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Sometimes a little bit of snow makes things a whole lot better

A few days ago we got a small dusting of snow on the ground.  Not like what we had two years ago (see slider below).  That is something that I would never like to repeat again.

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There is just something about the fresh snow fall, even when it is only a dusting.  It is calm and peaceful.  Why is this?  How does this different phase of water cause a change in us as humans?  Is it the color of snow?

I love the peacefulness that it brings even when it comes in small doses.  I grew up in an area where it did not snow every year, so moving out to Eastern Oregon was a blessing in that we were going to get more snow than what we had living on the coast.  Now nobody told us that the first winter living out here would be a 100 year winter and that even the people in their late 80s never saw a winter like that, but we endured.  The next year, just the extreme opposite.

Back to the snow.  It is filled with peace and a calming sense.  Teachers are like a fresh blanket of snow.  They create that peacefulness and calming sense that students get each day.  For many students, this is the only place that they get this. They don’t get this at home with their parents due to survival.  Parents want to create that atmosphere for their children, but many need to work two even three jobs in order to give their kids a roof over their heads.

Teachers on the other hand can give this sense of security for students each day.  Bring them peace and a calming sense to their daily lives.

Make them feel special, because they are!

When was the last time you had somebody do something for you that made you feel special? Chances are it was fairly recently.

What about your students in your classrooms? Chances are that if it was not you that did something to make these students feel special, then nobody did. 

Our kids come from the roughest of places.  Many thrive at school, because it is the best that they know.  They know when they are here they are warm, fed, and taken care of.

Some never know where their next meal is coming from or where they will lay their head tonight.  Many live in cramped housing with two, three, or even four other families.  Chances are that the eyes that you look at are needing something special and that something special was you.

How will you let your students know that they are special everyday?

Let’s Break Down Those Barriers

I think that most people in the field of education have heard the word “equity” in their daily practice. While many have heard it, many still do not understand it.

This picture is one that many have seen. It brings to light what equity stands for day-in and day-out in our profession. Providing supports for those that need that extra help in order to “see the game.” Taking a stance of equality does nothing for anybody. It pushes those that are already ahead, further, and those that are behind, still does not get them to “see the game.”

All would agree that equity is what education should be.  The problem is, that while equity helps get everybody to the same finish, some feel like they are missing out on something.  The fence in this picture is in the way and it is in the way for all students.  While they all get the “see the game” none of them are actually getting to “experience the game.”

Liberation helps eliminate the barrier that is preventing all students from truly “experiencing the game.”  This allows those that do not need additional supports from feeling like they are missing out on their education because we focus on those that do need those supports all the while providing all students with a rigorous and relevant education.

Inclusion takes this liberation lens a step further.  It puts the kids in uniforms and gets them “ready for the game.”  This is truly our focus with all of our students.

What I notice about this picture is that all the barriers are broken down for all students, all students are in uniforms ready for the game, but the student on the far right is missing a mitt.  While this last picture is not the end, what does the next picture look like?

Week 1

Our first full week is now complete.  I am astonished on how smooth it has been this year.  We have had some very large changes in the building that usually lend themselves to causing complications until a system gets put in place to help it run.

This year we are implementing a new students information system district-wide, changing from semesters to trimesters, and some large safety changes.  These are all large changes that would normally cause issues as you roll them out, but so far this year there has been very little disruption to the learning process in the school.

It is going to be a great year!  Having a positive outlook on your work will bring nothing but positivity to those around you.  Even if you have negative people around you, they will not last long to the positivity.

Culture takes time

Everybody has heard from others that being positive and creating a culture that you want to see is what ultimately drives the negative and unwanted culture away from you. This is very true and I do believe this. The difficult part of this is waiting for this to transpire. Often times we want to see results right away.

Look for something positive each day, even if some days you might have to look a little bit harder.

These results take time. Time none of us want to spend waiting to see if it works. Culture change comes from the daily work and words that are put forth, not from making a single change and sitting back waiting to see the results. The results will show themselves in do time as long as people are speaking and walking the culture they want in their buildings day in and day out.

