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Bill Craig, Musician and Teacher: A friendship that began with a drum lesson

Bill Craig

Bill Craig, band director at Barton Junior High in El Dorado, stayed after school one day to give a snare drum lesson to a third-grader. The student was to play Little Drummer Boy in his church choir program. Though saxophone was Bill’s primary instrument, he easily gave fundamental instruction and encouragement to this beginner.

A few years later, Mr. Craig directed the district-wide beginner band, and that kid, now in 6th-grade, was in the back playing snare.

Around twenty-years later, that kid, now a music teacher, played drum set with Bill’s jazz band in El Dorado. A most memorable gig was playing drums at a birthday party Bill organized for his wife, Dorothy. Seeing Bill Craig’s commitment and love for his family was inspiring.

Over the years, Bill and I exchanged Christmas cards. We shared our books with each other, his (The Tall Pines of Union County) about significant people in Union County, and mine (Five Star Trails: The Ozarks) about hiking trails. On several occasions, I picked up classic jazz recordings from Bill, and on a couple of occasions, he sent me CDs of jazz he performed and recorded.

I’m thankful that Bill was willing to stay after school that afternoon. I doubt that either of us had an inkling of the friendship that would develop from that snare drum lesson. Through his example, Bill Craig taught the importance of building positive relationships with students. I’m thankful for his life and positive influence on our community and countless former students.  ~ Jim Warnock

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The Gift of Imperfection

Jim Elsie Jimmy

Elsie and Jimmy Warnock with their son, Jim

I’m thankful to have been raised by courageous parents. If Mother didn’t know how to do something, she’d read up and dive right in. She tried to do things right, but often said, “Some things are worth doing poorly.” She didn’t hold others to perfection, often saying, “When in doubt, take a step.” You might learn something new. She practiced this all of her life to the benefit of those around her, especially her children.

When Becca and I had our first daughter, Elsie gave us permission not to be perfect parents. She reminded me of the time she took me to the bank when I was 10 to deposit eight silver dollars my grandmother had given me over several years. The bank teller repeatedly asked if she was sure we wanted to do this. Mother later learned the silver dollars were worth much more than any interest from a savings account would bring.

Following our first daughter’s birth, Mother gave me a small framed set of eight silver dollars with a lettered message: “No one said parents are perfect.” No, perfection wasn’t required but viewed from a distance, my parents were pretty darn close.

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Gift from Elsie to Jim and Becca on the birth of Christen in 1987. The frame and lettering were done by Reese Kennedy, Elsie’s brother.


My mother died on February 25. During the last few weeks, I visited my mother daily to assist with her evening meals. On one of these visits, I leaned over her bed and clearly said, “You were an amazing mother!” It felt awkward to say something so obvious. Her eyes filled with tears and she smiled. Over the weeks as she became less responsive, I read from a little book of memories she wrote in hopes that she would still hear me.

On February 24, I found some poems in the back of one of her books. I hadn’t seen them before and one caught my attention. It was the response to a writing assignment that she titled A Poem for Jimmy. She called my father Jimmy.

Mother would say it’s not great poetry. I would say it’s heartfelt and poetry at least worth reading. This  was the last thing I read to Mother during our last visit.

A Poem for Jimmy
By Elsie Warnock

This is a poem for Jimmy
Who made my life begin.
Who has doubled life’s joys
And halved its sorrows.
We have worked together;
We have laughed together;
We have grieved together.
I will remember always
The marvelous quiet times of our lives.
This is a poem for you.

JC and Elsie with vase

Social Emotional Learning: Fluff or Essential?

If you hang around some of my teachers, you’ll probably hear us comment about the importance of Social Emotional Learning (SEL). It should come as no surprise that we learn best from those we like and those who like, and value, us. But it goes much deeper than that.

SEL has gained popularity in education circles, but practices tend to get blurry when they become “popular.” Concepts or programs get distorted as soon as they’re assigned an acronym, like SEL.

