Monday, April 20, 2015

Curbs, Speed Bumps, and Road Blocks

Sometimes in our lives, things don’t go as planned. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we are rejected, and sometimes things don’t work out.  Whether we see these as hitting a curb, speed bump, or road block is all about our choice in how we look at it.

In my role as assistant principal, I have worked with parents who saw their children’s mistakes and subsequent consequences as roadblocks to their futures. While I have a wider perspective and understand that the situation is simply a speedbump for their children, I try to be sensitive to the parent(s) who doesn’t (don’t) have the scope of perspective that administrators have, and I try to reassure parents that the choices their children have made as well as the ensuing consequences are simply opportunities to learn and grow.

Today, I participated in the Spring Fling activities that our Student Government Association sponsored for our student body. The SGA has different activities in our courtyard during lunch periods for the students to enjoy, like badminton, corn hole, and inflatables. I agreed to be in the dunking booth today during the first lunch wave.

At the end of my “shift,” I noticed that my little toe was cut and swollen. I went and changed clothes, dried my hair and fixed my makeup, then I made my way to the health room to see the nurse. She advised me to go to the urgent care walk-in clinic that’s only a few minutes away from the school to get a tetanus shot and let the doctor look at the cut.  

The nurse took a look at the cut, cleaned it up, and gave me a tetanus shot. When the doctor came in, he was very thorough and said that he couldn’t stitch it up because it was so close to my nail bed. He used a type of skin glue to adhere the skin together so that it would heal. Because it was so swollen and continued to bleed, he wanted me to get an x-ray to find out if it was broken.  Also, because I had asked how long it would be before I could run again, he wanted to be able to give me sound advice based on my injury.

It turned out to be broken, and he told me I needed to wait at least 2 weeks before I run again. He advised me to stay off of my foot as much as possible, keep it elevated, and wear a post-op shoe as a precaution.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I’m a part of a Nike plus running group trying to get to 500 miles in 2015. I’m also in the middle of leading a group in a health & wellness challenge on Facebook where part of the commitment is to exercise every day. I walk our huge building at work and love visiting classrooms. Hearing the news from the doctor was not what I was expecting. 

Now is the time for me to walk the walk.

There have been many speed bumps in my life journey, as well as some road blocks. I’ve even hit a few curbs. Because of each experience and the strength of people around me, I’ve grown to be an optimist about setbacks. I've learned that our plan is not really our plan. I expect the best and prepare for the worst.

So while I could let today’s events create a roadblock for me, I choose to make it a speed bump.

How do you overcome setbacks? 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Importance of Creating Community

Community, while it may not be vital to an individual's success in school, fulfills basic human needs. The need for belongingness and the desire to identify with and be a part of a group are factors in human motivation. 

When I was in high school, my dad got transferred with his job. That meant that we would be leaving Chattanooga, TN where I had grown up, and we would be moving to Birmingham, AL. It would happen during the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school. I had questions about the new school where I would attend. Would I fit in? Would the other kids like me? Will I make close friends?

I feel lucky that I was an athlete. I already belonged to a community. I made friends quickly, had things in common with others, and worked with them towards a common goal.

What about kids who don't already belong to a community? What about students in a classroom? Do they automatically have things in common? Do they make community just by being in class together? I say no. And it's my belief that the teacher is vital to creating a community in a classroom. 

What is community about?

Community is about empathy. It's about trying to put yourself in another's shoes, to listen to their point of view, and respect their journey.

Community is about participation. Community is not about being a wallflower. It's not about watching. It's about contributing, because all voices are valued and important.

Community is about authenticity. It's about being yourself and sharing that self with others. It's about not just "going along to get along," but about complimenting each other's strengths and weaknesses with your own.

Community is about trust. It's about a belief system that all people - despite and because of differences - are valuable and matter. Respect for others is one of the components necessary for trust.

How to build community in the classroom:

1. As the teacher, model, encourage, and expect supportive, respectful relationships. Avoid sarcasm. Don't allow students to make negative comments about each other. Use manners. Listen.

2. Provide opportunities for student input. Creating classroom rules together is one way to allow students to have a voice and have a shared product.

3. Provide opportunities for collaboration. Teach students how to work together, and emphasize ideal behaviors and beliefs of respect, trust, and empathy.

4. Provide opportunities for personal sharing. Share stories about yourself. Learn what's important to each student. One teacher I know had students to bring in an item from home that was important to them. The students had 20 seconds to share the item and explain why. (This was a precursor to writing persuasive essays.) Some of the students' stories brought the others to tears. Every story was an important contribution to the classroom community.

What did I leave out? What else is community about and how do we develop classroom community? 

Related Posts

Friday, April 17, 2015

4 Productivity Extensions for Chrome

Hoover High educator Danelle Cash is part teacher, part comedian, part techie. Having her to lead PD sessions is like chatting over coffee with your friends. 

I can’t fail to mention that she’s also the 2014-15 Jacksonville State Hall of Fame Teacher for Hoover High School. And she brought it this week for the PD sessions she led called “Chrome Extensions and Add-ons.”  

I’m excited to share with your the productivity extensions she shared with us. I hope they’re something you can use… it felt like she was reading my mind when she shared these during her sessions! 

Here was the agenda for the session: 
I.Examine the difference between Add-ons and Extensions  
II.How to add Add-ons  
III.Discuss classroom use of helpful Add-ons  
IV.How to add Extensions  
V.Discuss classroom use of helpful extensions  
VI.Which Add-ons and Extensions can you see as useful in your classroom?  How can you use them?  How can your students use them? 

