Episode 407: Leadership Series: Coaching Teachers To Create Positive Classroom Climates
Want a coaching session on creating a positive classroom climate? Join us in conversation with Aimee Hays, Principal of Model Elementary to learn more!
Want a coaching session on creating a positive classroom climate? Join us in conversation with Aimee Hays, Principal of Model Elementary to learn more!
Ashley Mengwasser: Good day, educators. Thank you for joining us for Classroom Conversations. The platform for Georgia's teachers. Classroom Conversations is presented by the Georgia Department of Education in collaboration with production partner, Georgia Public Broadcasting. Ashley Mengwasser here, your host, bringing you a special leadership episode today from a contagiously upbeat leader. Our modern world offers all sorts of coaching specialties. If you think about it, you can have a health coach, a career coach, a relationship coach. You can have a life coach or a financial coach, time management coach, a birth coach, a mindset coach. I love that one. And within our schools and districts, teachers are coached to build capacity toward various outcomes. And that's our topic today, coaching teachers to create positive classroom climates. Love me some PCC. Think of positive classroom climate like a thermostat. Just turn that positivity up and the climate in the room shifts uniformly for the better. For a closer look at this, we didn't seek out an HVAC consultant. Oh, no. We went to a different office, the principal's. Our guest today is a model principal at a model school, Model Elementary, in Floyd County to be exact, located in Rome. For eight years now, principal Aimee Hays has been a leadership luminary leading Model to the 2022 National Distinguished Schools recognition, a designation for the highest performing Title I schools in Georgia, making Aimee's one of the top two schools in Georgia and the top 55 schools in the nation. To make this story even more faded, Aimee is a Model graduate, which she calls pretty awesome. And her husband also teaches at the school. Here to model models, Model classroom climate, the inspired, Aimee Hays. Welcome, Aimee.
Aimee Hays: How are you, Ashley?
Ashley Mengwasser: I'm good. How are you?
Aimee Hays: I'm great. It's awesome to be here today.
Ashley Mengwasser: It's so good to have you here. Have you ever been on a podcast before about education?
Aimee Hays: This is my first.
Ashley Mengwasser: Well, we want you to have the best time and I'm going to make sure of that. Did you always have aspirations of a principalship?
Aimee Hays: Actually, no, I did not. I started out as a classroom teacher, been in education for 26 years.
Ashley Mengwasser: Here, here.
Aimee Hays: Yes. Taught everything kindergarten through fifth grade. I said, I'll leave pre-K to those who have the innate ability to reign in three and four-year-olds.
Ashley Mengwasser: I don't have that either.
Aimee Hays: Not for me. No. And middle and high school to my husband. So, I love children and I started out as a classroom teacher. But when I became an administrator, I told my teachers, I will always be a teacher at heart.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, I bet they love that about you.
Aimee Hays: Yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: What are the preoccupations of an elementary school principal? What are you thinking about all the time?
Aimee Hays: 24/7, 365, you are always thinking about everybody, every employee, every student. You carry the weight of the world when you are a school principal and you wear very many hats, I call it code shifting. Going all throughout the day from person to person, from a conversation with a four-year-old, to potentially an upset parent, or to a teacher who needs help. You're constantly code shifting all day long.
Ashley Mengwasser: How do you do it all with such a smile?
Aimee Hays: Grace.
Ashley Mengwasser: Here, here. Your hobbies also and your personal life, Aimee, are pretty out of this world. They're both food related. You came here today to share the deets and the goods, which I have in my hand. So, tell me more.
Aimee Hays: Yes. So, when my youngest son went away to college, I had an empty nest feeling. And I had to throw myself at something. And we'd just gotten back from a trip to Columbia, South Carolina to this absolutely fabulous cupcakery. And I paid a lot of money for that cupcake. And I thought, oh my gosh, I can make these myself. So, Hence was born, my kitchen therapy. And that's actually what I called it. I would post pictures of my cupcakes on my Facebook with my friends. And somebody once said, "Oh my gosh, are you going to sell those? I want some. They look so delicious." And I said, "Well, my husband's already said they're the best he's ever eaten. But he says that with every one that he eats.
Ashley Mengwasser: Of course. Yeah.
Aimee Hays: "This is the best I've ever eaten."
Ashley Mengwasser: He's a true fan of the gourmet cupcakes.
Aimee Hays: 100%. So, I love making cupcakes through my kitchen therapy. But then I also have another really neat hobby on the side.
