Friday, January 25, 2019

Are you a positive influencer?

As an educator, there are plenty of instances in which we are charged with teaching children more than just reading, writing, and math. Often we are faced with situations that provide us the amazing opportunity to teach kids about life, about being a good friend, and a positive influence on the people around them.

I have experienced many instances recently on a personal and professional level that have led me to wonder why often times adults do not hold themselves the same moral standard that we expect from our children. As I was discussing this dilemma with a a mentor and colleague, Dan Hickey, (@hickeygroup) the discussion led to one about positivity. He posed a question to me that caused me to pause and REALLY reflect. He asked me: "On a scale of 1-10, how much of a positive influence are you in your building?"

This question is actually applicable to all facets of life: at home, work, in the classroom, with spouses, friends, colleagues, etc.  As I continue to reflect on this question, I really believe that if this were the focus of all of our relationships, they would all have the potential to be more productive.

When focusing on the power of positivity in schools, it becomes apparent that a teacher could be the most technically perfect teacher in a school building, but without exerting positive influence on students and colleagues, that teacher's potential of influence is not fully realized.

Going forward, therefore, when reflecting on teachers' performance in the building, I plan to utilize this question regularly. It is easy to get sucked into the technical day-to-day aspects of teaching, however, unless one is formally reflecting on their influence and how it is being utilized, I truly believe that teacher will never fully reach his/her true potential.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Bullying vs. Meanness

“Bullying” is a word that is thrown around a lot in today’s society. Bullying is a serious problem
that can have long-lasting effects. Kids can feel deeply wounded by a peer’s horrible insults
or physical aggression. Parents often feel helpless when their children are faced with situations
of bullying.

The term bullying, however, is often used so casually that it leads to it being misused or
overused. In my role as elementary school principal, I often hear students and parents
labeling unkind or mean actions as bullying when in reality they might be isolated incidents
of meanness.

This is not to say that unkind acts should be ignored, or that bullying is a rite of passage
in childhood. True bullying is extremely serious and can have devastating consequences.  
Therefore, I would like to provide some information taken from “Psychology Today” to help
parents and kids identify and combat both unkind behaviors and bullying.

According to “Psychology Today”, bullying involves deliberate, aggressive acts targeting
a particular individual repeatedly, over time. When talking to kids at Kerby, I utilize this
definition to help students differentiate between meanness and bullying. I tell them that if
someone is being mean to them, that is unacceptable. However, if that person continues to
be mean, even after being called out, spoken to by adults, and asked to stop, that is
considered bullying.

It is important that kids are taught to differentiate between meanness and bullying so that
actual acts of bullying are not trivialized. Additionally, teaching students coping strategies to
deal with meanness will help them learn to manage conflicts independently as they get older.
True bullying, however, requires intervention from adults. Kids should be encouraged to
talk to a trusted adult about behaviors that they are experiencing so that the adult can help
them determine if it is truly bullying, then give them the tools to work through the situation.

Additionally, kids are quick to condemn meanness and bullying, but cannot often see those
behaviors in their own actions. Teaching kids to self-reflect on how they treat their peers is a
helpful way to encourage kindness. Asking them questions about how they were kind that day
at school or how they sought to include everyone when they played can help them develop
introspection about their own actions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Why Grade?

There are many different ways to report progress to students and parents.  Some teachers use letter grades (A, B, C, D, F), some use percentages on a 100 point scale, some use a coding system (+, -), while others use anecdotal feedback.  Regardless of the grading system you use, take a minute to reflect on the "Why."  What is the purpose of the number, or the letter, or the code you write at the top of your students' papers?  How does that grade help them learn from their mistakes or reflect on what they did well?  What exactly does a 92% tell a child about what they learned in the previous unit?

The purpose of grades is to provide students with feedback on their learning. It gives them the opportunity to correct mistakes and utilize positive feedback to grow as a learner.  Also, appropriate feedback allows parents to see what their child is doing at school on a daily basis, so there are no surprises when the report card comes home later in the year.  If the grading system you are using does not provide corrective feedback and an opportunity for students to reflect on their growth relative to an educational standard, perhaps it is time to reexamine your grading system and begin to think about whether is it serving its purpose in your classroom.

In a recent article by @rickwormeli2  he calls for a Timeout on Rubrics and Grading Scales. Wormeli reminds educators to focus on grading to a standard that clearly communicates to students what they learned and what they still need to work on.  He warns that educators should not let reports of compliance distort reports of learning.  Essentially, students should not be graded on neatness, effort, or other components that are not included in the educational standard being taught. Those are categories that can be reported, but should be reported separate from the overall grade, as they do not provide evidence of student learning relative to a standard.  This process may require a mindset shift for many educators who are accustomed to more traditional methods of grading on a 100 point scale. But, this modern grading system provides more accurate and descriptive feedback to students and parents as to the learning that is occurring on a daily basis in the classroom.

