YOU Make A Difference

By Jason Luksik, Lincoln Elementary Principal, MESPA President Elect

Hello MESPA family-

Every month our communication team will be sharing an article for you to read and gain information about the role of a principal. Each division president elect will submit an article sharing how they have been successful in their building or a strategy that works well. I am fortunate enough as President Elect to start off the year with the first communication. I wanted to share with you about how you make a difference.

Every day I come to school to make a difference. When I walk through the doors it is my choice to make a difference in the lives of our students and the staff in our building. There is an  expectation for principals to come through those doors with big smiles, high fives and hugs ready to give out each and every day to as many students and staff as possible. We are the principal we know everything and can do everything!

But, sometimes, I just don’t feel it! We are human too! As administrators we struggle with our own personal lives from running our kids to activities, taking care of family members or just needing time for ourselves as we give so much to those around us.

I want to tell you that it’s ok. When you feel overwhelmed reach out to those that are in this role and lean on others who experience the principal life. Each day we run into so many challenges that it can take its toll on you as a leader. MESPA is our family that can help us to be successful. Too many times we are too proud or we forget about the great resources that are provided through MESPA. It’s not just professional development and support from a great staff at MESPA, but it’s a really a group of people that are living the role of the principal that can share insights and listen to your challenges.

Over my years as a principal I have watched as principals lead with so much passion and care for those around them. Always remember, taking care of you is a necessity as your school community needs you each and every day. There will always something else that needs to be done or someone that needs to be talked to. So, pause for a moment, take a step back and find what brings you balance in your life.


Believe in you! 

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Re-examining Student Discipline: Shifting from a Compliance Model to a Culture of Influence

By Dr. Amy Reed (@AmyReedEDU), Ramsey Elementary Principal and MESPA North Suburban Division President-Elect 

June - Reed.png

“If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we…teach? punish?”

(Herner, 1998)

As leaders, we are well aware on the research related to student discipline, particularly as it relates to how these exclusionary practices have disproportionately impacted students across race, gender, and income lines. Our staff is committed to changing this pattern through intentional conversations with all stakeholders that allows us to develop a shared understanding as it relates to our core beliefs specific to working with students while also creating a multi-tiered system of support that focuses on examining student behavior through a proactive lens.

We are currently refining and implementing our school-wide behavior plan, which supports our entire staff with furthering our understanding of proactive behavior support, with a focus on Tier I interventions. Examining our collective philosophies has allowed our collective staff to implement a school-wide plan that honors all stakeholders in the process while proactively addressing lagging skills that students are demonstrating. Our school-wide behavior plan was developed by our entire staff with the support of Jacki Brickman, who is an educational consultant, trainer and coach.

School-Wide Behavior Plan Components:

Our principles-centered school-wide behavior plan involves all stakeholders in the process and includes the following components:

  • Developing Principles and Core Beliefs – All staff participated in selecting the beliefs that align best to their work with students. The results were discussed with the staff and the beliefs that were held by 80% or more of the staff were written into the behavior plan.
  • Understanding Effective Systems – This section of the plan allowed our staff to develop a common understanding that effective systems work for the majority of our students while recognizing that some students require flexibility when working within our school system.
  • Implementing School-Wide Expectations – These expectations were developed by staff and are explicitly taught to students in all areas of school.
  • Developing a Common Spaces Agreement– The staff determined consensus on the volume and independence levels for these areas during arrival, learning hours, and dismissal.
  • Creating Healthy Classrooms and Communities– Strategies for teachers specific to building relationships, supporting students’ social learning, and providing even more opportunities for student voice in the classroom.
  • Celebrating Students through Individual and Positive Recognition – Options for staff to recognize and communicate positive behavior and accomplishments that align to our school-wide principles and core beliefs.
  • Supporting staff with Behavior Management Strategies– Providing proactive classroom management strategies that support teachers with keeping students in the learning environment, with ENVoY strategies serving as the foundation to increase engagement and on-task behaviors while preserving relationships. Additional layers of support are also provided for special circumstances, such as collaborative problem solving with staff and administration, as well as the Intervention Team process.
  • Supporting Student Discipline – Clearly defining our referral process. The overall goal is to strive for discipline to be our “back-up plan” and not our “go-to plan”. Students who demonstrate an additional level of need get support through logical consequences such as problem-solving conversations, behavior contracts, check in/out, teaching and reteaching, recovery and reflection breaks, restitution, and temporary removal.
  • Family Support – Providing staff with proactive communication strategies to establish and maintain proactive partnerships throughout the school year.

