Principal Sinclair's Think-Spot

A Place for my Reflections and Thoughts as a School Administrator

Interview Season- My Advice for Candidates

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http://pixabay.com/en/job-interview-career-conference-156130/ 

 

This is the time of year where we spend a great deal of time meeting with candidates for positions looking for those who will be the best match for our school and students.  As I reflect on my experiences from both sides of the interview table I would like to offer candidates MY TIPS for successful interviews.  While I am not a professional, I estimate that I have done well over 200 interviews, and these tips are based on my conversations with those interview teams.

  • Dress for the Part- As an educator you will be a role model for students and/or other staff and you will represent the school to all outsiders.  When the interview team meets candidates they should be able to “see them” in the position right from the start, that first impression is important.
  • Prepare- Spend time prior to applying for jobs preparing yourself.  You want to review your resume, make sure it is reflective of your work, make sure it highlights your biggest accomplishments and is well-rounded.  As you are reviewing your resume you should take the time to think about your body of work and to anticipate how you would apply your body of previous work to the position you are applying for.  Having this information fresh in your mind will help you a great deal as you prepare for your interview.
  • Know Your Stuff- Know what the position is, what the basic roles of the position are and you should know about the school you are applying to.  Knowing the school includes items such as the school demographics, the school goals and the school’s areas of focus.  This will help you get the interview team to “see you” in the position in their school.  Teams want to know that you want the position in THEIR school and not just that you want the position.
  • Engage Your Audience- Let the panel get to know you.  You want to lean forward a bit while talking, make eye contact as you are talking, and let the interview panel get to know you and see/hear your passions come through.
  • Answer the Questions- Candidates want to make sure that they actually answered the question(s) that you are asked, making sure you cover all parts.
  • Provide Depth- Very closely tied to answering the question is providing depth to your answers.  You need to remember that in most cases the members of the panel do not know you and your body of work well and you cannot assume that the team will connect the dots.  Provide enough details to explain what you did and what the impact was. 
  • Make Connections- You want to make sure that you not only answer the questions but you make connections to how you have accomplished that work in the past and how you can make connections between the work you had done in the past and how you could apply it to the job you are interviewing for.  Help the team see you in that position in their building.

While this is not a research based or an absolute list based on my experience and the feedback I have received from the interview teams I have worked with I think it is a great starting point.

Best of luck!

Failure is Not an Option – Applying my Principal Internship Learning

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Creative Commons Licensed for Reuse ( http://pixabay.com/en/learn-note-sign-directory-64058/ )

 

Through my 6-week experience supporting the principal intern at Shady Grove Middle School I learned quite a bit about the work they do and their approach to supporting kids.  One of the items that I took away and have begun to implement here at my school is the Friday Academic Support (FAS).  This was something that I was unsure of at first, but when I saw it in action I realized that it has a ton of potential in supporting our students.  FAS is a great way for me to directly support our students and the work of my staff.

 

The focus of our FAS is to support students who are struggling academically where the primary cause of the struggle is missing work, which in many cases is due to frequent absences.  We provide the time, a structure, and staff to support students in working to get caught up with their academic studies and  to get back on track.  As the name implies, the sessions are held on Friday afternoons from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.  Grade level teams work to identify students to participate in each session.  Each session new students can be selected, or students who attended previously but are still struggling can come to the session.  The team then works to contact the parents to get their permission and to arrange for a ride home at 5:00, after the session is over.  Once they have confirmed the student’s attendance work is then collected for the student and compiled in a folder for each student.

 

Students who will be participating in the FAS session are gathered together at the end of the school day in our media center, this is a great space as we can really provide each student with a comfortable and large work area for them to work in.  Students are then provided with the work they are missing.  One of the upgrades from our first session was in how we provide the students their work during that time.  During the first session we provided each student with their folder which contained all of work and we circulated to check in with the students and to monitor their progress.  In reflecting on the session we felt that we needed to improve that process as the students seemed overwhelmed with the amount of work they were completing and they did not seem to get as much done as we would have hoped.  

 

In planning for our second session (this past Friday) we took a different approach.  Rather than providing students with their entire folder of work, we just provided students with one piece of work at a time.  When students finished their work they could get up and come see us for another assignment.  This really seemed to lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed and also allowed for students to get up and take short stretch breaks as they went to get their new assignment.  This also allowed us to more closely monitor student work and make sure that they did indeed complete the work they were turning in.

