The Power of Positivity with Principal Mike Domagalski (Ep 33)

March 08, 2022/ By

Mike Domagalski has been teaching for 9 years and has been a Principal for the past 7 years. Mike is currently the Principal of St. Clair Middle School in St. Clair, Michigan. He is President-Elect for the Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA). He is also the Founder, Creator and Lead Moderator of #MEMSPAchat, which is an ed leader chat that happens on twitter each Thursday from 8-9pm ET. Follow him on Twitter at @MrDomagalski.

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Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Welcome to the Deeper Learning with WeVideo podcast. This is Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad, and I'm super excited to have Mike Domagalski here on the podcast today. A little bit about Mike. Mike has been teaching for nine years and seven years as a principal. Currently, Mike is the principal of St. Claire middle-school in St. Clair, Michigan. He is currently in the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, which is also called MEMSPA, the president elect of that organization. He's also the founder, creator, and lead moderator of the MEMSPO Chat, which is an ed chat leader chat which happens on Twitter each Thursday from8:00 to 9:00 PM, Eastern I'm guessing Mike?

Mike Domagalski: Yes, that's Eastern. Absolutely.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Hey Mike. Thanks for being here today. I've been a big fan of yours on Twitter, and I'm super excited to have you on the podcast.

Mike Domagalski: I appreciate the opportunity. It's an honor to be here. I'm excited to get started.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Well, I know it is crazy times now because at the time this is being recorded we're in the midst of back to school planning and fun. And before the podcast that you and I are chatting about all of the planning and the complexities of going back to school. What is probably the most challenging aspect of kind of your role right now in preparing for this school year?

Mike Domagalski: Well, it's difficult to say one thing, right? Every district is going through something a little bit different depending on how they're offering instruction to their community or to their students. My district in particular is offering an in-person or virtual option. And one of the main things that is causing us to plan completely differently is just the health and safety measures because of COVID, right? Obviously health and safety is always a number one priority in our schools. And we always try to be as safe as possible, but just the health protocols from our roadmap, from our governor, and all the expectations that we're trying to put in so kids can be in person., it's tough at times.

Mike Domagalski: I think we're doing a very good job of it, but every day we come up with a new challenge and we're trying to meet those challenges with solutions and communicating it out to the public. So that's one of the biggest challenges is just making sure as much as we can our students and our staff are as safe as possible to return to school.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. I reflect back on my days of being an administrator and taking all the grad school classes, and nothing really prepared us for this, right?

Mike Domagalski: No, nothing did. And I became an administrator seven years ago and I kind of laughed at it when you first become one. No, the classes don't prepare for a lot of things. They talk to you about some finances and some budgets and you get to work on creating a schedule and the paperwork of it. And things like this, you almost laugh a little bit. It's like nothing you did in your undergrad, graduate, anything like this prepares you for a pandemic, right, which is what we're living through. So-

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely.

Mike Domagalski: ... we're learning and leading as best as we can. And I know that as people we'll come out of this better.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely. Yeah. I recall back in my days in a school building, I could honestly say no day looked the same. Every day was completely different. And there was always a new challenge every single day. And that's one of the things about a job is as a principal is that your day never looks the same and you never get bored because there's always a new challenge and opportunity to tackle. And this pandemic has definitely proven to be a huge challenge.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: But before we started the podcast here, you were telling me about a few things that you were doing to obviously set up students to be successful. And I'm really intrigued by this Positivity Project. And it's tied to social, emotional learning that you are leading and a part of.

Mike Domagalski: Yeah. So I appreciate you mentioning that. The Positivity Project is something that we found a couple of years ago. There's co-founders, Mike Erwin and Jeff Bryan. And really ultimately it's a culture and character building project. I don't want to call it a program, right? But it's a character building project that we've instilled in our school that empowers students to build positive relationships and become their best selves. And it's not something that you're kind of... Nothing against any other project or program. They're great, right? We all need these social emotional and these feel good things, but this is so research-based, and it's based around a lot of morals and virtues that a lot of us live by, try to live by.