To support implementation, we have developed a student success team that meets monthly to review our school-wide behavior plan. This team consists of paraeducators, teachers, administration, and our district student conduct administrator. Each member serves as a leader that supports implementation by gathering feedback and questions from their teams and continually refining our communication process.

Please share your school-wide behavior plan strategies and questions in the MESPA Forum or on Twitter using #mespamn!

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Reteach and Enrich – Meeting the Math Needs of All Students

By Kenny Newby (@KennyNewby81), Forest Lake Elementary School Principal, MESPA East Suburban Division President-Elect


Two years ago a teacher from our school approached me and shared a video clip (watch video embedded below) she had seen online about a school in Arizona. The video shares the school’s approach to planning and teaching math intervention time. We’ve had intervention time on our master schedule for a number of years but haven’t seen the growth in our students that we hoped and worked so hard for.

Reteach and Enrich: How to Make Time for Every Student – Video by Edutopia

As a building leadership team we decided to share this concept with our grade level teams. At the time, our school district was committed to some new initiatives and once again going through tough budget cuts. We understood the importance of helping teachers find balance and didn’t want our teachers to feel that they had to do this work at this time, but that they would be supported if, as grade level teams, they were going to make the commitment to implement this intervention model.

What supports did this take? In order for this to work, we had to schedule common intervention time across the grade level. We have five sections at each grade level. It was important to us to have our intervention support teachers involved in this process as well, so we coordinated those schedules with our grade level schedules to maximize the number of teachers able to support the model. PLCs were allowed to be flexible in scheduling their meetings so they could meet the required monthly minutes outline by our QComp plan but doing so in a format that allowed them to meet more frequently than our plan outlines. Permission was given to teachers to be ok with letting go of past practices and embracing new ones. We were transparent with the need to encourage open communication about what was and wasn’t working as we went through the first year of implementation so that we could refine our practice.

One grade level in particular was on board and committed to implement this model. For the second year in a row they are seeing great growth in their students! We’ve seen positive outcomes not only in our student growth and increase in proficiency scores, but in other areas as well. With all of the teachers taking turns teaching the different levels of math groups and with the students continually moving in and out of groups based on their formative assessment scores, every teacher now knows every student in the grade level. Having students have positive connections to more staff members has had a positive effect on our building culture. The teachers have shared they have become more efficient and purposeful in the PLC meetings and the students are benefitting from that work!

Reteach and Enrich is a model that really does meet the needs of all students. Throughout the whole school year, teachers plan, assess, and provide feedback to students. It takes a team of teachers that is committed to doing the right work and embraces the importance of identifying priority standards, using formative assessments, and having productive/effective PLC meetings. None of these things are new to most educators. This is just evidence that when we do the right work and do it with fidelity, we can make positive changes in our schools!

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What a Difference a Dean Makes


By Deb Reynolds (@debprincipal), Hermantown Elementary School Principal, MESPA Northeast Division President-Elect

As I near the end of my tenth year as the principal at Hermantown Elementary School, I reflect over the increasing demands of the principal position. We have a large kindergarten through fourth grade elementary school with 760 students. Always having the best intentions for increasing student achievement, a typical day for me might consist of a behavioral incident being reported, followed by an investigation, student interviews, parent phone calls, parent meetings, teacher notifications and documentation. Following up on behavioral incidents that occurred on the bus, in the lunchroom, or on the playground could easily consume much of the day. Thank goodness we have an amazing staff that demonstrates professionalism and competency.

The addition of a full-time Dean of Students this year has tremendously impacted my role as a principal and the learning opportunities for our students. Our Dean of Students concentrates on promoting good attendance rates, identifying behavioral problems, and addressing those issues with students and parents to create positive outcomes. She contributes to maintaining a positive, caring, orderly, and supportive student culture and learning environment. She proactively communicates with teachers and visits classrooms to promote positive behaviors and mitigate problem behaviors. Our Dean of Students leads the parent drop-off and pick-up procedures as well as the recess and lunchroom procedures. We have a much more proactive approach in which students are being taught the skills that are expected.  

