5 Things Great Principals Do Differently

by guest blogger Dr. Steven Weber, Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools

Everything rises and falls on leadership (Maxwell, 2007). Anyone who has served as a building principal will share that school leadership is on-the-job training. Graduate school provides school leaders with an understanding of school law, leadership theory, curriculum theory, communication with stakeholders, and management. Within the first month in the principal’s office, school leaders learn that there are lessons yet to be learned.

“Leading people is the most challenging and, therefore, the most gratifying undertaking of all human endeavors” (Willink & Babin, 2015, p. 287). Principals have the opportunity to coach, encourage, inspire, transform, and communicate. Great principals understand the important role that they perform. Intentional leaders focus on the following key areas of leadership.

Build Relationships

Be present. This is advice that teachers, students, families, and stakeholders would give aspiring principals. A principal should learn the names of students and staff. Great principals focus on others and understand that investing in others is an important part of leading. “In short, the relationships among the educators in a school define all relationships within that school’s culture. Teachers and administrators demonstrate all too well a capacity to either enrich or diminish one another’s lives and thereby enrich or diminish their schools” (Barth, 2006). Fist bumps, high fives, and lunch with the principal are investments that have a high return on investment (ROI).

Establish a Culture of Instructional Excellence

Instructional leaders provide a system that supports teaching and learning. In the absence of a system, students will fall through the cracks. Instructional leaders must strive to identify the main focus for each grade level or course and then work collaboratively to ensure that each student is challenged. Hattie suggests that principals are engaged in instructional leadership when they “have their major focus on creating a learning climate free of disruption, a system of clear teaching objectives, and high teacher expectations for teachers and students” (2012, p. 83). When instructional leadership becomes the priority for administrators, understanding will grow. “The job is not to hope that optimal learning will occur, based on our curriculum and initial teaching. The job is to ensure that learning occurs, and when it doesn’t, to intervene in altering the syllabus and instruction decisively, quickly, and often” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, p. 55). As an instructional leader, hundreds of students and families are counting on you to give the school direction and help students grow as lifelong learners.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

If education is viewed as a relationship with students, families, and the community, then good communication should be a priority. Communication skills are critically important in education. Teachers and administrators communicate with parents/guardians, community leaders, co-workers, and other stakeholders. A principal can be successful if she understands curriculum design and knows how to support teachers. However, if her communication skills are weak she will not last long as a school administrator. In a world where most people use a SmartPhone for Twitter, Facebook, alerts from the pharmacy, and driving directions, families expect to receive real time communication from school. While it is important to focus on curriculum development, assessment, healthy school lunches, exercise, and student safety, some schools could benefit from focusing on how well principals are communicating.

Eric Sheninger wrote, school leaders need to become the “Storyteller-in-Chief.” There is a story told about every school in the United States. In the 1980’s, the story was told in the daily newspaper. In the 1990’s, the story was told through pictures and videos. Social media allows principals to communicate and connect with key stakeholders.

Use Data to Make Informed Decisions

Data-driven schools focus on key indicators that support teaching and learning. There are two types of schools: Schools where student growth is increasing and schools where student growth is declining. “Timely indicators are hugely important if institutional leaders are to know whether things are on track or off track – before it’s too late” (Offenstein, Moore, & Shulock, 2010, p. 1). Principals should monitor attendance, behavior, grades, formative assessment scores, summative assessment scores, and other indicators that are available. Data-driven schools are focused on continuous improvement. “The ultimate validation of a curriculum lies in its results; that is, did it help students achieve the desired outcomes” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, p. 159)? Great principals use data to determine if the written curriculum and instructional strategies are yielding the desired outcomes.

Multiply Leaders

School leaders often fall into the trap of feeling like their job is to have all the answers and to be the perfect leader. There is no such thing as a perfect leader and great principals lead by providing others with leadership opportunities. Tony Dungy (2001) wrote, “By touching the lives of the people right around us, and by replicating leaders who in turn can replicate more leaders, we can create value far beyond the small sphere that we can reach and touch directly” (p. 201). Teacher leaders can provide instructional leadership, data analysis, curriculum development, program review, professional development, and home-to-school communication. Great school leaders focus on adding value to others and providing leadership opportunities. Maxwell (1995) wrote, “If you really want to be a successful leader, you must develop other leaders around you. You must establish a team” (p. 2). Are you focused on developing followers or multiplying leaders?


There has never been a higher demand for building principals. The role is demanding, yet rewarding. The principal can set the tone for the school and this is a powerful responsibility. Schools are learning organizations and the leader of the organization should keep these priorities at the center of their work. Successful schools require strong leadership.