 

After just our second session I really feel we have had a great amount of success.  While most of the students were reluctant to attend for the first go around, our second group (including several students from the first group) were much more engaged with the opportunity.  I had several parents and a couple of kids ask if this opportunity was going to be provided every week!  I even had one kid apologize for missing the session last week (had to explain to him that we did not have one so he was fine).  We had 17 students at our first session and 14 students at our second session.  There were 4 students who attended both.  In the two hours they were there they each managed to complete a great deal of work.

 

While I will be looking at the data to measure the impact, I really do feel that this is a model that works for many of my students. Through this program we are able to provide the structured time, location, and resources students need to stay up to date.  In some cases all the students needed was a location, in other cases it was some one on one support, but in every case I feel our kids just needed a little more of our support.  I am proud to be able to offer this support and resource to our staff and I am looking forward to continuing to grow and develop this program so it is more effective and efficient for our students.

 

As I was finishing this post I received an email from one of my English teachers who shared that because of FAS she had two students go from almost failing to mid Cs. That is awesome! What a great idea, thank you for the experience Shady Grove!

 

 

 

The Perfect Lesson- What do students say?

Student Teaching

My belief is that if we want to engage students and improve instruction (and the impact that instruction has on student learning) we need to frequently engage students in the feedback process.  As a result, last week I hosted a student advisory session.  This session is a voluntary session, open to all students.  Students are invited to come, have lunch with me, and share their insights into their experences here at school.  This is a great opportunity to get insights into how things are going, the impact our school improvement work is having, and where we need to go to continue to meet the needs of our students.   I had about 10 kids from each grade level meet with me at lunch, 30 out of 500 students is not bad.  My goal is to meet with different students each month to get a well-rounded insight into the experience we are providing our students.  The group was a great representative sample (even though it was a voluntary activity) of our student population on all accounts!

We initially framed the conversation (after agreeing to some ground rules) around what they would see as an “ideal” lesson.  The responses I received were awesome and interestingly enough, not much different from what I would say or what I hear teachers say if asked the same question.  So, what did the students say?

  • Students from all three grade levels talked about the importance of the classroom environment.  In each of the three grade levels it was actually the first topic that came up.  Students talked about the importance of having teachers that know them, call them by name and are able to connect with them and relate to their experiences.  They talked about teachers who make connections between what the students are learning and experiencing and what those teachers have experienced to their own lives.  The power in the stories the kids told of the impact teachers have made when they can connect to the students was amazing.  Overall students want to feel respected and valued in the classroom.  They want teachers who “get it” and get them.  In the words of one student, “teachers need to know kids to teach kids”.
  • Students want to know that teachers expect them to learn.  They did not only talk about the expectations, but they talked about teachers being willing and able to take the steps needed to make sure they learn the material.  The wording they used is “help us learn the material”- powerful!
  • There was an overwhelming desire for instruction to be more interactive and engaging.  Students talked, with great fondness, about teachers who allow them to do work in stations, to work in groups and pairs to explore learning, and to play competitive and fun educational games.  (They also pointed out that BINGO is not as fun as many educators think it is 8-).  — Students want to be engaged with the content and the learning process and they want teachers who enjoy teaching and help students to enjoy learning.

Sounds familiar huh?  It seems like our students have the same idea of quality instruction as we do, so everyone is on the same page, now we need to make it happen!  Obviously the students did not speak about formative or summative assessments or state testing, but they spoke about needing educators with passion, and about needing to feel valued and safe in the classroom, and ultimately receiving a positive and enjoyable educational experience.

Now, this is not to say that this does not happen.  However, it was very clear in talking with the students (as well as from my observations and discussions with other students and teacher-leaders) that we are not consistently delivering all of these components all of the time.  Students spoke very clearly of occasions of when these items  and the impact it had on them an spoke just as passionately about the times it does not happen and the impact that has.  We still have our work cut our for us in making sure that students receive the level of instruction they deserve every day, and this was a great opportunity to take a temperature of where we are.

