the trees lost many branches and the debris from the palapala roof was everywhere. Teachers came in for several days during that first week and attempted to clean up. Barnard, a local carpenter, came by, once his house was repaired, to assist us with our repair work and clean up. Steven Metayer was able to locate a generator and chainsaw on island for us. These items were not easily found right after the typhoon as people purchased everything they could in the aftermath of the storm.

Kyoung Min Song, the Treasurer of our Board of Directors, donated some of her workers to do the dangerous part of the clean up work which involved cutting down loose hanging branches from the giant trees in our school yard. The next round of help came from students and parents as they organized a major clean up day. Kyoung Min cooked a huge amount of curry and rice and served all the students, parents, and teachers who pitched in to help that day. It was a wonderful site to see -- the entire community pulling together to get the school back on its feet. Another member of the board, May Ling Colombo, help throughout the day as well -- cleaning debris and serving curry along side Kyoung Min. John Nersten, a new parent to SIS, volunteered to repair the palapala roof. Currently he is planning to finished the job tomorrow (August 19th).

Steven Metayer came in to help us with arranging generators and power to the buildings. The first thing we needed after the storm, in order to have school, was running water. Steven was able wire our generator directly into the regular circuit board, which supplied some power to the office and to the water pump for the elementary and middle school. Today we have the ability to run the server, both office computers, the water pumps, and a couple of power tools thanks to Steven's work. Without Steven, it would be impossible to even have school at this point.

Due to the efforts of many people and some luck, we were able to open school on August 17th. Students were happy to be back at school and feel that their lives were returning to some type of normal mode. It is hot in the afternoon, but teachers and students are trying to make the most of their time as school. Today, August 18th, we were able to get water running in the high school as well. As more generators arrive, we will be able to power more of the school. The next hope is to be able to run some fans to provide a little relief from the heat in the classrooms. Every day we are making little steps forward.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood

My mentor Larry Creedon told me often that people -- students, teachers, parents -- need to feel that they have been heard. He pointed out that this was extremely important to remember as an educator, but especially if you are an administrator. I was reminded of this lesson during my Montana School Law course I took last spring. To be honest, the course didn't cover any different information than the one I took from Arkansas State University. We all know that states require people to take the state version of a course to keep university professors in jobs, so there is no reason to get into the whole "why did I have to take school law twice?" discussion at this point. It is just life; it is simply the way things are in this world of ours. But I digress... Anyway... My School Law professor, Dr. Matt, said the same thing, but he had a very clever way of expressing it. His comment was, "Seek first to understand; then be understood." I really liked the way this expression caught me, because it was emphasizing that what you are really trying to do with the person is understand them. Hear his/her thoughts and concerns. Notice how Professor Matt didn't say, listen to what they say and then defend yourself or comment back. It was seek first to understand and then be understood. In other words, you don't have to agree with each other, but you do need to understand each other. This is a very important concept, because many times there cannot be an agreement, but there can be understanding. With understanding, there can be common ground discovered and explored, but neither side has to win or lose. All too often communication becomes about winning and losing rather than understanding and seeking shared beliefs and ideas. My goal this year is to practice the concept of seek first to understand and then be understood while I am communicating with parents, students, and teachers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Long Time No Write

It has been a while since my last blog post, but I have been buried up to my eyeballs in work. Spring semester is a full-speed marathon, rather than a gentle jog. I have a load of reflecting to do about the school year, but for now -- I still need to keep the head down and continue working. Our 29 seniors will be graduating on Friday night and I'm about to head out the door for rehearsal. Tomorrow will see the last AP exam; a late exam for European History. After this week, things really will not slow down, but the pace will become more sane. We will have SAT10 testing throughout the school for the week of May 26-29 and the last big event will be 8th Grade Promotion.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Owning Mistakes as a Educational Leader

Everybody makes mistakes. We live in a world where the reality is that everyone makes mistakes. The true measure of a person, especially an educational leader, is how you handle the situation after the mistake. One of the things I truly believe in is the fact that it is important to own a mistake. To admit to it, to accept it, and to take corrective action. I have two examples of this from the current school year.

The first one was during an assembly. I made a comment that was a joke, but unfortunately the joke embarrassed a faculty member in public. It was a poor choice on my part. Many people would have simply left the matter, but I knew that I needed to apologize for my small, thoughtless act in order for the faculty to understand my integrity and to build trust. Many people, after embarrassing someone in public, will apologize in a private venue. I personal don't find that acceptable. I believe if the mistake was made publicly, then the apology should be public as well. When I approached the teacher and asked about the situation, he told me that he felt uncomfortable during the assembly because of my comment. I apologized then and I apologized in front of the entire faculty at the next full faculty meeting.