Traditionally, the principal resembled the middle manager suggested in William Whyte’s 1950’s classic The Organization Man – an overseer of buses, boilers and books (The Wallace Foundation, 2013, p. 6). Today, the principal builds relationships, establishes a culture of instructional excellence, communicates with stakeholders, uses data to make informed decisions, and multiplies leaders.


December 2017 Key Points Script

This video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egKAkjbMGZQ.

Hi, I’m Johnny Key. Thank you for joining me for the December edition of Key Points.

This month we will highlight the new, redesigned Educator Effectiveness webpages and a new Advanced Placement initiative opportunity for high school students. Finally, I will recognize an outstanding high school student who participated in some groundbreaking research that could change the future of medicine.

First to tell you more about the new Educator Effectiveness webpages is Dr. Jeremy Owoh, our assistant commissioner for Educator Effectiveness. Dr. Owoh is one of the newest members of the ADE team and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience as an educator and administrator.

New Educator Effectiveness Webpages – Dr. Jeremy Owoh

Thank you, Commissioner Key. Excellent educators are essential to student success, both in and out of the classroom. From providing quality instruction to serving as a positive role model, a teacher’s influence extends beyond the four walls of a classroom. As a department, our commitment is demonstrated through our support to districts in their efforts to recruit and retain first-rate teachers.

Providing up-to-date, useful information about the education profession is one way we are doing just that. With the launch of our redesigned Educator Effectiveness webpages, anyone who is interested in the teaching profession can access valuable information. Whether you are looking to become an Arkansas teacher or want to learn how to renew a teaching license, the newly-organized webpages make it easier to access this information.

I invite you to check out our new webpages by visiting our website at ArkansasEd.gov.

Now to tell you more about a new computer science incentive program is Anthony Owen, ADE’s state director of computer science education.

AP Computer Science Incentive Program – Anthony Owen

Because of outstanding educators and students, Arkansas is leading the nation in computer science education. With the launch of the new Advanced Placement Computer Science A Incentive Program, Arkansas is setting the bar even higher.

The purpose of the incentive program is to increase the number students earning of qualifying scores, which are 3, 4, or 5, on Advanced Placement Computer Science A exams. Through this program, Arkansas public school students and schools may be eligible to receive a monetary incentive ranging from $250 to $1,000 for students and $50 to $250 for schools.

To qualify, a student must earn one computer science flex credit for successfully completing an AP Computer Science A course and receive a qualifying score on the AP exam if taken between August 1, 2017, and May 30, 2018.

To learn more about this exciting program, please visit the Computer Science section on the ADE website.

Now to tell you more about a student who is making his mark on medicine, is Commissioner Key.

Student Spotlight – Commissioner Key

This month I want to spotlight Mr. Derek Mullins, a Highland High School senior who spent this past summer working on an interesting research project at Lyon College in Batesville. Mr. Mullins assisted a chemistry professor and researcher who are working on a cure for a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis.

Mr. Mullins has wanted to become a doctor since he was 9 years old and is well on his way. He is scheduled to graduate early, actually this month, and is interested in working on a cure for Alzheimer’s. Congratulations, Mr. Mullins!

November 2017 Key Points Script

The video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXLzokpcWg0.

Hi, I’m Johnny Key. Thank you for joining me for the November edition of Key Points.

The ACT and ACT Fee Waivers – Commissioner Key

Transforming Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education requires increased use of available education resources and programs. The ACT is one of those important opportunities available to students.

Whether a student is considering attending a four-year university or a trade school, the ACT opens doors to scholarships and other forms of financial aid to help pay for education beyond high school. Just as important as the score, the pre-test information students fill out serves as a recruitment tool for many colleges, with many offering additional financial assistance.

All Arkansas public school students have the opportunity to take the ACT for free during the spring of their junior year when the state pays for and administers the test. Additional tests, however, are paid for by students. Fee waivers, which cover the cost of the test, are available to economically-disadvantaged students. In addition to getting the opportunity to take the ACT at no cost on a national test day, students who are eligible for waivers have access to ACT Kaplan Online Prep Live, an online prep program students can use to prepare for the upcoming test.

I encourage all students to take the ACT multiple times while in high school. ACT data show an increase in students’ composite scores the more times the test is taken. According to ACT, the average composite score of 2017 Arkansas graduates (including public and private school graduates) who took the test two or more times was 21.1, compared to 16.5 for graduates who took the test one time.

I also encourage students and parents to have ongoing conversations about the importance of taking this exam. To learn more about fee waivers and to see the ACT testing schedule through 2019, visit our website: http://bit.ly/2ym0zhc.

My Child/My Student – Commissioner Key 

Volunteering is this month’s My Child/My Student college and career readiness topic. Besides giving back to your community and helping others in need, volunteering provides a great opportunity for you to network with others and learn new skills. You never know when a volunteer opportunity may turn into a job or career.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities in your community, I encourage you to visit volunteerar.org. The website provides numerous options for volunteering and allows you to keep track of your volunteer hours. It is a great resource with endless opportunities to connect with organizations in your communities.

