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How I Handled...

Bringing Order to Indoor Recess Time
Soon after I took over this K-3 school, a first-grade boy "stabbed" another child with a pencil during an indoor recess. That event, which almost spurred parents to file charges with police authorities, drew my attention to the need to revisit our plans for indoor recess on inclement days.

A Last-Minute Hire That Proved to Be a Big Mistake
We were down to the wire. One of our new hires pulled out at the last minute. We had interviewed others and felt we had a good second choice. He accepted the job and worked hard to pull things together for opening day. But it was all down hill from there.

Adding a New Teacher/Classroom Several Weeks Into the School Year
Construction is booming in our school's neighborhood, so I shouldn't have been surprised about the overcrowding that resulted. We got the OK to hire a new teacher, but how would we handle moving kids to a new classroom a few weeks into the school year?

Streamlining Instruction for Special Education and Low-Performing Students
We are a large school with many students identified as exceptional (ESE) or low-performing. Our special education teachers spent large chunks of time gathering students from multiple classrooms, so we set about streamlining the way we grouped our students.

Feeling Overwhelmed By the Job of Principal
There were days when it seemed like I was working in a zoo. I felt overwhelmed by all the problems that came to the principal's office. There never seemed to be enough time in the day. I knew something had to change, but couldn't envision a clear strategy.

Raising Achievement of Students Who Score in the Bottom 25 Percent
I had to come up with a plan that would help raise our school's "report card" grade. Doing that would require a great deal of focus on raising the achievement of students who scored in the bottom 25 percent on our state's annual tests. But where to begin?

Building Students' Thinking Skills With a Morning Announcement Routine
One of our school-wide focuses last year was developing students' critical thinking skills. As teachers planned ways to accomplish the goal, I knew I wanted to be an active part of the effort. But I wasn't sure how to accomplish that until I looked at my bookshelf.

Getting Books Into the Hands of Our Students Who Most Need Them
Many of our poorer students do not go to the library over the summer vacation; and many of those same students cannot afford to buy books for personal reading. The problem we face is getting books into the hands of all of our kids, including the most needy.

A Parent Who "Snuck" Into School to Observe a Teacher in Action
A parent blamed our new science teacher's inexperience for his son's poor performance in class. In spite of the fact that our school policy requires parents to make appointments to observe teachers, this parent "snuck" into school to observe the new teacher in action.

Making Exceptions to Our Student Dress Code
When a student arrived at school with a Mohawk haircut, I pulled a copy of our student dress code. I knew I had to address the issue, or I would soon have a group of kids with spiky hair. So I called the parent. Instead of support, I got a lawsuit threat.

Sensitive Issues About a Teacher's Body Odor
When a teacher's body odor resulted in behind-her-back comments in the staff room, I knew it was time to act. I needed to find a way to confront the issue and save face. The approach I settled on worked well; since then, I've used it in a number of circumstances.

Teachers Who Wear Inappropriate Clothing to School
It's an issue that every principal will confront at one time or another: the teacher who wears clothing that is inappropriate for the school environment. One way to handle the issue is to have a policy that spells out clearly the clothing items that are "inappropriate."

Communicating With Parents of Our Growing Non-English-Speaking Student Population
If your school is like mine, you have seen an increase in the population of ESOL students. That growing population brings with it an increased difficulty communicating with parents of those students. We needed to come up with a plan to deal with this issue.

A Child Who Was Reported Lost or Missing
In a large school, it is inevitable that a frantic parent will call to report that his child has not made it home from school according to the normal schedule. In order to help keep the parent calm while we get to the bottom of the situation, it is important to have a plan.

Improving Communication About Student Immunization Requirements
It never fails: many parents are caught off-guard when we won't allow their child to enter school because immunization requirements have not been met. We need to do a better job communicating with parents about those requirements.

A Personality Clash Between a Teacher and a Parent
In a large school, there are bound to be personality clashes. When the clash is between a teacher and parent, the one person who usually suffers most is the student. When a teacher on my staff and one of our parents clashed, I needed to step in...

The Teacher Who Always Complains
Most staffs have one: a teacher who gripes about everything. Usually others try to ignore the complainer, but sometimes the whining drags down staff morale. I have a "quacker" on my staff too, so I devised a plan to drag her over to my side!

A Young Teacher Who Made Negative Comments About Minority Students
Some young teachers are more mature than others. One of my young teachers who liked being "one of the guys" didn't always think before he spoke. When he made disparaging comments about a group of our bused-in students, word of his remarks quickly spread.

A "Satisfactory" Teacher Who Did Not Share My Vision for Our School
By our district's standards, one of our teachers was doing a "satisfactory" job. However, he did not share our school's vision that all students are able to learn. He had given up on -- and was negative toward -- several of his most challenged students.