As we continue to work to improve our practice we are going to really focus in on the voice of our students.  If we are not checking in with those we are working to serve, how will we know if we are hitting our target?

I would love to hear about your thoughts on obtaining and using student voice to drive your school improvement work?

Lead Learner- My Principal Intern Experience Begins

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Our school system has a fantastic development program for administrators.  A part of our leadership development is the principal internship which is a program that aspiring principals (sitting assistant principals) can apply to be a part of.  Through the principal intern process an aspiring principal is provided with an intensive year of development and support as they develop the skills and experiences necessary to become a principal.  A major component of this program is the 6-week practicum.  Similar to student teaching, this is a period of time where the principal intern assumes the full role of principal of the building they are serving in.  This allows the principal intern to experience the principalship in an authentic manner.

In order to facilitate this experience it is necessary for the building principal to leave the building so that the principal intern can truly assume these roles and responsibilities.  In order to accomplish this our system rotates the principals who have principal interns.  So, for example, I have a principal intern (Mr. Davis), when he became acting principal I moved to Shady Grove Middle School, where they also have a principal intern (Mrs. Zaks).  While Mrs. Zaks is serving as acting principal I am assuming her assistant principal roles so she can assume the roles of the principal.  During this six-week period I also support her growth and development (along with the other members of her professional development team) while another principal with an intern (Mrs. Barkley) fills in at my school to support Mr. Davis.

Today will mark my first full week serving at Shady Grove Middle School and it has been a great start to this experience.  Not only do I get to work with the staff, students, and community of another middle school in our system, but Shady Grove is our sister middle school and both of our students end up attending the same high school in the system.  Over the next six weeks I am looking forward to not only supporting Mrs. Zaks, but to improve my practice and my skills as well.  Having the opportunity to serve under a different principal, in a different school will provide me with a new aspect of what middle school can look like.  In my first week I have learned that while we have many of the same processes and procedures there are definitely differences.  Some of those differences are differences that I would like to explore as ways of improving my work as a principal and I am excited about exploring those in more depth.  I have spent this week getting to know the staff, students, procedures and processes at Shady Grove Middle School.  I have learned so much already and have met so many great people.  I am really interested in learning from each of them and trying to support each of them as they work to meet the needs of their students.

As this entry is already pretty lengthy I will save the reflections for upcoming entries where I hope to share my work, learning, and my reflections on this experience and implications for my work as a principal!

Your thoughts on parent conferences

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Shared by Karin Vlietstra on Flickr  ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/48304881@N05/5241351168/ )

 

So, it has bee a long time since I have posted, it has really been busy, but I want to get started again.  My first topic is parent conferences.  It is that time of year when our school system is doing our parent-teacher conferences.  I have participated as a teacher, administrator, and a parent and I have seen and experienced a great variety of styles and messages.  It is my recent experiences as a parent that has opened my eyes to the power and importance of a solid parent-teacher conference.

 

I am very interested about hearing about your experiences.  I am opening this to parents, teachers, and even students (have you taken part in a student-led conference).  Feel free to respond in the comments below or on twitter using the tag #PrinSinclairQ  or tag me in the tweet @RSinclairJr 

Feel free to share your experiences – positive – negative – otherwise.  What has helped to engage parents or parents, what has helped to engage you?  What are some moves/comments/strategies used during a conference that have worked?  What are some moves/comments/strategies that have not worked?  What are some tips for parents?  for teachers?

I would love to hear about your experiences and their impact.  I am learning quickly that being “principal dad” can be very difficult!!

Worksheet Free Weeks?

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So, how many of you remember worksheets from your school days? Maybe the mimeograph copies and the odor from those sheets?  Now, how excited were you to get into doing that worksheet!   Do you remember how much you enjoyed filling in the blanks, labeling the maps, maybe even drawing lines from words to their definition?  My favorites were the math worksheets that had the riddle on them.  Man, if I could solve that riddle I could save a ton of time doing the work and I knew all of the answers to the actual question .  That was so engaging and meaningful right?  Okay, so maybe there is a bit of sarcasm in there.

