Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Thanksgiving Thought




One of my teachers sent the following email to our staff yesterday.  The subject line of the email was: "A Thanksgiving Thought."  With his permission, I am posting it below in its entirety:

"I want to share a comment that was made to me today.  It could be both good and sad.  A student asked me how my day was going and I said, "Great!  How is your day going?"  She said, "Okay, but it is sad."  I asked her why it was sad and she said that today was the last day of school this week and she really loves it here.  She said she would rather be here than home.  Those words really made a big impression on me.  I thought about how I am so excited to go home and have a few days off to be with my family.  I thought that maybe she just loves TSGC that much or maybe she doesn’t want to be at home because it isn’t that great.  Whatever the case, the fact that she loves our school means a lot to me.  No matter how frustrated we are and think, “These kids are out of control today and I just can’t wait for the end of 8th period to get here!!”, there are some of our students that aren’t that excited about it.  We never know what they are going home to and sometimes we probably don’t really want to know some of the things these kids are going through. I couldn’t imagine not looking forward to going home for Thanksgiving break because my home was full of love and it was my safe place.  I say this as encouragement to all of us that we do make a difference and these students are worth it.  We may be the only smile they get today.  I know I am not the best teacher at times and can be negative when I shouldn’t be, but I also know that I am in this because I truly care about these kids.  I am thankful that I have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives and I hope that it is always a positive difference. Although some students may be disrespectful, some may seem not to care, some may get on our nerves, and some may never stop talking…What we do in the classroom today makes a difference in the world tomorrow.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving and give your students a smile and some words of encouragement today.

Thanks,

Greg Ragland

P.S.

I apologize for any bad grammar or run on sentences and everything else that is written incorrectly."

There's not much I can add to this.  We all have much to be grateful for.  One of the things I'm grateful for... is having colleagues like Greg Ragland... colleagues who are committed to making a difference for kids.  

You can follow Greg Ragland on Twitter @GregRagland

                                                                                                        Happy Thanksgiving,

                                                                                                                              Danny   

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Letter to a Discouraged Student



To a discouraged student,

You're discouraged.  I know you are.  Your heart sunk when you saw the grade. But that letter grade doesn't define you.  You did your best... but no one knows, and no one seems to care.  You studied... but your teacher doesn't think so.  She doesn't know what happened at your house last night.  She doesn't know why you didn't get much sleep.

You've never made the honor roll, but you have worked harder for your "C" than some of those other kids worked for their "A". You're kind, but the teacher doesn't have a rubric for kindness.  You smile every morning, but facial expressions don't go in the grade book. You gave a pencil to your classmate, but that didn't earn you any points. You're always on time, and you're never in trouble, but there wasn't a question on the test about that.   I'm sorry we care so much about that letter grade.  It certainly does not represent your hopes, goals, and dreams.  I'm sorry you're embarrassed when the teacher handed the papers back.  You're gonna be fine.  You have potential that is not measured by that last test.  You have gifts that were not assessed by that last quiz.  You didn't make the honor roll... but I still think you're a neat kid.

You're bored, and it's hard for you to care about assignments that don't have anything to do with your life.  You're good at things the teacher doesn't seem to care about.  You're passionate about things that aren't on the syllabus.  You're tired of being compared to those around you. You feel like you don't measure up -- like you are inadequate.  But your grade does not reflect your IQ or your worth.  It is arbitrary.   I'm sorry that the grade is so important to all the adults.  After you graduate, no one will care about that grade.  They will care if you work hard; they will care how you work with other people; they will care about many things... but they will not ask you about your GPA. You may not feel like a good student, but you will be a valuable employee.  You will be a wonderful neighbor. You will be a great citizen.

You're discouraged... but I want you to know I care.  I want you to know I believe in you.  I want you to know that you have a bright future. You have talents and gifts that we may not even know about yet. We haven't found out how to measure them.

But you have them.

One size does not fit all, and I'm sorry we have not figured that out. You are amazing... and your worth will never be encapsulated by a letter grade.  So please don't give up.  Albert Einstein said, "If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live it's whole life believing it is stupid." I'm sorry you feel so judged.  I'm sorry we keep giving you trees to climb. If you're a fish, forget about the tree -- just keep swimming.

                                                                                  I'm in your corner ...                                                                                
                                                                                  Danny Steele

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

5 Ways to Raise Teacher Morale


You may have heard it said, "We're here for the kids... not the teachers."  You may have even said it.