Mike Domagalski: So when we talk about the Positivity Project, we're talking about bravery for a week and creativity for a week and perseverance for a week, and so on and so forth. There's 24 character strengths that the students and staff learn throughout the course of the year. There's pillars where these strengths are built into. So what's really nice about the project is it's real life experiences, teaching the students and the staff about how to build positive relationships, why positive psychology is important, the research behind it.

Mike Domagalski: And it's all about empowering students to be their better selves and how to build positive relationships with each other, because honestly, and I'll put this in writing and I've said this at my board presentation and to my superintendent and to my community, academics are absolutely important. That's why we principal. That's why we teach. That's why we do things, right? But I really beg the question. Is it why? Because I really think the whole child is more important and how we treat each other is more important than any of that. How we treat each other in the world. We can call it the golden rule. We can call it whatever you'd like to call it. But without those pillars of teaching these virtues and morals, and this kind of research based project in our schools, I think it's a disservice if we don't.

Mike Domagalski: So we've adopted this Positivity Project, and it's making a difference in our students. Of course, anytime you start something there's, "Well, why do we have to do this?" Or, "I'm uncomfortable having these conversations," and so on and so forth. Now in year three, I think we're a little bit more comfortable. It's kind of become ingrained in our system, in our middle school now that our elementary are on board, and it's kind of exponentially growing throughout the country.

Mike Domagalski: So for everyone listening to this or anyone one else, I mean, the Positivity Project is so easy to implement in your school. It's all through Google Slides, it's all YouTube discussions, interactions. Everything's set up for you. There's no preparation to actually have teachers facilitate it. We love everything about it. We love every bit about it. And once again, the biggest thing that I'd like to mention is why, why are we educators? And I believe the answer, at least for me, is because I love kids. It's not because I want to teach science or I want to teach math. I became a principal of an elementary and middle school because I love kids and I want to make that kid better, right? So we don't view the Positivity Project as one more thing. We view it as everything and everything else is underneath it.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: This Positivity Project, Mike, is fascinating especially during this time where there are so many traumatic events happening in the background and every family is different, but we know the constant is there some kind of a stressor, something has changed in someone's family. Someone could have lost a family member. Someone could be sick. Someone could have lost a job. There is so many different circumstances that we don't know is happening. And it sounds like with the Positivity Project is that students are able to kind of tap into themselves and they're able to kind of harness strength and courage. And it sounds like there are different character traits that students are able to practice and kind of able to embed into their daily activities. Am I on the right direction here because of the format?

Mike Domagalski: You're absolutely correct. And what's nice about it is it's structured, right? So relationships are the cornerstone of health, happiness, resilience and many jobs of the future. So without relationships or to be able to discuss your relationship or how you feel with other people, it deters us a little bit or puts us down a little bit. We need to be able to have those conversations, develop strategies in order to inspire people to build those positive relationships.

Mike Domagalski: But within these 24 character strengths... And you even mentioned some of them, your creativity, others integrity, teamwork, open-mindedness, gratitude. So these 24 character strengths are facilitated or "taught" to the students as part of our daily routine. That's not something that we do every Friday or we celebrate a Friday with an assembly. We do it every day and it's built into our schedule. It's P2 time. So the more often you do something, it becomes habit, right? And a habit doesn't get created until what? 30, 40 days in a row.

Mike Domagalski: So we do this every day, but it is exactly what you just said. It's all revolved around these 24 character strengths with activities, discussions, and so on and so forth. So we love it. We love it. And we think, honestly, every school should have something like this, but obviously we're pro P2.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Well, what projects have you seen organically emerge from this? Because I'm assuming that students get so excited about something, a light bulb moment or something they encountered that they decided, "Hey, I want to do something about this." Or, "I'd like to do our project on this." And it's something maybe that's locally in the community that they are wondering about, or maybe it's a kind of a personal passion. Have you seen any kind of student kind of driven activity project that has emerged from this?