Grading should not be a "gotcha" enterprise.  Grading should not be a carrot we hold over our students' heads to force compliance.  Yes, it is easier mathematically to average grades and points on a test, but that does not make it pedagogically correct. As Wormeli states, it is what kids carry forward from a unit of study, not what they demonstrate on a summative assessment that reflects true learning and proficiency. I encourage all educators to take a minute to truly reflect on your grading practices and determine whether you are accurately reporting your students' learning relative to the standards being taught.  If the answer is no, perhaps it is time to consider a change.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reflection on My First Year as a Principal

When I was interviewing for the position of principal at Kerby Elementary last year around this time, I was asked to complete a writing prompt that addressed how I would know if I had been successful after my first year of becoming principal of the school. I recently pulled it out to reflect on the year.   I believe I am working in the right direction as a leader, but definitely still have areas in which to grow. I am lucky to have such a great team at Kerby to help me along this journey! What I wrote is shared below.
 “Relationships are Everything” and “Leadership Matters”. When reflecting on the success of my first year as an elementary principal, these two ideas will weave themselves throughout all of my work with teachers, parents, and students. Although school buildings have many pieces that come together to create success, strong relationships and effective leadership play a major role in each and every one of them. 

 Relationships are Everything: The importance of building positive relationships weaves itself into each and every part of a school community. From the school’s behavior management system to the teacher evaluation model, all of these areas will be better when relational trust exists between school leaders and staff. To evaluate whether I have worked to develop that relational trust in my first year as a principal, I will reflect on the following questions:

Have I made connections with staff, students and families that go deeper than school? Do I understand teachers’ personal and professional passions and what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning? Have I connected with students and their families on a level that extends beyond the classroom? Have I gotten to know the community and participated in neighborhood functions and events? Everything that goes on in a school is better when strong relationships exist. 

In an effort to build these relationships, have I truly connected with students on all levels? Have I recognized student achievement and milestones, academically, socially, and behaviorally? Do I check in frequently with students who are in need of that “extra push”? Have I been there to support students who are struggling and helped redirect their path toward a more productive one?

When working with teachers, have I celebrated with those who are experimenting with new technology or teaching strategies? Have I been there to listen and support them when taking that first leap to try something new? Have I encouraged teachers to explore their passions and continue their professional learning and growth in areas that interest and motivate them? If I can answer yes to the above questions after my first year in this new role, the process of beginning to build relationships with students, families, and staff will be well underway and headed in the right direction.

Leadership Matters: John Maxwell said it best when he stated, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.” Everything! Good leaders inspire and empower others to discover leadership qualities in themselves.  When a school is successful, great leaders inspire teachers to keep the expectations high, while searching for new ways to challenge themselves and others. When a school is experiencing periods of turmoil, great leaders help to maintain focus and keep morale high. Great leaders are also role models for their colleagues, leading by example and inspiring others to follow suit and lead from where they stand.  When reflecting on my leadership after my first year, I will ask myself if teachers and students feel empowered to become leaders of their own learning. Also, have I modeled and encouraged reflective practices for personal and professional growth goals?

As the Principal of Kerby Elementary, I will consider my first year a success if I have maintained the focus on developing the leadership capacity and relational trust among all stakeholders in the school building. Leadership matters because people matter, and in education our main priority should be the continued development of people, students and adults alike.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Relationships Are Everything

Time and time again in education I am reminded that building relationships with our students is the absolute most important thing we can do as teachers.  In my opinion, it even trumps content knowledge.  As an adult, I am much more likely to want to go above and beyond the norm for someone that has taken the time to get to know me and connect with me as a person. It is the same with kids and their teachers.

Now that we are getting close to the end of the school year, it is important to remember that relationship building is something that needs to be sustained throughout the year.  At the beginning of the year, when we are just getting to know our students, it is at the forefront of our minds.  However, as the year progresses, some of these activities seem to fall by the wayside.  However, maintaining a strong connection with kids, and continuing to build your relationship with each child is important all year long. Here are a few simple ways you can build relationships with your students on a daily basis.

  • Greet them at the door: Every morning, greet your students at the door with a smile, a handshake, and a "good morning".  Allowing your students to enter the room with a positive greeting can set the tone for the rest of the day.
  • Encourage classroom discussions that feature students as the center of attention: Teachers should not always be the center of attention in discussions.  It is important to share information about your life; however, be sure to intentionally choose topics that will focus on your students interests and successes as well.
  • Attend extracurricular activities featuring your students: It means so much to students and to their families to see a teacher at one of their extracurricular activities.  I still remember when a teacher attended one of my dance recitals as a child.  I smiled extra bright on the stage that day knowing that my teacher was in the audience watching.
  • Protect the students' self-esteem: Whenever possible, handle discipline issues with empathy and without an audience.  Call students into the hallway or keep them after class to discuss an issue, rather than doing it in front of their peers.  Remember that we as teachers are providing an example of how to behave, so if we wouldn't want students to embarrass a peer in front of an audience, we shouldn't do it either.
  • Learn about their lives and share about yours (appropriately): Ask students questions about their families and their interests, make connections with things that you enjoy as well. Showing genuine interest in who they are outside of school will show them that you care and help them to open up to you in class.
  • Answer journal and blog entries personally: Letting kids see that you read their work and responded to it will encourage them to continue to put forth their best effort with these types of assignments.
These are just a few of many simple ways to continue building relationships with your students now and throughout the end of the year.  You want your students to leave the school year with positive memories and experiences, and continuing to focus on these positive strategies will help ensure everyone ends the school year with a smile.  :)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Begin With the End in Mind - 2015 Goals for Teachers