This addition of Dean of Students came at a critical time. At the beginning of the school year, we were identified for targeted support for reading and math achievement for one of our student subgroups. This group was also identified for targeted support for attendance. As disappointing as this was, going through the training and steps for continuous improvement this year has been an exceptional experience. Having a Dean of Students afforded me the time to focus on school improvement and work with the various leadership teams. Creating a Continuous School Improvement Leadership Team and completing a needs assessment helped us identify some root causes. These causes include:

  • Students receiving special education services for reading and math were being pulled from the regular education classrooms and missing out on being taught some of their grade level standards.
  • Because of having shared specialists, the schedule did not allow for quality blocks of time for reading, math and interventions.
  • Our classroom teachers had no common prep time for collaboration and planning.

We have developed a plan for school-wide improvement. Our school has solidified an MTSS grade level collaboration structure in which teachers meet weekly to collect and organize data, unpack standards, and align curriculum. They are moving forward with the process as our MTSS leadership team and standards team supports them. Revamping the schedule to allow more common collaboration time will enhance this process. Other improvements are increased STEM opportunities and the adoption of a new rigorous reading series. This summer we are having an assessment team trained to use FAST for our school-wide assessment tool. We realize the importance of screening, diagnostic, and progress monitoring, in order to determine the appropriate levels of student support.

Through all of this, a surprising number of teachers have stepped up to lead in all of these practices and implementations. In recognition of our students, staff, and community, we will be submitting our application for the Minnesota School of Excellence. I truly believe that without our Dean of Students freeing me up to be more of an instructional leader, much of this would not have been possible.  

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By Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd), Author, Kids Deserve It! and Principal, Webb Elementary

This blog was originally shared at Posted with the permission of the author.

To see Todd speak in person, register for MESPA Institute 2019 and be sure to attend his keynote, Building a Powerful School Culture.


I believe in the power of a single book. That one story, or character, can empower/challenge/save a life. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

In 2016 I was asked to join the Scholastic Principal Advisory Board. This isn’t a position I get paid for but instead is somewhere that I can grow myself as a learner and be part of reading conversations with Scholastic. The last two years that I’ve been on the board have been fantastic. I have learned so much about “summer slide” (the loss of learning during the summer), the importance of even the presence of books in the home, independent reading practices, increasing book fair involvement, and so much more.

While sitting at the annual Scholastic Principal Advisory Board meeting in February, we were discussing the importance of putting books in the hands of children and how important it was that we encourage them to read over the summer. I learned about a great Summer Reading Challenge that Scholastic puts on. I remember right away making excuses of why my students wouldn’t participate (yes, even I still find myself making excuses sometimes). I tried to blame funding or lack of internet access.

But while sitting next to me, Mary Beth Coleman helped eliminate all my excuses and show that other schools, with just as high of a poverty rate, were finding great success with summer reading.

I learned about the BOGO (Buy One Get One) book fairs from Scholastic that you can bring to your school at the end of the year to help get more books in the hands of your kids.

Then my wheels started spinning….

When I came back to my district after the training, I met with my Curriculum and Instruction team as they talked with me about Title 1 money that I had available. As we talked about campus needs, I shared with them the research that exists on providing students with access to books, putting books in their homes, summer reading, and more.  Then I told them I had an idea.

I wanted to use the Title 1 money to buy books. But of course, I wanted to go big and do it differently. And thankfully, they jumped on board.

So the first thing I did was contact the manager at the Scholastic Book Fairs Warehouse in Houston. These warehouses are actually all over the country and continually have hours that educators can come and shop! It’s amazing. It’s like a giant Wal-Mart. I called Scott over at the Warehouse and told him that I wanted to bring my teachers to shop. I wanted to give each of them some money that they could spend on their students. We had a work day coming up so I was going to rent buses and have us take a staff field trip!  He was on board right away.  His team came together (and were amazing btw) and allowed my team to go shopping. But my team didn’t just shop for random books. Before we went to the warehouse they sat down with every student to really learn their likes and dislikes. Their interests and their hobbies. Because my team was tasked with buying books individually for every child that fit them. Not just buying class sets of things. And we kept this trip a complete secret from the students.

The day of the Warehouse shopping was magic. Teachers running from aisle to aisle to grab books. It was fantastic. We filled an entire school bus full of books to bring back to campus.