Mike Domagalski: Well, I'll take it a little bit further. I would say yes and no, but I think even part of the project, it's the consistency, right? So as an example with math, why math is successful over time, is it's linear and it's done every day. So we've done certain things within the school or out of the school. I mean, one thing that comes to mind, the students didn't do i, but we wanted to create projects or create an activity or event that all the students can relate to. As an example, we had a player graduate from our high school that most of the kids know in our middle school here because he's around so much in his off season. He just retired. But he graduated from the local high school here in town and he came to speak at an assembly. And I met with him. And he was just odd in awe about the positive Positivity Project. And he's like, "I want to talk to these students about why this is important."

Mike Domagalski: We brought in the local owner of the grocery store, a big well-known grocery store in town. Everybody knows the family, right? He comes in and talks about how he does the grocery store, all, this is an assembly, in front of 700 kids and everybody in town knows him. So all these kids know who he is, and it's more impactful for them. That's not something maybe a one-time deal out in the community that 20 kids do. That's something that all 700 are participating in.

Mike Domagalski: Something else that we do is around the Positivity Project is Talk To Me Tuesdays. At first, the students were a little resilient, but it's just become a norm here in the building, is we encourage the students to sit wherever they'd like in the lunchroom. I mean, this year might be different. Everything's different with COVID. But in the past we've had the kids sit wherever they'd like in the lunchroom and we've posted up the character strength for the week. Because we have a big slide projector and a screen in our lunchroom and for about 200 kids per grade. And they have a conversation about that character strength, what it means to them, give me an example of that with your fellow students. And they have that conversation.

Mike Domagalski: And it's so interesting because if you give the kids the platform to talk, they will talk. And they don't talk about these things unless you give them the structure and the platform to do so. And it's so interesting because student A and student B would never know those things about the other student if you didn't give them that platform. And it builds that relationship.

Mike Domagalski: Now I wouldn't say one big project, because when you do one big project, you usually have just a small group within your school, like do a landscaping project or things like that. I think it's deeper than that, right? So they're doing it every day and we're interacting and it's not just one group. It's all students. And I'm really excited this year because we're one in five schools in the nation to be approved to actually teach a Positivity Project. Best Class Ever I think it's what it's called. I'm looking it up. Yap. It's called Best Class Ever. It's on my screen.

Mike Domagalski: We just got approved for that two months ago, and we actually just created it. I created with my secretary today. We're one of five schools to actually have this curriculum from the Positivity Project. So I'm actually going to have 30 students go in this class and learn about the traits and get deeper into it. So they're going to be these people in the school to be facilitated by our P2 person, and then they're going to dilute it throughout the rest of the school about the things that they're doing. So I'm interested to see how that's going to go, really proud that we're one of the five schools to have that. So we will actually have a P2 class this year that the students could choose as their elective.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: That's fantastic. I think about whenever you were talking about how the students were engaging these conversations that they wouldn't really have engaged in otherwise. I think it goes back to the supports that we provide in class, even if it's in-person, or blended, or online. We talk about as opposed to just telling students to think pair share or get together in a group and discuss even as adults, we have to provide kind of like these stones or these conversations starters. And these are really important to help frame these conversations.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And then once you start framing those conversations, I think it becomes natural. And that's a part of making this kind of skill of communication I think more explicit. I mean, would you agree that we have to be more explicit about how we are teaching our students to communicate more effectively and really dig deeper into these character traits?

Mike Domagalski: I absolutely agree. Yeah, I mean, you nailed it on the head. I would say explicit and intentional, right?

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah.

Mike Domagalski: And the more explicit and intentional you are with these character strengths or whatever you are when you're talking about SEL... I mean, there's a lot of social, emotional learning going on when we're having conversations about empathy or having conversations this February about love. There's a lot of deep conversations come from that. And it's way more impactful if it's intentional, right, if there's intention behind it and it's explicit. So it makes it more real for the kids. It's a really interesting project. And in my mind, especially the way I was raised, I'm blessed to have amazing parents and seven brothers and sisters that help guide me, but, I mean, these things are how I was raised on a farm with seven brothers and sisters, and mom and dad that are... I mean, I'm just like, "I want to get this out. This is why I became an educator." So we love everything about it. I do.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: That's fantastic. Hey, so I want to ask you about as we're planning for this new unprecedented, uncharted school year-

