Wednesday, June 29, 2016

We're Moving- And it's going to be HUGE!

I can't tell you how excited I am to FINALLY be moving to my new site! So much has been planned for the future of Created of MrHughes I don't even know where to start! What I CAN tell you is that it is going to be HUGE! Here are some of the upcoming changes you can expect to see:
  1. Focus on collaboration strategies for increased student., teacher, leader, coach, __________ (fill-in-the-blank) success
  2. Videos to help demonstrate and solidify ideas
  3. Pictures to help provide insight to ideas and discussions (after all, they are worth a 1000 words, right?)
  4. Social Media Events (Blabs, Periscopes, Facebook Live Sessions, Google Air Webinars) to provide face-to-face interaction
  5. Resources (Free and Paid) to help facilitate and promote better and stronger collaboration for you and your team (whatever formation that might be)
  6. Sound Bytes of ALL posts so you can listen while you drive, work, or multi-task
  7. eCourse Offerings (Paid and Free)
  8. Many, many more!
So, with all this goodness waiting to happen, I appreciate your patience while I work to get it all up and running! It may take a while, but it is going to be amazing. Just you wait and see.

P.S. Don't forget to subscribe to our mailing list! It's easy, it's free, and it will be worth it!

Click HERE to visit my new site. An Educator's Life will now return to being my personal blog about my educational adventures, my family, and such. I appreciate the many wonderful friends that have supported me over the years- and I look forward to growing together in this new adventure! 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Leap of Faith - Asking for Candid Faculty and Staff Feedback

     As 2015 draws to an end and I reflect over the past year, I must admit that is has been ONE crazy ride. From being hired as the full-time administrator of my school to all the big and little family events (such as starring in a community theater production of the Wizard of Oz), to becoming a healthier me (lost 62 lbs. over the past year), I have really pushed myself in lots of ways and areas of my life. And I HAVE LOVED IT!
    I was reading some articles and such and found one about being a better administrator, and I ran across one in particular that was titled: "Principals: Are You Brave Enough to Ask Your Staff For Feedback?" written by Jennifer Gonzalez for her blog Cult of Pedagogy. 
     I began to ponder on this idea. I really wondered if this was something that I could personally do, without taking it, well...personally. 
     I am a perfectionist by nature and I tend to take things sue me. I asked a trusted advisor at school and was told "ARE YOU NUTS?" and "Do you really think you can handle hearing what everyone has to say?". That wasn't encouraging and made me feel like this adviser knew stuff being sad about me that I maybe didn't WANT to know!  
     But after lots of thoughtful reflection I knew I needed to hear what my faculty and staff had to say. I mean, how can I be better if I don't know what my staff feels is holding me/us back.
     I went ahead and made a Google form using the questions from the blog post I read, and sent out the email to my faculty and staff- inviting them to share their unfiltered thoughts, but to please be respectful and professional. 
     The number of respondents, assuming everyone responded, would be about 25. Twelve responded, which was awesome- and more than I thought would do it. I assured them that I wasn't as interested in knowing WHO said what, as WHAT they had to say.
     What I got was a GOLD MINE of information. I have chosen to share of the 15 catergories below, just don't judge me...

     Was it hard to see the results? HECK YES! I started to obsess about who I was ignoring or making feel uncomfortable about talking with me. My wife had to talk me off the proverbial ledge by reminding me that I asked for feedback and that now I had a direction to go and good goals to focus on. Thanks babe- it was just what I needed to hear.
     After all those who wanted to respond set forth their judgement (I had a 10 day window to respond), I created a summary in a spreadsheet and hung it on my office door. I then sent out another email (and announced at faculty and at staff meeting) that the results were on my door, that I appreciated their candid feedback- insights- ideas- and support, and I was ready to move forward with new goals for myself.

     Here is what I had on my door:

     As you can see, most areas were in the Green. I set up the spread sheet to color code based on average total. 4-5 was green, 3 was yellow, and 1-2 was red. The areas that came up yellow were a bit surprising to me, and as a result, I have altered the way I do a few things, such as:

     1) I ask for teacher input for frequently on as much as I possibly can. Sometimes there isn't an option of what to do, OR, I need things done a certain way, so input isn't an option, but as much as possible, I ask.

     2) I make a greater effort (and I was already working hard) to be in EVERY room, EVERY day. I try to spend 10-15 in each room every day. I only have 9 classrooms, but that is still a huge challenge.

     3) I go out of my way to praise and share the positives I see in classrooms when I am there.

