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This past week #Satchat extended it's Twitter conversation to a mobile app called Voxer. It has been an amazing experience for participants who are now able to share their insight through voice messages. Once downloaded on your mobile device, Voxer enables users to hold individual or group chats in real time or at their own pace. In terms of professional growth, over 75 educators from around the world have shared their perspectives and insight on a plethora of topics. More specifically this week our group is discussing the trials and tribulations of being a new school leader. Educators from all walks of life including teachers, vice principals, principals, supervisors, superintendents, and other stakeholders have provided tremendous guidance.
The great thing about this experience is that participants, including myself, can hear the emotion that others bring to the discussion. It's one thing to read a tweet and a whole other thing to listen to someone speak to a particular topic.. That's why Voxer is so unique. Users can listen and learn on the own time, whether it's in their car or during a lunch break. Need to have a more specific conversation based on something that was brought up in a particular group chat? No problem. Send a direct voice or text message to that person within the application. Pictures, links, and other resources can be shared during a conversation as well.
Are you intrigued by this whole Voxer rage in the educational community? Send me a direct message on Twitter or via email with your Voxer handle and I will add you to the #Satchat group. Or better yet, try starting your own group. The options are many as it relates to the impact Voxer can have in the school setting. For example, it could be used as an assessment tool or during a time of crisis to communicate with staff. Currently I am apart of a Voxer book chat on digital leadership and participate in a administrator group that shares best practices. Over the past few weeks I have recommended Voxer to some of my PLN members from around the country. Although at first hesitant to see the true value of this web tool, their minds quickly changed after conversing with other like-minded educators.
So what do say? Take that leap into the Voxer world and see your professional growth be stimulated in a way once thought unimaginable.
You’ve already spent years, maybe even decades, in the classroom as a teacher, you know how to lead and organize, and you certainly have the “in-the-trenches” perspective that every administrator worth his or her salt must have. Now what? What should you do to make the prospect of becoming a principal a reality? To help answer these questions, we’d like to share a few tips from Peter Hall’s book, The First-Year Principal.
So You Want to Be an Administrator? 5 Tips for Aspiring Principals
Skip the resume—for now
Your first inclination may be to dust off your resume and start looking for open positions, but as Hall wryly notes, the “application” process begins long before resumes, long before you had the crazy idea that “13-hour days with no lunch sounded appealing,” and long before you even had the slightest inkling that you wanted to become a principal.
Hall suggests that you start with “those people with whom you have worked, the contacts you have made, the folks from whom you have earned support and respect.” Do you need to “schmooze” these people? Not at all, but keep in mind that “relationships with credible professionals” are a form of currency—and that currency is priceless.
Stay in the moment
Regardless of their career aspirations, aspiring principals should always “stay in the moment.” For Hall, this means that you must continue to “focus on students in your care and your current school organization as a whole.” In addition to this, it means aligning your “work practice and decision-making with the established school goals.”
For Hall, there is “no reason to focus on anything but excelling in your current position.” This means going where no teacher has gone before: Set and exceed new standards of excellence and watch as your name becomes associated with positive results.
Involve yourself in projects beyond your current position
So you’re continuing to perfect your craft and excel at what you do? Good. Now it’s time for you to do a little more. Start by participating in district activities, committees, panels, focus groups, and other school or district groups and organizations. Just don’t take on so much that you begin to shirk your current job responsibilities or your students; doing so will only undermine the benefits you are hoping to gain from joining these organizations.
Be respectful to everyone you meet
You’re an educator, so you already know that the job doesn’t end when the bell rings. This is especially applicable to teachers who live in small, rural towns, but even those of us who live in the city will run into students, parents, and colleagues at the mall, the grocery store, or in restaurants. We may not even see these people, but you better believe they see us and they take note of what we say, do, and how we behave when we’re out in the community. Eyes are always on us. Keep this in mind not only when you are in the classroom, but outside of it as well.
Find an experienced mentor
There are plenty of books offering advice for aspiring and first-year principals, but few are as wise as someone who has been doing what you hope to do for the last five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years. Seek out a mentor and learn from him or her. Hopefully, this relationship will not only reaffirm your passion for the position, but also help you become better prepared for the road ahead.
Caring connects kids to their school, their teachers, their learning, their families, their communities, to one another and to themselves. Therefore, creating and maintaining a culture of caring in our schools and communities is paramount to effecting real change.
As with any impactful change, creating a culture of caring requires a delicate combination of programs, processes and people. It is simply not good enough to create or purchase a program and implement it. Over the years, packaged programs have proliferated while bullying and mental illness have increased. Schools have developed processes to create safer environments, yet more students are being hurt physically, socially and emotionally. Little attention has been paid to empowering the people in our schools and communities to make a difference.
As principal of a large, inner city school we implemented a very effective balance of programs, processes and empowerment of people that resulted in a very effective school culture in which our students thrived. Bullying was almost non-existent, kids who needed help got it and test scores went up. All of this occurred in a budget model which allowed us to spend funds where needed. We were empowered.