Also, don’t forget to check out other My Child/My Student resources, including a newsletter and links to other important resources, on our website at http://www.arkansased.gov/divisions/communications/my-childmy-student.

Student Spotlight – Commissioner Key

This month I want to spotlight the students at Bryant High School for their outstanding sportsmanship. Because of their commitment to fairness and inclusion in sports, the school as recently named a Unified Champion School by the Special Olympics. The school met 10 standards of excellence, with a focus on unified sports, inclusive youth leadership and whole-student engagement. Congratulations to these students and the school for this great honor!

October 2017 Key Points Script

The video is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEK6KyjxBrs

Hi, I’m Johnny Key. Thank you for joining me for the October edition of Key Points. This month we will highlight R.I.S.E. Schools, the 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year selection process, and an innovative school lunch project at Danville. I also am really excited to spotlight two students from Paris High School who are giving back to others.

R.I.S.E. Schools – Commissioner Key

The Reading Initiative for Student Excellence, or R.I.S.E. Arkansas reading campaign, was launched in January, and since then I have been overjoyed to see students, educators, parents and communities around the state embrace the initiative. Strong reading skills set the foundation for student success beyond high school. In order to help all students be prepared for college, career and community engagement, a strong culture of reading is essential.

Earlier this summer, we offered schools the opportunity to be named R.I.S.E. Schools. The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive, with more than 350 schools making the commitment to promote a culture of reading, build community partnerships and strengthen reading instruction.

To help them, each school is receiving a R.I.S.E. School kit that includes bookmarks, posters, a banner and much more. As they receive their boxes, several schools are posting pictures on social media using #RISEArkansas, so be sure to follow us on social media. Also check out the R.I.S.E. Schools page on our website to see if your school is a R.I.S.E. School.

I commend each of these schools for putting students first and leading the way as we transform Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education. Now to tell you more about an innovate school lunch project in the Danville School District is Ms. Stephanie Alsbrook, the assistant director for healthy schools in the ADE Child Nutrition Unit.

School Lunch Project – Stephanie Alsbrook

Thank you, Commissioner Key. About a year ago, the Danville School District contacted us about the possibility of serving school, farm-raised beef in the cafeteria. The district has a strong Future Farmers of America program and was looking to turn this into a learning experience for all students.

We were more than happy to help with this innovative request, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture encourages local purchasing where possible. After conducting the research, we provided guidance on USDA regulations involving meat processing and answered any other questions the district had.

Through this project, the calf was purchased and raised, with its meat ultimately providing hundreds of meals to Danville students. The project was such as success, that the school has purchased two additional calves.

If you would like to learn more about the project, please contact us at the number on your screen, or contact the Danville School District.

Here to tell you more about the 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year selection process is Meghan Ables, ADE’s public information manager and the 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.

Arkansas Teacher of the Year – Meghan Ables  

As the 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, I can say first-hand how exciting and life-changing it is to be named the Arkansas Teacher of the Year. Arkansas has some amazing teachers around the state, and during my tenure I had the opportunity to meet so many of them.

Now as an ADE team member, I have the honor and privilege of coordinating the Arkansas Teacher of the Year program. I am so pleased to announce that Ms. Randi House, a kindergarten teacher at Theodore Jones Elementary School in the Conway School District, has just been named the 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year!  Ms. House makes personalized learning come alive in her classroom. Her personal journey in education, beginning with her first-grade year, will inspire everyone that hears her story.  The ADE team cannot wait for all of you to follow her journey in 2018.

I also want to recognize the outstanding 14 Regional Finalists who were honored recently by Governor Asa Hutchinson and Commissioner Key, and, of course, the four state semi-finalists who opened the doors to their schools and classrooms. Congratulations and thank you for all you do.  Each of you are truly inspirational.  We should all be so proud of our teachers here in Arkansas!

The ADE team loves to celebrate teachers. I encourage all districts around the state to have a Teacher of the Year program and learn more about our Teacher of the Year program, on our website.   Now with this month’s Student Spotlight is Commissioner Key.

Student Spotlight – Commissioner Key

This month I want to spotlight Ms. Anna Claire Richey and Ms. Joni Inman, two students at Paris High School. These two students recently started Give Me Five, a charity that uses a 3D printer to makes prosthetic arms, hands and fingers that are given away to someone in need.

This is more than just a hobby for these two ladies; Ms. Richey and Ms. Inman recently collaborated with a software company that inspected and approved their first prototype.

Through this innovative project, these students are making a difference in their community and serve as positive role models for students around the state.