Today I'm only going to share the 4 Productivity Extensions she shared with us.

Bookmark Manager
Bookmark Manager bookmarks pages using the star in the address bar, and then it adds bookmarks to folders. Organize your bookmarks!

Tab Resize
Tab Resize ​Splits your screen so you can view multiple windows at once.  Great for when you wish you had two monitors.

OneTab ​saves all the tabs that you have open into a list which you can go back and visit any time.

Note Anywhere
Note Anywhere​ allows you to add sticky notes on any web page.  It saves your notes, so when you open that page again, your notes are still there. 

To access these extensions, you have to go to the chrome store.  You can access it here:

Just click the link, enter the name of the extension, and click install. 

We started as a 1:1 school with iPads and we learned about a lot of apps that are useful for teachers and students. This year, our ninth graders brought their Chromebooks with them from the middle school, and now we're transitioning to all Chromebooks next year.

We just issued new Chromebooks to our ninth graders and all teachers this week, so Danelle's PD sessions came at a perfect time.

It was a fun day of learning, and I can't wait to get started with these extensions this weekend!

What are your favorite productivity apps/extensions?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Two New Things I've Tried this Year

It had been a while since I had run. I've been getting in a lot of miles by walking, but running was something that I hadn’t done in a while. Running in the winter usually happened on the weekends with my friend Karen, but due to scheduling conflicts, we had not been able to meet to do our usual 6 or 8 mile Saturday morning runs.

Winter is now gone, and the weather has been beautiful recently in Alabama. I’m currently leading a 21-day health & wellness challenge on Facebook which requires exercising every day, so today I decided to go for a run after school instead of going to get a manicure.

Loved the endless yellow flowers by the trail today!

It felt like coming home.

I don’t know if that’s a southern phrase, but running today reminded me comfort… of something that has a feeling of being “just right.”

When I run, my mind clears and I can reflect on so many parts of my life. The first mile is the hardest, and I truly think it’s because my mind is so used to being in GO MODE that it’s fighting the emptying that is about to take place. 

Tonight was little different, in that the first mile was refreshing. It was easy. It rejuvenated.

I’ve been experiencing writer’s block lately. I couldn’t figure out why. I think it’s because I haven’t been running. Walking has been great, but the physiological changes that happen during a run aren’t there during a walk, and I was reminded by today’s run the importance of making time and space for running.

This week, our blogging community members are writing about something new we’ve done this year. On my run, I had an opportunity to be alone with my thoughts and reflect on the school year. There have been several new things I’ve done, and a few more I want to do. Below are 2 NEW things that I've tried this year.

One major initiative has been the blogging community that CraigVroom and I started last summer.  We make weekly contact via email with the members, and we are continually in contact via twitter. The blog posts that I have read by the members have been incredible, and I feel like they have helped me grow personally and professionally throughout this school year.

Something else that I’ve tried this year that has been way out of my comfort zone was to lead a book study via Voxer. We read The Differentiated Classroom by Carol Ann Tomlinson, and I invited teachers at my school to be a part of it. We had three participants from outside of our school:  Jeff Zoul (Assistant Superintendent of Teaching & Learning in Illinois), Neil Gupta (Director of Assessment for a district in Ohio), and Melinda Sears (a French teacher at a neighboring high school). I really enjoyed the experience, because it allowed me to give input, hear the input of others, reflect on what they said, go back and re-read and contribute to the conversation again.

Sometimes my mind gets full of ideas, and then I get caught up in the busyness of work and home and lose the ideas or don’t prioritize well.  Something new I'm trying is a new way to stay organized, which I’ll share in an upcoming post.

What NEW thing have you tried this year?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

One Tip for Making Changes

For two years, I was the principal at a high school in a suburb of Birmingham. In the south, football is a big deal, especially Fridays in southern high schools. The pep rallies at this school happened every game day, and the first year of my principalship I learned one of the school’s “traditions.”

Our biggest rival was a neighboring school, one that was part of a community that had split away from the one in which I was working. On a warm Friday morning, I walked through the gym and out the side door to the parking lot. What I saw shocking! Getting out of their cars and walking in our school were our female students dressed up in blue, the other school’s colors.

Our students tried to look “redneck” in the other school’s colors, jerseys, and t-shirts. I was shocked and disappointed to see so much blue at our school on a day when our school colors were red and white. So I talked to the kids that day… in my office, in the hallway, in the lunchroom... wherever I saw them. If they had something offensive on (a few had on t-shirts with offensive phrases on them), I had them to change. If they just had on the opposing school’s colors, I talked them about focus. 

As a player I was taught, and as a coach I taught my players, to “focus on US” not the opponent. Sure, we wanted to scout the other team and know what to expect in terms of plays they would run, key players, and tendencies, but our FOCUS would be on US. We would focus on what we could control. 

Because of my experiences, when I saw the girls dressed up in our rival’s colors I saw it as misdirected focus. I thought we should have been celebrating OUR team and school, instead of dressing up in our opponent’s colors. (Focus changer: After that day, I encouraged everyone to wear red on Fridays.)

Sometimes in life, we tend to focus on others instead of ourselves. Trying to make a change? Feel like you’re sitting in neutral without moving forward? You can change gears by changing your focus. 

Make a change in your life by changing your focus.

Click the Tweet button to tweet the quote.

What changes in focus are you trying to make?
How do you maintain your focus?

I would love to hear your story in the comments!