In order to move you to action, here is a selection of our most effective strategies that allowed us to create an award-winning school in which everyone was proud to work and to learn.
1. Student Empowerment
1. Early Intervention Program- Intermediate students self-selected to be part of a weekly mental health support group that addressed at-risk behaviors and was run in partnership with a local mental health hospital.
2. Yoga – Students self-selected to be part of a weekly lunchtime yoga group. One at-risk girl commented that it saved her life.
3. Mental Karate – The entire school was involved in Mental Karate, a program that took them through setting goals and taking action in the areas of Initiative, Discipline, Contribution, Courage and Awareness.
4. United Mentors for Peace - Intermediate students planned activities to create a peaceful school, reaching out to the community and beyond. They created annual peace assemblies, managed charitable fundraising activities, and took responsibility for supporting a safe and caring culture in the school.
5. Peacekeepers – Junior students were trained in conflict resolution strategies and helped resolve disputes in the Primary and Junior yards.
6. Fun Bunch – Junior students were trained to teach and supervise schoolyard games for Primary students.
7. Social Skills group – Identified students were directly taught social/ emotional skills in partnership with a local community center support program.
8. Leadership development – Students of all ages were engaged as lunch monitors, peer tutors, teacher helpers, reading buddies, coaches and referees. They were also engaged in a multitude of service learning projects.
9. Option Program – Intermediate students had one period a week in which they could choose an activity of interest from such things as cooking, chess, hip-hop dance, drama, visual arts, guitar, board games etc.
2. Teacher Empowerment
1.SSafe and caring teaching and leading– All classrooms were safe and caring, free of ridicule, harassment and sarcasm. Teachers understood the importance of creating an atmosphere in which the brain is at the optimal level of arousal.
2. Bi-weekly professional development staff meetings – Staff were trained to differentiate teaching strategies through honoring multiple intelligences, learning styles and current brain research.
3. Shared leadership – Division leaders were empowered to implement programs and process to support their students academically, socially and emotionally.
3. Parent Empowerment
1. Parent Council was guided to develop a Mission and Goals that supported the school’s Mission.
2. Parental responsibility was embedded in the school’s Mission Statement, “To maximize student learning through students, staff, parents and community working together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and shared responsibility.”
3. Parent education workshops were provided.
In addition to the previous empowerment examples we maximized the adult:child ratio of support; ensured that each student had a significant connection with a teacher; focused on connections and relationships; worked within a shared, vision, values and beliefs; maintained stability on our staff and leadership team; became a recognized leader as a Professional Learning Community and ensured that being at our school was fun and rewarding.
I hope this provides you with some useful ideas to move forward in creating a safe and caring culture in your classrooms and in your schools.
For many years New Milford High School was just like virtually every other public school in this country defined solely by traditional indicators of success such as standardized test scores, graduation rates, and acceptances to four year colleges. These indicators have become so embedded in the minds of those judging our schools and work that we, like everyone else, worked hard to focus only on initiatives that would hopefully produce favorable outcomes in those areas. If we were doing well we continued down the same path allowing the status quo to reign supreme. The mentality of if it isn't broke than why fix it resonated so profoundly with us that we would not have even considered changing our ways. If results were not what our stakeholders wanted this would then trigger meetings leading to the development of action plans to get us back on course.
For so long schools have resembled a hamster running on a wheel doing the same things over and over to improve sets of numbers. We were no different and had succumbed to a fixed mindset. Every excuse in the book was at our disposal not to change and continue down the same path year after year. Heck, our education system has become so good at maintaining the status quo and enforcing compliance throughout that we and many others have been brainwashed into thinking any other course of action would be foolish. If education is good for one thing it is making excuses not to move forward. There is still an innate desire to sustain a school structure and function that has remained relatively unchanged for well over a hundred years. This is a problem. It was a huge problem for us. We were in a rut and didn't even know it. Luckily change came in the form of a little blue bird that gave me the kick in the butt that I desperately needed back in 2009. Being blessed with an amazing staff, student body, administrative team, and community provided the necessary support needed to move us forward.
As another school year comes to a close I can't but help reflect on the many successful initiatives that have been implemented this past year. It is even more gratifying to see numerous other initiatives that were implemented over the past couple of years flourish. Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset and feeding of the daily inspiration that connected learning provides gave me with the fuel to create a shared vision that eventually became a reality as a result of action. For change to be successful it must be sustained. As leaders we must not only be willing to see the process through, but we must also create conditions that promote a change mentality. It really is about moving from a fixed to a growth mindset, something that many educators and schools are either unwilling or afraid to do. The essential elements that work as catalysts for the change process include the following:
What I have learned is that if someone understands why change is needed and the elements above become an embedded component of school culture he/she or the system ultimately experience the value for themselves. The change process then gets a boost from an intrinsic motivational force that not only jump starts the initiative, but allows for the embracement of change as opposed to looking for buy-in. We should never have to "sell" people on better ways to do our noble work nor rely on mandates and directives. These traditional pathways used to drive change typically result in resentment, undermining, and failure.
