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5 Ways Schools Can Improve Parent Engagement

Posted on Fri, Jul 11, 2014 @ 15:07 PM

parent partnershipResearch continues to underscore what common sense has always told us: Families have a major influence on our students’ personal and academic success. According to an annual report by the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, students with engaged parents, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status are more likely to:

• Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs.

• Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits.

• Attend school regularly.

• Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school.

• Graduate and go on to postsecondary education.

So how do we better engage parents?

5 Ways Schools Can Improve Parent Engagement

Stop trying to involve; start trying to engage
Many of us have a habit of using “involvement” and “engagement” interchangeably, but I would argue that there is a clear distinction between engaging parents and involving them.

A school striving for family involvement talks; it makes a list of projects, needs, fundraisers and tells parents how they can help. But schools who engage rely on their ears; they view the school-parent relationship as a partnership, a reciprocal relationship where faculty not only leads, but also listens and allows itself to be led by parents.

Make the first encounter a positive one
Too often our first encounter with parents doesn’t happen until we either need something—volunteers, donations, and the like—or are calling them with foreboding news about their son or daughter’s behavioral or academic problems. This is a mistake.  

What if the first encounter was one in which we gave back to them, or one in which we simply called them to report good news about their child? No fundraising, no signup sheets, no membership recruitment or bad news…just a simple phone call where you call to introduce yourself and brag about something their child did at school.

Open new lines of communication
According to a 2013 survey by We Are Teachers, 64 percent of teachers still use hard copy flyers and notes to convey messages to parents, but it turns out that one third of parents prefer electronic communication. You may not be able to eliminate your ink, paper, and postage costs right away since not all families have access to home computers or smartphones, but you can open new lines of communication for free by simply starting a school blog or Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Follow up with parents
Have you ever given a gift, but never received acknowledgement or thanks from the recipient? That stings a little, doesn’t it? Imagine how parents feel when they volunteer at our schools, but only get a generic shout-out in the following month’s newsletter—or worse yet, get no acknowledgement at all. 

Always let parents know how much you appreciate them. You might consider sending them student-created thank you cards, hand-written notes from you, or even a short thank-you video that you post to your school’s social media pages.

Allow them to contribute more than their time
Partnerships, like relationships, thrive when both parties communicate openly. If you truly want parents to be a part of your team, allow them to contribute their ideas, not just their Saturday mornings or weekday evenings.

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, Parent Engagement

Connect with Confidence: 5 Tips for Principals

Posted on Thu, Jul 10, 2014 @ 09:07 AM


principals
While there are a variety of factors that contribute to our students’ personal and academic success, we’ve always believed that relationships, specifically relationships between principals and parents, is one that is most commonly overlooked and underestimated. Below you’ll find five tips to help you cultivate better relationsips with parents and connect with confidence.

Eliminate Barriers
This is a tip from Carol Judd’s book, Principal Practices: Addressing Human Needs for Successful School Administration. As Judd points out, many of us unknowingly set up barriers between parents and ourselves. The good news is that eliminating barriers is often simpler than we might think.

We can begin by asking parents to address us by our first names and do the same with them. This makes us more approachable and allows us to work with parents on more equal terms.

Another way to eliminate barriers is to keep an open-door policy and encourage parents to drop in anytime. Recruit your secretaries and encourage them to eliminate barriers as well. When parents stop in to see you, have your secretary skip the “screening” process where s/he asks parents their names, purpose, and any other questions that may be off-putting. Instead, have your secretary simply stop in and ask if you have a minute to talk to the parents.  

Ask more questions
We spend a lot of time with students, but parents have spent far longer with them—which means they know more about them than we ever will. When you meet with parents, use this as an opportunity to listen and learn. The following questions are great starters:

  • What is the student like at home?
  • How does she learn best?
  • Do the parents have specific hopes and dreams for her?
  • Does the student have aspirations that you might not know about?
  • What did the student like about her last teacher? What didn’t she like?
  • What learning strategies did this teacher use that worked well for the student?

Call parents—all of them
A personal invitation to major school events is a great way to connect with parents. While you can’t feasibly call every parent on your own, you can round up the student council, ask for teacher volunteers, and host an evening in which the group attempts to call every family and personally invite them to major school events. If you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right—but the payoff is well worth it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Parents work hard for their families, but in spite of their busy schedules, many of them are still eager to volunteer at the school when they can. Assume that parents want to be involved. Reach out to them and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the number of parents who follow through.