     Along with numerical ratings, teachers were given the option to answer questions. I was pleased with the time and thought that went in to these written responses- not that all the responses were complimentary by any means.
     I am proud to have a faculty and staff that is upfront and honest. Here are several of the responses. You can click on the picture to have it enlarge big enough to read the comments.

     As the administrator, I too, am supposed to be evaluated by the faculty and staff at the district level. I don't know if I was last year or not, as the interim principal, but I have not seen any results if I was. So, this was truly my first glimpse at seeing how my building employees felt I was doing. And, I hope to do this every year!

So, the moral of this post is simply this:
     I challenge you administrators out there to put yourself out there and ask for feedback. The information you get- the good, the bad, and the downright ugly- will only help you to improve.

Helpful Hint:
    When you get ready to do ask- have your trusted advisor standing by to talk you down if you get crazy and realize you are getting what you asked for- how to do better and what  a rock star you are.

Cheers and Happy New Year! 2016 is going to ROCK!

Friday, December 11, 2015

On the 11th Day of Christmas...A GIVEAWAY! WAHOO!

It is the most wonderful time of the year! And I am beyond excited to be apart of the Twelve Days of Christmas Giveaways again this year. I LOVE so much the opportunity to give back to those amazing people who have been so supportive! :)

Take a minute to enter the contest- it is easy-peasy and you can win lots of great prizes!
I would love to hear from you in the comments as well- what has been your greatest accomplishment this year?

Mine? The launch my career as an administrator and advocate for my teachers as well as my students and parents. I LOVE BEING A PRINCIPAL! It is a challenge and an adventure everyday.

So, about this contest! Here is the fine print:

PRIZES: $30 Starbucks Gift Card & $20 TpT Store Credit to each of these stores:
I also have a special surprise for the winner!
1. Created by MrHughes - $5 TpT Store Credit: 

This giveaway is also sponsored by these fine peeps!
2. Fun in 5th Grade - $5 TpT Store Credit:
3. Nicole Roberts Shelby - $5 TpT Store Credit:
4. ZipADeeDooDah Designs - $5 TpT Store Credit:

DETAILS: The contest will run for 24 Hours via Rafflecopter. This contest is eligible worldwide since gift cards will be sent by email.

a Rafflecopter giveaw

Merry Christmas to one and all-

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Voice Booster Review and Giveaway

So, as an administrator, I am always on the lookout for resources and products that I feel will help my teachers. I search supply catalogs, make notes when I am in their rooms, and will from time to time offer to purchase something for their room that I know will benefit the teacher and students. It is one of the many reasons I LOVE being a principal- I get to help in ways I never could as a classroom teacher (though I still miss teaching in a classroom something terrible!).

So, when I was approached by a representative from Voice Booster to try out their audio system, I was VERY happy as I was looking for sound solutions for several teachers. Not only for my teachers, as our school sound system died and they offer a larger system that is portable- TOTAL SCORE!

I eagerly awaited the arrival of the two systems! I didn't have to wait long! WAHOO!

I was sent the personal size:

AND, this awesome larger size- that I call the CANNON...ha ha!

I have been SUPER impressed with both units. I have a teacher who snatched the personal unit right up and has been using it for nearly a week now. He LOVES that his students can hear him at all times. He said it took a bit of getting used to- as the unit will give feedback and squeal if the headset and the speaker unit get too close. However, he said that he likes that because if the class gets too noisy, he purposely makes it squeal to get their attention...ha ha! Not what I would recommend for it's use, but it works for him.

I love that it stays charged for so long. My teacher can teach confidently all day long and not stress about the battery dying. He is also letting the students wear it as they present to the class. He keeps the unit on his belt (it also comes with a strap that can be worn around the neck- which is awesome they provide that too!), and the student holds the headset and talks to the class. It really is making a difference for his class. They used to be much more rowdy, and he would have to raise his voice. It would sound as if he was frustrated or angry because of the volume at which he would sometimes have to speak. He said that with this system, he doesn't have to strain or raise his voice and the kids can tell the difference. He said it seems less stressful in his room now.

That was interesting insight from the teacher. I have other teachers that are excited to test drive the unit as well- IF, I can pry it out of his hands...ha ha!

As for the "cannon"- I just love that nickname, I have been SUPER impressed with it. Our school was asked to do a small program at a local bank. They said they didn't have any sound equipment we could use. I was a little stressed out and worried that I wouldn't get the sound I needed from this unit- after all- it was a HUGE area with a LOT of students (over 50) singing.

I was totally shocked when I pushed play and had to TURN IT DOWN because the sound was TOO loud! WOW! Best part for me was that all I needed was the stereo cord and may phone to use it. Plugged my phone in from the headphones jack and POOF there was the music I needed.