This gets me back to the main point of my post and that is reflecting on the many changes that have been implemented and sustained at NMHS. Even in the face of adversity in the form of education reform mandates, Common Core alignment, impending PARCC exams, new educator evaluation systems, loss of funding, and an aging infrastructure we have not only persevered, but proven that positive change can happen with the right mindset. If we can overcome these challenges and experience success others can as well. Throughout the past couple of years we have also seen improvements in the "traditional" indicators of success by mainly focusing on creating a school that works better for our students as opposed to one that has always worked well for us. Here is a short list of some of the changes that have been implemented and sustained:
· Social media use as a communications, public relations, branding, professional growth, and student learning tool implemented in 2009. So many of my teachers are making the choice to integrate social media as a learning tool that I just can't list all of the examples:
I need to stop here, but I think you get the point. We have transformed the teaching and learning culture at NMHS that begins and ends with a growth mindset. The time for excuses, talk, opinions, and fear needs to end if our goal is really about improving teaching, learning, and leadership outcomes. Leadership is about action, not position or ideas that just get pushed around. We continue to push ourselves to create a better school. So what's stopping you?
Our students love when we read aloud to them and while we do this often, we always like to save a few of our favorite books for the last day of school. Before you part with your students for the summer, send them off with one of these read-aloud activities.
Miss Rumphius is the story of Alice Rumphius, who vowed as a young child to do three things in her life: travel to faraway lands, live by the sea, and make the world a more beautiful place. To fulfill her third vow, Alice scatters lupine seeds wherever she goes so that everyone can enjoy the beauty of these flowers long after she is gone.
Miss Rumphius is one of our favorite end-of-the-year read alouds. The illustrations are beautiful and the message challenges students to consider what they can do to make the world a better place. To remind students of this challenge, we like sending them off with a packet of lupine seeds.
City Dog, Country Frog is the story of an unlikely friendship between City Dog and Country Frog. In the spring, City Dog roams the countryside for the first time in his life and discovers Country Frog, a strange creature perched on a rock. It’s an unlikely match, but from here we follow the progression of a rich, but unlikely friendship that spans each season.
After reading this book, we like to play memory games with our students to reflect on the friends we’ve made, the special times we had, and key moments we shared during the school year.
During the school year, we read dozens of books to our students. On the last day of school, we like to take all of these books, spread them out on the tray of our whiteboard, and play the “connection game.”
The teacher begins the game by grabbing any two books and making some sort of connection between them. Next, a student picks a book and makes another connection to one of these two books. Repeat these steps until you’ve successfully connected all of the books together in some way. This is a fun way to revisit favorite books, but it’s also a useful way to reinforce text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections.
Photo credit: sweetjessie / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
The Important Book is, as one critic has suggested, is a “deceptively simple exercise” in taking familiar objects (a spoon, a daisy, or rain) and forcing us to look at them in unfamiliar ways. It may be true that daisies are yellow in the middle and that they have long white petals—but why does the author suggest that the “most important” thing about daisies is that they are white? Students often disagree with the author’s conclusions, but that is precisely what makes The Important Book such a great read!
As an accompanying activity, have each student take out a piece of paper and write “The Important Thing About (student’s name goes here).
Now, have students go around the room and write down something important about each person. You can set any ground rules you like, but we ask students to be as specific as possible and avoid saying things about other students’ appearances.
How far would you go to make sure learning matters for your students? Would you make a promposal to model Brittany Mason? Create a Vine to send to soul singer Maxwell? Mass tweet Chipotle? Share with your students that you glued your ears to your head when you were twelve and never went to prom?
How about turn down a six-figure salary as Susan Lucci’s love interest to teach high school social studies?
If you’re Nick Ferroni, that was your Friday of last week.
I met Nick through Twitter. Both of us are New Jersey teachers, went to Rutgers, and are around the same age. But, that’s about where it ends on its surface. Nick was a three-star high school athlete, a scholarship division I football player, made some money underwear modeling, and had walk on roles on a soap opera. I wear underwear, played sports, and hated soap operas.
If you look at our picture together, there’s me on the left, and the man who Men’s Health called “One of the 25 fittest men in America” on the right. Nick’s biggest takeaway from this picture? His forehead looks shiny. My biggest takeaway: my body looks like Mr. Potato Head and it’s time for me to get a personal trainer.
Where Nick and I are similar is where we matter: we’ll both go to any lengths to make sure students learn, and how we define learning is much deeper than what’s in any textbook, teacher’s guide, or curriculum. We’re looking at students long-term: what impact will they have on society, and what impact will society have on them? What can we do to aid students so they have a positive experience in life, bouyed with a skill set transferrable to any situation. Can we teach them to solve problems, collaborate, advocate, compromise, and think creatively? Can we get them to push their boundaries from what they think they can do to what we think they can do?