I have worked with some fantastic teachers. Teachers who always had a kid-centered classroom and used quality instructional practices in their classrooms each day. On the flip side of that coin, I have work with some people who never have a positive thing to say about students or especially their support structure and administration. Creating a positive culture has a way to reveal who those negative and toxic people are. These are the type of people that will work against the positive with everything they have. When they see that their negativity and toxicity have no hold on the positive culture that is being built, they will “jump ship” to find another place.

Here are SOME things that you can do to help promote a positive culture in your building:

  1. ASSUME THE BEST INTENT – Always assume that teacher have the best intent in their actions in the building. While some are out to cause problems and spread their toxic agenda, many are so isolated in their classrooms that they are not seeing how their classroom is having an effect on the school as a whole. I have seen it on many accounts where it is just assumed that it was coming from a specific teacher that the “act” only had negative connotation to it because that teacher had previously shown their negative and toxic agenda. This is not always the case. Always assume that with each act people have the best intent for kids and for the building as a whole.
  2. RELATIONSHIPS – This cannot be stressed enough. If you want to have a positive culture in your school, take the time to build relationships with the staff that are “in the trenches” each and every day. These are the people that will help build that positive culture that you are trying to accomplish.
  3. COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE – Communicate often with teachers. They are focused on kids and it is our job to ward off as many outside situations to protect the instruction time as possible. Teachers want to teach, that is all. They want to make positive impacts on kids. They don’t want to spend time discussing agenda items that are not part of the instruction of students. Keeping teachers informed about what is happening in the office is good. They don’t really care what we are planning for the most part, but they do care when they are not communicated with about things that might take away from their classroom.

#MyWhy

Why do we do this work?  Many would say for the kids and that is a great answer, but many kids will go through school just fine.  They are elastic and adhere to anything that you put in front of them.  All three of my kids are just like this.  While each of them has their struggles, I truly do not worry about their success in school or if they will reach that finish line.

I do this work for kids who are not my own.  I do this for the kids who do not know where their next meal is coming from.  I do this for the kids who wonder where they will lay their head down tonight.  I do this for the kids who are forced to be adults long before they should.  I do this for the kids who need a positive person in their lives.  I do this for the kids who need somebody to listen to what they are saying and not judge them on how they are saying it.

This video “Change the First Five Years and You Change Everything” really tugged at my heartstrings as to why I do what I do.  Many students have such sad stories.  I will always feel sad for them and word each day to not get mad at them.  I think you should take a look and then decide what is your #MyWhy.


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The Power of “Yet”

As educators we all want our students to be successful.  We work hard each and every day for ALL students to help them be successful.  There are many great instructional practices that we employ on a daily basis to help them be successful.  Great teachers use all of their tools in their toolboxes to help ALL students be successful.

Each day administrators go into classrooms to see all of these wonderful instructional practices put in place for students.  The one instructional practice that we do not get to see very often first hand is undoubtedly the most important, failure.  Failure leads to the path of success only if you learn from your failure.  Failure is where all of the lessons are.

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We need to teach students that failure is OK.  Many parents do not feel this way.  Many see a B or even a C on a progress report and just go through the roof (I too have been subject to this).  As I reflect back, I realize that I should have taken far different positions with my own children.  Seeing them struggle with trying to master something is OK.  If we swoop in and do it for them each and every time, they will never master the skill they need to.

These are reasons why we need to teach kids the Power of Yet.  Many students go through each day and say things like “I am not successful” or “I cannot find the answer”.  By teaching students that adding one word to each of these sentences, drastically changes the outlook for kids.

  • I am not successful, yet.
  • I cannot find the answer, yet.

These put hope in their despair.  Teaching students a growth mindset is important.  It will help them be sufficient on their own, want to have productive relationships in their lives, and enable them to seek new learning each day.  Daily growth in learning and relationships with others will lead students down a successful path.  One statement that I use on a regular basis with students is that “Failure is the rehearsal for success”.

I love this video by Will Smith on Failure.

How are you making students feel?

As an attempt to change up how I am blogging and am starting to record videos on my thoughts.  I usually have plenty of time to record a 4-5 minute video while I am driving to and from the school.  I figured this would give me a more authentic posting and more frequent posting as well.  I rarely have time to sit down and write a long post about what I am learning or struggles that I am going through to share with other educators.  So for 2018, it is my hope that this will inspire you and help you along your way to being a successful educator.  You can find a link to my YouTube Channel on the sidebar.