September 2017 Key Points Script

The video is available at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EE-zafHqgms&t=4s.

Hi! I’m Johnny Key. Thank you for joining me for the September edition of Key Points. I hope everyone has settled back into a school year routine and the school year is going great.

Professional Learning Communities

The Arkansas Department of Education, in partnership with Solution Tree, is pleased to announce a new program to develop and expand the Professional Learning Communities at Work process across Arkansas. Eleven schools and one district have been selected to serve as working models for the Professional Learning Communities process, conducting action research and sharing best practices with other schools throughout the state. As part of the program, the awardees will receive up to 50 days of training, coaching and support to build and sustain a strong culture of collaboration that will enhance student learning. The intensive work to build collaborative teams this school year will not only improve communication and the sharing of resources among teachers, it will result in student progress. When educators share best practices and work together to address areas that need improvement, our students have endless opportunities to grow and learn. These schools are committed to ensuring Arkansas leads the nation in student-focused education. To learn more about the PLC for Arkansas pilot project and to see the list of those selected for the pilot project, please visit our webpage.

Code of Ethics Training Video

The ADE Communications Team partnered with the investigative team for the Professional Licensure Standards Board to create an online training video about the Code of Ethics for Arkansas Educators. The Code of Ethics, which includes eight standards, defines minimum standards of ethical conduct for educators. You can access the standards on our webpage. The training video is very informative and highlights each of the eight standards in more detail. I encourage all educators to watch the video, which is available on our website.

My Child/My Student Resources

Be sure to check out this month’s My Child/My Student campaign resources. In addition to parent and teacher resources, a ready-to-print newsletter in English and Spanish is available. This month’s college and career readiness topic is R.I.S.E. Arkansas, with mental health awareness being the student safety topic. I encourage you to visit the My Child/My Student page on our website to learn more about these topics and to access these resources. We’d love to hear from you regarding how you are using the resources. You can submit feedback at ade.communications@arkansas.gov.

Student Spotlight

This month I’d like to spotlight students from Bearden High School, Danville High School, Highland High School and Little Rock McClellan Magnet High School. These students, along with their teachers, were awarded a trip to the Facebook headquarters in California for their extraordinary work with the TechStart program. TechStart is a Facebook education initiative that helps students unlock opportunities through exposure to technology, project-based learning and computer science education. As recipients of TechStart’s New Frontier Award, these awardees were given a tour of the Facebook campus and participated in workshops about Facebook culture, TechStart and emerging technology. They also had the opportunity to meet with the TechStart team and provide input about the program. In January, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the partnership between ADE and Facebook. The partnership includes a $1.1 million donation of Virtual Reality equipment and ongoing programs and support to high schools across the state.


August 2017 Key Points Script

The video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LO-usCYwDz0

Hi. I’m Johnny Key. I am excited for you to join me for this back-to-school edition of Key Points.

Students First

From teachers’ continued professional development this summer to students who have embraced learning opportunities, I commend your efforts to continue learning! The ADE team has had the pleasure to visit with several of you this summer at education events and trainings around the state. We thoroughly enjoy getting to know you and commend you for all you do for Arkansas’ students.

Our goal is, and always will be, to put students first. In order to transform Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education, your collaboration and commitment are essential. We must continue to seek out opportunities to work together, encourage all students to do their best and celebrate successes along the way.

I welcome all students and educators back to school, and I am excited to join you in making student-focused learning a top priority for the 2017-2018 school year.

Every Student Succeeds Act

I want to thank everyone who provided feedback on Arkansas’ Every Student Succeeds Act plan. The Every Student Succeeds Act, also known as ESSA, replaces the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. ESSA gives states the opportunity to develop an accountability system that best measures student learning and success in their state.

We took every comment and suggestion you provided seriously and prepared another draft that was submitted to Governor Hutchinson. Based on his feedback, we will make final changes and submit Arkansas’ plan to the U.S. Department of Education by September 18. We will eagerly await feedback from Washington. Full implementation of the plan will be in the 2018-2019 school year.

To learn more about ESSA and Arkansas’ plan, please visit our website.

My Child/My Student Campaign

We are excited to launch the 2017-2018 My Child/My Student public awareness campaign. The campaign, in its fourth year, encourages parents and teachers to communicate throughout the school year. Research shows that when parents and teachers communicate, students perform better academically.

This year we have updated the monthly college and career readiness and student safety topics and will provide more user-friendly resources on our website for parents and teachers.

Please visit our My Child/My Student webpage to learn more.

Flashing Red. Kids Ahead.

School bus safety is everyone’s responsibility. Each year more than 7,100 school buses transport approximately 350,000 students to and from school and school-related activities.