Connect with parents using the tools they use

Not all parents have home computers or access to smartphones, but many of them do and prefer electronic communication over monthly newsletters sent through snail mail. Start by taking advantage of all the free technology at your fingertips: Facebook and Twitter are both excellent tools to help keep parents in the loop. 

 

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, Parent Engagement, parent partnerships, positive school culture

Word to the Wise: 10 Inspiring Leadership Quotes for Principals

Posted on Fri, May 16, 2014 @ 13:05 PM

principalOver the past couple of years, I’ve been collecting any sort of quote or aphorism that relates to leadership. This week, I browsed my list and grabbed 10 of my favorite quotes to share with you.

Word to the Wise: 10 Inspiring Leadership Quotes for Principals

 “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”
―Ronald Reagan

“You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence. And the good that is in you must be spread to others....”
Gordon B. Hinckley

“A man can only lead when others accept him as their leader, and he has only as much authority as his subjects give to him. All of the brilliant ideas in the world cannot save your kingdom if no one will listen to them.”
Brandon Sanderson

“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”
John C. Maxwell

“The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
―Colin Powell

“Power isn’t control at all — power is strength, and giving that strength to others. A leader isn’t someone who forces others to make him stronger; a leader is someone willing to give his strength to others that they may have the strength to stand on their own.”
Beth Revis

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
―Theodore Roosevelt

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
Rosalynn Carter

“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.”
―Tony Blair

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders

Effective Staff Meetings Begin with Beating Common Timewasters

Posted on Fri, Apr 25, 2014 @ 14:04 PM

principals

Most of us have experienced—probably even facilitated—an ineffective staff meeting. You know what we’re talking about, right? Meetings where a small clique of teachers dominates the conversation, or one teacher delivers a tireless monologue to a room of glassy-eyed onlookers…

There are several reasons staff meetings morph into scenes like the one we mention above, but one of the most common complaints we hear is that they just aren’t productive. To help you beat common timewasters, we pulled a few tips from Sheila and John Eller’s book, Energizing Staff Meetings.

Start every staff meeting on time
Our teachers’ time is precious and nothing irks them like having to wait for their late colleagues to show up. Here are a few ways to address tardy arrivals:

  • Running late happens on occasion, but when it becomes a habit, speak to the teacher in private
  • If a significant number of the participants are coming to meetings late and holding up the starting time, consider changing the start time of your meetings
  • Provide a reminder to get people to meetings on time; consider using music, announcements, or other methods to get people to the meetings
  • Examine agendas to see whether the meetings contain items and activities of substance or whether they are dull; this may keep people away from the beginning of the meeting

Stick to the important stuff—and don’t ask for feedback on a decision that could be made by a leader or subgroup

  • Review meeting agendas or minutes to make sure the topics presented really need to be shared in a meeting setting
  • Examine agenda items to see whether they could be resolved more efficiently by task forces, subcommittees, decisions by leaders, etc.
  • Look at agenda items to see what kind of action is needed. If they need group processing, bringing them to a group meeting is a good idea.

Solve, don’t complain

  • Consider writing the type of action needed next to each agenda item to guide the group in its thinking and processing
  • Set and follow group norms for effective meetings to prevent one group from taking over the agenda; be watchful of balanced participation in meetings and call on those who are not involved in the discussion to share their thoughts.
  • Select a staff member to be the timekeeper to keep the group moving forward on its pre-established agenda

Be judicious about what you’re going to talk about and how much time you have

  • Be honest in evaluating the amount of time needed to resolve agenda items; schedule fewer items that you think you can address during the time allotted for the meeting
  • During the last five minutes of the meeting, talk with the group and evaluate your use of time during the meeting: Was this meeting productive? Why or why not? How can we improve in our next meeting?

 

Photo credit: US Department of Education / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

 

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders

What Great Principals Do Differently: An Infographic

Posted on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 @ 15:04 PM

This morning we came across 18 Things Great Principals Do Differently, a free infographic based off of Todd Whitaker's book of the same title. Enjoy!

What Great Principals Do Differently


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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders

5 Stress-Management Tips for Principals

Posted on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 @ 09:03 AM

principalsStart a Stress Diary
You don’t like the sound of this, do you? “A diary?” you say. Call it whatever you want, but if you’re serious about managing your stress, the first thing you need is to be cognizant of its root.