Blurry concepts eventually lose their meaning and become all talk and no action. Sometimes, there’s the temptation to pay lip service to a topic, giving the illusion that it’s being implemented. I think this often happens with Social Emotional Learning.

Some might say that all this SEL stuff is just fluff. Some think we go too far in our emphasis of social emotional learning, saying, “it’s too much of a good thing.” To that, I say, we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Don’t let my emphasis on social emotional learning confuse you into thinking I place less value on academic expectations. Experience has taught me that deep learning doesn’t have a chance without positive and trusting relationships, a central component of SEL. Learning will be much greater when we make responsible decisions and manage our emotions, also essential components of SEL.

Inez Taylor

Inez Taylor close to the time I was in her class.

When I was a student, my best teachers built strong relationships around a shared love for the subject or discipline. This didn’t mean I was always happy with the teacher who said, “I’m sorry, that needs to be better.” I remember Inez Taylor, my high school English teacher, challenging the assumptions of something I’d written. I was upset but learned from her hard questions. I rewrote the assignment and made it better because we had a relationship based on mutual respect. I still think of Inez Taylor with fondness.

I remember my best teachers’ passion and sense of urgency. If they got emotional, even bordering on a little angry, it was about our shared commitment to the discipline, the learning. That didn’t damage our relationship but ultimately strengthened it because we realized what we were doing was important.

The following elements are all necessary for deep and lasting learning: social (relationships), emotional (resilience and stability), content, skills, and application of skills to new challenges. I want my kids to have all of this stuff! I think they’re going to need it.

Inez Taylor EHS 1965

Inez Taylor on the left with Elsie Warnock on the right. Approximately 1965

When I asked El Dorado friends if they had photos of Inez Taylor, Mamie Polk found the above photo in a 1965 yearbook. I was pleased to see my mother in the photo. By the time I got to El Dorado High School, she had moved to Barton Junior High School in El Dorado. My mother always avoided teaching in the school I attended. I never knew if this was a coincidence or intentional.

Here’s a post I wrote about others who’ve impacted my learning, including Dee Post, an El Dorado High School teacher who influenced me after I became a teacher. When In Doubt, Write

Thank you to AIS and the Alma School District

Warnock020620I wanted to share my retirement letter with students and parents, so it appears at the bottom of this post. I shared the following four points with our School Board on February 6.


I’ve spent 19 years as a part of the Alma School District and have the following observations:   1) Alma has shown an ever-increasing focus on student achievement over these years.  2) Alma has made huge leaps in providing relevant technology for students.  3) Alma has demonstrated a constant focus on hiring great people and then providing professional growth opportunities throughout their careers.  4) Alma is a “both/and” district that balances student achievement efforts with an emphasis on the arts. Alma is a place where students can add relevance and engagement to their education through music, dance, drama, and the visual arts.

I didn’t mention this, but it’s evident in so many ways that the Alma District and community are committed to student and staff safety. We have our own Alma Police Department SRO, secure facilities, and well-trained staff and students. This means so much to me as a parent and an educator.

I’m thankful for the way the Alma School District has impacted my family, and my many students and staff.


January 31, 2020

Mr. David Woolly and the Alma School Board

I will be resigning as principal at Alma Intermediate School on June 30, 2020. My goal has always been to conclude my career in education still excited about learning and working with students. Being part of the Alma School District made this goal easy to accomplish.

I delayed my original retirement date by one year so that we could work with staff to plan and implement our Alternative Learning Environment (ALE). Writing that plan last year and then watching the teacher in our new ALE this year meeting the needs of our most at-risk students has been a highlight of my career.

I’ve had the privilege of working with great superintendents, most notably, Bob Watson in El Dorado, and Charles B. Dyer and David Woolly in Alma. I have also enjoyed my association with school board members who volunteer to serve our schools in continuous improvement efforts. My assistant principals, Geneva Moss (El Dorado), Suzy Ferguson, and Ralynn Wilkinson, have influenced my professional growth and done many things to increase the success of schools I’ve served.