As school buses return to the roadways this month, I want to remind you that it is illegal to pass a stopped school bus when it’s red lights are flashing. This signifies that students are getting on and off the bus.

Remember: Flashing Red. Kids Ahead. To learn more about the Flashing Red. Kids Ahead. campaign that promotes school bus safety, visit our website.

Student Spotlight

Finally, I would like to commend the students who made reading a top priority summer. From selecting books at local bookmobiles to visiting libraries, countless students embraced their love for reading this summer. The reading they did has prepared them to start the school year strong.

Parents and community members, let’s join them by demonstrating our love of reading and truly build that culture of reading in Arkansas.

To learn more about the R.I.S.E. (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence) Arkansas campaign, or to become a R.I.S.E. School, visit our website.

Have a great school year!

July 2017 Key Points Script

This video is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkntdJItGos

Hi. I’m Johnny Key. Thank you for joining me for the July edition of Key Points.

Summer Learning

I hope students and educators are enjoying a well-deserved summer break. While enjoying time with families and friends, be sure to incorporate learning activities in your summer routines. Students who are engaged in learning during the summer better retain knowledge and are more prepared to learn when they return to school in the fall.

Accountability Plan

Even though school is out for a couple of months, I want to encourage parents and educators to stay engaged with us here at the department. Your feedback and input matters to us. So far we have released two drafts of the Arkansas’ Accountability System plan. The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, gives states the opportunity to develop an education accountability system that best measures their students’ success. What a great opportunity this has been for Arkansas, and because of your feedback and input, we continue to refine our draft plan to better reflect our vision of transforming Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education. We will submit the final plan to the U.S. Department of Education in September. Even though the time period for the feedback surveys is officially closed, we value your feedback. I encourage you to read the latest draft that is available on the ADE website. You can e-mail comments and suggestions to ade.essacomments@arkansas.gov.

R.I.S.E. Arkansas

While planning vacations this summer, don’t forget to take along a good book. You can be a partner in building a culture of reading in Arkansas by reading as a family, involving your children in summer reading programs at your local library, reading to children, or reading to adults at nursing homes. To learn more about R.I.S.E. Arkansas, or our Reading Initiative for Student Excellence, visit our webpage. Also be sure to share your efforts to build a culture of reading by posting pictures on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using #RISEArkansas. We’d love to hear from you this summer!

Student Spotlight

Finally, I would like to spotlight all of the students who are engaging in learning activities this summer. From Governor’s School to Girls State and Boys State, Arkansas students are embracing educational activities and opportunities to grow personally and professionally. I commend each and every student who is involved in internships, educational workshops, jobs and volunteer activities. Each of these provides opportunities for growth and learning that can help students build confidence, knowledge and live-changing skills. On behalf of the ADE, have a great summer!

June 2017 Key Points Script

This video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmVT4KYZ-7k

Hi, I’m Johnny Key. Thank you for joining me for the June edition of Key Points.

Education Cooperative Visits

ADE leadership team members will be visiting the state’s 15 education service cooperatives in the coming weeks. These visits give us an opportunity to share information about new legislation, programs and initiatives with superintendents and principals. It also provides ADE leadership a chance to hear first-hand about issues and concerns that are impacting local school districts. Please make time to attend the presentation scheduled for your area cooperative.

Second Draft of Arkansas’ Accountability Plan Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

ADE recently posted the second draft of the state’s accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. I encourage you to take time to carefully review this draft and share your comments with us. The deadline to submit comments is June 30. Arkansas’ plan represents a tremendous amount of hard work, thoughtful consideration and input from stakeholders around the state.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, replaces the No Child Left Behind Act. It gives states more authority to develop their own accountability system. If Arkansas is to lead the nation in student-focused education, we must have a comprehensive accountability system that accurately and fairly measures whether students and schools are meeting educational expectations.

Sharing your feedback with us is an important part of developing a final plan that best measures student progress in Arkansas. Visit the ESSA page on the ADE website to access links to the draft, comment submission form and other ESSA information.

School Health Conference, July 11-13, 2017

ADE’s Office of School Health Services will host the 2017 Biennial School Health Conference July 11 through 13, at the Benton Event Center.  This year’s theme is “It Takes a Village: Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child.”  This event will provide quality professional development for school administrators, health and physical education teachers, school nurses and other interested participants. Read Commissioner’s Memo LS-17-067 for more details.

Child Nutrition Directors’ Conference, July 25-26, 2017

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently announced that the USDA will give states greater flexibility within the meal pattern requirements for school meals. These changes, along with other school nutrition topics, will be discussed during the conference. Read Commissioner’s Memo CNU-17-052 for conference registration details.

Student Spotlight

In this month’s student spotlight, I would like to congratulate all of the 2017 high school graduates. Your learning does not stop with a high school diploma. I challenge each of you to be life-long learners. Never stop growing and never stop embracing change.