You may think you know what’s causing you anxiety, but documenting your triggers can be a real eye-opener.

There are innumerable ways to keep a stress diary, but here’s what I do:

Throughout the day, list the situations or events initiating the stress response. For each event include:

  • Source of stress
  • Time and place
  • Level of perceived stress (1 = Slight, 2 = Moderate, 3 = Strong, 4 = Intense)
  • Thoughts and feelings about the stressor
  • Coping strategies you used to deal with the stressor

At the end of the day, reflect on these two questions:

  • What was your major source of stress for the day?
  • What is your personal assessment of how you managed stress today?

Let Go of Fear
Boil it down and you’ll find that stress is simply another word for fear—and fear, as Victorian iconoclast Samuel Butler once said, “Is static that prevents [you] from hearing [yourself].”

Most of us blame external factors—the mortgage, low test scores, low-performing teachers, needy parents and troubled students—for our stress. But these things, these people are just a part of your everyday life. They only become stressful when we fear them, when we fear that we will fail to meet the expectations of others. These ideals are burdensome—and very often they aren’t ideals of your own making. Let go of them. Let go of fear and carry on, my dear.

Give Yourself Completely to One Task
Our culture takes pride in its multitasking “proficiency.” Funny enough, research is almost unanimous in finding that people who chronically multitask (and claim to be proficient at it), are not only terrible at it, but more stressed and disorganized because of it.

Instead of dividing your attention between several tasks, give yourself completely to one thing. Immerse yourself in it until you’ve completed it to the best of your ability.

Coffee Problem?
A coffee problem is a self-diagnosed disease and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got the bug. I picked up the coffee habit in graduate school. I was waiting tables full-time, tutoring students in the university writing center, and taking two graduate classes at a time. To stay awake, I’d pound coffee all day, which not only dehydrated me, but made me wired, jittery, restless and in actuality, more stressed out. I’m still weaning myself and cutting down my coffee intake, but when I’m successful at it, there’s a noticeable difference in how I feel.

Clear to Neutral
We’re very good at scolding  students about waiting until the last minute to find their research or write their essays, but let’s be honest, educators are (covertly, of course) some of the best procrastinators out there. But why do we procrastinate? One of the biggest reasons is because we have to jump through a number of unpleasant hoops to get to the main task. Let’s illustrate:

You have to cook dinner, which means that you need the cutting board, clean knives, dishes and pots to get the job done. Unfortunately, all of the tools you need to make dinner are still filthy and sitting in the sink. So before you can get to what you set out to do (cook), you’ve got 20 other things to do (clean and scrape pans) before you can actually start on the main task (cooking). What happens? You’re frustrated. Now apply this to the sundry, and perhaps unpleasant, tasks that await you as principal.

Here’s where Clearing to Neutral (CTN) comes in. CTN simply means that every time you finish an activity, you engage in a routine, a setup, so that the next time you start the activity, your environment is ready to go. No prep, no cleanup, no frustration…just a clean slate.

 

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, stress management for principals

7 Stress-Fighting Tips for Principals

Posted on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 @ 13:03 PM

principalsLeaving work at work is truly an art form—especially when you’re a principal. Sure, the stress becomes easier to manage with time and experience, but it never completely goes away, no matter how competent or passionate we are about our job.

Whether you’re a new or veteran principal, odds are that you could benefit from a few stress-fighting tips. Below, you’ll find 7 that work for us.

Play your favorite record
You may not be able to leave the office, but you can shut your door, lean back in your chair, and crank up your favorite song. Make this a meditative experience. Close your eyes, tune out everything else, and focus on the music.

Save positive notes
One of the best ways to counteract your feeling unappreciated is to look through cards, notes and emails from parents and teachers. Print your emails, save your notes and put them in a file folder. Reading through these is a great way to reaffirm that yes, there may be bad days, but you are still making a difference and reaching a lot of people.

Browse your favorite website or blog
The Internet can be an incredible time-sucker—but sometimes “wasting” time on Pinterest and eBay is the best cure for a bad day. If you feel the need to justify your web browsing, look for lesson plans, articles or YouTube videos that some of your teachers might find engaging. This will distract you, but still keep you productive.  

Eat lunch with students
When we’re stressed, often our first instinct is to shut down, close the office door and be alone. But that’s usually the last thing we need. Get out of the office, sit in on a class, join in on a recess game, or find a table and eat lunch with students. This will benefit both you and the kids.