Nick will buy gym memberships and train students who need a positive emotional release. He has a stack of protein bars in his desk in case his students get hungry. He leverages his experiences in theatre and the arts to invite in Maxwell, Brittany Mason, Brian Leonard, and more, to talk about their life experiences. Then, Nick weaves these experiences to draw parallels to the subject he teaches. Because, when he shuts the door, Nick is the curriculum. And, he takes that job seriously.
Which is why, when I have an opportunity to hang with a high energy, humble, creative rockstar educator, I’m going to do it. Even if it means waking up earlier than usual, driving an hour, and going to another school when my district is closed. This is probably how Nick’s students feel when they come to school: that there’s something worth coming inside for. And, that is half the battle.
Nick allowed me to live tweet the charades his students did to prepare for the US History 1 exam they had coming up. The energy, enthusiasm, and engagement I saw from the students and their teacher made me want to join in. Here are a few of them, as well as the class Twitter feed:
When I left later that day, I learned two things about Nick and his students: they have a real desire to eat Chipotle before their lives are over, and I want to spend more time with them. I hope both happen soon so we can cross them off our bucket lists. Maybe we can all go to Chipotle together? (FYI, still waiting for a tweet-back from Rusty).
Recently, the editors of Edutopia were considering a theme for their bloggers to blog about concerning testing. In order to keep things timely, they needed to find out when most schools were being affected by standardized tests. It was a reasonable consideration, worthy of a responsible examination of the subject. It was the question posed to the bloggers however, that set me off about our evolved approach to these standardized tests. When is your Testing Season?
Every standardized test has a date or two or three that it is to be administered, but the question was not what are the dates of the standardized tests in your school. The idea that any school would have a “testing season” is enough to drive an advocate for authentic learning to skip taking his scheduled life-saving medications in order to stay on task completing a post about this culture of testing that we have allowed to develop. Every state has its own schedule for tests and a list of grades to take them. New York was at one time considering testing from Pre-K to 2nd grade as well all as the other grades. How does anyone get behind testing toddlers? Testing as it stands now begins in New York at 3rd grade. Here is a site that outlines what each state requires for their Standardized testing. Standardized Testing State By State, Standardized Tests Are Here to Stay
The thing that has really gotten me bothered is this culture change in education. It is no longer about the learning, but rather it is all about the testing. We no longer view the test as an assessment tool of learning to adjust lessons to meet the needs of each student. It has become a means to manipulate data to affect factors beyond that of just student learning. Standardized tests are certainly not the best form of student learning assessment. That seems not to matter however since for whatever the reason, we have had to expand and elevate testing day, or days to The Testing Season.
I remember a conference that I attended a few years ago where a New York City teacher was complaining that his elementary school dedicated an entire month to nothing being taught except for test preparation. The principal of that school monitored the classes to make sure that this strategy was adhered to by one and all. The most recent change in the testing culture is the need to accommodate the tests with all available technology. Some standardized tests are to now being administered via computers. Many schools provide Internet access to their students and teachers solely through computer labs. The tests however, take precedence over learning during “Testing Season” requiring limiting or even shutting down access to these labs in order to prepare for, and administer these computer delivered standardized tests.
I guess each season brings us feelings associated with it. From the season of summer we may feel invigorated with warmth and recreation associated with it. The season of winter brings on good feelings of sharing holidays, and hot-chocolate comfort. From the season of Testing we get stress and anxiety for kids and adults. I guess the season of Testing is not the season about which many poems are written.
Of course teachers will tell you that they are comfortable in setting their students at ease about the tests during “Testing Season”. I often told my students that I had every confidence that they would do very well on any standardized test that they took because their education prepared them for it. That of course was to reduce their stress and build their confidence, but I am glad I did not have a wooden nose. It would have been a dead giveaway.
Today’s teachers are very stress bound when it comes to these tests. The tests have become less of an assessment of student learning and more of a club or Thor’s hammer for teacher evaluation. Of course teachers are stressed and that is generated to the students for the duration of the “Testing Season”, whether or not the teacher intends for that to happen.
If teachers could select students for their classes, crafty teachers would always opt for classes with the slower students. Those are the classes that can show the most advancement in “testing season”, making the teacher a shining star. A great teacher with an outstanding class is cursed and possibly deemed inadequate because kids performing at the very top of the scale will show little improvement. Of course, according to the assessments, it must be the teacher’s fault that kids in the 95th percentile did not move at least five points higher. How can there not be stress and anxiety in the “testing season”?
We may need to research any drop in attendance at schools with stress related illnesses during “testing season”. We do flu shots in the winter season, so maybe we need stress reliever shots in the “testing season”.
Of course pushing testing into a season has had a great affect on the testing industry and all of its requirements. We need to prepare for “testing season”. We need to test in “testing season”, and we need to develop tools and curriculum for “testing season”. The result of all of this is a billion dollar a year industry and we have yet to develop the “testing season” greeting cards.
