My Secret Talent

My Secret Talent

I am the designated finder of all lost things in my family.

I live with three males, not that I am stereotyping all males as inept finders. It is probably just the guys I live with. They cannot find anything. Even if it is right in front of them. Like the milk in the fridge. Seriously.

I have come to pride myself as a talented finder. Every time one of my guys is in the depths of despair because of a lost a phone, wallet, beloved treasure, car keys, etc. I feel a swelling of self-satisfaction as I come to his rescue.

On another note, I am also addicted to true-crime podcasts. I love learning things like the logic a dive team follows as they attempt to search a lake for a body. I am so intrigued by all the seemingly-minor details and how they tie together to form a lead.

What do my incredible talent for finding things and my addiction to true-crime podcasts have in common? In both instances, we follow the data.

When I am in the process of finding something, I gather data-points. In contrast, my sons and my husband start searching in a willy-nilly fashion, frantically moving from room to room. Meanwhile, I step back and gather data by asking questions.

  • When did you last use your wallet?
  • Where were you?
  • What did you do immediately following that?
  • When do you last remember seeing your wallet?
  • What were you wearing when you last saw your wallet?
  • Where are those pants?

I also draw on my prior knowledge of similar situations. As you can imagine, I have a plethora of similar situations to draw upon. I ask myself, where did I find the wallet the last time? Where does he usually keep his wallet?

My husband will so often say, “There is no way my wallet (keys, phone, travel coffee mug, etc.) could be there.” But when you follow the data, you often surprise yourself with what you find.

Of course, as a principal, I began thinking about how this translates into our work with students. Do we follow data-points to help us help students? Or do we frantically move from Pinterest idea to Teachers-Pay-Teachers idea to new-fangled program, crossing our fingers and hoping that one of them works?

In this case, I am not referring to standardized test results. That data is “easy data”–we can easily use the results to see what our students showed they know and don’t know. The data I am talking about is the more elusive “then what?” data. How do we help students develop mastery once we have established what they don’t know?

To begin looking at “then what?” data, maybe we could ask similar types of questions.

  • What worked for this student in the past?
  • What strategy worked best to help similar students practice this skill to the point of mastery?
  • What helps me as a learner to develop competency in skills?
  • What strengths does the student have, and could we utilize a strength to help develop this skill?
  • What interests does the student have and would tying an interest to this skill be helpful for him/her?
  • What does the research tell us about student learning? What practices might give us the biggest bang for the buck?

As with everything, relationships are key. We have to have positive and trusting relationships in order to get good data. If I asked my husband where he last used his wallet and he didn’t want to tell me where he was, I am going to get useless data. For our students, it’s the same. If we ask a student about a time he/she practiced a skill to mastery and how he/she did that, the strength of the relationship will determine the usefulness of the student’s response.

I don’t think I was born with my finding talent, I think I developed it and honed it out of necessity. My secret talent isn’t something as impressive as, say, Danny Bonaduce‘s skill on a unicycle, but it does give me job security at home and it comes in pretty handy at school.

Follow the data. Not just the easy data, like which learning standards students don’t know. Follow the “then what?” data to figure out how we help students with the what.

Image source HERE

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Do Less This Year, Allowing Students To Do More

Do Less This Year, Allowing Students To Do More

Summer is a great time to recharge, reflect, and learn for educators. Based on your reflection and learning this summer, what are your goals for your classroom this year? And, how are you going to get there?

Based on my learning this summer, I developed a list of five simple ways to increase learning in your classroom while empowering students. Not only will the students reap great benefits, but these goals will help teachers stay engaged and excited about student learning.