Some rights reserved by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

Some rights reserved by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

I have been talking with students lately and one topic that comes up frequently is the boredom with worksheets and “rote” activities that students are doing on a daily basis.  In a day and age when our students can interact in so many ways to construct information, and we know that students learn better when they are engaged in learning do we still rely so heavily on worksheets? We need to move beyond the education from last century that we  received   and continue to move teaching forward.  Our kids are ready and waiting, so lets make it happen.

One concept I am playing with is a WWW challenge.  This would be a  Week Without Worksheets.  I am thinking about challenging or staff to planning for an entire week, in all classes where learning is done without worksheets.  What are your thoughts?  Doable?  Needed?

Student Voice – Creating Hope

Student Town Hall

Our system has taken a strong turn towards focusing on the social-emotional learning component of our work as educators and the level of hope that our students feel on a daily basis in addition to our performance indicators.   As a school we have welcomed this focus and we are finding ways of engaging our students in powerful and meaningful discussions focused on how we can better engage and work with our students.  The thought process being that if we can engage the students in discussions about their daily experiences and how we can improve those daily experiences so that students will learn more effectively, would feel more comfortable doing so, and as a result  would be more hopeful about their future and their academic performance would improve.

We kicked off our school year with this work.  During opening week we hosted grade level town hall meetings.  Town hall meetings are not a new practice for us, but the formatting of these town halls was much different than any format we have used in the past.  Previous town hall meetings have been, for the most part, lectures where we talk at the students about topics of importance to us.  We structured these meetings so that it facilitated student to student conversations focused by guiding questions that were designed to provide us on topics that are important to our students and that would provide us with input we could use to make our school vision a reality and would improve teaching, learning, and hope within our building.

During these town halle  meetings we posed our students with three questions:

  • What do we need to know about you to teach you more effectively?
  • What do we need to do better in the classroom to support your learning?
  • What skills do you need support with to help you perform at higher levels?

We allowed students to work in groups to discuss, brainstorm, and record their answers.  We then provided our students with the opportunity to view the responses other groups had developed and to place “dots” by the responses that resonated with them.  This was a great experience that will change the way we operate in our building.

First of all, our students did an amazing job.  Their input was so in-depth, meaningful, and aligned to the outcomes we had established.  In our initial analysis of the student feedback we have seen many items that were consistent across all three grade levels, and we have gotten some great ideas.

We developed the town hall so that it was the students constructing the knowledge and information.  While there were concerns about the way that students would respond and the logistics behind having 175 students in a room working in group, the meetings ran exceptionally well.  Once the students realized that we were truly interested in their honest input they stepped up and responded.

In realation to other town hall meetings I have seen and facilitated this was the first one where I walked away feeling like we made a conncection and made a difference.  This was not a town hall where we talked at and lectured students, instead it was a town hall where we worked with students to collaborate on ways of improving our work.  It was a powerful experience for me personally, as well as our staff and students.

So, obviously the question is what are the next steps.  We have compiled and typed up the student responses overall and by grade level.  We have also dropped those responses into wordle to see what they looked like.  Our next steps are going to be to provide our grade level teams of teachers with the school-wide feedback (the wordle and the actual typed responses) and some focus questions for them to use to analyze the student input.  The goal would be to analyze the student feedback and look at what steps we need to take as a staff to improve the work we do with our students.  In addition we will also be sitting down with our student leaders and reviewing the student feedback and the action steps that we have identified for our staff to take to improve not just teaching and learning, but the impact of our daily work with students on our students.

Principal Dad

TWIndow

So, my blog is about my learning, experiences, and reflections as an administrator.  This post will take a different twist on this as I really feel the need to reflect on my experience as a new father of a middle schooler and my desire to explore the connections and impacts of having a middle school student on my work as a middle school principal.  This post will be a bit different than my regular posts, but it really has been and amazing couple of days as I step into the role of “Principal Dad”

This week ushered in a new phase in my life as a middle school principal.  This week my oldest child started middle school and I added the title of middle school parent to my title of middle school principal!  Yes, MIDDLE SCHOOL PARENT! All of a sudden it is like the 11 years I have spent in middle school went out the window.  While I have been saying to the families I work with that I understand and I get where they are coming from, I realized in an instant on Monday that I truly had not.  All of a sudden my world had changed and I am seeing middle school from a new perspective.