Maybe we should take a step back and assess our assessments. We do not need this testing season. Tests have grown beyond what they were intended for. They were intended for the teacher to gauge student learning in order to adjust lessons to better meet the needs of students. Tests were never designed to become the goal of education at the expense of actual learning.
This is the part of the post where I should be proposing a thoughtful alternative as a positive spin for this unpopular aspect which has been pushed into American education. Unfortunately, I have no recommendations. I have no ideas that can replace a billion dollar a year idea. Portfolios, individual conferences, and authentic learning projects would all be improvements over standardized testing for student assessment, but they do not provide easily calculated data.
We as a society have allowed business and politicians to corrupt an assessment tool in order to use it as a money-making device for a select few companies. Education needs to be more transparent, but certainly the best people to administer education should be the educators and not business people or politicians. We need to realign education’s goals on learning and not testing. We do not need a season of testing, but a life of learning.
I Never Took an SAT Exam
Jonathan T. Jefferson
How better to make my point than to share my own experiences? I am not a fan of college admissions tests, and find it absurd the amount of time and money spent preparing for them. The “haves” can spend the money while the “have-nots” cannot. This does not make the haves smarter than the have-nots; just more aware of the strategies employed to help maximize their test scores on a specific test. The new SAT tests (2016) will try to balance this equation by giving have-nots access to similar test strategy training. After all; civility, social ability, mechanical inclinations, and creativity are only secondary considerations for colleges that rely on admissions tests.
Back in 1986, I arrived at my high school one day with no knowledge of an exam being given that morning. My 11th grade peers were equally in the dark when we were told our first two class periods were canceled so that we could take an exam called a PSAT. We shrugged in unison when it was explained to us that this was a practice SAT exam. No big deal. If they want us to practice, we’ll practice. Without preparation, or excess stress, we took the exam and went about our day. Several weeks later we received results that did not appear to count toward anything, so the exam was quickly forgotten.
Spring ahead 20 years to 2006, and the PSAT has become as prepared for and stressed over as the SAT. There are merit scholarships attached to PSAT results, and the cavalier attitude my generation had toward that test is long gone. Also of note is the fact that 20 years after taking a PSAT, I was finishing my fourth college degree. My route to a doctorate was atypical. I never took an SAT, but earned my Bachelor of Science degree with honors. I never took a GRE, but earned my Master of Education and Advanced Certificate degrees with Distinction.
Aware of my past successes without standardized admissions tests, I asked the head of the doctorate program I applied for in 2002 to wave the MAT requirement. He refused, so I begrudgingly took the MAT. I did so without preparing, and did not score high enough to meet the doctorate program’s requirement (despite three college degrees). The department head accepted me in the doctorate program along with 30 others, but required me to re-take the MAT. I practiced my analogies by adding my dollars to the pockets of a test prep book publisher, and easily scored high enough the second time around. If the test had any merit, being the last of the 30 cohort members to qualify should have resulted in me being one of the last to complete his doctorate. Reality was much different. I was the second one in my cohort to complete his doctorate.
As a New York City public school student, admission to City University of New York colleges was determined by high school transcripts. The graduate schools I attended; Springfield College and Mercy College also made determinations based on my college transcript. I’m sure I would have performed just as well in my doctorate program if I had never heard of, or took, the MAT. Are we doing students an injustice by valuing standardized tests ahead of years of study?
The Common Core State Standards tell us what students should know and be able to do academically at the end of a school calendar year. They are, in essence, non-negotiables. But, what about you? What are your non-negotiables?
What should your students know and be able to do when they leave your classroom, your school, or your district? What’s most important that you can pass on to them?
Early in my teaching career, one of my non-negotiables was being a content and control specialist. I knew my material and loved to share it at the front of the room. I orated and did my best Dead Poets Society and Stand and Deliver impersonations. The content was dry, so I needed to make it fun by being ‘the fun teacher.’ I thought that was how teaching was done: by replicating what I’d been through in public education, what I learned in college courses, and what I’d seen in movies. But, I wasn’t teaching: I was wasting our time. Students were bored because I was teaching them that learning is boring. No wonder they passed notes, talked while I was talking, and made poor decisions. I put them in that position by keeping them isolated in their seats all day. I would have done the same thing if I were a student in my own class.
As I’ve grown as an educator, I’ve changed this non-negotiable. I’ve moved from a teacher-centered environment to a student-centered one. I’ve learned that I can’t control the learning outcome. Students control that. I can’t make students learn. Students control that, too. What I can do is create an environment that is conducive to student learning occurring: short mini-lessons and active student engagement, while embedding cooperative learning and character education in each lesson. I can make the learning environment fun, and through that, I can teach students that learning is fun. Because, when learning is fun, students will stay engaged in the process, even when it gets hard.
The Common Core State Standards are hard. There is a lot to cover, and the depth is tremendous. I can see why teachers get overwhelmed and scared. This is why I believe it is so important to know our non-negotiables, and fall back on our personal mission statements: what do I want my students to know and be able to do at the end of a school calendar year? What are my non-negotiables as an educator and a person. What is my role?