  • Talk way less so that student voices can be heard. Whoever is doing the talking is doing the thinking, and teachers are smart enough. Let students do the talking and the thinking. Don’t just decrease teacher talk a little, decrease it dramatically while increasing the number of open-ended questions you ask exponentially.
  • Be curiosity-based. Explore your own curiosities and let that fuel your passion for learning. Then, allow students to do the same. Start as many sentences as possible with, “I wonder…” or, “I am curious about…”. Start questions with, “What are you wondering about…” or, “What are you curious about…”
  • Focus on what students are doing rather than what you are doing, and let that determine your effectiveness as a teacher. Are students cognitively engaged? Are they enthusiastic about their learning? How do you know, what evidence do you have that suggests that? It is not about a ‘show’ you put on–it is about what is going on in their heads.
  • Try something new regularly. If you are super ambitious, try something new every week. If you are a little more cautious, try one new thing a month. It could be a new technology tool, a great idea for helping students practice a skill, or a relationship-building strategy. Don’t be afraid of failure, not all your new ideas will be winners. Some may flop, but that is okay because you have a new thing to try just around the corner.
  • Help students set goals and track their progress toward the goal. It is empowering and motivating, and allows students to ‘own’ their learning. Not only that, research has proven over and over that when students set goals and track their progress, achievement increases. If you are just starting to have students set goals and track them, start small with just one subject. Build success and grow from there.

I am a principal, and my own goals this year mirror these classroom goals, just replace ‘students’ with ‘teachers’. I always see myself as a path-clearer and a thinking partner for the teachers I work with. This year, I will work to support them in exploring curiosities, trying new things, and empowering student voice.

Looking forward to our best year in education yet! Yay school!

I am not awesome. Yet.

I am not awesome. Yet.

I walked out of the grocery store knowing that I forgot something. I always forget something, even when I make a list. I never remember my reusable grocery bags either. I usually end up sweaty and flustered by the end of the shopping trip. Today was no exception.

As I loaded the groceries into my trunk, I looked over at the woman parked next to me. Not only did she have her groceries perfectly bagged into reusable grocery bags, she was loading all of her refrigerated and frozen foods into empty coolers she had waiting for that very purpose. She was humming peacefully, looking calm and ready to tackle a day full of productivity. 

I looked away, wiped my sweaty brow, and said to myself, “I want to be her when I grow up. #lifegoals.” 

I didn’t concern myself too much that she was probably younger than me. Also, when did I start talking to myself in hashtags?

I am not awesome. Yet.

I have my very own workbench in our pole barn. It is super cute and very functional. I used it like three times in the month after I got it before it became piled over with stuff. I want to be crafty and Pinterest-y, I really do. But, my creativity waxes and wanes.

I am not awesome. Yet.

My house is usually pretty clean and organized. But my car? Forgettaboutit. A disaster always.

I start each day with goals for how I will eat and exercise. I’d say there is a 75/25 chance I will come close to accomplishing my goals, as in 25% of the time I am remotely successful.

I am terribly uncoordinated. Just ask my friend who allowed me to drive her dinghy the other day–I don’t think she intended for me to nearly drive it into the cottage next door.

I try not to be mean to others, but sometimes I get caught up in thinking about myself first and am inadvertently hurtful.

I am not awesome. Yet. Sometimes I just plain stink (figuratively only I hope). Why do I tell you this? To help us all to fight a disease that affects so many–the pursuit of perfection. I will never be perfect, I don’t even want to be. That would be so boring and give me so much less to laugh about.

I will try to be a little bit better every day. I will try to make sure my failures and short-comings don’t interrupt my enjoyment of life or the lives of the people around me. These #lifegoals will happen…but, the empty cooler in the trunk for groceries is waaayyy out of my league.

To laugh at yourself is to love yourself. -Mickey Mouse

Special thanks to my friend Adolf Brown for teaching me and others that the pursuit of perfection is a disease. What a weight off the shoulders!

A Poem for Principals

A Poem for Principals

So begins another school year
The smiles on our faces bright and clear

Excitement abounds at the possibilities embed
In a brand new year, a fresh start ahead

As the thrill wears off and the honeymoon ends
Let's compel each principal to carefully attend

To both the positive, exciting news teachers share
And the frustrations and criticisms they have because they care

They care about doing the very best for learning
And sometimes the feedback they give us is concerning

Don't dismiss complaints with a wave of the hand
Citing grumpiness or tiredness or unweilding demands

Listen to your teachers with an open mind and heart
Be a team, through good and bad, that no one can part

So begins another school year
The smiles on our faces bright and clear

Honest discussions, no right and no wrong
Echo through the hallways all year long

So that on the very last day of the year,
Surprisingly, we have to wipe away a tear

Because we cannot believe how much was accomplished
When really working together, the results astonished

Image source HERE

What will you ask your students the first day of school?