A week later, we revealed our trip to the students. Teachers wrapped up books like Christmas Gifts and students came outside one grade level at a time, not knowing what was going on, only to find a gift with their name on it on a table. On the count of three everyone opened their gifts and squealed in amazement. We then told them that those were THEIR books to keep. It was a magical experience.  Parents were so caught off guarded that we even got several phone calls asking if they had to pay for the books or if it was real! ha!

It was powerful too to hear from parent after parent of the excitement it built of reading in their homes, immediately. How parents couldn’t find their children because they were quietly reading in bed. Or my favorite was the parent who said, “It was incredibly moving to me to watch my child, who hates reading because of his dyslexia, come home with a handful of books excited and asking if we could read them together.” Those are the moments we live for as educators.

But it didn’t stop there…..I told you I had to do this big, and that wasn’t quite big enough for me just yet….

I then called up Mary Beth and Joe Shaw and told them I had another idea….I wanted to bring in the BOGO Book Fair to my school….but as a surprise. Why a surprise? Because we were going to give every student $100 to spend to buy whatever books they wanted.  So with the BOGO deal it was like giving them $200!

So we planned the BOGO fair for the last full week of school. Now I don’t know if I mentioned this but we have about 775 students….so I really had to work hand in hand with Scholastic to plan this because this was a book fair unlike any they’d ever done. We were gonna be setting up a HUGE fair.

After the fair was secretly set up in the Gym, we surprised the kids with the news. To hear the screams of excitement was so rewarding.

We scheduled two classes every hour for a week.  Working at a school where almost 90% of my students are on a free-and-reduced lunch, it was so heartwarming to watch them get to shop for any books they wanted! They were grabbing books left and right. Nowhere did you hear the words, “I’m not a reader, I don’t want any of these books” or “I don’t like reading, this is boring.” There was running, laughing, and kids sitting reading everywhere.

At the close of the book fair we ended up giving out around 13,000 books.

Those books went home with the students, many of which was their first ever book to have at home.

What makes this even more sweet? The last day of school a parent came up to me and said… “Thank you for giving my little boy (a 2nd grader), those books. He came home and was so excited that his 4 year old sister and his 15 year old brother have begged him to borrow the books. Now we read together as a family every night and we’ve never done that before. You helped bring us together.” Even as I type those words, tears are in my eyes.

This undertaking was no small feat. And I can’t claim the credit, because a team of people helped make this happen. But I hope the ripples are felt for years to come, and I can’t wait to see the students in the fall and hear about their reading adventures that took place over this summer.

We believe in the depths of our hearts that putting books in the hands of kids can change a life.  And not just any book, but a book they can call their own. A book they chose.  A book that belongs to them.

Reading changes lives. Books change lives.

This blog was originally shared at Posted with the permission of the author.

To see Todd speak in person, register for MESPA Institute 2019 and be sure to attend his keynote, Building a Powerful School Culture.

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Ensuring High-Quality Inclusive Instruction for All Students

By Kevin Oldenburg (@kwoldenburg), Principal, Howe & Hiawatha Community School, Minneapolis, MESPA Minneapolis Division President-Elect


As the new year begins, leaders should take time to look back and audit our goals set out at the beginning of the school year. One of the goals my staff and I have publicly voiced over the past few years is, “All students, all the time.” While many of us as principals start with this goal in mind, I felt it was important to have actionable steps to implement to ensure our students with who are often marginalized or not attended to receive the high quality inclusive instruction and practices they should be receiving.

I am fortunate to have an incredible teacher at my side to ensure students in our federal setting III programs receive high quality inclusive instruction. She and I, with the input of other stakeholders, took on the task of outlining our vision for what instruction students should be receiving as it is laid out in their IEP. We defined our inclusive practices as students having access to appropriate instruction and activities at the appropriate time and place. This helps foster not only good learning but also a sense of belonging and acceptance.

We started by asking:

  • What are the basic steps we should be taking?
  • How can we ensure a sustainable process for programming to meet the needs of our students?
  • How will our building define inclusive instruction?

These seemed like three pretty straightforward questions. Not until we started answering these questions did we understand we needed to ask even more questions. Yes, all students should have: lockers integrated with their grade level peers, desks in the general education setting which aren’t set aside or isolated, their names on their general education rosters, access to all grade level field trips, etc.