While teaching music and completing my master’s in counseling earlier in my career, I could never have imagined that my journey would lead to a great school like Alma Intermediate. Thank you for giving me this privilege.

It has been an honor to work with teachers and play a role in their professional and personal growth. Watching them has taught me much about teaching and learning and the significance of their service. I often brag that my best talent is recognizing talent and core values in hiring teachers. I will genuinely miss hiring and watching the development of teachers.

Completing Phase III of the Arkansas Leadership Academy Principals’ Institute, being designated Arkansas’ Principal of the Year, and serving as president of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators were opportunities to bring positive attention to Alma. Still, my highest personal honor has been to work with students and take actions to enhance their learning. Watching their growth and development is the greatest joy of my work in education. I hope to continue working with students in the future in some capacity, maybe an occasional bucket drum club, or sharing an outdoor adventure from time to time.

I have many interests to pursue. Between family, trails, photography, writing, and drumming, I fear not having enough time and health to get it all done! Thank you to the leaders of the Alma School District for being such a significant part of my career. Education has been a rewarding way to spend a large portion of my life, and I look forward to serving our community and schools as a volunteer in the future.

Sincerely,

Jim Warnock

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Backpacking in the Ozarks

Is Extracurricular Extra, or Essential?

The following could be applied to many areas we sometimes call extracurricular. I consider these essential to students. Music was crucial to my experience in school. Music kept me engaged and taught many lessons I might have otherwise missed. Below is something I wrote twenty years ago for a Cooper’s Troopers Reunion Band. The thoughts still ring true for me today.

practice pad

When in the third grade, Mr. Warnock’s aunt gave him this practice pad for Christmas.

All I Ever Needed To Know, I Learned In the Band 

  1. I learned the importance of persistence:  Do we really have to play that spot again?
  2. I learned that self-esteem is developed by meeting challenges:  Mr. Cooper really believes we can play this piece?
  3. I learned you can do almost anything you’re passionate about if you try long and hard enough.  Yes, I just love practicing the 26 snare drum rudiments. Oh yes, scales are fun, too!
  4. I learned the importance of flexibility.  You want us there at what time?
  5. I learned to suspend judgment:  “You don’t know if you like this piece until you can play it!” – Mr. Cooper
  6. I learned the importance of showing up, no matter how you feel.
  7. I learned to be on time.  There is nothing like the “Cooper stare” if you run into formation late.
  8. I learned organizational skills.  What other class requires that a student show up on time with 27 separate uniform parts, music folder, clothespins, snacks, and at least two drum sticks (hopefully a matched pair).
  9. I learned to appreciate the great outdoors.  I have fond memories of those early morning winter marches on the parking lot.  I hear sound coming from my drum, but I can’t feel my hands.
  10.  I learned that success depends on how you use your time.  “The best bands are the bands that fix mistakes the quickest.”  – Mr. Cooper
  11. I learned to keep going no matter what.  I remember the roar of laughter in a Little Rock stadium after one file took a counter-march 20 yards early.  We just kept going and regrouped at the majorette feature tune. “Take real big steps and well get this back together,” several unidentified seniors were heard to say.
  12.  I learned that everybody’s part is important from the first trumpet solo down to the triangle part.  “Get it covered!” – Hal Cooper
  13. I learned that there is more than one way to hit a drum.  “Yes, I know those are marimba mallets and you’re playing timpani, but that’s the sound I want.” –  Mr. Cooper
  14.  I learned how to ad-lib.  “Forget what is written, drummers.  Just make it sound right.” – Hal Cooper
  15. I learned the importance of consistency.  “You’re not getting better because you make new mistakes every day.” –  Hal Cooper
  16. I learned the importance of a compliment, no matter how small.  The tension and suspense after a halftime show lifted completely when Mr. Cooper turned and simply said, “Good job.”
  17.  I learned to travel in varied accommodations.  Experienced travelers by school bus will do fine in any third world country.
  18.  I learned the importance of a group effort focused on a common goal.  “Take aim and push your sound all the way to the press box.” – Hal Cooper
  19. I learned that it’s OK to be a little arrogant as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously. We really were pretty awesome!
  20. I learned the power of music.  I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Symphonic Band open up on Eternal Father, Strong to Save, arranged by Claude T. Smith! Sounds can change even a drummer’s life.
  21. I learned that success feels good, and failure feels bad.  If you take success for granted, you’re heading for failure.  If you learn from your failures, success becomes a possibility.  I remember a split rating we had difficulty understanding. Mr. Cooper didn’t knock the judge, we just went back to work.  The next ratings were straight First Divisions all the way across.
  22.  I learned that while perfection might be the goal, you have to go with what you’ve got.  I’ve heard a lot of great imperfect performances. Mr. Cooper once remarked as we listened to a reel-to-reel performance tape, “It’s amazing that a bunch of kids playing noisemakers can make sounds that give you goosebumps.”