Monday was my daughter’s first day of middle school and I believe I was more nervous than she was.  Now, she may have been incredibly nervous, but she appeared cool as a cucumber.  As I got ready for work (before my daughter was even awake), my mind was swirling with thoughts of how she will walk safely to and from school each day, how she would transition from being the oldest in the school to the youngest, what middle school would mean for her and her friends, what turns the social and emotional dynamics would take, and the thoughts just kept going.  The hardest part of the day was not being able to be there for her as she left for and returned from school.  While I could not be there, I did call in the morning as she was getting ready to make sure that she was all set and to see if she had any questions.  Of course  I also called when she got home to make sure that her day went well, but she was  out with friends already.  (Wait, first day of middle school and no homework?)  While my wife was there for her when she left and returned, It was hard for me to not be there for her.  My daughter had asked me the night before if I could take her to school on the first day, and while I would have loved to do it, I could not.  She is a good, smart kid and she understood, but I knew she would have loved to have me drop her off.   Over the past few months as middle school has gotten closer I have notice my daughter wanted to spend more time with me and asking a ton of questions about middle school.  I believe she knows that I am here for her, but I need to be able to continue to balance the roles of the “principal dad” to make sure that I am there for her (and of course my son who started 3rd grade!)

Monday was also the first day for my school as well and as such it meant that I was up and out bright and early working to make sure my “other” 513 kids had a smooth start to their school year.  As I was running around my building working with students, staff, and parents (especially those 6th grade parents who were so nervous), I kept wondering how it was going for my daughter in middle school.  It hit home even deeper when a student came to me during the day and introduced himself to me.  The student looked nervous and a bit sad but I thought he looked familiar.  In introducing himself to me he said you are Taylor’s dad aren’t you?  (Taylor’s dad, not Mr. Sinclair, the principal)  It turns out that this young man was in my daughter’s 5th grade class last year and had moved into our area.  We talked briefly that day, but the craziness of the first day took me away from talking with him further.  Throughout the rest of the day I wondered how he had been doing and why he looked unhappy on the first day.  I ran into him a couple of times in the hallways and said hi and smiled, but did not have an opportunity to really follow up with him.

While I am still very nervous about this new chapter in my life, there are two items that I have noticed right off the bat.  My daughter and I have always been close, but her being a middle schooler has given us an additional connection.  While she is your typical middle school student (me- “how was your day?”, her- “fine”, me- “what did you do today, what did you learn today?”, her- “nothing, we just talked about expectations”, me- “so, did you learn anything new?”, her- “no, not really”) the first couple of days of her middle school career have created a different connection for us and we have had some great discussions about the differences in teachers, schools, and climates from elementary to middle school.  Our day two conversation was a very interesting one.  There was my daughter, hanging out in her room with a friend.  Here is how the conversation went:

  • me- “so, how was today, did you all have a good day?  how were classes?”
  • my daughter- “it was okay”, her friend- “yeah it was okay”
  • me- “just okay, day two of middle school was just, okay”
  • my daughter- “yeah, I mean it was not bad, it is just, two days and we have not learned anything new, we are just hearing the same thing as yesterday” –my daughter then went on to reenact the daily rituals of discussing classroom expectations and procedures.

It was an interesting conversation for me as a dad, and really insightful for me as a principal. After having this conversation with the kids I began to reflect on what the conversations being held by my 513 students and their parents were like and if these were some of the same issues that were being discussed.

I have also realized that I have a direct line to the mind and experiences of a middle school student. While the feedback may take some work to get, I am getting information from my daughter that I can then apply to the kids at my school.  What I have learned is that by asking the right  questions of my daughter I am getting great input into what she is experiencing, what impact certain teacher moves have on her as a student, and an insight into the impact different climate items in a school have on her as a student and a person.  I really think that this will not only allow me to have some great discussions with my daughter, but I also believe that these discussions will help me to improve the work I do for my 513 other students.

As I continue my career as principal dad one of my greatest challenges will be realizing that my two kids are growing up and moving on. Hopefully my past experiences will allow me to help and support them as they transition (as their dad) and their experiences will help me support and better meet the needs of my students (as their principal).

They grow up so fast…….