It's true.  We are here for the kids.  Students are the reason that schools exist, and every decision should be driven by the needs and interests of the children.  However, don't make the mistake of thinking that student needs and teachers interests are mutually exclusive propositions.  I would actually argue that they are inextricably linked.  To put it simply, happy teachers are more effective teachers.  In fact, the morale of your faculty is an important component of a strong school culture.

Here's the good news: it's not that hard to raise the morale of your teachers!  But it usually doesn't happen by accident; you must be intentional about it.

Here are 5 ways you can raise the morale of your teachers:

Keep your teachers focused on the difference they are making for kids.   Being a teacher is a profoundly gratifying career.  It's easy to get bogged down in the administrivia, though.  The daily grind of planning lessons, grading papers, and dealing with the knuckleheads can sap the energy and joy from teachers. We need to remind our teachers why we come to work each day.  We keep the focus on our students and not the "hassles" of the job.  We remind our teachers about the difference that they make in the lives of their students. Our teachers are heroes in the classroom every day, and we never want to overlook that.  When we help teachers keep their eye on the ball, they are more likely to keep their head in the game.  When teachers remember their "why," it can carry them through the stresses of their day.

Involve your teachers in the decisions of the school.  In my experience, teachers are more motivated when their administration leads collaboratively.  When teachers are involved in the decisions of the school, they are more invested in the process.  When their opinions are valued, they feel valued.  Listen to the feedback of your teachers... and take it seriously. When teachers feel included in the decision making process, they will take ownership of the entire school, not just their classroom.

Trust the judgment of your teachers.  Teachers are professionals.  Treat them like professionals.  Respect their experiences, and respect their expertise. I realize that principals are responsible for the entire school and are ultimately accountable for everything that happens.  But micromanagement is the quickest way to destroy the morale of a faculty. Give your teachers an opportunity to prove themselves. Good leaders will quickly learn which staff members require closer supervision.

Give your teachers the benefit of the doubt.  Trust is foundational to any healthy school culture. When you are frustrated with something a teacher said or did, assume that they had good intentions. Don't start off being judgmental. When your default setting is to give teachers the benefit of the doubt, it will not go unnoticed. Your teachers will feel supported, respected, and valued.

Notice the little things your teachers do... and recognize them for it.  Praise your teachers often.  Give them shout outs in front of their colleagues.  Thank them for the little things they do that make a difference for their students, for their colleagues, and for the school.  Be specific, and be genuine.  Never take your teachers, or the important work they do, for granted.

As teacher morale increases, so will the positive energy in the building.  Students will notice it; parents will notice it; and anyone who visits the building will notice it.  In my world, there is never a time when teacher morale is irrelevant.  I strongly believe that teachers who feel good about coming to work and who feel good about the work they do, will be more effective employees.  They will bring a higher level of energy into the their classroom, and they will demonstrate greater resiliency when confronted with adversity.  And the kids will benefit!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Statues, Empathy, and a Path Forward


On occasion I have asked both students and teachers: "Is it more important to be right... or to be reconciled?" As educators, we understand the importance of relationships. James Comer noted, "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship."  Without a doubt, effective school leaders understand the importance of building positive relationships within a school building. Sometimes, relationships get broken, and as a principal, I am wired for reconciliation. I want aggravated parents to be on the same page with their child's teacher. I want quarreling students to work through their differences.  And when I realize I have inadvertently alienated a staff member, I work hard to mend that fence. The personal quality that goes the furthest toward achieving reconciliation... is empathy.

This is sort of a letter to my fellow Americans who want to preserve the Confederate monuments. I feel compelled to write it because much of what I've seen and heard lately reflects a lack of understanding of the emotions on the other side. (I choose to believe that it is a lack of understanding and not a total indifference. An "indifference" would bring me too much sadness.)  It is my belief that we will never achieve reconciliation without an attempt to understand.

[If your goal is not reconciliation, I guess you can stop reading -- this post is not for you --- you and I don't share the same core values, and more than likely, my writing will not resonate with you.  This post is intended for people who care about other humans, who desire a brighter future for our country, and who want to make the world a better place.]

Statues are not just about "history." They are about a specific kind of history ... the history that we want to honor -- the history that we want to celebrate.  Make no mistake about it -- slavery is an ugly stain in our country’s history.  And the racism and discrimination that persisted after the Civil War has left a tragic legacy with which we are still dealing.  The South fought the Civil War to preserve the institution of  slavery.  I actually have ancestors who fought for the confederacy. But they were on the wrong side of history, and they should not be honored.  Robert E. Lee's statues need to come down because there is no redeeming value to his historical contributions.