Thank you, Mr. Hal Cooper, for a lot of great memories and a few musical “goosebumps” along the way!  Written in 2000 by Jim Warnock, now principal at Alma Intermediate School, but still a compulsive drummer. 

Click below to hear the band.

Recording of Hal Cooper’s El Dorado High School Symphonic Band from around 1973 

The Long, Slow Arc of Justice

MLK book coverRosa Parks said, “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in,” when asked if she didn’t give up her seat because she was physically tired.

I was eight months old when Birmingham, AL, bus driver, James F. Blake, demanded that Rosa Parks give up her bus seat to a white man. I can’t find the name of the white man who boarded the bus and wasn’t given the seat by Rosa Parks, but think that it must have been sad for both of these men to live with that legacy.

Segregation in the schools was declared unconstitutional the year before I was born. I first shared a classroom with a black student in the sixth grade. Her name was Regina, and she drew my name for the Christmas party gift exchange. Funny what you remember.

I was playing drums in the sixth grade at a friend’s home close to West Woods Elementary in El Dorado, Arkansas, when I learned that Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed. I felt no emotion at all. I knew nothing of the man. I never spoke of this to my classmate, Regina.

Though I could rationalize that I was just a typical uninformed kid, I still feel sadness at my lack of emotion when I first heard of Dr. King’s death. The significance of his death and his work became more relevant throughout my life. His words have gained tremendous significance to me. Strength to Love became one of my favorite books and I referred to it often.

King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I thought today how long and slow that arc bends! In many ways, struggles for fairness and equity still continue today.

As I wrote this, I was reminded of a song lyric by Dan Fogelberg – “When faced with the past the strongest man cries.”

Wisdom of My Father

My father died in January at the age of 91, so this is our first Christmas without him. I was going through some letters and found one that I mentioned during my dad’s funeral to illustrate his wisdom in parenting.

He would be quick to say he wasn’t a perfect parent. I’d be quick to counter, perfection isn’t required. He wrote this letter (one of only a few) following the birth of our first child, Christen, in 1984. I pulled out an excerpt that stuck in my memory the first time I read it over 30 years ago. I often say, “With parents like mine, I should have turned out better!” 

The photo was taken by my mother as my father and I moved some dirt in our backyard. Wish I still had that little wheelbarrow!

JC Warnock letter parenthood.001

Note: I would like to clarify that I never noticed the discipline slipping with my dad, but I did see evidence of unconditional love throughout his life.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a poem about my dad while thinking of how we spend years around someone and only scratch the surface. Part of the poem is below:

He was quiet, concrete, strong, and deliberate,
But often sang happy songs with a clear tenor voice.
He read slowly but knew what he read.
He was honest, even when it cost.

He loved his wife and kids, maybe imperfectly,
But he loved with his best understanding at the time.

Some have sad memories of their fathers.
Mine are not.

My only sadness? I barely knew him.

