For whatever reason, the schools I’ve worked in lately or the ones my children have attended, have experienced a lot of turnover when it comes to the school principal. When I started a new position after leaving my position with Discovery Education, I didn’t think there’d be a leadership change after one year. Surprisingly, I was asked to be on the interview committee for the new principal. The person we ended up hiring was excellent and I feel the school is in very good hands. After moving to a full-time position at a new school this year, I was hired at a school that didn’t have a principal. A new principal was hired shortly after. I’ve been very happy with her leadership and from what I’ve gathered from other teachers, the change has been a good one overall for the building.
I’ve been working in various schools and positions for about 18 years and have worked with 9 (I think) different principals. Almost all have been ones I’ve gotten along with and feel were assets to their schools. I don’t know if I realized it early on, but the principal plays such an important role in the school environment. They can set a positive tone for not only the teachers, but also for the students. Their energy, enthusiasm, and positive interest in student success is extremely important. Two things that I feel is extremely important is their organizational skills and confidence. Another quality I feel is important is being real. I have really appreciated when principals are real people, interact with you in a way that is sincere, and help you grow as an educator. Sometimes the “real” part is hard to put into words, but when you see it, you know it’s there.
The high school where my daughter currently attends, is in the process of hiring a new principal. My daughter’s a junior and had one principal her freshman year and then an interim principal for the past two years. In the next week or two, a new principal will be named for next school year. I attended two of the three finalists meetings for parents to see what the candidates were like. I have a favorite of the two I saw, and I’m hoping that person is offered the position. From the hour long Q & A session I attended, the ideas for the school, experience, and ideas seem like a good fit. Obviously, it will be a while before we really know for sure if this person is the correct person for the job, but I have a good feeling. This person seems like a good leader, has a good vision, and seemed real. I only hope the people in charge of making this decision, which includes the staff at the school, are pleased down the road.
I’ve mentioned a few traits that I feel are essential for principals. I’m curious what you think. What makes a good principal, what’s important to you?
If you have any Ollies (or Spheros) in your classroom, library, or makerspace, you’ve probably discovered that kids love driving these little devices around. Students love to test their driving skills, which as I’ve witnessed, generally aren’t that good. We have 4 Ollies in our makerspace and, in an effort to have students program the Ollies instead of just drive them around, have created “challenges” for students.
The idea is to have students use the SPRK Lightning Lab app on either a Chromebook or iPad to program the Ollie to complete a certain task. One example (shown below), has the students creating a program to move the Ollie in a square, changing color on each side, and not crashing into anything. When a student completes the challenge, and has someone confirm they did it correctly, they will receive a badge that will be displayed on a poster in our makerspace.
We have plans to create more challenges for other makerspace items soon. I’ll certainly be sharing those as well.
The idea to start a makerspace in my school wasn’t my idea. The groundwork began before I was hired. I feel my willingness to help grow the idea and my knowledge of and connections to makerspaces in other schools was an added bonus when I joined other educators to keep the ball rolling. When you want to introduce an idea that can lead to a culture shift in a classroom, school library, or building, you cannot do it alone. Gaining supporters along the way, getting buy-in, and educating others along the way is critical.
There are a number of groups that you need to educate along the way. Our district leadership team was the first step. Fortunately, some were involved with the idea from the beginning and others were supportive soon after. That is not always the case. We did, however, need to put together a plan that included our vision, rationale, and timeline for the implementation of the makerspace. I work with some very talented and smart educators. Putting together our plan could have been more difficult if this wasn’t the case, but for us, the process went rather smoothly.
After our plan was shared with the district leadership team, it was time to proceed to the Board of our Educational Foundation. These were the people we were hoping would fund the idea. I’m really not sure what we would have done as a Plan B if they said no. Regardless, our presentation to this group went well and they were on board. The next step, and arguably the most important, was to share the plan with the school staff.