Ashley Mengwasser: Which explains this weird bag of what looks like space food. What is it?
Aimee Hays: It is space food actually. No, not really. Those are freeze-dried gummy Nerd clusters. About a year ago I thought, you know what? Let's just get into some freeze drying. And I freeze dry anything from asparagus and it becomes like an asparagus potato chip. But you've got that stalk of a asparagus, all the nutrition, but it can go anywhere, at any time. It's great when you're busy in the office and you can't stop to eat. You can pop an asparagus, freeze-dry asparagus stalk, get your nutrition and keep running to that next classroom that needs you. Or if you just need a sweet treat, those gummy Nerd clusters are awesome. Or some freeze-dried Skittles. They're the best.
Ashley Mengwasser: Gummy Nerd clusters. Will you taste one with me?
Aimee Hays: Absolutely.
Ashley Mengwasser: Let's talk to our audience about these. They look like little atoms. They're so colorful. We've got some pink, purple, blue. And let's bite into these at the same time. Oh my gosh, that's really good.
Aimee Hays: They're good, aren't they?
Ashley Mengwasser: Who knew that these should be freeze-dried? What is Nerds doing with their company? My goodness. Have you contacted them?
Aimee Hays: I have not. But a lot of people do contact me and say, "When are you going to make those again? I love them."
Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, they're so good. It's just the airiness of it.
Aimee Hays: It is.
Ashley Mengwasser: The same thing happens with your asparagus, with the freeze drying.
Aimee Hays: Absolutely.
Ashley Mengwasser: So, what is that doing? It's just removing...
Aimee Hays: It removes all the moisture, all the water. It brings it down to a vacuum freeze below negative. I've seen it go as low as negative 44. And then it just freeze dries that chamber and go through a drying process. But then you get this blown up gummy Nerd cluster that looks like DNA.
Ashley Mengwasser: It does look like... And it's delicious too. It's the most delicious tasting DNA I've ever had. Since we're talking positive climate, which I know is your wheelhouse, Aimee, literally, who are your positivity icons? I'm sure you have a few.
Aimee Hays: I do. I love Todd Whitaker. He is amazing. When I first started my leadership journey, he wrote a book called What Great Leaders Do Differently. But he also wrote one for teachers, What Great Teachers Do Differently as well. And Todd Whitaker, he's just down to earth. One of his quotes that I've always held onto is, it's people, not programs that make the quality of a school. Too often in education, we're chasing that next thing instead of investing in what we have. And what we have are our people. I love Todd Whitaker. I also love John Maxwell, all about relationships.
Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, yes, I have some of those books.
Aimee Hays: He's fabulous. But then I had an interim superintendent, Dr. John Jackson, who I also really admired and looked up to because of his just innate ability to connect with people. And you felt seen and valued when you were with him. Yeah.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. So, I love that you're connecting it to somebody in your internal environment, which is powerful. At Model, is there a phrase that either your peers, or students, or administrators use to refer to you or something you do, Aimee?
Aimee Hays: Yes. One of my former assistant principals, having been principal for eight years, I've had four APs. They send them to me to train them and to send them on.
Ashley Mengwasser: And out they go.
Aimee Hays: Out they go. It's like raising a child. And I'm really excited about this one particular AP. He's now a principal of his own school in one of our Georgia districts, Polk County.
Ashley Mengwasser: A testament.
Aimee Hays: Yes, it is. I'm very proud of Kyle Abernathy. And when I would tell him, I'd say, "Come walk with me." And the rest of the staff when I would say, "Come walk with me." They were like, "No, run the other way. She's got one of her crazy ideas. You're not going to come back. You're going to be gone for a long time."
Ashley Mengwasser: Come walk with me.
Aimee Hays: So, if anybody hears, "Come walk with me," that meant watch out. Something else...
Ashley Mengwasser: Something is brewing.
Aimee Hays: ... Is going on. Something's brewing, because I always called it Blue Shoe Wednesdays. They knew if I had blue shoes on that Wednesday, it was the day that we were going to get into something and start creating, or cleaning out, or making. But Kyle ended up calling his days with me the Hays Days.
Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, nice.
Aimee Hays: It was a term that has stuck a term of endearment, I guess you would say.