The second event occurred more recently. Our Student-Parent Handbook is in need of some major revision. I was about to begin the task of revising, when a teacher pointed out that the current handbook states that students are not allowed to have mobile devices on campus. Now on a walk around campus on any given day, you can easily find multiple mobile devices in use. I felt that the inconsistency between the handbook and the reality needed some form of action quite quickly. I addressed the matter with the faculty and discovered that the teachers were all over the map on the issue: some didn't mind mobile devices and even had students use them in class, some were indifferent to mobile devices, and another group were completely against mobile devices being on campus. I believe my personal feelings on mobile devices are well documented on this blog, but for the record, I love them. But as a group, we needed to come up with something we could live with, so we arrived at 7:30am-3:40pm mobile devices could only be used with teacher permission. Our class begin at 7:45am and ends at 2:45pm, but we have an after school program that runs until 3:40pm. The program is our National Honor Society mentoring program where our NHS members help elementary and middle school students with homework. Several teachers were concerned because having a high school student in charge of policing another student can be a tricky affair. The no mobile devices without permission until 3:40pm would help the high school students, because they can simply say to their mentees, "The rule says no mobile devices." Being a little gung-ho, I put the rule into action... Without consulting the Board of Directors on the matter. And that is where I made a mistake. Especially for me, because I feel that I also have a well documented history on this blog of being completely in favor of democratic decision making. So I apologized for my rash action to the entire BOD, which is as it should be.

I believe that owning a mistake and then taking corrective action actually builds trust. People see the integrity of the person who owns their mistake and tries to correct the problem. And in our school, one of our Expected Schoolwide Learning Results is Integrity. If the leader of the school cannot demonstrate integrity, how are students going to learn about it? We have to model the correct path for students and we need to be a source of inspiration for our faculty and staff.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Another Friday Night at School

This Friday was a long day for SIS. We had our 20th annual Healthy Heart Walk and our Parents' Night Out for Valentine's Day. So once again, I find myself at school on a Friday night at 9:00pm. I really don't mind much; partly because we are having a three-day weekend due to Presidents' Day and because I love my job. Plus, this particular event is for the Student Council to raise money for our Prance. You are probably wondering, "What is the Prance?" The Prance is like prom, only better. It was named by a former SIS teacher. Anyway, the late nights don't really bother me; especially when I know it is for the students.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mid-Year Review from Faculty

I feel as an educational leader it is important to seek feedback from your faculty. It is important to demonstrate that you are willing to go through a continual process of reflection and growth in order to model that behavior for faculty. This anonymous survey went out to my faculty two weeks ago. The results in general were quite positive, but there are areas for improvement. I felt that part of the process should also be displaying results publicly for comment. I appreciate and respect the time and energy the faculty put into providing me feedback. There was also a comment section and the most common statement was that our ESL program still needs more work before it will serve our needs as a community of educators. The second most common topic was about our Chinese language program; faculty felt that students needed a target or goal at the end of the program, like taking the SAT Chinese subject test or an AP Chinese exam. I look forward to working with the faculty on these two issues in the next semester and coming school year.
92% positive
69% more positive
61% more positive
84% positive
69% more positive
92% positive
77% positive
92% positive
61% positive
92% positive

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Achieve 3000 Data Reviewed

Achieve 3000 website
We have been in the process of implementing Achieve 3000 this year at Saipan International School. At first some of the teachers were a little reluctant to adopt the program; but, as usual, there were a few teachers who jumped right in and started using it. The results they were seeing were so astounding that the use of the program spread quickly. Now, at the start of the second semester, we have complete implementation in grades 3-10. Basically reaching our target for the end of the year, by the end of the first semester -- you have to like those results!

But the implementation being ahead of schedule is a small item compared to the results the students are showing. Every grade level using the program has seen improvement of at least an average of 50 lexile points. The main feature that students like is the fact that the program is dynamic and meets them at their reading level. Every students has access to the same content, but at the correct reading level. Everyone becomes part of the discussion and interaction in class.

Furthermore, some of our students are ridiculously good at reading with scores beyond the college ready level of 1350. In G5, we have two students ready at the G10 level; not bad, right? In G8, we have one student at the high end of the G10 level, one students at the low end of the G10 level, and one student with a 1575. Yes, you read that correctly -- a 1575! 1575 is well into college level reading. This particular student is ready to tackle university level material as a G7 student. AMAZING! Four of our G9 students are at least one grade level above their age group and one is at 1590. Yes, a 1590! Eight students in G10 are at least one grade level above their age group and three of them are into college level reading scores. The scores are 1400, 1490, and 1535! With our use of Accelerated Reader in the elementary and middle school and now the addition of Achieve 3000, our students will be leaving high school more than ready to take on college level work.  These results are beyond outstanding and provide more evidence that SIS is the best school on Saipan and one of the best in the Pacific region. With the cost of our tuition factored into the picture -- we are the best school in the Pacific.