Remember, what will you do with the time that you have been given? (#WWYDWTTTYHBG)

I am in your corner…

This weekend, as I was reflecting on my week, I ran across an article by Daniel Steele entitled “Letter to a Discouraged Student“.  This was a very profound letter.  Beautifully written from a principal to student perspective.  While I have no idea if this was actually written for a specific student or for the general masses.  One thing is for sure, it applies to every student who struggles with school and every student who did struggle with school.  I can relate to this letter.

We as educators always put ourselves in the place to make things better for kids.  I am not the type of person that likes to be at the front of attention, especially in large crowds.  Being in a leadership position at times does put you at the forefront.  Remembering my first year as an Athletic Director being put in the position of heading one of the largest departments in the district was a real growing moment in my professional/personal life.  At the end of each year, we held an athletic awards banquet.  Of course, the MC?  Me.  This was a nerve-racking situation for me all year.  I started working out what I was going to say months before it was time.  In the end, it was fine.  I was nervous, to say the least.  The next year I repeated the event and pushed through.

While I know that this was a weakness of mine, it didn’t stop me from doing what was important, being there for kids.  Most recently I was in a similar position where our student-body was looking for people to be part of a fundraiser that in the end, the winner would get a pie in the face in front of the whole school.  There were some pretty popular teachers as well as the Principal that all signed up.  I figured I would be way down the list before getting picked.  Nope!  I was in the top three.  So that meant pie in the face!  Now, this is something that put me in front of everybody again.  I did it because it was important to kids.

Kids, I know my weaknesses and I know my strengths.  Being part of the attention is not one of them.  But know that even if it means being front and center with the spotlight on me, if that is what you need, I will do it.  Know that I am in your corner.

 

Positive School Culture

What school culture really looks like

Be relentless about creating, maintaining, and sustaining a positive culture in your schools. What students experience becomes their norm.

We all know that many of our students experience norms at home that we would not want in our schools, but we must counteract that with a positive culture. That all begins with the relationships we develop with our stakeholders, most importantly our students. While high-quality instruction and rigorous content are important, relationships trump all of that. I am often taken back to a quote that my former high school principal said to me when I was in grad school. “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” There is so much truth to that statement. The roadmap to being a great teacher with solid relationships with students is no different than being a great parent. It is filled with love and high expectations.

Just remember moving forward that school climate is how teachers and students act when the superintendent is in the room but culture is how they act when he/she is not in the room. Focus on culture, not climate. Climates change from day-to-day but cultures will stand the test of time.

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Care First

I recently saw this graphic on Twitter posted from @JustinTarte. This image sums up one of my favorite quotes. “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. This quote has stuck with me over the years. The first time that I heard it I was in graduate school working on my Masters in Education. This quote is so true. Even the perception of caring is important. If we as educators who deeply care about kids don’t actually show that we care, kids will perceive that we don’t.

I remember back in grad school there was this professor that taught us about all the skills for classroom management. One of the statements that he always said that we should take to heart is “Don’t smile until after Thanksgiving”. I guess this was to show kids that you are all business and not to be messed with and that it would help out with classroom management issues. Personally, I never bought into this. The teachers that I remember in school were the ones that were funny and smiled.

Kids need to know that their teachers are human and that they can have fun too. It is possible to have fun with kids and smile each day while still having successful classroom management. Perception of caring does matter.

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Choice Kids or All Kids?

This week I overheard a conversation between a counselor and the principal about a teacher who had advocated to teach an honors class next year over the regular counterpart. The feeling of the teacher was that the new first-year teacher who was scheduled to teach the honors class would not be able to provide the rigor that the class needed.