To those who would argue that the removal of Confederate monuments puts us on a “slippery slope” that will eventually lead to the removal of statues of our founding fathers and the blotting out of our history, please reflect for a moment.  History books tell us what history we should remember; statues tell us what people in that history we should revere. MLK was unfaithful to his wife, but we still have statues of him because he was and is a revered leader of the Civil Rights Movement. His legacy... his contribution to history, has nothing to do with his marriage. Thomas Jefferson had slaves, so his character was flawed to be sure.  But we honor him with statues because he made contributions to our history that transcend his moral failings with respect to slavery.  Taking down statues does not erase our history; it simply clarifies our national values and underscores our capacity for redemption. Removing certain historical monuments is not “rewriting history”; it is redefining what it is in our history that we honor.

In a very difficult moment in our nation's history, Robert F. Kennedy said, "But we have to make an effort in the United States.  We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond ... ."    To those of you who don’t see what the big deal is, I would encourage you to consider how Confederate monuments are perceived by African Americans.  What you see as a harmless statue, others see as a reminder of the unspeakable evil that was visited upon their ancestors... and is still visited upon them, as they live in a society that honors those who owned their ancestors. The bigotry and racism that still confront many African Americans is a testament to the fact that the monuments don't just point to an ugly past... but a painful present.  As long as those monuments stand,  we will not be reconciled with the darkest chapter of our history.

I want to work in a school that is characterized by empathy and a collective commitment to understanding one another. I want to live in a country that reminds me of my school. As school leaders, we build a stronger culture within our building when we work to restore relationships that are broken.  As citizens, we make our country stronger when we demonstrate empathy toward those whose heritage may be different than ours.  This is not a post about politics. It is a post about people...  about relationships… and about the values we want to define us as a country. It is my hope that all of my comments are constructive. Please don't make any political comments on this.  If you want to engage in some dialogue, feel free to call me or send me a message.  Peace.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

What Makes You So Awesome?


What makes you so awesome? This is not a sarcastic question, and it is not "tongue in cheek." I am choosing to assume that you are awesome.  (Clearly, you are committed to getting better at what you do because you are taking time to read this in the middle of your summer. That's a little bit of awesomeness right there!)  What we choose to assume about people matters.

What if you asked your colleagues what makes them so awesome?  When you ask this in all sincerity, what would your question communicate to them? What might their answer communicate to you? What might it communicate to any staff members who were listening?

Many organizations approach the improvement process by identifying weaknesses or areas of need and then working on those.  I remember learning about another theory in graduate school.  It's called "appreciative inquiry", and it represents a very different approach to the process. With this model, the strategy is to identify areas of strength and then work to capitalize on them.  Celebrate what is already awesome, and figure out how to replicate it. I think this approach always resonated with me because it taps into what motivates people: PRIDE.  When people feel good about who they are and what they do, they are much more likely to work harder.  Increased job satisfaction usually translates into increased job performance.

You have colleagues who are awesome, but they are reserved, and they go below the radar. They certainly don't walk around tooting their own horn.  We need to create opportunities for these folks to share their talents and passion.  You have other colleagues who don't have much confidence, and they don't view themselves as awesome.  We need to build them up. If we validate them relentlessly, over time, they will begin to view themselves differently -- and act differently.  Moreover, I've learned that when you assume good things about your colleagues, it serves to strengthen relationships.  It reinforces a culture of trust and cultivates mutual respect.  It characterizes the type of staff of which I want to be a part.

Try embracing this mindset as you are interacting with others on a daily basis.  Each staff member adds value; each staff member has something to offer; and each staff member makes the organization stronger because of their contribution.

Michael Jordan was a great basketball player in the 80's -- even winning an MVP award. But his team didn't start winning championships until the 90's.  That is when he started making the players around him better.  As we work each day to make a difference in our organization, we remind ourselves that the adults in the building are our most important resource.  We identify what makes those adults awesome; we validate that "awesomeness" at every turn... and we let them shine.  We're not interested in individual MVP awards; we're interested in team championships!

And if I run into you at a conference, I would love to hear what makes you awesome.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What Great Teachers Know About KIDS



It's about the kids.  It's always about the kids.

Some kids act apathetic.  It’s an act.  Every kid cares about something… and great teachers try to figure out what it is.