Mexico hike JC Warnock

Dad and me hiking in Mexico a “few” years ago

Calendar for January 6-10, 2020

Here’s the link for the AIS Calendar and photo memo that includes photos for the week of January 6-10, 2020 Calendar 010620 for parents

Calendar 010620 for parents

Building (and repairing) Relationships

I asked for permission to share Meredith Brown’s writing. She’s the teacher in our new Alternative Learning Environment, Space for Success. Reading her passage below reminded me of my career-long efforts to become more authentic with students. I remember the first time I said to a student, “I’m sorry I was harsh in my response to what you said.” My status as a teacher wasn’t lowered by my apology, but our relationship was repaired and stronger afterward. 

I found a lot of encouragement from Mrs. Brown’s comments about what she’s learning in working with students, especially the part where perfection isn’t required. Below are her thoughts.  ~ Jim Warnock


Guest Column by Meredith Brown, ALE Teacher

Brown Meredith

As the holiday break approaches, I have been reflecting on a statement that I read that impacts the way I see my relationship with my students, as well as relationships with adults in my personal and work life. 

In the book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kristen Souers and Pete Hall, the author mentions how a mentor once told her that you only have to get it right 3 out of 10 times to make a child feel secure.  After reading that I only had to get it right 30% of the time, I felt a sense of relief because trying to display perfection is exhausting, and quite honestly is an unrealistic expectation for anyone. This gave me a great sense of hope because 30% doesn’t sound as daunting as having to get it right all the time, but what about the other 70% of the time? Repair, repair, and repair. 

This part hit me like a ton of bricks. It got me thinking about my interactions in the past with not only my students but my colleagues. I haven’t always gotten it right, and it revealed to me how hypocritical I had been at times when it came to the expectations I had set for my students. As educators, we ask our students to take responsibility for their wrong choices. However, at times, we do not hold ourselves accountable for following through with what we preach to our students. Why is this?! Is it because we feel like we have to be the “power” figure, and if not, then we fear losing control of our classroom? Or is it because we are scared to be vulnerable with our students because they may take advantage of us? 

The more I read about the importance of repairing relationships. The more I realized how much I needed to reevaluate how I went about building relationships. We know the importance of modeling appropriate behavior to our students, but keep in mind that also includes modeling to them how to repair and take responsibility for our wrong choices. Teachers are human just like everyone else. We may be held to a higher standard in the community, but the fact is we are human. 

To build genuine relationships with our students and their families, repairing relationships is so important. Humbling ourselves when we make mistakes and showing a little vulnerability, doesn’t lower our professionalism. I believe it makes us more relatable and approachable. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we have to be in agreement with the actions of the individual we are trying to build a relationship with, but the way we communicate our thoughts is what matters.

I have made it a goal this year to be more mindful of my actions in front of my students. They are always watching and are so observant. They know when you are being genuine and when you are just acting like you are listening. They watch how we interact with their fellow peers and other staff members. I still do not get it right all the time. There are times when frustration and stress get the best of me, especially when I am in disagreement with particular views or perspectives because I get pretty passionate about certain topics. 

I have, however, made it a priority in my life to bring awareness to repairing relationships, and I share that vulnerability with my students. I have been surprised at how much my students appreciate me sharing those weaknesses with them, and how much more they respect me. Instead of being quick to speak, I am trying to be a better listener. 

Alma Intermediate School will be a place where all students experience success, build self-esteem, develop resilience, and make great academic gains by taking ownership and responsibility for learning and building authentic and lasting relationships

This vision statement above is posted in each classroom as well as on our website for all to see. This is such a powerful statement in my opinion. We have such an important job, and it can be completely overwhelming at times. We all bring to the table differing views and opinions when it comes to education, which is so valuable because those differences drive us to continue to learn and grow together. To follow through with this vision statement, it starts with us, the educators. We have to be mindful of our own actions because how we respond and react while we teach is what is ultimately going to help our students develop the life skills necessary to build authentic and lasting relationships.

Alma Intermediate School Calendar for the week of December 16-20, 2019

Follow this link to open a pdf of the calendar and memo that includes photos. Calendar for Parents

Calendar 121619 Parents -1

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