As you look to address the needs of your learners I would encourage you to ask these questions as well:

  • Are we encouraging student-to-student interaction with all of our learners?
  • Are staff incorporating best practices in their attempt to best meet the needs of our learners and is there a way for them to reflect on this practice with a colleague or peer?
  • Through staffing, adaptive technology, or student groupings, are we accommodating the needs of individual learners?
  • Does our building have a way for IEP Case Managers to regularly meet with content instructors to discuss providing the best environment for students to learn?
  • Do we have a way/time for our case managers to sit down with our Special Education Assistants and help them either prepare a student for learning in the general education setting, or at a minimum help them to differentiate the curriculum being presented?

Our students identified as needing federal setting III services see a bevy of different service providers and service models. When we began, we knew there wasn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution for all students. Our work was not to make an all-or-none environment for students, but to evaluate how we meet the needs of all of our students. This work can and will seem daunting for some teachers and for some IEP Case Managers. I can tell you after three years of professional development, adapted practices building-wide, and more than a few bumps along the way, we are progressing. Are we there yet? In a word, “no.” However, we understand this and continue to work on improving our practices with all children in mind.

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Give Thanks For Your Communities

By Judith Brockway, Principal, New York Mills Elementary, New York Mills, MESPA Western Division President Elect


With Thanksgiving and the giving season just around the corner, I can’t help but feel grateful for the wonderful staff, students, parents, and community that I work with and within. We are a team. We are a school family! We truly rely on each other to help make a difference in the lives of the students that we teach. Without each other, none of that is possible!

Thinking about giving and sharing made me think about a true story that I once heard. Jamie Vollmer, a self-proclaimed critic of public education who also happened to be the keynote speaker at a conference I once attended, shared a true story about himself at that conference and his words were so powerful that I feel compelled to share his message with all of you – some of you may even be familiar with it.

Vollmer was a businessman whose company made “the best blueberry ice cream in America.” Because of his business expertise, he was asked to make recommendations for and speak to staff in schools. He and others in the business community felt that schools should be run like businesses. One day during one of his lectures about “accountability measures” and how schools needed to “reward success and punish failure,” a teacher stood up and quietly asked him what he did when his blueberry shipment didn’t meet his AAA standards. He immediately replied that he “would send them right back!” That brave teacher reminded him that students are not blueberries that can be sent back if they don’t meet our standards. We accept and teach them all just as they are. That is why we are a school, not a business. This teacher changed his life forever with her simple words.

Hundreds of children arrive at our schools each and every day. This mass of diverse and demanding bodies requires constant attention from the moment they arrive, and teachers spend their entire day immersed in the task of teaching their students so that they can meet the standards. From early morning to late afternoon, teachers and all staff run at full tilt. They are prepared and determined every day to make a difference. Our teachers teach more children to higher levels in more subjects in more creative and dynamic ways than at any other time in history.

But we cannot do it alone. We need help! We need our parents and our communities to share in the joys (and heartaches) of raising and educating our next generation of respectful, kind, caring, and responsible citizens.

Vollmer states, and I believe, that a fundamental transformation is continuing to take place in America. The future of everyone is tied to the quality of our schools as never before. No one can accurately predict what jobs will be created in the next 20 years. This shift and others have triggered a dramatic increase in what our students need to know when they graduate. In a single generation we have raised the bar to universal student achievement and for ALL students to be college- and career-ready by the time that they graduate. No generation of educators in the history of the world has been asked to accomplish this goal until now!

We have tripled the amount of curriculum that our students are expected to learn. There has been an explosion of standardized tests and test preparation. We have expanded early childhood programs and increased opportunities for remediation and enrichment all while trying to support the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of every child who comes through our doors. All the while, failure is just not an option!

I am awed by the rigors of the job and moved by the effort and dedication of the people who teach and support our students every day! Abraham Lincoln once said “Public sentiment is everything. WITH it, nothing can fail; AGAINST it, nothing can succeed.” Parents and the communities within which we all live have the final word regarding our schools and our children’s successes or failures. We continue to need their ongoing understanding, trust, permission and support to be able to help kids succeed in the 21st century.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Give thanks for your parents and the communities that you live in! I know I will!

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