A Custodian Who Wasn't Doing His Job
One of my custodians had a habit of blowing off staff requests for cleaning, repair, maintenance, and other projects. As staff complaints grew, it became clear that some kind of action needed to be taken to ensure that he would do his job.

Changing Attitudes About Student Discipline by Developing a Code of Conduct
I was new to the school. To me, the general atmosphere of the school seemed too focused on punishment; the atmosphere seemed more negative than positive. I saw an opportunity to increase discipline and students' self-respect.

Keeping Teachers Motivated as Budgets Tighten
As budgets tighten -- and teaching positions are cut and class sizes grow -- it is important to go the extra mile to keep teachers motivated. In spite of looming difficulties forced by budget cuts, the atmosphere was upbeat as our teachers left for summer break.

A Teacher Who Frequently Missed Scheduled Duties
Maybe you have a teacher like this: He is a terrific teacher, but he often misses scheduled before- or after-school duties. I needed to find a way to drive home to him that these duties -- while not part of his classroom teaching responsibility -- are very important.

A 25% Failure Rate on State Reading Tests
A quarter of our third graders tested at the lowest level on this year's state reading test. According to state mandate, that means we cannot pass those students on to fourth grade. What can we do to help as many of these kids achieve and earn promotion?

Working With a Substitute Who Was Getting Poor Reviews from Teachers
Substitute teaching is hard work, and good subs are as rare as hens' teeth! That's why I decided to work with a sub whose classroom management skills were going to do him in. I felt he was "salvageable," if he was willing to work with me.

Capping State-Test Week With a Fun and Educational Reward
We always like to reward students for their extra effort during state-test week each spring. But we wanted to plan a fun event that would be more than a big party. Our teachers came up with a special event that was super fun and educational!

Promoting Unity Among the Different Groups on Our School Staff
In the hoopla surrounding Teacher Appreciation Week, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that teachers aren't the only ones who contribute to making our school a great place. We turned Teacher Appreciation Week into Greenwood School Staff Appreciation Week.

Reviving Interest in Our School-wide Literacy Effort
Our school's "Book of the Month" program had sailed along smoothly for a couple of years. In its third year, though, the program hit some rough spots. Students and parents began to lose interest. How could we revamp the program to bring back the enthusiasm it once had enjoyed?

Bickering Between Two Girls That Threatened to Turn Explosive
Bickering between two girls over a boy (who often couldn't care less about either of them) is a common phenomenon in middle schools. The situation must be dealt with quickly, before it escalates into something much more explosive.

Making Spelling Every Teacher's Responsibility
Test results indicated that spelling was an area our students needed to make significant improvement in. As a faculty, we recognized that a renewed spelling focus in language arts would not be enough; spelling had to become a school-wide goal.

Finding Money to Hire Help to Boost Student Achievement
More than 25 percent of our school's students have IEPs. Our special ed student-teacher ratios are high, so I must find creative ways to ensure that students get all the attention they need. I did some budget-number crunching and came up with one solution.

A Teacher's Excessive Absenteeism
When a teacher's absenteeism becomes excessive, a principal must consider its impact on students. When student achievement is affected, challenging the teacher's attendance record for purposes of termination might not be a pleasant task, but it is a necessary one.

Encouraging Regular and Special Ed Teachers to Work as a Team
Inclusion has thrust many regular and special ed teachers together. Sometimes those teachers don't know how to manage being in the same room. How could I get two such teachers to perform more as a team -- to be equal stakeholders in the classroom lesson?

A Complaint About a Teacher's Use of Sexual Innuendo in the Classroom
I received a complaint about a teacher's use of sexual innuendo in the classroom. It crossed my mind that the complaint might be a way to "get back" at a very demanding teacher. Nonetheless, the complaint had to be investigated quickly and thoroughly.

Producing a Great School Newsletter with No Budget
Parents and our community frequently express interest in learning more about our school. They often ask, Why don't you publish a school newsletter? We wanted to find a way to do that without spending money we could ill afford or adding to our teachers' workload.

Making New Space for an Overcrowded School
Overcrowding is a problem in many schools. Solving that problem often requires some out-of-the-box thinking. Not every community would be able to solve the problem in the way this community did -- but you never know!

Keeping Control in Crowded Hallways and Lunchrooms
Overcrowded schools also means overcrowded hallways and lunchrooms. Maintaining control as students congregate and socialize can present a challenge; it also can present an opportunity to involve the community and improve community perceptions about the schools.

Covering for a Secretary Who Was Hospitalized
Many secretaries perform a wide variety of very specific responsibilities. But what happens if a secretary is hospitalized for several weeks? If she or he is the only person trained in some duties, an absence could spell disaster. Have you a plan for such times?

An Undercurrent of Griping
I have been a principal for some time, but this year is my first year in a new school. I have sensed an undercurrent of unhappiness; and I have seen some less than positive attitudes. I needed to get a handle on the issues; so I needed to come up with a plan.