Even with the advent of the Common Core State Standards, my role as an educator hasn’t changed: if anything it’s become more important to stick to my moral compass. I need to work with students to create an environment that is safe, so they are comfortable learning and taking risks. I want to help build creative, outside-the-box thinkers of strong character, ones who use rejection or failure as opportunities to grow. My objective at the end of the year is to help activate the problem solving and skill set necessary within my students so they will be successful when they’re adults, even if it means they potentially score lower on a standardized test now. Because, they will learn from this failure and rejection, and work harder by growing from it. But most of all, when students leave at the end of a school calendar year, I want them to know I didn’t teach them anything: we learned it together.
Now, I don’t want people to think I’m down on the Common Core State Standards. I believe in them. I think there’s a lot of good stuff in there. I work with different education constituencies to assist educators in understanding the instructional shifts brought about by the Common Core. However, at our core, it is important that we always remember why we are educators, and what the most important thing we can do as educators -- and that’s too build the next generation of society with the skill set necessary for success in college, career, and life.
Zig Ziglar once said, “It’s not where you start that counts, it’s where you finish that matters.” As my students and I begin the last stretch of our almost ten month journey together, I don’t want them to lose sight of their own personal growth as people and students. If school ended today, I’d want them to be proud of their development as citizens and lifelong learners. They are on their way to making their mark on society. But, our school year isn’t over today. We have five weeks to continue to grow, develop, reflect, hold ourselves and each other accountable, and be better than we were the day before.
Which is why, one day recently, as my students gave their worst impression of ball toss during Morning Meeting, it was time to talk about our lasting impressions, and the legacy they leave.
Our class has Morning Meeting at the beginning of each day. We begin with a whole class greeting, making sure we’ve all said hello to one another. Our current favorite greeting is Ball Toss greeting. In this greeting, a student verbally says good morning to another, tosses a tennis ball to them, and is greeted back by the student who caught the ball. This student then greets another student and tosses them the ball. Over the course of the greeting, each student has been greeted, has greeted another, caught the ball, and tossed it. Everyone is involved. As we’ve become more proficient doing this over time, we’ve added more balls to the greeting. Each ball continues the same pattern as the first ball, being thrown and caught by the same ordered people pattern until the final person has all the tennis balls. As an additional challenge, the last person who caught the ball during forward ball toss reverses the direction. We then do ball toss backwards and non-verbally, so the ball travels back to the person who began the greeting, but no one can speak as we do it.
However, what happens when everyone is involved in Ball Toss but not engaged? The students were not holding themselves accountable to the guidelines they set for themselves. The start didn’t look any better than the end: students and their peers dropped balls, made errant, no look throws, giggled, and wayward tennis balls lightly hit peers in the face and stomach. I could have chalked up our approach and execution to the Monday morning blues. Or, that standardized testing had finished the prior Thursday. But the combination of our foibles, and our reaction to them, made me feel that this was something different. We needed to talk about it, not excuse it away.
I asked the students to stop the greeting and sit down. I asked them to reflect on why they thought we stopped. They identified our errors, citing busy weekends, the end of standardized testing, being a Monday, and a plethora of other reasons why our minds weren’t in the greeting. Would they have used these reasons if we were taking a quiz today? A standardized test? If their parents were here? Would these reasons have been acceptable then? When prompted, they all shook their heads no, and explained why it wouldn’t have been acceptable.
“Why is it okay for you to do it now and why will you accept less than your best?” I asked. “How do you want me to remember you? How you want to remember each other, and our year together?”
They were staring at me. They were engaged. They wanted to explore these questions. Now, how was I going to drive this moment home? How would I help them see that this wasn’t about ball toss anymore. It was about how we carry ourselves, how we hold ourselves (and each other) accountable. And, how we bring our best effort every day and expect that of others. Because, we’re worthy, they’re worthy, and neither of us should accept anything less. Ever.
When I want to reflect, I write about it (see this post). It provides me with perspective. I asked the students to do the same: write a letter to themselves explaining what they did and why they did it. On the back of the paper, they were asked to write down their personal goals for their final 28 days as fifth graders. “People are going to remember you for the first impression and last impression you make,” I reminded them. “How do you want to be remembered here in your final year in elementary school? What should your legacy be?”
After five minutes of writing, I cooperatively grouped students. They were asked to speak to their group members about their writing. I would circulate, but I was a silent observer. This wasn’t about me. This was about students sharing their thoughts, listening to their peers share theirs, and discuss how they would learn and grow from this experience.
When students returned to their seats, they were invited to share a synopsis of what they wrote. They didn’t have to, but many did: “I want to be remembered as a good student and a good person.” “I want my classmates to know I gave my best effort.” “I am going to enjoy these last 28 days the way I enjoyed every other day by doing my best.”
I thanked the student sharers for their honesty. I then asked them to keep the paper in their classwork folder. This paper wasn’t for me to collect and use to remind them of the deal they made with themselves. This was about each student holding what they wrote close to them, and referring back to it until they didn’t need to anymore. Until they began to do these things naturally, consistently, leaving a positive impression wherever they go. Because, that’s what people will remember. And people should remember the good that’s in all of us.