I havent' tried the SD Card slot or the USB port, but the fact they are on there is AWESOME!
Our school will get some SERIOUS mileage out of this baby for years to come. So, at the end of the day, I just have to say that I LOVE this company and their products. Am I getting paid to say that- NO! By now, I hope you realize that I am not going to say something on my blog I don't believe.

When looking at the cost of these units compared to others, and the features you get- these units are worth EVERY penny you will pay (and compared to others- it's a LOT less!)

Check out there STORE by clicking >>>HERE<<<!

AND- this is the BEST PART! I get to give one PERSONAL UNIT away for FREE! WAHOOOO!
Click on this >>>LINK<<<  or the picture above to visit the giveaway page!

Thanks for stopping by- and I hope you will click on over and check out their product line.
Good luck with the contest and come back again soon!

-John, Created by MrHughes

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Turkey Trot with the Elementary Chalkboard- Created by MrHughes

Welcome to “The Chalkies” Turkey Trot! We hope you enjoy a jog through our blogs gobbling up freebies, ideas, and recipes for some holiday joy!

     We have a new blog name!  We switched out the word "Primary" for "Elementary". We want to meet the needs of any teacher K-6. Our blog has been thoughtfully designed to help you find what YOU need for YOUR classroom level! Don't miss those grade level tabs at the top of the page that will help you grab what you need.

     We hope you enjoy this little meal from appetizer to dessert!

     Creative Writing Ahead! This engaging writing activity will have your students grinning and laughing as they create silly and often time outrageous Thanksgiving stories and YOU get to sit back and enjoy the creativity as it flows freely around your room!

Check here Turkey Pick-A-Story to download your FREE tasty appetizer WAHOO!

     The holidays are a challenge for ANY grade and teacher (and principal too!). My holiday BRIGHT IDEA is to embrace the season and find activities and resources that allow students to have fun and learn at the same time.

     Now, I get that we can't just stop teaching our curriculum from October to January, but, we CAN allow students to have some fun when they finish an assignment, as time fillers, and/or as a break from the norm!
     This could be as easy as a simple coloring page or practice page with some fall clip art. The kids will enjoy the change of pace, and YOU will love the fact that your kiddos are engaged right up until the final bell for the holiday break!

These are probably the best brownie I have EVER tasted! They are rich, flavorful, and so good you won't want to share! Check HERE to get the recipe. Or copy and paste it from below!

Mint Brownies
Recipe by Our Best Bites
4 squares unsweetened baking chocolate (4oz)
1 C butter (2 sticks)
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 C powdered sugar
4 T butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1-2 Tbs milk 
green food coloring

Chocolate Glaze:

6 oz (about 1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips ,you could also use dark
6 Tbs real butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13 inch pan with foil making sure the foil extends over the edges by at least one inch.  Lightly spray with non-stick spray and set aside.

Chop both unsweetened chocolate and two sticks of butter into chunks and place together in a microwave safe bowl.  Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until just melted and smooth.  Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally. 

With an electric mixer or stand mixer beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla for 2 minutes.  While egg mixture is beating, measure out flour and combine with baking powder.   While mixer is running, slowly add melted chocolate and beat to combine.  Turn beater speed to low and add in flour by spoonfuls.  Mix just until combined.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a knife poked in center comes out clean.

Cool completely on a metal rack. When brownies have cooled to room temperature, prepare frosting.  Combine all frosting ingredients, starting with 1 1/2 tablespoon of milk, and beat until light and fluffy.  Add more milk by teaspoonful as needed.  Spread frosting evenly over brownies and then place brownies in fridge to chill. 

While brownies are chilling prepare chocolate glaze.  Place chocolate chips and 6 tablespoons butter in a microwave safe bowl.  Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until just melted and smooth.  Set aside to cool for about 15 minutes and then carefully spread on top of the frosting layer.  Return pan to fridge to cool.  When chocolate has hardened, use edges of foil to remove entire brownie from pan.  Cut into squares and serve.

     Looking for seconds? AWESOME! Click on over to my shop and check out over 300 resources that will make your holidays more manageable and engaging! I have mystery pictures, writing projects, Order Up! sets, dodecahedron projects, and more!

     Click on over- you will be glad you did!
AND- Shhh! Don't tell anyone, but for two days only (November 15th-16th), you can save 10% on nearly ALL my resources! WAHOO!

Don't forget to Trot on over to Digital Divide and Conqueror's blog where you can continue your Turkey Trot journey and gobble up more goodies!

