Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tubing on the lake, and how it mirrors teachers

Last weekend, I noticed a big change in my daughter and her attitude toward tubing.  My daughter is 14 and has always enjoyed the lake home my brother-in-law owns.  There is a pool which she enjoys with her friends and family and of course there is the lake.  We have gone on many boat rides and some of them have involved tubing behind the boat.  Her confidence in tubing has progressed throughout the years and this progression made me think about how tubing is like teaching.

The early years
My daughter's first tubing experience was with me.  She and I sat in the tube together when she was very little and I remember her falling asleep in my arms.  She was obviously very comfortable with her daddy right there with her but it wasn't a very risky ride.  She was relaxed to the point of sleeping.

This comfortable state is one we find ourselves in from time to time.  It's easy to do those things we know are safe, but sometimes this can put our students, and us, to sleep.  The students are in need of engaging teachers and the lessons they provide.  But that can be difficult because it's risky and unknown.

She's growing up
As my daughter has grown up, she no longer needed me in the tube with her and I became her driver.  She didn't tube alone yet.  She would tube with her cousins and friends but she didn't like going outside of the wake.  She smiled and laughed and seemed to be enjoying herself, but the risk involved in going outside of the wake was something she wasn't ready for just yet.

This testing of the waters (no pun intended) is the beginning of taking risks with our lessons and our students.  It can be scary, but it is exciting at the same time.  We notice our students becoming more engaged in our lessons and have an extra sense of pride in our new ideas.

Last weekend
My daughter and her cousin enjoyed the tube rides they had last weekend.  They are just like sisters and enjoy each others company.  And when her cousin suggested going tubing, my daughter was "all in".  The tube ride lasted for nearly a half an hour, and most of the time was spent outside of the wake!  That was a huge step for my daughter and, aside from being a bit sore, she had a fantastic time.  She took a risk with someone she trusts and I'm sure that it will lead to her taking more risks on her own.  I was still her driver, but the tow rope seemed longer and she was more willing to step out of her comfort zone.

This risk taking, with someone she trusts, is something we can all do as educators.  Trying something new with a colleague and actually sharing the risks involved can make the risk taking not seem so scary.  And the risk doesn't need to be that big to change the engagement level of our students.

Next steps
As the summer winds down, I'm sure that my daughter will be more confident in her tubing opportunities.  She might try tubing on her own, or try it with her friends, or maybe she won't.  Whatever the outcome, she feels more comfortable taking a risk that she wasn't comfortable with even just two months ago.  But she tried something new and she enjoyed it.

These next steps are the same for educators.  Maybe we'll try something new on our own or maybe we'll try something with a colleague or maybe we won't.  The progression and comfort with taking risks and trying something new is different for all of us.  If we don't feel comfortable taking risks alone, grab a colleague and try something new together.  It just might be the spark you need to get your school year off to a great start!

So what are you going to do to get your students, and yourself, outside the wake?

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Best School Year Ever

A welcome back letter to staff 2014

Well, the 2014-2015 school year is quickly approaching.  I would like to share three things with you all as you begin to mentally, and physically, prepare for the school year to come.  You and I will need to focus on three things that I promise will make this your best school year ever.

If we want our students to be successful, we must begin to build relationships from the first time that we meet them.  For some it will be at Open House and for others it will be the first day they are with us in school.  It is important that the first time our students and families meet us that we smile, welcome them into our school, and make them feel comfortable coming to us with concerns or compliments.  These relationships must be fostered over the course of the school year and cannot happen only at Open House, conferences, or meetings.  Greet the students in the halls, in the cafeteria, and as they enter your room.  Relationships must include an occasional email or phone call so that the students and families can really see that we care.  Imagine the power of a phone call or email when you have “caught” a student doing something amazing.  It will be time well spent as the school year progresses.  I challenge you to find the time in your week to reach out to five families.  6th, 7th, and 8th grade staff may need to divide the wealth involved in these contacts, but it surely can be done.  I plan on contacting at least five families a week as well.  If we all call five families a week, we will be able to reach out to all of our families once a month.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?!

Our PBIS team has been working feverishly to have a plan for a roll out to students and staff.  Videos have been created, a kick off will occur during the first week of school, and students and staff will know what expectations we all hold as critical for each other.  Some decisions that have been made were done with input from staff (passes, Skyward forms, volume levels, dress code) others have been decided by me (no hats, no gum).  The most important part of having a PBIS plan is that we need to hold the students accountable and each other accountable.  The PBIS team will be sharing our plan with all of you when we meet on Tuesday, August 26th, and will provide ample time to discuss the implementation process.  The purpose of PBIS is not to tell you what to do in your classrooms to engage our students.  The purpose is to provide common expectations, rewards, and consequences.  You will still be able to set up your own classroom rules and procedures. The true power of PBIS is our ability to communicate with one another regarding those students who struggle with expectations and those who succeed our expectations.  I will be sending out information in advance so that you are all aware of the plan.

Family engagement
I have spent the better part of the summer learning with educators from around the US and Australia about family engagement.  The learning was called PTCamp (Parent/Teacher Camp).  We have used the book Beyond the Bake Sale to guide our learning and the conversations on Voxer and Twitter have been rich, eye opening, and validating.  Family engagement looks different for every family.  Some families are able to attend every conference or email or call you often.  Other families may be engaged in more subtle ways.  Either way, families are doing their best every day to be engaged in their child’s school life and as such need to be validated.  Families also send us their best children and finding ways to interact with them that includes more two way than one way communication is vital.  If you have an interest in seeing some of our learning, you can check out the #ptcamp hashtag for more information.  Thanks to those of you who have volunteered to be on the family engagement committee and if you’d still like to join us, please let me know. Once we have a common vision, we will be inviting families to join our committee to get their input.  Then we will move forward with some exciting ideas to get more families involved in our school.

Enjoy your last days of summer.  Find the time to spend with family and friends.  Reach out to a colleague you haven’t spoken to since school ended in June.  Get fired up for our return on August 18th as we learn together about Educator Effectiveness and the opportunity to become better at our craft.  And when Summer Academy has ended on August 20th, find time to contemplate the school year ahead.  What will you do differently this year?  (I will be contacting families starting on the first day to share the great things their children are doing.)  What will you do the same this year?  (I will visit classrooms regularly.)  What will you not do the same this year?  (I will not stop in a classroom without providing feedback to a student or staff member about the learning and relationship building that I see.)  I know these are deep question but they will help set the tone for the school year.

When the you and the students arrive, there will be a banner that reads “Let’s make this the best school year ever!”  What are you going to do to make this happen for our students?  What will the students do to make this happen?

Looking forward to a great 2014-2015 school year!