I also want to recognize the students who participated in the Governor’s All-State Coding Competition. Governor Asa Hutchinson, in partnership with Verizon, announced the competition’s winning teams at the EAST Initiative facility on May 4.

Verizon contributed $40,000 to the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce to sponsor the competition, which awarded a college savings scholarship to each member of the top three teams. The first and second place teams were from the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs, and the third place team was from Springdale’s Har-Ber High School. The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts received an award of $20,000.

Verizon announced it would contribute $50,000 to sponsor next year’s competition. A portion of those funds will also be used to train and certify computer science teachers around the state.

Congratulations to all the students and thank you to Governor Hutchinson and Verizon for your leadership and support.

My Teacher of the Year Transformation: A Year that Forever Changed Me

by Meghan Ables, 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year

When I look back prior to December 7, 2015, I see myself wearing my favorite maroon football jersey with my custom-painted shoes displaying the words “Go” and “Birds” in bright white and maroon. I hear myself on the microphone leading the cheers and reminding the teams about the tradition they are protecting with every victory. I see high fives and secret handshakes at the door of room 109. I see handwritten notes on the wall that say, “My favorite teacher: teaches to the heart, not the textbook.” I feel unconditional love from every student. All of these things bring me insurmountable joy.

December 7 changed me. Serving as the 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year took me down the road less traveled, down a road I wish every teacher could experience because they deserve it. This ATOY adventure rocked my world. This year out of my classroom pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the bigger world of education. It was a year like no other… a year of learning, loving, connecting and cheering. As this year winds down, I can assure you that I have been blessed beyond measure.

A Year of Learning

Now, after a year-and-a-half of training, traveling, learning, speaking, connecting and cheering, I can honestly say I have been transformed. I have had the amazing privilege of learning from the best. I have visited 48 schools around the state and seen our best teachers first hand, and wow, Arkansas teachers are undeniably awesome! I also had the honor of sitting next to the other 53 state Teachers of the Year and hearing how they are impacting education at the district and state levels. To have the opportunity to be mentored by past National Teachers of the Year is a rare blessing. Not many teachers can say the National Teacher of the Year is just a phone call away.

Every day that I work at the Arkansas Department of Education I learn something. Being there on a regular basis has been eye opening to say the least. What I believed to be true (from the perspective as a classroom teacher) was far from the truth. These educators (yes, I said educators because most of them are in fact teachers) love kids and work tirelessly to make education in Arkansas better. I consistently hear them asking questions like, “Will this be best for students?” or “Will this take things off teachers’ already full plates?” Commissioner Johnny Key has instilled a sense of collaboration among all of the departments, and he has unified his team, putting them on a path to leading the nation in student-focused education. I do believe Arkansas will reach these goals and set national standards with his leadership and strong vision.

Going through the Leadership Academy has been a true inspiration. This training has given me so many strategies to build my leadership skills. It put me in the room with the best teacher leaders across the state where I could collaborate, share and grow. I have created life-long friends through the process and grown my Personal Learning Network.

In addition, serving on the State Board of Education has taught me so much about policy and procedures. Each month I have looked forward to serving and learning alongside these amazing people. What a perfect combination of board members to represent our schools, teachers and students. Teachers, rest assured this board is working on your behalf, giving everything it has to be fair and balanced. Students, be confident in knowing this board thinks about you with every decision made.

A Year of Loving

In January of 2016 I met my Teacher of the Year cohort from around the country. We are a truly unique group; we are student advocates and fighters for public education. We have grown to love each other as a family… we have experienced the loss of loved ones and the birth of six babies together. Individually, we each faced our fears and overcame obstacles, knowing others were there waiting to celebrate with us. No matter where I go, I have a friend waiting there to greet me, a friend who loves children just like I do. It has been an honor to grow alongside my new teacher family.

This year I learned to love myself. The qualities that I once saw as flaws became my unique stamp. The girl who would once make excuses as to why her voice was so “raspy” has learned to embrace her sound and speak with conviction and passion like never before. The girl who once fought to straighten out her God-given curls has learned to let them be free. Now, people see my hair and hear my voice and are instantly connected to who I am. These qualities have become my trademark, per say. I am so grateful that this experience transformed the way I see myself.

A Year of Connecting

Yes, I have always loved social media and believed in its power. I have been able to connect with teachers across the state through my Facebook Group, Arkansas Teacher of the Year 2016. I sought out the stories that reflect best practices of our schools, students and teachers, with my Facebook friends also helping me find what I was looking for. It has been such a joy to share the stories of my educator colleagues. It is for this reason, that I will be renaming my group when my year is over, focusing on educators sharing their stories along with educational resources.