Mike Domagalski: Oh, my gosh, yes.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: So as a principal, you obviously have to create these learning environments for students and to ensure that they are going to have the best opportunity to learn at a deep level. And we talked a lot about social, emotional learning, which is definitely first and foremost, the most important is the health and safety for our students, because if that's not there, learning can't happen, but talk about the professional development and kind of how you're supporting teachers right now, specifically in your school building. How has professional development kind of changed this year in comparison to last year? And this could be PD around technology tools that will be used this year, obviously social, emotional learning. So I'd love to hear more about kind of what are your foci or focuses for this school year and then also about the professional development process itself.

Mike Domagalski: So every school district is going to be a little bit different. They're in a little different place based on what they're offering their community or their students or parents. Our school district, like I said, is we've offered in-person and we've also offered the online. So we've also taken it upon ourselves that our own teachers within our school district are going to be delivering that platform.

Mike Domagalski: Some school districts have offered that online platform, but they've used a third party. So we're not doing that. We've challenged our teachers and we think it's the right thing to do. I think it's the right thing to do. Our teachers are amazing in our school district. They really are, their creativity and their work ethics. So our teachers are creating everything online through Google Classroom. I think that one of the biggest things when it comes to professional development has been to see the difference between how teachers could use Google Classroom as an example in the past.

Mike Domagalski: I have teachers in my building that have used Google Classroom for a couple of years. They're pretty comfortable with it. It wasn't an expectation or a directive that they have to use it. So many teachers have never even seen it. They didn't even know it was in their Google apps there in the right-hand corner when you log into Google. So they had no idea. But then some, like I said, used it every day. Now, the professional development I mean that we've provided for Google Classroom, Google Drive, all these Google apps, has been going on most of the summer because whether we like it or not, it's an expectation.

Mike Domagalski: Obviously we're working around contracts and times and things like that, but I think our teachers have really stepped up to the plate. Many, I'd say most of them have come to professional development offered by administrators and teachers to work together collaboratively to learn these platforms so we could provide that online instruction as best as we can. I'm a realist. Do I think it's going to be perfect? Absolutely not, right? But I think that the difference between now and what we offered in April is exponentially great. It's exponentially different just because of the knowledge and the professional development we've given our staff and ourselves in simple things.

Mike Domagalski: Like now I say simple things because I've PDed myself over the last two, three months in Google Classroom. I never had to use it very much because as an administrator it wasn't really directed to me. I could communicate in a lot of different ways, but now I see the benefits of it. And now my teachers are starting to see it too, because they will have in-person students and they'll also have virtual students.

Mike Domagalski: So we're encouraging our teachers to use the Google Classroom format for all of their students, as an example for first hour or homeroom or whatever grade they're teaching, and teach through Google Classroom, as opposed to just Kagan Structures or Stand and Deliver or all these other strategies that they can still do but utilizing through Google classroom. So we've offered a lot of PD in that. It's really around the Google platform. I think it's been successful, but right now it's middle to end of August. We'll see how it is in September 8th when the students arrive. So we shall see. But I'm really proud of our staff for the work effort they put in.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Well, kudos to you for... We have to have education leaders who are providing these tools for teachers and not just saying, "Pick the tool that you think is best," or kind of letting teachers pivot themselves. Obviously we provide teacher autonomy and choice in being able to let their kind of personality shine through. But as a school building leader and as a district, we have to ensure that we are saying, "Okay, here are the tools that are available to you. We're going to provide you with support and training." And that's so important. And that's going to create really some inconsistency and some fidelity to the tools you're using. So that way you don't have one classroom using this one tool and another question use another tool and there's confusion. So all that to say kudos to you providing that structure beforehand.

