Monday, August 31, 2015

How Do We Know that a Decision We’ve Made as Parents is the Right One?

Did you ever take those tests in school that had multiple choice questions and all of the answers seemed like they could be the right one, and the teacher asks you to choose just one - the best one?

That's what parenting is like.

Near the end of the school year last year, one of our freshman students got in trouble in one of his classes. His teacher said that he had been dancing on a table in the classroom, and he and another student had been disrupting class. When I called the boy’s mom about it when it happened, she said then that she was going to take him out of our school and move him to a private school. I asked her then not to make the decision yet.

Just before school started this fall, the boy’s mom came to see me to talk about their decision. She wanted to know why I had asked her to wait. I told her that it was the first time he had done anything like that at school, and that I wanted her and her husband to make a good decision for him and not an emotional, knee-jerk reaction.

She talked to me about their family dynamics, the things they had told their son last year and this year about consequences for his behavior. They had told him at the beginning of the school year last year that if he had one incident of getting in trouble, then they would put him in a private school. She was afraid that if they didn’t follow through, it would send a wrong message to him. She also shared that he had been irritable and rude at home during the summer.

She wanted affirmation. She needed assurance that the decision they were making was the right one. I feel I have no right to judge. When I try to put myself in another parent’s shoes, it’s nearly impossible to do. I can’t understand the nuances, the silent messages, the dynamics, relationships, and behaviors that have happened throughout the years of raising their child.

What I have learned, though, is that parents (for the most part) are always trying to do what they think is best for their child. Decisions are judgment calls, some with more consideration than others, and we just have to live with those decisions. For some of them, we look back and realize we should have made a different decision. For some decisions, we cheer for ourselves for getting it right. We get different opinions, we read parenting books, we read blog posts and articles, and sometimes we ask our own parents. In the end, we do the best we can, and we have to keep moving forward and learning from every situation.

When I talked with the mom that day, and she asked me if they were making the right decision, I said, “Whatever decision you make will be the right one. You’ve taken your time, you’ve thought about the different scenarios and outcomes, and you’re making a decision you think is best. You have to make it and go forward.”

She did withdraw him out of our school that day. I often think about their family and the struggle they went through in the situation. I believe that all parents have times where they aren’t sure that what they decide on for their kids is the best decision.

We just have to learn all we can about the situation, learn as much as we can about what’s best for kids, and go forward confidently in our decisions.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The 5 Times Technology Shouldn't be Used in the Classroom

Using technology in the classroom doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing adventure. We need to pay attention to its impact on student learning, and teachers should be intentional on how and when it’s used in the classroom. Sometimes, technology shouldn't be used. 

When Technology Shouldn't be Used 
in the Classroom

1. When it decreases the personal relationship between teacher and student.

If a student just answers questions or completes work that is posted online without a discussion between the learner and the adult who is trained in the art of teaching, an opportunity for stretched learning and thinking is missed. 

2. When it’s being used just to be able to say that it’s being used.

Sometimes, a tried and true method works without technology. If using the technology doesn’t promote deeper learning, reconsider the use of it. If it’s only being used at the substitution level on the SAMR model, it probably falls into this category.

3. When it makes the learning too easy.

Whoa! Don’t we want learning to be easy for our students? Well, deep learning takes work. When technology is implemented incorrectly, it can undermine deep learning. If students can “google” an answer or solve a problem by looking it up on the Internet, students miss out on the opportunity to struggle with learning and perhaps even miss out on the chance to make a mistake then learn from it.

"A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery."
                         - James Joyce

4. When it gets in the way of real communication. 

With the “like” buttons nowadays, students can read meaning into it that may or may not be there. Also, it prevents someone from using words to express how they are feeling. If the technology is promoting real communication (think shy student who doesn’t answer in class but opens up in an online forum), then use it. But if it gets in the way of communication, it’s time to stop using it or reconfigure how it’s being used.

5. If it contributes to information overload.

It’s true that all of us are faced with more information coming at us at a faster rate than ever before. A skill students need to learn is how to filter and manage the information. If technology in the classroom is contributing to this, it’s a t the detriment of learning. Just because a student can be exposed to more information in a shorter amount of time by the use of technology, it doesn’t mean that it can be learned at a faster rate. 

What would you add to this list?

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Year from Now, What Will You Wish You Had Started?

Usually when I hear or read this quote, it's related to health & fitness. For me, it usually has to do with dieting or exercise, as a motivation to get started and stick with it.

Saturday, this quote took on a new meaning for me.

Saturday, my oldest daughter moved into her college dorm.

It was a great day of cleaning, organizing, and preparing her for her year in her new home. Away from home.