Ashley Mengwasser: Well, with that recognition for your school, I'm sure that your school, and your students, and the parents in the community, and your staff are really glad to be in the Hays Days right now. And we're in the Hays Days with you on our podcast here. Model as a school. You went there, it has an incredible past, historically and evolutionarily under your leadership. So, would you tell us just a bit about Model's, origins. And then these circulating the phrase that you helped coin, Aimee, which was, we are Model. Tell me about Model.
Aimee Hays: So, when I was assistant principal of Model, I was between two schools running about 1,200 kids, and I was a AP at Model for on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and every other Friday. And we were losing students. And when my current principal at that time decided she was going to step into the district office, I had the opportunity to apply for the principalship. And I did not realize that my teachers behind the scenes were planning our next cultural shift that we'd been discussing. So, their phrase was, buy the bracelets. So, if I was named principal, they were going to buy the bracelets. Because the conversation started on just a very... It was a tearful, passionate leadership meeting one afternoon. And I said, "Guys," I said, "We are Model. We should not be losing students. We should be attracting students. We need to be the school to where the parents in the community say, 'Where do I want my student? I want them at Model.'"
Ashley Mengwasser: The standard.
Aimee Hays: The standard. I said, "In 1901, we were a model school, hence the name Model." We were so creative, we didn't change the name.
Ashley Mengwasser: Look at that.
Aimee Hays: There were seven congressional schools based on the congressional districts.
Ashley Mengwasser: At the time. Yeah.
Aimee Hays: So, that's where Model school was born in 1901. So, over time, schools consolidated, and elementaries, and middles, and highs were born out of that. But as a Model school, we are Model.
Ashley Mengwasser: We are Model.
Aimee Hays: And that's where that phrase was born. We are Model. So,
Ashley Mengwasser: There was a departure from that for a while.
Aimee Hays: It was.
Ashley Mengwasser: And you helped get it back on track.
Aimee Hays: It was. We needed a vision, and purpose, and direction.
Ashley Mengwasser: Which you have provided. That's 122 year history. That's sort of school-wide lockstep definitely begins in the classroom, which I know is what you're here to talk to us about today. Classrooms that have achieved positive climate homeostasis, they're pretty energetic, wouldn't you say, Aimee?
Aimee Hays: Yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: I mean, they may as well be their own global destination with unique cultures and geographic coordinates because they are palpably unique and special. So, lead us, if you will, Principal Hays, through a sensory experience of the positive classroom. What does it look like, the positive classroom?
Aimee Hays: So, when I think about sensory, I think about what do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? And I often talk to my teachers about that. When I walk into your room... Actually, that's been one of my interview questions in the past of somebody I've never met before and they're sitting across from me interviewing for a job opening. If I were to walk into your classroom, what am I going to see? What am I going to hear? Because that is everything. You shared at the beginning, it's like a thermostat. Just as the principal is the thermostat of that building. You've walked into a room before to where you either felt excitement and you were ready to stay and jump in, or you've walked into rooms before and you could feel that tension and you could feel with the air, this isn't a place where I want to stay. So, when I walk into my classrooms, I want to see students engaged. I want to see active learning. I want to hear that dialogue between the teachers and the students as there's active questioning going on during the direct instruction time. During that group work time, I want to hear the students talking together about that language of the standard. What was that learning target for the day? Are they focused on what the teacher has assigned them? But not just that, it's what are the relationship feelings that you're getting between the teacher and the student? Do you see smiles on their faces? What does that body language show you? Are they stooped over and their shoulders slumped? Or do you see kids, their shoulders are upright...
Ashley Mengwasser: They're bright and learning.
Aimee Hays: They're bright, they're engaged, there's excitement in that room. But what did the teacher's faces show us when we walk into that room? I always say the teacher is like the mother of the house. If the mama's happy, everybody's happy. And if the teacher's not happy, no one in that room's going to be happy. They are the thermostat in that classroom. So, when you walk into that room, what you see, what you hear, what you feel is going to be key to whether it's going to be a positive room or a room that you're questioning, "What can I do to shift the atmosphere and the climate in this classroom?
Ashley Mengwasser: To change the positivity on that thermostat. Do positive classrooms have a smell or a taste? I mean, I bet there's some fun things going on in those classrooms.