Mike Domagalski: Yeah. Thanks. I mean, sometimes it's just as simple as when you're learning something it's nice to start at square one. We have a return to school committee here in our school and also district-wide, but our school return to school committee, which is made up of... There's eight of us, me, my other AP, and some teachers, counselor, even I have me head secretary. We've decided to do simple things, right? So everyone's using Google Classroom. That's a district directive. But within that as a committee just here at St. Claire Middle School, it's simple things that can make it common for the staff and the students like what you title your Google Classroom.

Mike Domagalski: We're going to say you title it by our, class, teacher last name. So when students log in, they see first hour math eight, Domagalski, second hour, science, Smith, so on and so forth. It's simple things like that on how we're setting up our Google Classroom to where, okay, everybody's at square one. These are the things we're creating, and it's not Mike Domagalski principal driven. It's our return to school committee driven. So it's teachers saying, "Hey, this is what we need to do altogether." The more we're on the same page the better we can become professionally developed because we're all speaking the same language and vocabulary. And then the better the students will be because when they log into their Google Classroom they'll easily see what's where even when it comes to the topics, like how we're organizing our topics and what permissions they have and settings and stuff like that.

Mike Domagalski: So like I said, kudos to the teachers and the return to school committee for really making these decisions. And then it's my job, obviously, to disseminate it out to the staff. So I'm really excited to see how it's going to go, obviously, a little nervous too. But I'm excited. I'm excited because all the work a lot of these teachers have been putting in.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Mike, when I think about just the conversation we've had today and you started with the example of social, emotional learning and the importance, and then you've moved to kind of the learning management with Google Classroom and Google tools and kind of some structural components. And I think kind of the next logical place to consider is how do we ensure that our students are engaged kind of in this new world we're in? Because from what I've seen already, that there's a challenge in whatever you providing students with maybe prompts or with different kinds of learning opportunities, that it might just be something where a student feels like they are being compliant and they're just like, "Oh, I have to read this, do these problems, and then go submit on Google Classroom."

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And so there's a challenge that for a student engagement to kind of decrease. And that's a big goal and focus of mine at WeVideo is for teachers to create these instructional videos that have this exciting media involved and we're equipping students to be creative and use the green screen feature. So we want students to have fun, but also have access to a rich, deep, meaningful content. So I'm curious about... And you mentioned earlier with Kagan Structures, and we can't just let these best practices and these research based strategies go by the wayside. Do you have any thoughts about strategies that have you've used maybe in the traditional classroom, and have they been maybe transformed for higher engagement in this new kind of blended world?

Mike Domagalski: Well, that's a great question, right? What is it going to look like? We're not live streaming or maybe we will. We'll see. I think a lot of this, at least the process that I'm going through, I don't want to sound unprofessional or unknowledgeable in any way, right? I want to be ahead of the game. And usually we are, but this is such a new world we're living in. So to talk about what these strategies will look like I think from... And I want to speak for my teachers, it's going to be such a big transition to where they're going to have to live it. It's one of those things to where they're going to have to fall flat a couple of times to say, "No, this strategy isn't working. Okay. I need to fix this."

Mike Domagalski: It's going to take a little bit of time for us to work through these modules and these programs that we're not used to working on. So when I say Kagan Structures or just any simple instructional strategy, sure the teachers are going to try those, but some of them might not work. They might not work for the virtual students, and the way we're learning in person, especially with the social distancing and masks in our classroom, they may not work as well.

Mike Domagalski: So it's hard to answer a question like that before we've even really give it a go, right? It's going to be an interesting year. We're going to make it as safe as possible, and we will make it successful. And I truly believe we'll be better in the end, but it's always this year from September 8th to June, whenever we get out. I don't even know what we're doing September 9th, right? We're going to make it as best as we can. We're going to make it as best as we can for our kids. And we're going to learn every day to make the next day better.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Well, and I think you have really great points there with kind of the planning of strategies and sequentially. I mean, sometimes we jump straight to what instructional kind of cool activity are we going to do, what cooperative learning will we do, what kind of snazzy technology tool we're going to use. And I think it really forces us to go back to pedagogical structures. And we know best practices, what are the learning outcomes first? What is it exactly that we want students to know and be able to do? And then we think about how will we measure success, and then we think about, okay, now that we know the learning target, we know kind of how we're going to measure it, then you start to talk about strategies.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: So I think it's fair to say that we don't know a lot right now about how this is going to play out, but I think we're going to keep trying these strategies that we've used before, and maybe try new strategies that are more better integrated into this technology. And then if it doesn't work then we try something new. I think that's what we've been wanting all along, is to really embrace this kind of trial and error as... I think that's part of, going back to your SEL focus, it is that part of our character with innovation and problem solving and creativity. We aren't afraid to try new things. And so we are kind of modeling that for our students.