As I sat in my office hearing this conversation, all I could keep asking myself was “Was rigor the real reason this teacher wanted the honors class?” Later I found myself muttering quietly, “Just teach kids!” We have this unspoken rule/policy/addendum, whatever you would like to call it, that every teacher in core classes get to teach an honors type class with the high achieving kids. Something about each teachers wanting the “prestige”. Did we really come to this that teaching is about the prestige? I thought that teaching was about the kids?
When we change the focus from certain kids to ALL kids we truly get back to the roots of education. Education is a humanitarian career path. Nobody got into this profession for the money and prestige. Everybody during their first interview and every interview after that displayed a sincere joy for kids and want to see them succeed. Somewhere along the way, some teachers lose the focus of ALL students and focus on CERTAIN students.
Regardless, teaching is still one of the most prestigious professions. According to a Harris Interactive poll done sporadically from 1977 to 2009, teaching is still one of the most well-respected and prestigious professions, ranking 6th under firefighters, scientists, doctors, nurses, and military officers. While the cultural view is that teachers are held in high regard and that teaching is a very prestigious career, we need to always remember why we got into this profession, kids.

TGIF!

Friday’s are great! Everybody comes to school with smiles on their faces knowing that in a few short hours they will get a couple of days to unplug.
While teachers work hard and deserve some time to unplug like weekends, winter, and spring breaks, some students do not feel the same way. For some kids in all of our communities, school is the best environment that they have. Teachers are the most positive role model that some kids have in their lives. Leaving for a weekend for these kids is not a time to unplug but rather filled with negative and sometimes hurtful times. For some, this will be two days that they won’t have a warm building to be in or food to eat.
I recently saw this tweet by Dr. Justin Tarte (@justintarte) that really had me thinking more about the reality of what some of our kids go home to every night.

Not all of your students are as excited about Friday as you are. Make each moment count today as they could mean much more than you think.

Failure is rehearsal for success!

I saw this image on Dan Rockwell’s blog today and it really made me think about what I have been talking with kids about all along. “Failure is just rehearsal for success”.

That is the reality in life. There are things we are successful right off the bat with, then there are some things that require lots of practice. Famous NBA basketball icon Michael Jordan once said:

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

As educators, we are the children’s coaches in the classroom. It is our responsibility to help them figure out a way around the obstacles they are facing. We cannot stand idly by and watch them stumble into the madness of never-ending failure. Blaming demographics for the lack of student success is a simple way to give up. When kids see adults give up we send the message that it is OK for them to give up as well.

Remember to teach your kids that failing and learning from mistakes is part of life. How they deal with those mistakes and own them, will make them better citizens.

The Myth of the Super Teacher

The Myth of the Super Teacher on Vimeo

Roxanna Elden is a great speaker.  The message that she sends forth in this video is stellar.  I have not read her book as of yet but I intend to.  She is 100% correct when she says that all teachers need honesty, humor, and practical advice.  The only problem I see is that a lot of leaders forget that teachers need this and that they view us as lazy if we are not getting 3 hours of sleep a night in order to create that amazing lesson plan.  We are human.  Nobody works with teenagers on 3 hours of sleep.  Did you before becoming an administrator?

Here is a touching story that is good for everyone to remember:

The Mayonnaise Jar

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day is not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and two cups of coffee.
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.
When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and fills it with golf balls.
He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured it into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.
He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “YES”.

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – God, family,
children, health, friends, and favorite passions. Things, that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the things that matter like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.” he said.
“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “There is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are
important to you…” he told them.
“So… pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Worship with your family. Play with your children. Take your partner out to dinner. Spend time with good friends. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the dripping tap. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

Many administrators have forgotten this over the years of not being in the classroom.  They have forgotten this story for their teachers, but they have not forgotten this for themselves.  Most want us to fill the jar with the sand first and they call us lazy when we don’t.  We are all people, not robots.  It is important to remember that we all have lives outside of those walls, including students, and sometimes situations take place that impacts what goes on in those walls.

This year our superintendent in his opening address wanted to work with various positions around the district as a way to stay connected on what we do day in and day out with children.  This was a huge inspiration for me as a teacher.  Here is someone who quite frankly has a very busy schedule and wants to come in and work with teachers, secretaries, custodians, and bus drivers for a day to get a sense of the “trenches”.  This is a leader.  Not many superintendents would be able to invest, not sacrifice, the much needed time in order to do get the first-hand view of the classroom after so many years being out.

In my talks that I have had with many people I have worked with over the years, many of stressed upon me that whenever I do step into that position of the administration, to not lose sight of what it is like in the classroom.  My intention is to always keep that very close to my heart.  The true battleground is the classroom, not the office.