YAY! Click on the logo above to CHECK IT OUT!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Chalkola! Markers You Can't Live Without!

Okay Peeps!
I have to tell you that when I got an email asking if I would like to try out chalk markers and give an honest review of them, I didn't really know what to think. I ALWAYS give an honest review- so THAT wasn't an issue. I just wasn't sure what I would do with these markers. When they explained that they would write on practically ANY surface and were washable I was intrigued as I could have a lot of fun with my teachers and students at school. They sounded pretty cool, and so I agreed. I waited the short shipping time to receive them, and came they did!


That is all  have to say. 

Blog post over.

Just kidding. These babies are super cool though. I was sent two sizes to play with. My WIFE (the amazing Mrs. Hughes) saw them and snatched them right up for posters she was making for the school Halloween Carnival. I was worried she would use all the ink in them (after all, most markers like this don't last all that long). However after making 5 HUGE signs with the FAT and FINE TIP markers, they still have plenty of chalk ink for me to play with. WAHOO!

 My wife started with the white FAT TIP to write the main word on each poster.

Her friend then used the FINE TIP set to write the smaller words on the posters. I could NOT believe how the words popped off the page! They didn't streak, they didn't run, they didn't smear (though they will if you are not careful about where your hand is!).

You DO have to remember to shake them really good before you begin to get the ink mixed up, and my 4-year old thought THAT was the coolest thing ever. She got to dance around and shake the markers for us. This is how the finished poster turned out for the carnival! There was one on each side of the table!

My wife is part of the PTA for our school, and they made several other posters as well for the carnival area. Below is one the made using just the FAT TIP markers! The picture doesn't show the clarity very well, but it was almost 3D.

I didn't get a picture of it, but the PTA also used the FAT TIP markers to write on the windows of the front doors to remind parents to enter by a different door for the carnival. The marker was surprisingly legible, didn't run down the glass, and was very bright colored! Clean up the next day was a total snap as well- a wet cloth and it came right off! LOVED IT!

I am excited to still have a ton of the ink left because I plan to leave notes for different classes (I am the principal of an elementary school) on their door windows and such. 

I will also be doing this at home with my own kids on their bathroom mirrors and windows- not to mention my son's car windows...bwahahahaha! Yes, I have a lot of plans for these little gems!

 Here you can see the two sizes that I was able to test drive. They work on ANY non-porous surface and can be used on paper as well. Yes, these will become a staple in our house- and with SIX kids still at home, they will be enjoyed very much! I may even let the kids use them...someday....or not. I don't share well with others...ha ha!

So, the real question here is how can YOU get an awesome set for CHEAP (well, cheaper than anyone else...ha ha). Please know that this is NOT an affiliate link and I do NOT get any money if you use them. Just sharing a great deal- one educator to another. DON'T FORGET THE CODE to save and additional 20% off the already low price!
20% Off on Amazon - Use Code -> CHK20OFF

20% Off on Amazon - Use Code -> CHALK20A

You can learn more about these awesome markers by clicking HERE!

The bottom line for me is that these are indeed worth every penny you will spend on them.

Happy writing and drawing.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fostering a Positive School Culture

     It can be felt by EVERY SINGLE PERSON that enters your building. The minute anyone opens your school doors and walks inside, an immediate impression is felt. Often it is one of happiness, structure, and confidence. Sometimes a building may have a sense of chaos, frustration, and discontent. Regardless of whether it is good or bad- the point is that it is there.
     Now, you might be wondering why this matters. One might say, "Who cares what I feel when I enter the school. As long as kids are learning and teachers are teaching, and administrators are dealing with discipline, then everything is right." Sadly, they couldn't be MORE wrong.
     In that instance someone comes into the building, an important connection is being made in their minds- this school is a good school, or, this school is not. It sounds so cliche and corny, but I truly believe that it happens.
     So, that being said, how does a school foster a positive culture? One where students enjoy coming each day to school, teachers are empowered to be their best, administrators devote their time to leading, and parents are confident and feel supported in the education process. 
     It isn't an easy undertaking, and one that may take months or even years to correct. 