Aimee Hays: There are always fun things going on in that classroom. So, smell or taste. So, several years ago I brought in the middle of COVID, a group for professional development called Hope and Wade King, about making classroom magic. And it was all about classroom transformations. So, turning your classroom into whatever the theme is that you're getting ready to jump into. So, you may walk into a classroom and see the desks pushed together and turned into wagons from the pioneers going out west. You may walk in and see that the tables are pushed together and it looks like a restaurant where they're doing book tastings. There is always something going on throughout the year in our classroom. So, yes, there are things that you can see, and smell, and taste. And even after recess, there are their own unique smells as well.
Ashley Mengwasser: I imagine, some wanted some not so wanted.
Aimee Hays: Yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: If you can think of it as a seismic shift where Model's positive climate originated, what do you think is the first practice you guys embraced that really got that going?
Aimee Hays: Really, it's building relationships. We had to redefine our purpose and direction, and our mission statement was born from that. It was birthed from that. And together with my team over a year of just asking what adjectives describe us? Who are we? Who would they say we are? Who do the students say that we are? And taking all of those adjectives together and narrowing them down to where I saw patterns and trends, and then taking those back to my leadership teams. And even to my school governance team, our LSGT team, as we are a charter system. So, taking that back, we were able over a year's worth of time to narrow it down to we are Model...
Ashley Mengwasser: Love that.
Aimee Hays: ... We are passionate about fostering relationships, community, character, and academic excellence. We realized that everything that we say and do needed to be reflected by our practices. And we needed that clear purpose and direction, which it started with that development of our mission and our vision through our mission statement.
Ashley Mengwasser: And you have a very cool custom, which is a borrowed British custom.
Aimee Hays: Yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: A house system. Tell us about your house system at Model.
Aimee Hays: So, I shared a few moments ago, buy the bracelets. All of that was about our house system. So, my staff and I, we had been reading about Ron Clark. Many of us had been to the Ron Clark Academy. And we realized that when you look at groups of people coming together, there's a sense of belonging that's needed. Everybody is looking to where do I fit in? Am I valued? Am I seen? Am I someone? So, how could we recreate that in our school building, in our classrooms, and school-wide? Through our house system. So, we have four houses, the house of Ari and they sport red. We have the house of Kenji. The house of Kenji Sports orange. And I'll share with you, Ari means brave. It's an Armenian word. And that house is brave. Kenji, they're wise. That's a Japanese word. I'm in the house of Naya. We're the greenhouse. So, every Wednesday-
Ashley Mengwasser: What is green? What's Naya?
Aimee Hays: So, green is ambitious.
Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, Aimee, you were in the correct house. You were sorted correctly.
Aimee Hays: I was sorted correctly. And all those who were sorted with me, it's so funny because what they were not selected. They were randomly drawn for the house of Naya, but we're all so much alike. All of our ambitious people are together. And then our last house is the house of Pilar. It's a Spanish word that means dedicated, and they support the color yellow every Wednesday for House Stay Wednesday.
Ashley Mengwasser: So, you have all those houses, those colors, what the significance of each house is. I think I would like to be in the Wise house. I feel like that would be my vibe. And I know when you're working with your teachers on these kinds of customs and new ones, you've said the word so many times already in our episode and its relationships. Relationships. I know that that is so pivotal for what you're doing at your school at Model. Before you coach a teacher, you want to have a relationship with them. And you do. So, give us some ways that you have built positive relationships with your teachers.
Aimee Hays: So, the biggest foundational piece for me is you've got to be intentional, and you have to ask questions. It's not about me, it's about we. A leader can say they're a leader all day long. But if I turn around and no one is following me, it's all what I think it is. To run a school, to run an organization, it has to become like a well-oiled machine. And that only comes from knowing people. And how do you know people? My door is open. I'm asking questions. I know their family. I know their spouses. I know what foods they love. I know when they don't feel good, what I can slip in their mailboxes in the teacher workroom. They know that when they come to me, I'm not going to be, "I've got you," in terms of what are you doing wrong? It's, "I've got your back. I'm here for you. I'm your coach. I'm your number one cheerleader." If I know your strengths and how I can play on those strengths with you, we're going to grow together. And if I can grow you, I'm going to grow. I've always said I'm only as good as those that I surround myself by. So, it is truly all about relationships, but getting to know your people. And trust. If they know that they can trust me. And that's built through consistency over time of, am I going to do what I say I'm going to do? And do I model what I ask others to do? Do I lead by example? All of those things or things that they're going to turn around and look at me. If she's asked us to do this, is she doing those things? Are those things being done by herself as well? And the answer's yes. And that's so key.