We were given time at a staff meeting to share our plan. Not just a few minutes, but the entire meeting. I believe this showed support from the principal and stressed to the staff the importance of what we were doing. Prior to the meeting, we put a few Keva Planks, Legos, and Little Bits pieces on the tables for teachers to play with. We wanted them to tinker while we talked. We wanted them to experience a few of the items we had in store for the students. We went through our presentation, tweaking it a little for this audience. There weren’t as many questions as I expected. One of the reasons, perhaps, is that we were prepared for what might be asked and tried to do our best to address those concerns in the presentation. This was the third time we shared the plan with a group, streamlining and preparing the message. Overall, I felt the staff was on board with the idea. If they weren’t, they weren’t showing it.
Changing a mindset in a school is not an easy thing. A consistent message needs to be shared with all of the stakeholders. I feel we’ve done a good job communicating the message of what we’re doing and why. We’ve put together a website with resources, have a blog sharing student work, and are sharing ideas via social media. We are just beginning, but we feel we are taking the steps needed to make this a success.
Getting a makerspace up and running can be both simple and challenging. If you start small, rolling out the concept in your classroom or library can be manageable. We were looking for a bigger splash for a variety of reasons, but also knew this would make the process more challenging. We know we want to create a maker culture in the building and not just throw out a bunch of stuff and see what happens. Changing the culture is not a quick process, but in order to begin, you need to have the stuff so teachers and stakeholders can see the impact on student learning.
Heading into our presentation with the Education Foundation, who we were hoping would fund most of the start-up costs, we needed to put together a wishlist of sorts. We definitely wanted technology to play a big part in the makerspace, but we also wanted to have low-tech or no-tech stations available as well. Again, research played a big role in deciding what would be good for our students. We were putting together wish lists for both an elementary school and a middle school, so keeping in mind the age of students was important. In addition, the space available at the middle school was readily available so we could think bigger. Fortunately, many of the people involved in putting together this list were aware of many makerspace items. If we saw something we were unfamiliar with, we learned more about it.
Fortunately, we received the go ahead in late November to start ordering materials. This allowed us to get our orders placed and have quite of bit of stuff arrive prior to winter break so we could have a “soft opening” of our space when students returned in January. Below is what we decided would be included in the first stage of our makerspace in out middle school.
- Ollies – We didn’t go with Spheros because I’ve used them in the past and had more connectivity issues that I did with the Ollies. Other educators I spoke with felt the same way.
- Keva Planks – We knew these would be a hit and that kids could easily show their creativity with the blocks.
- Paper Roller Coasters – I saw these at the ICE Conference and thought they were great. I loved the idea that many students would be collaborating on this together and it would be easy to just keep growing.
- Makey Makeys – We ordered several of these knowing students would have a great time controlling the computer via the devices.
- Bloxels – If a student can create something that turns into a video game, we figured it would be a hit.
- Lego Wall – Middle school kids still love legos. We ordered a bunch of lego plates and our custodian built and installed the lego wall.
- Ozobots – These little robots have turned out to be super fun for the students. The students are creating fun mazes and maps for the ozobots to follow.
- Little Bits – We have a variety of these kits that allow students to connect various electronic blocks that can make sounds, light up, count, and more.
- Mandala coloring pages – Students love to color and be creative. These pages will meet that need and hopefully provide decoration for our makerspace.
- 3Doodler Pens – These have been ordered, but haven’t arrived yet. It will be interesting to see what students create with these 3D pens.
- We also have quite a bit of clay and Play Doh for students to use to create stop motion videos or other multimedia projects. Related to this, we purchased several new tripods and iPad mounts for filming purposes.
- We also purchased several new iPads and two new Macbook Pros for recording and editing media projects.
We clearly understand that we are just starting and that adjustments will need to be made to the stations. Some areas will be very interesting and successful for the students and some won’t. New items will pop up and we will have to do our due diligence in deciding whether or not these should be added to our space. We will definitely get suggestions and feedback from the students and the staff to find ways to improve our space. The ball is rolling, it’s up to us to keep it moving in the right direction.