     Let me share my experience with my school. I lucked out this past year, when I came to a new school as the 6th grade teacher. The school was in the midst of a massive turnover due to retirement, and the then acting administrator wanted to make several changes to the format and structure of the school. School-wide rules were created as a staff. Discipline procedures were put in place, and teachers teamed and worked together to come up with ideas about how to make classrooms work and run more smoothly. 
     I can't give evidence of my school before I came, but I have been told it was a bit chaotic.
     Due to a series of circumstances, I was made 1/2 day interim administrator and 1/2 day 6th grade teacher of the school the end of September 2014. I continued the process of change we began and I started upping the ante. I made changes and started positive awards for classes to earn. I think the biggest change was that I simply made an effort to expression my appreciation to my faculty and staff, AND to let students and parents know that I appreciated them, respected them, and wanted what was best for them.
     The year seemed to end with agreement from all parties that we had a successful and positive year. Parents commented on the fact that the school "felt "different- several even commented that even driving by felt different (in a good way). I took that as a sign that our school- working together- was on the right path to having a flourishing positive culture in your building.
     Over the summer, I pondered on what I could do (having been hired as the full-time administrator) to help maintain and building our positive culture. Then it hit me!

     I decided to do a theme for my faculty and staff. After all, I didn't have a class or classroom anymore (a post on that coming soon), and I needed to have a focus. I decided on a SUPER HERO theme. Working with my amazing secretary and also with my wife, the three of us came up with some fun ways to surprise the teachers and get the year off to a great start. My wife did the bulletin boards pictured above that is in our front entry of the school. 
     We decided that for the first week of school, we would have a small gift or treat of some kind for each day for each person who worked at the school. We had backscratchers, hand-decorated clipboards, new lunch totes with the school logo, and more! We also had an amazing spread of treats each day for the first week during morning recess! Everything had a note or memo expressing appreciation and excitement for the coming year!
     I am pretty sure the faculty and staff LOVED it, and I feel this set the tone for the year as one of appreciation and dedication.
     Friday of the first week was my favorite day, and one that we will build on for the rest of the year. My wife and I wanted to give each teacher a cape to wear to help students remember that their teacher was a super hero! After much discussion we came up with a plan and made a trip to Wal-Mart.
     Buying all the biggest shirts we could from the clearance rack (over 30), we headed home. Next came the logo design for the cape. We settled on SC for "Super Colts" with the horse from our logo. My wife made a stencil and then spent the next several days cutting shirts and spraying on the logo!

My wife and I also found these awesome Captain America shirts on clearance and you will notice my wife was able to add "Co-" to my secretary's shirt! AWESOME!

     On Friday of the first week, we went to EVERY classroom and presented each teacher (and aide) with his/her cape. I told the students that I had to share a secret about their teacher that they didn't want them to know. They sat right up and were totally interested. When I showed them the cape, the cheered for their teacher. My wife also had a sucker for each student with a mini paper cape and sticker that reminded them that they too, were super heroes. 

    We also gave a cape to every paraprofessional, custodian, lunch lady", speech therapist, computer lab managers...if they worked in the building, they got a cape!  My head custodian LOVED his cape and wore it all over the school grounds and also to the hardware store and any other errand he had to run. As you can see below, he even posed on the school roof while fixing an air conditioner for a picture!

     At the end of the day, we had a fire drill, and it was SO AWESOME to see the faculty and staff walking around outside in their capes and enjoying it. What an amazing group of people!
     You might be thinking, "Well bully for you Mr. Hughes. So glad you could do all these things for your staff and faculty. Not all of us can do that." Or, "I am just a teacher. I can't do all this for my school. It isn't my place to do so."
      If that is your impression- then I have failed in this post. It isn't just about only the school leader making the effort, though I concede when the school leader is leading the charge for a positive culture, it tends to work easier, faster, and is more widely accepted. Even if you start in your own little corner of the school by creating a place your students LOVE to come, and then reaching out to your teammates- leaving notes or appreciation, small treats, kind words. You will be amazed at how fast this will move through your school- and soon, your school, regardless of what it was- will become even better! And, it is all because of YOU!

     Our school is moving along this year and I am LOVING the culture of our building. Expectations are set high, and students work to achieve them. Teachers and staff are working well to help and support each other, and parents are coming to the school with praise and concerns for me/us to address. What more could we really ask for?

     Here are some of my year-long goals and plans to keep this positive culture rolling forward:
=I try to make it to every teacher weekly to observe and leave a note about all the good things I see them doing.
=We highlight 4 students each week for the local newspaper- Students of the Week.
=We use Positive Office Referrals (check out the format HERE).
=We have the "Colt's Club". Student earn tickets for a weekly drawing by going "above and beyond". And adult in the building can award them- all have tickets they use.
=We have and maintain a school Facebook page. I am amazed at the positive effect it is having.

     These are just a few of the strategies we are currently employing to foster and maintain a positive school culture. As a school, we will add and remove strategies as needed- but we will ALWAYS be looking for ways to make our culture more positive!

    I am one lucky administrator, that is for sure. I can't wait to see where our school goes next!

-John, Created by MrHughes

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