Ashley Mengwasser: I'm sure there are some maybe even unsavory things you've had to do as a principal.
Aimee Hays: Absolutely there are.
Ashley Mengwasser: Can you think of anything?
Aimee Hays: So, we all know that during COVID, we were all shifting gears and picking up other jobs throughout the building because of just classroom teacher shortages. But I've also had custodial shortages and nutrition staff shortages. Once, one of my APs and I, it was Grandparents' Day actually several years ago. And the restrooms right across the hall from the cafeteria backed up, which then caused the plumbing in the kitchen to back up.
Ashley Mengwasser: It's always the plumbing.
Aimee Hays: It's always the plumbing. You've got to think, there's a school of 500 kids and 70 employees, and it was Grandparents' Day. Everything's going to happen when you have company. So, yes, my AP and I, we found ourselves with plungers in the boys' rooms.
Ashley Mengwasser: You deserve an award for that one too.
Aimee Hays: Yeah. So, you do what you have to do. Lead by example.
Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly. Principal/plumber. I think that there is absolutely a market for that. This is one of those times, Aimee, where I wish our listeners could be in the room for us because your truth and your purpose is so palpable. It is absolutely kinetic. And I know that you fundamentally understand coaching because you're doing it, you're living it, you breathe it. What are some important traits for you in coaching, and why?
Aimee Hays: So, in coaching some of those traits, I would say the greatest trait is listening. I've always held onto the phrase seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Ashley Mengwasser: Then to be understood.
Aimee Hays: Because I have all these crazy ideas that, "Come walk with me."
Ashley Mengwasser: "Come walk with me."
Aimee Hays: But unless I understand number one, who are my people? Who are my team? What makes them work? Then all of my ideas are going to fall short. I have to have them. So, in order to know them, I have to listen to them. And I can only listen by asking those questions, getting their feedback. Shared leadership for me is key. Again, I can all day have visions and dreams. And as the principal, that's my job. I need to see, and they love this about me. They really don't, but they do. I'm six months down the road ahead of them and I'm talking about things that are coming in six months-
Ashley Mengwasser: You're in the future.
Aimee Hays: "Oh my gosh, we're just in August and you're talking about January. Don't do this." And I'm like, "But this is what's coming next." So, I'm always 10 steps ahead of knowing where we go. But it's like that mother hen, I've got to put my feathers out and just slowly guard and guide them. And sometimes it's putting my hands up to protect them. "Not right now. That's too much. We're going to slow things down a little bit." You've got to know how much is too much to ask because teachers have a very hard job. And coming out of COVID, we forget that COVID happened and we all want to return to normal like it didn't happen. But it did. And the groups of kids that are coming into our classrooms now into our pre-K and our kindergarten, they're the ones that were born during COVID, or who never had that daycare setting. So, we're dealing with a whole ‘nother set of issues. And it takes, do you know your people? So, listening is number one, the best trait that I can say. And just understanding folks. Seeking to understand them. Yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: Seek to understand. How can coaches like you help teachers out there determine their areas of need when it comes to their instructional strategy? Areas that they may need a little improvement. How do you do that? I'm sure gracefully as always.
Aimee Hays: Absolutely. So, again, it starts with that relationship and that risk-free environment. No one wants to know that they're doing something poor. None of us want to be told that. You always want to know, what am I doing right? But what can I improve on? And you're going to take that advice by someone that you can trust because you know that they're there for you. So, the first thing is going to go back to can I have critical conversations with my staff? Yes, because they trust me. I'm going to go into their classrooms. And based on observation, when I'm in there with them, what do I see? It goes back to your first question.
Ashley Mengwasser: The sensory experience. Yeah.
Aimee Hays: All those experiences. What do I see? What do I hear? Sometimes it's what am I not seeing? What am I not hearing?
Ashley Mengwasser: What is absent here?
Aimee Hays: And it's all about looking for those trends and patterns of what are those things? And can I sit down with them afterwards and have those critical conversations that they know they can trust me, that I'm going to have their back to grow them. I'm going to look for what are their strengths? I have certain teachers that will look at me and say, "Do not ever put me in first grade. I cannot teach a child to read. I'm great at math." I am not going to put her in first grade. I know that's not her area. Often, leaders can just move people as positions, and we have to be very mindful. I always talk about mindful leadership. If we just place people based on positions, we're not only going to set ourselves up for failure, we're going to set them up for struggle as well. So, you've got to know people's strengths. What do they do well? And just grow on that. I said, "You would not want me on your basketball team."