Read and read for pleasure
When you read, you want to make it count, so you may tend to read about leadership, curriculum and scholarly articles related to education. That’s admirable and necessary—but you should also read for pleasure. Read to decompress. Read books that you can’t put down. Stephen King? Yes, please. Dean Koontz? Definitely. John Grisham? Of course you should.

Work from home
The office can be a refuge, but it can also be a source of distraction, especially when we have to catch up on major reports and other projects. Between the meetings, incessant phone calls, emails and visits from random visitors, it can be challenging to get anything done. If you can get approval from the board, we suggest taking an at-home work day once or twice a year.

Take an hour
There’s always more to do, right? There are meetings, reports, phone calls…but it can wait—all of it. Set boundaries; set aside a specific time every day to do something that nurtures you physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, etc. Go home! Revere this time like you would any after-school tutoring session or faculty meeting. The world and all its reports can wait—at least for one hour. 

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, new principal, excellent leaders

3 Ways to Nurture a Positive School Culture

Posted on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 @ 14:02 PM

positive school cultureIf the job description of a principal was put into writing, it would be of War and Peace proportions. Today’s principal is pulled in hundreds of directions at a moment’s notice—so how does s/he move beyond survival mode and create a successful learning environment? This was Shelly Habegger’s guiding question when she studied principals at three high-performing schools of low socioeconomic status.

Despite the fact that these schools had fewer resources and a disproportionate number of under-qualified teachers, Habegger found that these schools continued to succeed. How and why though? Habegger attributes their success to the power of a positive school culture.  

Creating a sense of belonging for students
When Habegger asked the principals about their major goals for their schools, their answers were unanimous: to develop positive relationships, not generate high test scores.

Most of us know that relationships are important to our students’ success, yet we may have underestimated them. Research suggests that when we nurture relationships with students, we actually:  

  • Contribute to the academic achievement and motivation of our students (Elias, 1997)
  • Decrease the likelihood of a student dropping out (Thurlow, Christenson, Sinclair, Evelo, & Thornton, 1995)
  • Help prevent and reduce bullying (Olweus, 1999)
  • Help prevent substance abuse (Resnick et al., 1997), and violence (Dwyer, Osher, & Warger, 1998)

Creating a sense of belonging for teachers
In addition to creating a sense of belonging for students, these three principals also made it a priority to nurture relationships with teachers and support them professionally.

One way the principals achieved this was by facilitating a “common planning time.” Essentially, this was a weekly meeting where the principal and teachers:

  • Viewed achievement test data
  • Sought assistance for particular students
  • Discussed curriculum alignment, instructional strategies, how to enhance student achievement, and other job-embedded issues.

These meetings laid the foundation for a collaborative, professional learning community, but they also benefitted teachers in number of other ways:  

  • Teachers began to take collective responsibility for student learning
  • Increased efficacy
  • There was a noticeable reduction in teacher isolation
  • Teachers learned from one another and experienced higher morale and greater job satisfaction
  • Retention rates increased

Creating a sense of belonging for parents and community
Relationships with parents and the community were also priorities for all three of the principals Harbegger studied. Here’s what she found:

  • Each principal referred to the parent’s (and community’s) role as complementary to the school
  • Each principal strove to learn parental needs and welcomed and solicited parents’ questions and concerns
  • Informally, information was gathered through conversations principals had with parents as they dropped off and picked up their children from school and attended various school events, and in phone calls home.
  • More formally, the principals conducted a needs assessment survey of their school’s parents to keep in tune with what and how to best communicate with them concerning their children’s social and academic growth.
  • Each school displayed substantial efforts to invite, include, and demonstrate need for parents and various community members.
If you’re looking for more ways to nurture relationships and create a positive school culture, check out a few of our recent blogs: “Learning to Drive the Bus: 5 Ways to Build a Positive School Culture,” “5 simple ways to strengthen student engagement,” and “5 More Ways to Build a Relationship-Driven Classroom.”


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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, new principal, excellent leaders, positive school culture

Learning to Drive the Bus: 5 Ways to Build a Positive School Culture

Posted on Tue, Feb 18, 2014 @ 10:02 AM

positive school cultureThere’s been an awful lot of ink spilled on the benefits of building a positive school culture—and just as much on the importance of nurturing positive relationships with students. All that ink leads me to the conclusion that these things are important to educators.