In January of 2016 I started my Twitter account (@ables_meghan). To be honest, I initially thought it would take up too much time, but I was unaware of the professional learning that can take place via Twitter. It wasn’t long before I was connecting with educators around the world, participating in Twitter national chats and talking with authors about their educational resources. This spring I began co-hosting Twitter chats, giving teachers a voice into the development of the Arkansas Accountability System under the new Every Student Succeeds Act. In May we started our first ever ATOY chat (#ATOYchat), bringing past and present Teachers of the Year together to share information. This feedback can go back to ADE to help it shape decisions with teacher input. I am also excited about the launch of #EduAR chat for Arkansas teachers. There is nothing more powerful than teacher leaders connecting and sharing.

A Year of Cheering, Cheering Loudly

Ever since I was 14 years old, I have loved cheerleading. I remember my coach, whose leadership helped me step into education in the first place, telling me that not everyone loved cheering like I did. There are some things that are just in our blood, and being a cheerleader is definitely in mine. People always ask me where this kind of joy and positivity come from, and I simply answer, “My joy comes from the Lord.”

The joy from my classroom was transformed to a joy of celebrating teachers this year. Every school I visited I asked the principal about his outstanding teacher leaders. Time and time again I heard the words, “My teacher is a champion for students. She wants every child to succeed, wants every teacher to grow, wants to bring positive change… She is a leader of teachers and a lover of students.” I was so proud to present these teachers with an Impact Award via the Arkansas Teacher Impact Celebration initiative (#ARTeacherImpact). I would encourage anyone who meets or knows outstanding educators to cheer loud! Let them know by providing public recognition. Make sure they know how they have made an impact. Be sure to use the hashtag so everyone can meet them and cheer for them.

The day Courtney Cochran was named the 2017 ATOY was a day of true cheering for me! I will be cheering for Courtney as she steps into her new role this July and as she takes each step down this road less traveled. She will be, without a doubt, an amazing Arkansas Teacher of the Year! Go Courtney!!

A Year of Thankfulness

I am truly thankful for this opportunity to represent teachers across Arkansas. I must start where it all began. Thank you to the parents who blessed me with the opportunity to teach and reach your children. These students taught me how to be a better person; they taught me how to be strong and face the cards life may deal you. To my co-workers at Stuttgart High School, you got me here. You welcomed me to the team, helped me grow as a teacher, stood by me as a friend and cheered for me as I started this chapter. To my principal, Donnie Boothe, who knew I might not always ask for permission, he always celebrated with me when my out-of-the-box methods brought success to my students.

To the Communications Team at ADE, thank you for embracing my creativity, accepting me for who I am and being my cheerleader this year. You opened your arms and welcomed me, while giving me guidance through this transformational process.

To the State Board members, thank you for putting students first. Thank you for recognizing the importance of teacher voice, supporting innovation in schools and making it a priority to elevate the teaching profession.

To those ADE team members who listened to my questions, guided me into understanding the “why” and recognized my hard work, thank you! I will never forget cheering alongside all of you this year.

To all of my mentors, Ouida Newton and all of the other past Arkansas Teachers of the Year, thank you! Your support and encouragement meant the world to me as I stepped out on this journey, and it kept me on track as I near the end.

To Emily and Paul at the Council of Chief State School Officers, thank you for teaching me to lead in a whole new way.

Commissioner Key, thank you for believing in me. Your leadership inspires me, and Arkansas is blessed to have you leading the charge of transforming education in Arkansas.

To the Walton Family Foundation, thank you for not only your financial contribution to me but your support to past and future ATOYs and educators around the state.

To SMART Technologies for the technology package for my classroom; Microsoft for providing technology and professional development; to Walden University for helping me further my education; to Extra Yard for Teachers for celebrating the state Teachers of the Year; to Voya for your ongoing support to teachers throughout the year; to the University of Phoenix for giving more than 50 students a free college degree; to Scholastic for sponsoring our National Network of State Teachers of the Year events, to Space Camp for taking me on a true adventure; to the White House for welcoming us and celebrating us so graciously; to Vice President Biden for allowing us into his home and recognizing our work; to ASCD for giving me the greatest pep rally ever; to ECET2 for bringing me inspiration; to the Leadership Academy for the opportunity to learn alongside my colleagues; to every CCSSO partner that made each state teacher feel like a celebrity…. THANK YOU! I am so thankful for all of you and how you support educators across the nation.

Thank You, God, for guiding me, equipping me and having a plan so much greater than my own. I give You all of the glory.

Thank you to my family for holding my hand on this journey. My husband, Timmy, and my daughter, Jessie, have allowed me to travel the nation and state, resulting in fewer home-cooked dinners.