Most importantly, that’s what I want my students to carry with them as they go through life: a positive lasting impression that leaves a never-ending mark, and a willingness to reflect when they haven’t. Both will be more powerful lessons learned than anything else I will ever teach them. I hope that my impressions will leave a mark, and we will consistently learn from each experience begun, whether we finish each one or not.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Participate in the Whole Child Symposium!
Watch the Whole Child Symposium Live archive. Listen to the recording of the live event, featuring ASCD CEO and Executive Director Dr. Gene R. Carter and a panel of education experts, to learn about effective education and education systems around the world.
Register for the Whole Child Symposium Virtual,which takes place May 14 and 15. As an attendee, you will hear from four live panels of school leaders, policy experts, teachers, and students. These panels will explore how school policy, classroom, and student decisions today affect what children, societies, and economies will need and become tomorrow.
Join the symposium discussion and spread the word on Twitter using #WCSymposium2014!
Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
Welcome: Thailand ASCD Connected Community
ASCD is pleased to announce that the Thailand ASCD Connected Community is ASCD’s newest constituent group! Please join us in welcoming them to the ASCD Community. View the full connected community directory on ascd.org.
Professional Interest Community Facilitator Hosts First Annual Symposium
Pauline Stonehouse, facilitator of the Brain-Compatible Learning Professional Interest Community, helped host the first annual symposium on “Professional Capital: Leadership for the Transformation of Teaching in Every School,” which was held last month in Grand Forks, North Dakota. This collaborative symposium aims to facilitate discourse on the influence and effectiveness of strategies designed to develop “professional capital” among a broad constituency. Dr. Stonehouse, who is an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota, asked Constituent Services Strategic Advisor Walter McKenzie to participate virtually, presenting on the topic “Online Communities of Practice” and launching a new ASCD EDge® group on Professional Capital during his presentation to support ongoing discussion after the symposium concluded.
ASCD Leader Voices
Thank You, Educators! ASCD Celebrates Teachers and Offers Professional Development Resources—Read the full press release.
ASCD Asks “What Keeps You up at Night?” and Offers PD Resources for Busy Educators—Read the full press release.
ASCD Announces New Teaching and Learning Framework for Schools and Districts: The FIT Teaching™ Tool Kit by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey—Read the full press release.
Educators Invited to Learn New Teaching Model at the ASCD Summer Academy—Read the full press release.
ASCD Presents Inaugural Whole Child Symposium—Read the full press release.
ASCD Offers Professional Development Resources That Support Student Engagement—Read the full press release.
It’s test time! The majority of our students are currently involved in high-stakes, year-end standardized testing. They are going through rigorous reviews and even test-taking practice as if the year’s learning is effectively over.
As a principal of a large, inner city K-8 school, I was proud that our students were engaged and excited about learning until the very last day of school and even into the holidays. Their teachers challenged them to engage in projects that would make a difference. They wanted to work hard. Some students were involved in staging a play to raise money for an organization, Finding Life, that was raising money to build a school in Nepal. The founder of Finding Life visited the school frequently and developed an ongoing partnership with the students. Other students connected with children in a refugee camp in Africa. Now, some are working tirelessly to raise money to plant new trees in their public housing project. Surely, they will be caring for these trees over the summer. Last year they took part in painting their community center.
How can we engage our students to the end?
1) We must ensure they never believe the test is the end. They must know that the end or goal is their personal academic, social, emotional and physical development.
2) We must explain to students of all levels what the tests are and what they aren’t. Too often, we treat our students as individuals throughout the year and then confront them with standardized tests that don’t align with their year long personalized education experiences. They must fully understand what is being measured and for what the data will be used. The tests have limited personal relevance.
3) Rather than winding down, we should focus on synthesizing the year’s learning into highly engaging, impactful activities. Now is a good time to empower students to make a difference. Now is the time for individual or group projects that will have an impact on their school, their local community or the global community. Allow them to use the tools we have given them throughout the year to be optimistic, responsible, productive, and resourceful members of society.
4) Use the last few months of school to let your students shine. Let them lead. Our middle and high school students love to think critically. Allow them to find and solve big problems. Help them make a difference. Once engaged, they may even continue their efforts throughout the summer. Winding down until the last day? No way!
5) Lead them to understand that their personal growth does not stop in June. Guide them to set goals for the summer. At their age, doing nothing is not an option. They don’t need a two-month break from the “pressure”. They can focus more on the social, emotional and physical aspects of their growth and that making a contribution and having an impact must never stop. Kids who are making a difference never disengage.
6) Help parents move beyond, “What am I going to do with them all summer?” to being excited to help them in whatever they want to accomplish. For those who can afford to send their children to some of the wide variety of “camps” available, encourage parents to allow their child to choose the ones that best fit their goals. For others, they should ensure that their child has long and short-term goals for the summer. This will help them when the structure of school starts up again in the Fall. It will also help solidify their learning.