Taylor 2

My Goals- Building Connections with Students

Recently our school system has released our new Strategic Planning Framework.  (You can find information on this work here)  One of the three competencies focused on in our new framework is “Social Emotional Learning”.  The focus on the social emotional aspect of the educational environment is a relatively new focus for our system and it is one that I am excited about and I believe we help us set all of our students up for success.

In setting the framework our system has identified the outcomes in the social emotional competency for both our students and our staff.  They are as follows:

Students will:

  •  Value and respect diversity and differences
  • Make constructive and healthy decisions that promote hope, personal well-being, and social behavior
  • Build their sense of resilience, perseverance, self-awareness, and growth mindset
  • Enhance their social awareness, including collaboration, empathy, and relationship-building skills

Staff will:

  • Foster respect for diversity, risk-taking, collaboration, constructive debate, and productive conflict resolution
  • Promote safety and social, emotional, and physical well-being
  • Create opportunities for students and staff to interact positively with each other
  • Teach and model resilience, perseverance, self-awareness, and growth mindset
  • Build on each others’ and students’ strengths

Since the introduction of this framework I have been reflecting on my role as a school administrator and how I can create a school environment in which we can make these outcomes a reality on a regular basis.  As I have thought  about it I have come up with the following ideas as my starting points:

  • I will be working, along with my administrative team to get to know each of our students and to build relationships for them and modeling those skills for our staff.
  • This year I will serve as the administrator for a grade level.  This will allow me to get to know and work with many more students much more closely and regularly.  This will also allow me to collaborate with my teachers through our professional learning communities on a more regular basis getting to know them, support them, and model the behaviors that we are looking to foster.
  • We will be working to create more open opportunities for staff and students to collaborate and share ideas on how we can work together more effectively and productively.  We will accomplish this through a number of structured and unstructured opportunities for students to collaborate with their peers and the staff and brainstorm ways of building communities and meeting the needs of our students.
  • We will work to build several partnerships and programs focused on mentoring and character and leadership development.  We will be doing this in-house and working to partner with local organizations as well.
  • We will be revisiting our efforts to promote an environment focused on well-being, a feeling of safety, and an environment where learning is paramount.  To do this we will be working to beef up our peer mediation program (providing our students with the tools they need for conflict resolution), a continued focus on our Redland Respect Program with our students, and

These are some of my initial thoughts and ideas.  I will be working closely with my administrative and leadership teams to develop these ideas as well as additional ideas.  Our system’s focus on the social emotional dimension is a welcomed focus.  I am very excited to make this happen and see the impact on our kids.

Teacher Feedback- One of My Goals

One of the best ways of improving instruction is to see what is happening and to then collaborate with and support our teachers to improve those practices.  The only way of making this happen is to be in classes on a regular basis, and that is one of my goals for this school year.  I will be working to adopt a mobile office approach in my management style, reminds me of the “Management by Walking Around” approach utilized by Abraham Lincoln and highlighted in the book Lincoln on Leadership.  I will be working to spend as much time as possible in classrooms working with and learning from my teachers. 

 

Spending much more time in the classrooms will help me, and student performance in a number of ways. 

  • Obviously this will allow me to get a much better sense of what is happening in the classrooms on a regular basis.  With this insight I will be in a much better position to support teacher development and to align my resources to improve teaching and learning in the building.  
  • This will also begin to build the mentor relationships with my teachers (our instructional leadership team will be working on coaching and mentoring this year) as I get to work with them and provide them with much more regular feedback.  I believe very strongly that if I am going to support my teachers with improving teaching and learning in the building I need to connect with my teachers and be able to talk with them about what I am seeing in their classes more than just a 15-20 minute snippet every couple of weeks or months.
  • Another outcome of being in classes more regularly is the relationships that I will be able to build with my students and the insights I will get into what their struggles are.  Being in the classes, witnessing and experiencing their learning will help me to connect with my students and support them more effectively.  In addition, we all know that when additional adults (especially administrators) are in classes students tend to stay more on task and more focused.  So, this will also support teachers in maintaining an environment conducive to learning.

 

Obviously this will take a lot of planning and work.  I am now working on building in the structures into my days to make sure that classroom visits are a priority.  As a principal I am pulled in several directions on a regular basis, however, if I am saying that this is a priority (and I am), I need to make it a priority and make it happen!

 

Watch for information on how it is going in future posts!

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