Monday, January 30, 2017

February Motivation: "My Awesome Colleagues!"

It is something of a paradox that the shortest month of the year can seem like the longest.  February can be a hard month -- for students and teachers.  So we're going to try an idea at my school in an attempt to inject a little bit of positive energy into each day of the month.

This morning I sent the following email out to my staff:


We don't do our job for pats on the back... but they are so nice when they come.  You all have awesome colleagues who deserve to be recognized.  So here's our little project:

Today I will be giving you the names of 4-5 staff members.  By Friday I would like for you to email me something that you admire about each one of them.  The goal is to make these compliments as sincere and authentic as possible.  I have tried to give you names that are "logical." I realize you know some colleagues better than others.  If you have questions or need help, please talk to me ... or do a little research on your own.

All of this will be anonymous.  Please do not reveal your names to anyone, and when your colleagues receive their encouraging words, they will not know who they are from.  Do your best to structure your compliment in a way that preserves the anonymity.

Please email me your compliments by Friday.  In the subject line of your email, write: "my awesome colleagues."



The math: We have 39 staff members, and I'll be receiving about 119 complements (3 per staff member). There are 19 school days in February.  (My support staff will be receiving complements, but I did not ask them to write any.)  It is my plan to send out an email every morning with 5-6 complements for various staff members.  The subject line will simply say: "My awesome colleagues?"  The emails will go to the entire staff, so every morning, teachers can read some kind words about their colleagues. And every staff member will know that three days during the month of February an email will appear in their inbox that contains the kind words that one of their colleagues wrote about them. Encouraging words can go a long way.  It is my goal that our staff will not just survive the month of February... but we will thrive!

I know that you too, work with some great colleagues.  Never miss an opportunity to tell your co-workers how awesome they are.  Encouraging words go a long way.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Pencil... a Phone Call... and a Mom's Tears

It was a phone call that I will not soon forget.

This year I set a goal of making 100 positive phone calls home by the 100th day of school. I asked my teachers to let me know when they had a student they wanted to brag on. Last week, a teacher emailed me about a student she was proud of. This particular student was always coming to class unprepared. The teacher and student had a "heart to heart" conversation, and since then, the student has been bringing her pencil to class everyday.  I know that coming to class prepared is a big deal, and it can certainly be aggravating to a teacher always to be loaning pencils. Our students after all, need to be responsible. But I'll admit, I was a bit reluctant to call mom about something as petty as bringing a pencil to class.

I called the student down to my office to give her a high five, and despite my misgivings, I called mom. I told her how proud her daughter's teacher was of her for bringing a pencil every day.  The mom started crying. Through her tears, she said, "My daughter struggles in school. Thank you so much for telling me this." I had to end the conversation quickly because I didn't want to start crying in front of our sixth grader.  I hung up the phone, and the student's eyes were wet too. I could tell she was proud.

So this pencil was not petty; it was huge.

This phone call reinforced two important lessons for me:

First, teachers have tremendous power to brighten a student's day.  And through a quick phone call to a parent, they can bring some sunshine into their life as well.  Do not leave compliments left unsaid. When we're proud of our kids, we should tell them. When they're making progress, we should encourage them.  They will remember our kind words longer than they will remember our lesson.  We are not just offering our students an education; we are offering them hope.

And second, when we struggle with students, there is a good chance that parents experience those same struggles. There are parents who are nervous every time they put their kids on the bus; they experience a little bit of anxiety every time they drop their students off at school. They are wondering... 

"Will he get in trouble again today?"

"Will anyone sit with her at lunch?"

"Will the kids mess with him in the hallway?

"Will she forget her pencil again?"

There are some students for whom school is not a good experience, and parents share in that struggle with their child. They experience it through the silence in the car, through the constant "stomach aches" in the morning, and sometimes through the very real tears.  These students need our attention, they need our patience, and they need our love.  Educators make a difference for students every day, and as it turns out... they make a difference for parents too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A HOPE that Transcends Test Scores

At the beginning of this school year, our staff members wrote their hopes for our students on the wall outside of our main office. This included our teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, maintenance technician -- everyone.  These hopes are not for higher test scores or fewer tardies.  They are not hopes for completed homework or straight "A's". They are the hopes that inspired teachers to enter the profession. They are the passions that reflect our collective desire to make a difference in the lives of our kids.  They are the reasons we come to work.

This is what we hope:

My hope for students is that they believe in themselves and have the courage to follow their hearts.

I hope that all our students feel valued and supported and that they learn skills and values that extend far beyond sixth grade.

I hope students realize how much potential they have.

I hope all my students use their special "gift" to help others.

My hope is for my students to know that I love them and truly believe in them.  I hope they learn to love a challenge.

My hope for all students is that they treat each other with respect.

My dream is that all students remember this school because of positive experiences.

It's my hope that every student at TSGC would understand the value of failure.  Failure is an event, not a destiny.  It's our greatest stage from which to learn.

I hope that all our students have an amazing year!

I hope that each student will be kind and respect each other's differences.

My hope is for my students to know I care about them and what is important to them.

My hope is that my students embrace the opportunity to grow every day.