We cannot let testing shorten the learning time of our students. The testing process itself is time consuming enough without it signifying the end of learning for the year. The last two months must be as exciting and engaging as the first month. Let’s do it!
Ever get your hand caught in the cookie jar? What about the poopy bag?
I did. And, I didn’t handle it well.
The other day I was walking my dog. She went, and I picked it up. Problem was there was a hole in the bag. I didn’t notice where the hole was until it was too late. The bag began to leak. I begin to walk quickly in the direction of my house. I begin to get coated. Life gets worse.
My dog, all 65 pounds of her stops, dead in her tracks. She needs to go, again. By this time my hands and arms are beginning to resemble the poop bag. She repeats the process. For those keeping score at home, Bella is two for two.
I don’t even have a bag for the first one, much less the second one, which is on my neighbor’s lawn. I decide retreating is the better part of valor. I wait until she’s done, get my hustle on, and figure I’ll clean up, get another bag, and get her other parting gift. Only my neighbor doesn’t know my plan, he just sees me scurrying away.
“Sir, Sir,” I hear from behind me. I turn. I am literally coated from hands to elbows in labradoodle poop.
“Your dog went on my lawn,” says an older man, pointing to the spot where Bella did her business. He’s well-dressed, and quite proper looking. Think Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) sponsored by Polo.
“I see it,” I snap. “I have no room in the bag. I’m coming back.”
“Okay,” he says, staring at me. And, that is where it should’ve ended. But, because of my emotional - mental state right then, it didn’t.
“Is there anything else,” I say, turning fully toward him. We’re about 100 feet away. I lift up my hands and elbows so he can see them. “Or are we good?”
My question isn’t really a question. It’s not even a statement. I’ve just overreacted and unloaded on a neighbor. Who. Did. Nothing. Wrong.
But, my mind isn’t there. See, my Dad is in the hospital. He’s had four bypass surgeries in the last 19 years. He’s not getting enough blood to his heart. The arteries are fully working, it’s just not enough. There’s a lot of plaque around the heart. He’s got two options, stent, or some other crazy procedure I can’t understand. But the man who asked me to be a good neighbor doesn’t know that. He just knows what he sees.
He looks at me, stunned. He wasn’t expecting that response. Because, there was no reason for me to go there. None. And, he’s unsure how we got there. I showed no outward signs that something was wrong (minus the poop coating).
So, he does the right thing. He models graciousness and courtesy: “No problem,” he says, smiling. “Have a good day.”
Me, now I’m doubly angry, because I overreacted and am ashamed of my reaction, and, I still have arms dipped in poop chocolate. I need to make this right, I think. But first, I need to wash my hands.
How often do we form judgements about our students, their families, our teaching peers, or our administration, based on just the information we see? We see a child who calls out, acts out, doesn’t hand in homework, has trouble staying seated, fidgets, argues in a group, and we make a final decision without all the pieces in place. Have we checked to see if: they had breakfast, slept, were told by their parents that they’re moving or divorcing (or both), feel like they have no friends, don’t understand the content, have prior bad experiences in education, or come from a family who mistrusts school? Any, a combination, or all of them, can play a role in the output of a child. But, if we look at an incomplete picture and make a complete judgement, how does that help the child? Doesn’t it just give them the wrong message about us and about education in general, because we’ve made a generalization that many not apply?
We tell ourselves as educators that we need to drop our baggage at the door prior to entering the building. The students need it, and we deserve to give them our best. Remember “exhibit A” (me): we don’t always model appropriate behavior. The motivations behind our poor actions may have no correlation whatsoever to what actually occurred. Who makes a scene covered in poop? This guy, who’s dad is in the hospital, and has bigger issues on his mind than his neighbor’s lawn.
So, the next time we’re ready to make a snap decision as educators, realize that even though we’re older, mature, trained, and passionate about what we do, we’re still human. As adults, we do things we later regret. We handle things poorly. And, children, their families, our peers make these mistakes too. At some point, with enough reflection, adults can figure out why they reacted as they did, and then choose how to move forward. Children don’t have the coping skills or metacognitive skills to understand why they make the decisions they do. Developmentally, their frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until their mid-20’s.
Heck, I could tell you some of the decisions I made in my mid-20’s.
But, I’d prefer not to.
Now, my Dad will be okay. He’s been transferred to another hospital. The surgery will be performed by a doctor who’s last name is biblical. According to those in the field, this man can part platelets. My Dad will have his stent put in, he’ll go home in a few days, and we’ll all move forward.
But for me I need to move backwards before I can move forward. I need to go down the street to my neighbor. I have some apologizing to do.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Nominations Committee Applications Open in May
Would you like to participate in the candidates selection process for next year’s Board members election? Several positions will be open on the 2014–15 Nominations Committee; application information will be available in the May L2L newsletter.
Leaders in Action
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2014 by ASCD. All Rights Reserved.