But if building better relationships and creating positive schools matters to us, why aren’t more schools positive places?

According to Jon Gordon, author of The Positive School Manifesto, the answer is simple: Building a culture of care is hard work. Not only that, it requires a special breed of leadership—the kind that’s determined and passionate enough to make positivity contagious.  

Learning to Drive the Bus: 5 Ways to Build a Positive School Culture

Positive leaders required
Positive school cultures are created by principals who make the health of their organization a priority, lead the initiative, and are engaged in the process—even when it’s a struggle. Many of us start off with good intentions, but find it difficult to remain positive in the face of resistance and skepticism. Do not tolerate negativity! Weed it out and press on.

Build a positive leadership team
While principals can certainly be the spark for creating positive energy, they’ll need teachers and staff to fan and carry the flame. Invite your leadership team on the bus by setting up a workshop where you create a vision, a road map, an action plan, and a set of initiatives to move the school in the right direction.

Develop a fleet of bus drivers
You’ll be driving the bus at first, but you’re eventually going to need a fleet of bus drivers to join you. To recruit drivers, start talking. Share the school’s vision with everyone.

Conversations should happen between principals and teachers, teachers and staff, staff and students, students and parents. Each person needs to understand the school vision and identify how their personal vision, job and effort contribute to the overarching vision.

Tend to the roots of the tree
In a world driven by test scores, budgets and short-term results, it’s easy to be distracted by outcomes rather than the process. Don’t fall into this trap. Tend to the roots of your tree and you’ll always be pleased with the fruit it supplies. If you ignore the root, eventually the tree will dry up—and so will the fruit.

Weed out negativity
To create a positive school culture, you must deal with the cost of negativity head on. Ask yourself the following questions: How are we going to deal with negativity, challenges and energy vampires?

Dwight Cooper, the CEO of a nurse staffing company that was voted one of the best places to work by The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), asked himself this question; his answer was a company policy he called The No Complaining Rule. This rule states that “Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their co-workers. If they have a complaint, they can take it to a manager or someone who can do something about the problem, BUT they must also offer one or two possible solutions.”

Give this rule a try: it may lead to new ideas, innovation and success.  

Stay tuned for part II; we have five more tips to share with you next week!

 

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Topics: Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, new principal, excellent leaders, school culture, positive school culture, school climate

5 Things that Distinguish Excellent Leaders from Leaders

Posted on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 @ 12:02 PM

excellent leadersOver the years, we’ve spoken to dozens of teachers and asked them to tell us what made their principal an excellent leader. Some described small, but meaningful gestures that made them feel appreciated. One teacher told us how her principal would leave the office an hour early on snowy days, bundle up, and head out to the staff parking lot to scrape car windows. Others described the way in which their principals provided feedback or how they would receive unexpected thank-you notes in their mailboxes.

Excellent leaders lead in a myriad of ways, but according to Neila Connons, author of If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students, there are a few characteristics excellent leaders share that set them apart from the rest.

According to Connons, excellent leaders have:  

The ability to care and be concerned for others
Before anyone can make a difference they must care. The best schools are based on the premise that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. The leader of a school is instrumental in defining, developing, and designing a climate of care. From the moment you walk in the front door of a school, symbols of care must be prevalent throughout. It is the people, practices, positives, and performances that characterize the “caring-ness” of a school. An effective leader serves as the CARE police.

The desire to be successful
Effective leaders are persistently in search of ways to improve, grow, and strengthen. Success begets success. Consequently, in surroundings where leaders are focused on pleasant results, outcomes are frequently rewarding to everyone.

The ability to handle stress
Stress is an element of life and it depends on how one handles this stress that makes or breaks a situation. Successful leaders respond to stress rather than react to it.  

A general feeling of good health
Anyone who decides to take on a leadership position must realize the importance of good health. Our health is like sleep—we don’t miss it until we are deprived of it. Valuable leaders recognize the importance of cherishing the mind, body, and spirit.

The ability to think logically
The best leaders take the time to look at every decision with care, commitment, and connections. They take time to reflect and always ask themselves, “How will this affect others?”

The ability to have fun
Anyone who embarks upon a mission of leadership in education today must be able to have fun. Education is a tough business; it requires stamina and concentration. Therefore, the best leaders are those who have a great sense of humor and never let a day go by without laughing.

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, new principal, excellent leaders

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