Evaluating Our Superintendent's Performance
Our superintendent's contract is up for renewal, and school board members have decided to solicit input from principals about the super's leadership abilities and policies. How will I respond? What will I say? I have a course of action I plan to stick to.

Bringing on Board a New Assistant Principal
Six weeks into the school year, a new assistant principal was appointed to our school. Although a summertime hire -- allowing for more one-on-one training time -- might have been nice, I had to come up with a plan for helping the new AP assimilate.

A Constantly Disruptive Student
One of our students continues to have a problem with following directions. He leaves the classroom without permission, talks back to the teacher, throws things, empties trashcans...This student needs a more closely monitored environment to meet his needs.

A Student-With-a-Broken-Leg Emergency
I received a walkie-talkie transmission from a physical education teacher. A boy had fallen on our basketball courts. It was possible he had broken a leg. The situation was handled efficiently, thanks to the fact that we had a workable emergency plan in place.

Making Bus Drivers an Important Part of the School Community
Our school bus drivers told us that they often felt unappreciated and disrespected. To change that perception -- to make sure our students saw bus drivers as an extension of the school day and an important part of the school community -- we needed to come up with a plan.

Recommending Alternative Education to Parents and Students
Sometimes it's clear that a particular student stands a better chance of success in an alternative education setting. Sharing our thoughts about alternative education with the student and parents requires special handling.

A Parent Who Thought Her Son's Suspension Was Unfair Treatment
An angry parent showed up in my office yesterday -- unannounced and unexpected. She was upset that the assistant principal had suspended her son for fighting. The assistant principal had not even had a chance to call the parent before she showed up on our doorstep.

Getting 80 Staff Members to Agree on How to Spend State Bonus Money
Because of our students' success on the state mastery tests, our school was awarded $85,000. It might be hard to believe, but I consider that money to be both a blessing and a curse: Have you ever tried to involve 80 people in deciding how to spend that kind of money?

A Parent Complaint About a Teacher Who Called Her Son Names
Resorting to name-calling or put-downs is never appropriate behavior for a teacher. Even in the most difficult situations, the teacher must remain the role model for behavior. So what did I do when confronted with a parent complaint about a teacher's name calling?

A Parent Request for Student Retention
A mother has requested that her daughter -- with an IEP for a rather mild disability in reading -- be allowed to repeat third grade at this, her new school. The students' grades and test scores aren't that low. We rarely retain students at our school.

A Faculty Flare-Up
We are fortunate at our school. Our faculty members get along very well with one another. Sure, as in any other school, we have an occasional flare-up, but, when it happens, we get together to talk things out. Oh, there is one more ingredient I always include in those meetings...

Setting Up a Summer Schedule for Custodians and Contractors
A building principal is responsible for the whole building. While principal preparation programs pay sparse attention to facilities, we rise to the occasion and learn how to be efficient facility and trades managers as part of our regular work.

Getting Caught in the Middle of Divorced Parents' Custody Disputes
Often divorced parents bring their issues to the school. When custody disputes enter the schoolhouse, maintaining a sense of safety for the student, continuity for teaching and learning, and responding to the communication needs of both parents present challenges.

Behavior on the School Bus
In our district, as in many others, student behavior on school buses is a major concern. Often, when a behavior problem is reported, the student denies any wrongdoing and the parents believe their child. Our district saw this as a safety issue and got proactive.

Creating a Motivating Staff Development Day to Kickoff a New School Year
Each year's opening-day workshop is dedicated to professional development. All principals hope to present something inspiring, fun, memorable, and, above all, useful. We couldn't have foreseen how this session would end up driving the school year.

Tracking Down Relatives in an Emergency
A mother of two students had just left the school. Three blocks away, she ran into a truck and died at the scene. The two children had no nearby relatives. We had a local emergency contact, but no additional information to help us contact immediate family.

Creating a Lunch Schedule That Makes Sense
To accommodate all 1400 students in our middle school, we divided the lunch period into six 30-minute sittings. As a result, almost half of our students had class for 23 minutes, then lunch, then 23 more minutes of class. Accomplishing much in those split classes was a challenge.

Setting Up a New Class Two Weeks Into the School Year
To alleviate overcrowding, our school board approved the hiring of a new third grade teacher. Smaller classes were a great solution to the overcrowding, but now we had to move students who already had bonded with a teacher and their classmates...

Mandatory 10 Percent Budget Cut to Teacher Duties/Coaching
Due to state budget cuts, our district office recently announced a mandatory 10 percent reduction in supplements paid to staff for additional duties and coaching responsibilities. At our school, this is a sizable amount of money -- close to $50,000 each year.

Improving Student Attendance
Our school performance score is based on several state-mandated factors. Student attendance and dropout rates count toward 10 points of the total score. We had a history of attendance problems; so I knew something must be done.