As educators we are constantly talking with our students about setting goals for themselves.  We encourage kids to set academic, emotional and, behavioral goals.  Many times we do this weekly or monthly to teach self-reflection.  This practice is not only great for students, but also for adults. With 2014 quickly coming to a close, and a new year upon us, it now seems like a great time to set some goals for ourselves.  Habit 2 of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is "Begin with the End in Mind." This habit encourages us set goals and know where we are going before we start the journey. As you think about your professional or personal goals for the upcoming year, some of the following areas of reflection might help provide a spring board for where you'd like to go.

Step out of your comfort zone - Perhaps 2015 will be the year that you decide to step out of the box with instructional practices or innovative ideas.  Maybe you will commit to trying "Project Based Learning" in your classroom.  Perhaps you will become part of a reflective journey with your colleagues by participating in "Instructional Rounds." Perhaps you will take on a leadership role by providing Professional Development for your colleagues, taking on a student teacher, or become a mentor for a new teaching colleague. My work with the "Galileo Leadership Academy" allowed me to understand that teachers can "lead from where they stand."  You do not have to have a formal leadership role to be a leader. Is 2015 the year for you step up into a leadership role that you define for yourself?

Work on integrating 21st century learning strategies into your classroom - Maybe 2015 is the year that you will commit to integrating new 21st century learning into your teaching toolbox.  Perhaps you will look to add blogging, twitter, or mystery skype into your classroom.  Maybe you will consider deeper levels of differentiated instruction using technology.  Perhaps you will look to add self-directed learning through "Innovation Day" or "20 % Time" within your lessons.  21st Century learning not only encompasses the integration of technology, but also communication, collaboration and interactions with a variety of students and colleagues from across the globe.

Commit to being a positive voice for education - One of the best ways teachers can support the field of education is to be the positive voice.  It is very easy to get sucked into the negativity that often surrounds educators via politicians, media, or even right in our own teachers' lounge.  However, accepting the challenge to "Be the Positive Voice" not only helps you, but also your colleagues and students.  Negative energy seems to spread so easily throughout a school building, so working to maintain a positive outlook will create a more productive culture building wide.

Work to build relationships and connect with students - Students will work much harder for a teacher that they like.  Therefore, making a commitment to connect with each of your students on a level outside of the classroom will help to create a better classroom culture for all.   Talk about things that you do outside of the normal school day.  Ask them about hobbies or interests. Help your students find books that are in an area they like.  All of these small details will help to create a classroom environment in which students are not afraid to take risks and try new things.

There are many areas in which teachers can work to create goals for the upcoming year.  The most important fact to remember is that your goals should be about personal and professional growth.  You know what will help you to reach out of your comfort zone and extend your learning as an educator. Tap into those areas. Don't worry about what your colleague across the hall is doing.  Focus on areas that will help you grow as an educator, colleague, and person.

Happy Goal Setting!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Collaborate. Connect. Learn.

I spent an entire day last week in classrooms....not observing, or doing walk throughs, but teaching.  I honestly think that one of the most important things a school leader can do is to stay in touch with the classroom and with kids.  It was an amazing day connecting with students and learning more about them and their classroom behaviors and systems.  Here is the story of what led up to this amazing day of learning.

Early last week, all of the teachers in the district participated in professional development in which they were given the opportunity to choose the sessions they attended throughout the day.  I LOVE that the district is providing that type of autonomy to teachers!  To follow up, I wanted to think of a way for teachers to share with each other everything they had learned.  There were so many valuable sessions that teachers attended, and I thought everyone would benefit from hearing what their colleagues had learned.

So, I hired a sub for the day, and the two of us circulated around the building, providing teachers with 30 minutes of additional coverage, apart from their regular prep time, to go to the library.  The library had been converted into a "learning lab" for the day.  There was chart paper scattered around the room with markers for teachers to make their thinking visible for their colleagues.  There were snacks and refreshments.  Teachers were encouraged to collaborate with their learning lab partners about what they had learned earlier in the week at the district wide PD.

The results were amazing for all involved.  Teachers enjoyed discussing ideas and concepts with people that they may not usually have had the opportunity to chat with.  They had a few minutes to sit down with snacks and unwind, which (as educators know) is not commonplace in schools.  And I, as the principal, had an entire day in classrooms, with kids, uninterrupted by meetings, phone calls, or emergencies.  It was a best-case scenario for all involved: students, teachers, and administrators.

I know I am only a few months out of the classroom into my role as principal, but this day confirmed what I believed to be true all along.  Teachers thrive when they are given autonomy to collaborate and treated as professionals.  Also, administrators need to work to keep that connection with instruction and students thriving.  I will be sure to include this learning lab set up in the agenda throughout my career as a principal!