Mike Domagalski: Yeah. And if we think about our teachers too, I was very intentional when I said when we're doing the Positivity Project it's not just all about students, right? It's about staff and students. So when the teachers are delivering this content, we also need to talk about their social, emotional being. So when they're learning and trying to do teaching all over again, and many of them in a way they've never learned how to do it, they didn't go to undergrad or even graduate school to learn how to do these things. They're literally learning on the fly because our world and our culture and our society and our health has dictated this.

Mike Domagalski: So with this pandemic, I mean, none of us have taught through a pandemic before or lead as a principal through a pandemic. So, like I said, I don't want to sound unknowledgeable or unprofessional or I can't do my job, but none of us have been through it before. So of course there's going to be some bumps in the road and some challenges, but I think we're up to the task. I've talked to my staff and said to many of them, I said, "You know what? You need to make it simple. Start simple. Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to do everything all at once." You need to learn things slowly and simple.

Mike Domagalski: I know using Google forums is not an instructional strategy, but that's a way you can collect something, but that's a simple way for you to collect some kind of structure, right? But for you to learn that in that two-way communication with kids, let's get that down. All right. We got that down. Then let's move to a next step. So it's little things like that I think that we're teaching our staff, we're learning how to collaborate better, and I think that we really need to focus on the SEL of everybody. I mean, the social, emotional piece for everyone right now is huge. So I'm excited to start the year, but yeah, we got some challenges along the way.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, I'm looking forward to following it, your journey throughout the year. And I know that our listeners will be interested to see kind of what are the successes you have and then what are those bumps in the road. So on the point, where can we find you? I know obviously you are a Twitter chat facilitator. So that's the MEMSPA or M-E-M-S-P-A chat. We can find you there. What is your Twitter handle? And any other place we can find you on social media?

Mike Domagalski: Yeah. So big on Twitter. I thought of the MEMSPA chat, that's the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association. And we started a chat just here in Michigan, and it goes really well every Thursday at 8:00 PM-

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Awesome.

Mike Domagalski: ... and find us for on MEMSPA chat every Thursday 8:00 to 9:00 PM. And we have guest moderators every week. That's a real great way to connect. I'm on there every Thursday. But my Twitter handle is very simple. It's Mrdomagalski, just an M-R and then D-O-M-A-G-A-L-S-K-I, and I come up and I mean, I'm really great. I love Twitter. I use it all the time and I'm really good at getting back with people. I mean, Nathan, when you contacted me I think it was just a couple of hours. You know what I mean? It was right away. I'm like, "Let's do this. Let's rock. Let's go."

Mike Domagalski: So if anyone wants to direct message me or... I follow tons of really just educational leaders. That's how I use my Twitter account. I don't follow pop stars and things like that. So I really am focused around education and leadership and that's how I use my Twitter handle. So contact me through Twitter anytime. I'm very proud of MEMSPA chat and MEMSPA as well. Being the president of elect, I'm really proud of that. And I'm really glad I can somewhat be some kind of a face figure for that association as well. So I do a lot for them and they do a lot for us. But I'm really proud to be involved.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And as you should be. Hey, Mike, thanks so much for your time today especially during this busy planning time. We really appreciate your time.

Mike Domagalski: You're welcome. Once again, I was honored to be on and I hope it was beneficial for everyone, and hit me up on Twitter or contact me anytime, any questions. I'd love to connect with people, especially people I've never met. So thanks again for the opportunity.

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