My hope is that my students know they are valued and have a purpose.

My hope is that all students learn to love and value their individuality.

My hope is that I can inspire my students to do great things.

I hope my students become self-confident, self-starting learners.

I hope my students know how much we all care about them and want them to succeed.

My hope is that every student knows how special they are.

My hope is that every student feels accepted and is successful at TSGC.

I hope all of my students show respect and acceptance to each other's individualities.

My hope for my students is to develop a love for learning and build positive relationships.

I want my students to try new things, talk to new people, and learn something new about themselves.

I hope every student feels valued safe and important.

My hope for every student is to grow academically and feel loved when they leave here in May.

My hope is that our students develop empathy for others.

I want my students to leave our classroom as better readers, writers, thinkers, and speakers.

My dream is for my students to feel confident in their math skills and to leave with a smile every day.

My dream for my students is that they feel safe, confident, and welcomed in my classroom.

I hope every kid knows how much I love them.

My hope is that every student aim for the moon!

I hope each student has a healthy and happy school year.

I hope our kids reach for the stars and know we are always there for them.

I hope all my students know that I care about each and every one of them. I also hope that they will be excited to come to my class and motivated to learn.

These are our hopes for our students. 

There are those who would like to quantify the success of schools. But there is no checklist or rubric that adequately captures what a teacher means in the life of a child.  The work of teachers cannot be measured by the metrics of policy makers.  And while I am proud of the dedication of our staff, I know that these hopes are not unique to our teachers.  There are teachers everywhere who work tirelessly to build brighter futures for children. I cannot think of a more noble profession.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Stuff I Learned as a Young Teacher

Teachers generally become more effective with experience.  There are little pearls that you pick up along the way that make a big difference with your practice.  Here is some stuff that I wish I understood as a young teacher (along with pictures from my first few years in the classroom)

 It all starts with classroom management. And classroom management is not about having the right rules; it's about having the right relationships.

Kids can tell if you like them.

The students will usually finish the assignment quicker than you thought they would.

Don't expect kids to care about the lesson if you are not passionate about teaching it.

Students will remember how you treated them longer than they will remember your lesson.

It's important to stand at your door in between classes... for so many reasons.

The kids will always notice your enthusiasm.

You have to like all your students.  But the the ones who really annoy you... those are the ones you need to love.

Kids will become disrespectful if you embarrass them.  So don't do that.

When a student acts out, it is usually the result of an unmet need.  "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs" explains a great deal about discipline issues in the classroom.

You have no clue what a kid is dealing with at home.  Always be kind. Always be patient. Always be gracious.

Students know when it's busy work.  If you don't have a good plan, it would be more constructive to let your students take a nap. (Most kids are behind on sleep.)

Always have a good plan.

Students will ask some great questions that might not be on topic.  Don't  forfeit a "teachable moment" for the sake of your lesson plan.

If you're having difficulty with a student's behavior, try calling the student at home.  That will serve two purposes: it lets the kid know how serious you are about the issue, and the fact that you didn't get them in trouble by asking for mom or dad creates some good will in your relationship.

Students are capable of more than you thought.  Keep your expectations high.

Homework is not usually worth it.

Group work is not effective if you leave the groups unattended.  This is not a day to sit at your desk. It's imperative that you circulate between groups to ensure that kids stay engaged and the activity is productive.

When a student is disrespectful to you, don't take it personally.  That will only escalate the situation.

One of the best ways to win over kids is not to treat them like kids.

When you ask the class if there are any questions, and no one raises their hand, that does NOT mean everyone understands.

Your students will forget most of the content you teach them, (even the "A" students).  Deal with it. Focus on teaching skills that transcend the curriculum.

Kids are sneaky about picking on other kids. Keep your head on a swivel and make your room a safe place for every student.

If you say something that you shouldn't have, apologize to the student... or sometimes to the entire class.

If you mess up, own up to it.  Students appreciate authenticity, and they admire your vulnerability.

Be silly sometimes.  It makes class more fun for everyone.

On days that you don't really want to be in class, I guarantee your students don't want to be there.

Zeros are stupid and serve no useful purpose.  Don't put them in your grade book.  Stay on kids until they do the work.

Handle unacceptable behavior immediately and decisively. And remember that everything you say and do either undermines or enhances your authority.

You can get a lot of mileage out of whispering.  (This goes back to the "embarrassment" thing.)

You will not be defined by your lesson plan; you will be defined by your passion.

An authentic "fist bump" when the kids enter the room can do more to set the tone than a routine "bell ringer."

Learn every name as fast as you can.  This matters -- for many reasons.

Don't punish the whole class for something that one goofy kid did.

Every kid cares about something.  Do not be fooled by the facade of apathy.  

Figure out little ways for students to be successful.  Success generates pride, and pride is the best motivator.

Take risks in the classroom.  You will never become awesome by staying safe.

Hang out with other teachers.  You can get ridiculously cool ideas from your colleagues

I wish I knew these things when I was younger.  

And to all those who are just starting their teaching career, as well as to those who have been at it a while: keep on keepin' on.  I admire what you do, and never forget the difference that you are making in the lives of your students.