To my family, my support system, thank you for making all of this possible. I love you all.

In all that you do, be a cheerleader to someone. Why? Because everyone needs a cheerleader!

May 2017 Key Points Script

This video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hByQGIfxC6w

Innovation Video – Commissioner Key

Hi, I’m Johnny Key. Thank you for joining me for the May edition of Key Points.

This month, I would like to highlight our latest Innovation in Arkansas Education video that features Malvern High School. Malvern is changing the culture of education by embracing healthy lifestyle choices. In addition to offering healthy meal options, educators are increasing student achievement by incorporating physical activity into classes. Through this hands-on learning, Malvern has adopted a student-focused learning system and is helping transform Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education.

To learn more about Malvern’s innovative practices, check out the Innovation video on our website. You also can watch previous Innovation videos that highlight schools’ best practices.

Financial Literacy – Commissioner Key

Did you know that many adult money habits are set by the age of seven? A recent study by Cambridge University revealed this finding in a study entitled “Habit Formation and Learning in Young Children.” The study revealed that by age seven most children have grasped the ability to recognize the value of money, understand that money can be exchanged for goods and what it means to earn money. It is important for adults to not underestimate the effects their own money habits will have on children.

In Arkansas, we are working to help young learners develop strong foundations in economics and personal finance. We know that informed decision-making is a critical thinking skill that students can use throughout their school, personal and work lives. To assist, the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank has created a curriculum called Kiddynomics. This five-lesson curriculum guide uses popular children’s literature to introduce key economic and personal finance concepts and address kindergarten readiness skills. Economics Arkansas is using this curriculum, as well as hands-on resources, to make the topic come to life in the pre-K environment.

To learn more, check with your local co-op for a summer offering called Itty Bitty Economics, or contact Economics Arkansas for more details.

Teacher of the Year Applications – Commissioner Key

I want to remind you that we are accepting applications for the 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year. To apply, teachers must first be selected as their districts’ teacher of the year. The selection panel will review the applications and then select 16 regional finalists, one from each education service cooperative and one representing Pulaski County. The deadline to apply for Arkansas Teacher of the Year is June 30. To learn more, visit our Teacher of the Year webpage. Now to provide an update on R.I.S.E. Arkansas is Donna Ziller, an ADE special advisor.

R.I.S.E. Arkansas – Donna Ziller

I am really excited about the positive feedback that we’ve received about R.I.S.E. Arkansas reading initiative! Through the Reading Initiative for Student Excellence campaign, we are working with partners to build a culture of reading in Arkansas – a culture educators around the state have embraced. Three educators in particular are Ms. Melody Morgan from Norphlet Middle School in the Smackover-Norphlet School District, Ms. Cynthia Hodges from S.C. Tucker Elementary School in the Danville School District and Ms. Claire Eness from Frank Tillery Elementary School in the Rogers School District. Each is a winner of the R.I.S.E. Arkansas social media contest. Schools across Arkansas posted photos on social media showing how they were celebrating Read Across America Day, and Ms. Morgan, Ms. Hodges and Ms. Eness were selected for their engaging social media posts. As winners, each won $150 worth of books for their school. I encourage you to share how you are promoting a culture of reading in Arkansas. Post your photos and videos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #RISEArkansas.

Our role at the department also is to ensure that Arkansas teachers have access to quality professional development. Educators must have an understanding of the science of reading and an in-depth understanding of phonics and phonemic awareness to support beginning readers. Intermediate level teachers also need this knowledge to provide support to struggling readers and help independent readers decode multi-syllabic words and have a basis for understanding the English language. So far, more than 80 literacy specialists have received this type of training. This summer, these specialists will facilitate training through the R.I.S.E. Academy. Our goal is that approximately 1,000 educators from kindergarten through second grade will receive this very important training. ADE specialists, higher education representatives, and state and district literacy specialists will provide regional support networks for each cohort group throughout this year. Here with the student spotlight is Commissioner Key.

Student Spotlight – Commissioner Key

This month, I would like to spotlight two outstanding students who were selected as United States Senate Youth Program delegates from Arkansas. Each year 104 students from around the country are selected to participate. Christian Parker, a senior at Fort Smith Southside High School, and Shreya Majagi , a senior at Rogers High School, were selected to represent Arkansas. In addition to each receiving a $10,000 scholarship from the Hearst Foundations, they both received an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. for an “insiders” view of the nation’s capital. They had the opportunity to meet with the president, cabinet members, other elected officials and a Supreme Court Justice. While in Washington, both Mr. Parker and Ms. Majagi were selected as the two keynote speakers at the delegates’ formal farewell dinner. This is a huge honor, as Arkansas is the first state to have both delegates selected as keynote speaker.

Congratulations to Ms. Majagi and Mr. Parker!