And I asked myself, Had I done enough to prepare her? Had I filled her with enough knowledge and skills to be successful? Will she remember all of the lessons her dad and I tried to teach her? 

And I thought of all of the students that pass through our school and every school. Are teachers asking themselves the same questions about their students as they watch them leave at the end of the year and move onto the next stage of their lives?

Are we asking questions like, 

  • Did I do enough to prepare my students to think critically and solve complex problems?
  • Did I take advantage of every opportunity to teach my students about respect, courage, grit, perseverance, and trust?
  • Did I teach students to ask their own questions?
  • Did I model integrity, a positive spirit, love, and optimism for my students?
  • Did I learn as much as I could about the future my students will face so that I can best prepare them for it?

What other questions should we be asking ourselves?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The First Two Days of School

We started school last Thursday. I love starting school that way... it gives students and teachers an opportunity to "get back in the routine" without experiencing the extreme tiredness that comes by Wednesday night when school starts on a Monday. 

It also somehow "gives permission" to teachers to spend two days on relationship-building activities before jumping into content and academic routines. The weekend provides a natural break, and this year I saw tons of great activities going on in classrooms. I wanted to share some of them with you and give you a glimpse into our school building.

Our teachers know that one thing that I believe in is the importance of a teacher trying to cultivate a positive relationship with each student. I believe that each and every student who is in our school is there because he or she is supposed to be there. I led an activity with staff a couple of years ago so that we could be intentional about making sure each student had a positive connection with at least one adult in the building, because I also believe that every student should have at least one adult in the building that is a student's "go-to" person.

As I visited classrooms on Thursday and Friday, I was thrilled to see that teachers were busy building relationships with students, not jumping into their content. 

After all, if we don't know our audience, how can we connect with them? 

If we don't know our "who," how can we maximize their potential?

If you've started back to school, I'd love for you to leave me a comment and share about it, and if you haven't started yet, how you plan to start your year.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

What if You're Teaching Thomas Edison?

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

—Thomas Edison

When Thomas Edison was 7, his mom enrolled him in school. He only went for a few months because he was hyperactive, prone to distraction, and called difficult by his teacher. (His mom, a school teacher, pulled him out and taught him at home.) Thomas Edison went on to invent the telegraph, phonograph, light bulb, and he has thousands of patents.

At one of our school's summer PD sessions about relationship-building, a teacher said, "I ask myself, 'What if I'm teaching Thomas Edison?'"

We can't tell just by looking at a student what his instructional needs are. We also can't tell by a student's behavior. 

What if you're teaching the next Thomas Edison?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Catching Teachers Doing Something Right

A big culture changer at our school came during the start of our 1:1 initiative. Up until that time, administrators visited classrooms on a pretty frequent basis, and teachers were used to having an administrator in their classrooms for a short walkthrough. When our 1:1 initiative started, Holly Sutherland (another assistant principal) and I created a school hashtag, and when we visited classrooms we started taking pictures and tweeting the great things that our teachers and students were doing on a daily basis. When we started doing this, sometimes tagging the students and teachers, our teachers started INVITING us to their classrooms on a regular basis. 

I remember being a classroom teacher and getting nervous when an administrator walked in. Even though I knew I was doing a good job, it still made me nervous not knowing exactly why they were there. When Holly and I started visiting and tweeting, the teachers understood why we were there - to “catch them doing something right.” No longer ambivalent about our visits, we would get an email almost daily to let us know about a project, debate, discussion, presentation, etc. that would be taking place in their classrooms. 

When I first became an administrator (prior to social media), I would leave a post-it note on the teacher’s desk, praising him/her on something that I had seen or heard in the classroom. I got away from the notes and started emailing the teacher instead, using my cell phone to send the quick, just-in-time emails. Now, with twitter, I simply LOVE being able to share with the WORLD the exciting things that happen within our school walls each day.  

But, I was reminded this summer of the importance of leaving a hand-written note.  During one of our summer PD sessions, one of our teachers talked about how much he appreciated the hand-written notes that he had gotten from administrators over the years. He said, “I’ve kept all of the notes I’ve gotten over the years. I haven’t kept a tweet.” 

As soon as he said it, I thought of the file folders I would label each year with just a heart and the year, in which I would tuck away cards, notes, newspaper clippings, etc. from the year. 

So this year, along with twitter. I’m going to leave a hand-written note as well as send a tweet when I visit a classroom. If I happen to not have note pads with me, I'll leave a note in their box when I return to my office. I’m looking forward to sharing with the world via twitter, but more importantly, to sharing a lasting word of praise with the teacher in the room.