What will you ask your students the first day of school?

Quincy Elementary staff (the best school staff on the face of the planet, in my unbiased opinion) was inspired this week by Aaron Baker’s widely shared blog post titled “How Was Your Summer“. Mr. Baker reminds us that not all students have an amazing summer filled with frolic and adventure. So, we started sharing questions we ask to build relationships and honor our students their first day back to school. Here are some of our alternative first day of school questions:

  • Hi honey, can you remind me of your name again?
    • Note–this is the only question that is age-dependent. The older the teacher, the increased likelihood that this is the first question they ask students. Just kidding! However, we cannot dismiss the importance of this simple question and learning student names.
  • What are you excited about in our upcoming year?
  • What is one thing you would love to learn about or do this year?
    • Bonus–make a list of what each child says and surprise them sometime in the first weeks of school by reading a book that is on their topic or incorporate the activity they love to do.
  • Read The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown to students and have students write a note to their teacher about what makes them important.
  • What are you curious about?
  • What goal do you hope to accomplish this year?
  • What is the most important thing for me to know about you?
  • Have parents write a “letter to the teacher” about the things they love the most about their children. Share them with the students.
  • Tell me about a time you were brave. Then, allow student sharing to evolve into a discussion about how learning through failure and mistakes is brave and expected.
  • Make an ‘experts list’ by asking your students what they are experts in, and then list things they can’t do YET. Refer back to the lists throughout the year.
  • What is something you’d like me to know about you?
  • Read the book Ish by Peter Reynolds to spark a class discussion on how ‘getting it right’ looks different for everyone.
  • What goal(s) do you have for yourself this year?

We think it would be great for teachers to model answering the questions to help students learn what their teacher values. Principals, you are not off the hook either–how about empowering staff by asking them to share the most important thing for you to know about them, so you can support them throughout the school year?

I had the honor to learn from Mark Wilson (@MarkWilsonGA) and Joe Sanfelippo (@JoeSanfelippoFC) the other day, and appreciated their perspective that this upcoming school year is but a dot on the educational journey of our students. They asked us how we might honor their entire journey by learning our students’ stories.

Thank you Mark, Joe, and Aaron for inspiring us to turn it up a notch in order to value our students’ journeys beginning the very first day of school.

What will you ask your students the first day of school?

 

Just One Reason Why

Just One Reason Why

With some free time in July, I finally watched 13 Reasons Why. My 15-year-old son watched the series when it came out in the spring, and I was interested in discussing the series and the controversy surrounding it with him.

One of the concerns that arose was that mental health was not addressed strongly enough, and mental health resources were not provided within the story. I am not a mental health expert by any means so I will not address that concern. My knowledge lies more in the area of relationships.

As I reflected on the series, my thoughts kept going back to something that Dr. William Glasser taught us so many years ago. The most important thing in your life, right now, is not your past and it’s not your future. It’s the relationships you have in your life right now.

Are those relationships supporting you in meeting your needs for belonging, freedom, power, fun, and survival? Or, are those relationships interfering with you meeting your needs?

Dr. Glasser said that having strong, healthy, positive relationships can help you overcome just about anything. Actually, it’s not relationships–it’s relationship. Just one strong, healthy, positive relationship can help pull you through. Just one.

Just one. That doesn’t seem so hard. Then why is it so hard?

Maybe it is because we are innately selfish creatures, we humans. Maybe we are typically worried about ourselves rather than each other? Worried about how we are feeling rather than how others feel. Worried about how something might impact us rather than how something is impacting someone else. Worried about our reputation, what people will think of us, rather than focusing on the person right in front of us. Do we focus on our preconceived notion of how things should be rather than figuring out how things actually are?

I know I am all of these things.

How do we overcome this selfishness?

We let go of ourselves sometimes. Let go of our preconceived notion of how things should be. Let go of worry about ourselves and focus on the person right in front of us. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Be there, physically and mentally.

Who is your one? Who provides that relationship that grounds you to the very core of who you are?

And…

Who are you ‘the one’ for? Who do you support no matter what? Who do you try to empathize with, uplift, be with, completely understand?

All we need is one. All we need is one.

Image source HERE