Ashley Mengwasser: Are you sure?
Aimee Hays: Girl, ask anybody that knows me. The coordination doesn't happen. I would not be your success player. I would be keeping your stats on the bench for sure. That's the same in our classrooms. It's a team. You've got to know who you're going to put as your key players in which position, based on what they bring to the table. And as leaders, that's our job to know our teachers and to know what strengths we can build on.
Ashley Mengwasser: You respect those disclosures that they give you about, "Here's what I gravitate to. Here's what I'd like to avoid." And I'm sure you also see strengths in them that you can help usher them into. What are two to three strategies that you're using when you're coaching teachers to improve the thermostat of their positivity?
Aimee Hays: So, two to three of those strategies. I would start with, my first one is when I'm in those classrooms and I'm just sitting, I'm listening, I'm observing, I'm soaking it all in, number one as their support. But also I'm a student in that classroom. Or my own child in that classroom. What are the facial expressions of those kids? Are they excited to be there? And when I'm done observing, number one, that teacher knows... Actually I had a teacher once. I hadn't even left the classroom fully yet. I'm closing the door and walking out. And I'm getting a text saying, "Oh my gosh, that was my worst observation ever." I hadn't even said anything. It was because she knew me and our school-wide expectations. But that trust and that ability to be vulnerable, she was like, "I had this going on this morning," and she listed all these things. And I said, "Thank you for reaching out to me. Come on, let's talk later." So, she opened that door. But for me, it's when I'm in those classrooms giving that specific feedback, teachers want feedback. And as leaders, we have to know that it is okay to give critical conversation feedback. Often I think it's we worry about what they're going to think, or it becomes maybe more of a personal issue. When we have to realize our goal is to support, support, support to grow them. Not everyone comes in knowing and having all the answers. I said, my gosh. I think back to my first year as a teacher. I'm glad I was able to talk my principal into hiring me because I learned so much over my first two, three years. It truly takes at least three years to really understand and to begin to master a skillset. And teachers need someone that's going to know and understand them, and listen to them, provide that critical feedback, provide that observation that's risk-free of knowing she's not coming in here to catch what I'm doing wrong.
Ashley Mengwasser: No, she's in here to, like you said, to have my back.
Aimee Hays: Yes.
Ashley Mengwasser: Three years. That's a pretty big incubation period. And when you say, we're here to help our teachers grow, it just gave me that huge flower, floral mental image of you're growing a flower, and a flower doesn't grow on its own. It needs soil. It needs to be pollinated. It has to be grown up and risen up by other factors in the environment. How is goal setting a part of that? I imagine goal setting can be effective in helping teachers to improve their classroom practices. Do those goals come for them? Are they a collaborative effort?
Aimee Hays: So, goal setting for me is the same thing we ask our teachers to do for students. We ask them to differentiate.
Ashley Mengwasser: Really?
Aimee Hays: So, they need to differentiate instruction in their classrooms. If they have a child who comes in and they're accelerated at the top of the class, they know not just to teach that same lesson to every student. Everyone needs to be met where they are. That's why we call that where they're ready for instruction.
Ashley Mengwasser: Knowing your audience.
Aimee Hays: Know your audience.
Ashley Mengwasser: As we say in my profession. Yeah.
Aimee Hays: So, for me, again, it goes back to that lead by example. If I'm going to expect my teachers to differentiate for their students, then as the lead teacher in that building, as the administrator, I need to differentiate for my staff. I need to know, again, going back to what are their strengths? What are those areas that need improvement? And then I differentiate based on that need. If I have a brand new teacher, I'm going to be pairing her up with a mentor with somebody on her grade level that she can be vulnerable with. But also letting her know that you can come to me as well. There are no wrong questions. The only wrong question is the question that's not been asked. If I'm rolling out staff development, it may not be for everyone. Maybe it's a math strategy that we're needing to work on, and I'm going to value your time. Time is the one thing that educators need more of. And if we just feel their day with meeting after meeting. I try to be, again, very mindful about how I use their time and what I ask of them in giving of their time. So, if it's something they need, I'm going to allow them the opportunity and the time to provide that for them. But if it's not going to be something that's going to improve student achievement or student growth, or build them professionally, and help with that pedagogy, I'm not going to ask them to come and be a part of that. Because if they're going to have to differentiate for all of their students, I need to be expected to differentiate for all of my teacher's needs. So, for me, I'll go back. The goals are based on what that teacher needs.