Some kids come to school ready to learn… and some not so much.  Great teachers come to school ready to make a difference with all of them.

Kids are much more likely to remember how you taught than what you taught.
  
Classroom management is not about having the right rules FOR kids… it’s about having the right relationships WITH kids.

Great teachers remember that not every kid is looking forward to summer break.  For some kids, school is the safest place there is.

Very few kids engaged in a lesson have ever misbehaved.  I’m just sayin’.
  
Kids sometimes do stupid stuff in class, but great teachers don’t sweat the shenanigans. They’re too busy teaching and building relationships.

The kids might not remember how much work you put into your class. But they will always remember how much heart you put into your class.

It’s quite possible that the kids you like the least, are the ones who need you the most.
    
When teachers love their jobs, kids notice.  When teachers are counting down the days, kids notice.  It turns out, kids notice a lot!

Some kids dream of trying to change the world… and some are just trying to make it through the day.  The best teachers meet the kids right where they are.

Not all the kids have hope… and great teachers get it. They realize their job is bigger than any lesson plan or standardized test.

Kids don’t usually remember lessons for a long time. But they remember kindness… and humor… and joy. Great teachers have those qualities in spades.
  
Kids don’t gravitate to subjects… they gravitate to teachers.

Great teachers know that when they show up to work… happy to be there, they’ve significantly increased the likelihood that the students will have a great day.

Before you can win their mind, you generally have to win their heart.

The kids in the school usually know which adults love being there.  Kids are perceptive.  You can’t fake it.

When kids misbehave, it’s not because they like being in trouble.  Great teachers get that. They don’t lower the bar; they seek to understand.
  
As a rule of thumb, kids like the teachers who really like them.  So it’s kind of important to like the kids.

Some kids are a bright spot in their teacher's day.  And some kids need a teacher to be a bright spot in their day.
   
Struggling kids don’t make it because they are in the right class.  They make it because they have the right teacher.
     
Some kids are nervous about going to school.  Great teachers understand that a smile, a high five, or a quiet conversation can change the trajectory of a kid's bad day.
     
Kids are not complicated.  They like to feel supported, encouraged, and valued -- same as teachers.

It’s good to know the content.  It’s great to know the pedagogy.  It’s imperative to know the kids.

The best teachers never forgot what it was like to be a kid.
   
Teachers did not get into education to raise test scores… but to make a difference in the lives of kids.  And that makes them heroes!
                                               
                                               Danny Steele
                                                    @SteeleThoughts


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Things That Principals Know About Great Teachers


I have had the privilege of working with many great teachers.  These are some things that are true about them:

Great teachers don't always have the best lessons.  But they always have the best relationships with kids.

Great teachers understand that developing the right classroom climate is a prerequisite to teaching the right lesson.

When a lesson does not go as planned, great teachers are not looking around the room... they are looking in the mirror.

Great teachers always come to class ready to teach... but they are mindful of the fact that not all students come to class ready to learn.

Great teachers understand the power of human connection, so they are diligent about building relationships with their students.  They are even relentless about connecting with the knuckleheads.

Great teachers don't show up for WORK... they show up for KIDS!  It's a passion -- not a job.

Great teachers understand the "Golden Rule" for educators: Teach every child the way you would want your own child to be taught.

Great teachers are not intent on winning "battles" with the students.  They understand that if there is a battle in the classroom, nobody wins.

Great teachers define their success by the success of their students.  They understand it's not about the teaching... it's about the learning.

Great teachers are not defined by their lesson plans... they are defined by their passion.

Great teachers are in it for the kids.  It's not about the lesson plan, the rules, or the massive paycheck. It's always about the kids.

Great teachers will spend some time this summer thinking about how they can improve their lessons next year.  That's just what they do.

Kids leave their class feeling better about themselves... because great teachers understand there is more to teaching than delivering instruction.

Great teachers are never victims of "slacker kids." They refuse to let those students get away without doing the work.

Great teachers are not driven by courses of study... they are driven by the faces in front of them.

Great teachers can look past the bad attitude.  They realize there's always something else going on.

Great teachers did not become great by accident.  They became great because they made a decision that being "good" was not enough.

All teachers have bad days.  Great teachers never lose perspective, and they refuse to let their personal drama undermine the positive energy in the classroom.

Great teachers are always in pursuit of a better lesson.  They demand the same excellence of themselves that they work for in their kids.

Our world is a better place because of the passion and dedication of great teachers everywhere.  They inspire me daily.