Ashley Mengwasser: That individual teacher needs, which you can determine based on knowing them, the relationship piece. I want to conclude if we can, Aimee, with just a wonderful success story of this in action. Do you have a favorite tale where maybe somebody on your staff was successfully coached to improve their classroom climate? Ground it for us as you do so well.
Aimee Hays: Yes. So, one of the most exciting times I had was following a classroom observation. I had gone into a kindergarten classroom and the teacher was doing a great job. She was following our school-wide expectations and rolling out that target of the lesson. But what I found was during the middle of the lesson, because she's so sweet and so nurturing, she was caught up in the weeds of the moment of trying to redirect student behavior. And it was a math lesson and they were being pirates, and she was going, "Arg" and getting them into the lesson for the day. But she had some little boys who dove off the plank, and they were so focused on being the pirate that they had lost the learning target for the day. And in her sweet, nurturing, and just personality, and being that kindergarten teacher, she was trying to redirect the behavior and explain the why behind the behavior. So, pretty much she ended up spending the majority of her time not focused on getting to the meat of the lesson that I knew she wanted. But in her mind's eyes, she was doing everything she thought was the right way to do it by explaining to them why they needed to do what she'd asked them to do. So, following the observation, I sent her an email and gave her some specific feedback. But not just through email. I said, "Come and see me." And that's the key. "Come and see me. Come sit down. Let's close my door. Let's sit on the couch together," because there's a couch in my office.
Ashley Mengwasser: Perfect.
Aimee Hays: When they come in, it's table talk. It's not me across my desk. And if I'm ever at my desk, it's saying, "Come around here, let's look at my computer screen together with me." It's not that separation piece, but it's, "Come in and let's take a look what went well." And then listening to her what did go well, and start the conversation about, "What did go well for you that day? But where did you see that things started to derail?" And just helping her to see, "What was your goal for that lesson?" And then giving her strategies for my 26 years of experience of what it means to have assertive discipline in her classroom and what it means to take charge. And it's okay at certain times not to give them a why in the middle of a lesson. It's because you said so. And that's okay.
Ashley Mengwasser: That can be enough.
Aimee Hays: So, for her, it was taking those strategies that I had modeled for her in that one-on-one going back to that differentiation, what she needed. She went back to her classroom that next day, that week, and she came back to me. Before I could even get back into her classroom...
Ashley Mengwasser: She found you.
Aimee Hays: She found me. But started with the phrase, "You're going to be so proud of me." And to have an adult say, "You're going to be so proud of me." And that's what I've found about teachers, they want to bring their best. Often teachers are people who seek to please. Teachers are... Their spirits can be broken. And that's what, as leaders, we have to be very mindful in how we roll out things. Or blanket emails, I'm so not a fan of because those pleasers, everyone's going to internalize that. "Was that for me? Was that something I did?" And you're going to stifle that vulnerability. And the climate is going to begin to shift from that trust-based to a fear-based. So, it goes back to that differentiation. Deal with things as they need to be dealt with. Know your people. Call them in when they need to be called in. But above all, support them. Do whatever it takes to clear that plate for them, to give them the time to do the hard work that we ask them to do every day, which is to reign in 20 to 28 students. And not only teach that child so that they can achieve, but to grow that child socially, emotionally, and academically.
Ashley Mengwasser: Aimee, thank you for being such a model principle. You truly are exemplary, and I'm in awe of you. You were properly housed, Aimee, in the house of Naya, the House of Ambition. And you're achieving your ambitions at your school. Congratulations on that.
Aimee Hays: Thank you, Ashley.
Ashley Mengwasser: To our principals listening, coaching teachers on positive climate, we need you out there, Coach. As we've just heard, you're a great leader. And to our teachers, you are the key asset for Principal Hays here and others like her. You are a great teacher. Remember the positive classroom climate thermostat and keep the classroom positivity turned up. It's HVAC-PCC. Never forget. I'm positively jazzed to report that we'll have a brand new episode ready for your consumption next week. At that time, as Aimee would say, I can say, come and walk with me. Come and walk with me. I'm Ashley Mengwasser, signing off. Goodbye for now. Funding for Classroom Conversations is made possible through the school Climate Transformation Grant.