Late Bloomers

So there’s this boy in our High School who seems to thrive on negative attention. For whatever reason, he seems to always be in some sort of trouble or giving his teachers some cause for concern, and it’s unfortunately making it hard for people not to judge or label him in a less than flattering light. He’s outspoken, he questions authority, he isn’t all that concerned with his academic standing and it’s fair to say that he doesn’t do traditional school very well…..but……there’s something about him that screams “successful adult”. He has tremendous natural leadership qualities, he is kind to younger kids, he’s a fantastic athlete, and if you go out of your way to get to know him, you’ll find that he’s really a beautiful young man with loads of potential. For me, there’s something about these “fringe” kids that make me want to grab a crystal ball and peer into the future to see the amazing adults that they’re going to eventually grow up to be. For lack of a better term, I’m going to call these students the late bloomers……the kids who won’t find their way until later on in life……the kids who challenge our patience and make us want to rip our hair out……the kids who don’t fit the mold.

I find myself drawn to these kids because I feel like I was one of them. I didn’t “do” school that well growing up, I didn’t care that much about my grades, and I didn’t have a clue about what I wanted to do with my life when I graduated from High School. I struggled through my early twenties and I certainly didn’t set the world on fire academically during my undergraduate degree. It wasn’t until I traveled a bit, matured a lot, and went back to school in my mid twenties that I began to hit my stride and find my passion and purpose. I’m sure that you all know a kid or two that fit this description, and maybe you were one yourself. The important thing for us as educators is to not lose faith in these late bloomers, and not to write them off as trouble makers or distractions. These kids tend to be a lot of extra work, and they can be disruptive and draining on your teaching (as well as to the other students) and it can sour you quickly on them as students and people. It‘s these kids however, in my opinion, that need our extra attention. Without the proper support and encouragement, these labels and judgments can impact who they are and negatively affect their future. I was lucky because I had parents and coaches and a few select teachers who believed in me, and who were patient with me, and who saw the parts of me that would eventually help me become a successful adult. Many of these kids aren’t that lucky though, and they can grow up thinking that they don’t belong, or that their future is less than exciting. It’s often the case that the students who really push your buttons, and the ones who are the easiest to give up on, and maybe the ones that you simply just don’t like, are the ones that need you the most. They are also the ones who will make you the proudest when they do eventually find their way. I know that every one of you has a student like this in your mind right now, and the hardest thing to do is to go out of your way to make that extra effort or connection with them…..but…..that’s what it’s all about as a teacher isn’t it? The easy kids are easy…..but the hard ones are the ones who will make your career when you look back on it.

I’m asking you this week to give a little extra to these “fringe” students…… these late bloomers who drive you crazy, and push your buttons, and make you want to scream. Find the good in them….find their sparks…..develop those strong relationships and believe in them. Because when they grow up, and come into their own, and set the world on fire….you’re going to want to be around for it to say, “ I knew you had it in you”……and with a smile on your face you will be able to say, “what took you so long?”………Remember that kids learn and grown and develop at very different rates, and there’s no telling when they’ll start to bloom. Have a fantastic short week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. Happy Chinese New Year to all of you…….. Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Quote of the Week……..
No one knows how long it will take anyone to learn anything – Anonymous

The American Psychological Association on Learning
http://www.apa.org/education/k12/brain-function.aspx

Interesting articles and websites
http://www.positivelypositive.com/2013/02/13/the-secret-to-finding-your-passion-hint-its-not-what-you-think/
http://powertothelearner.com/post/653655757/how-do-we-help-students-find-their-passion-a
http://www.kenneymyers.com/blog/18-of-the-best-blogs-for-helping-kids-find-their-passion/

TED Talk – Dr. Tae TEDx EastsidePrep (Learning and Skateboarding)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHfo17ikSpY

Apple YouTube clip – The Crazy Ones
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rwsuXHA7RA

Coming Home

Returning Home

I am about to return to Heading a school. This one is not international. Nor is it independent. It is a public charter school in the heart of New York. My home. In the days, before I begin, I have been reflecting on life outside of school and my work as a consultant over these last six months. Here are some of those musings:

Being a consultant is analogous to being a tourist. Only you are paid to pass through, observe from a distance but always separate and outside the ethos and life force of a school. It’s like being in a foreign country and eating American food in the hotel restaurant.

Being a consultant (also like being an interim) prevents the establishment of deep and long lasting relationships. And as we all know, it is ALL about relationships in these crucibles, called schools. So trust is hard to acquire, when everyone knows you are here on a visitors pass and relations with people becomes like Tupperware.

As a consultant, teachers (not all) regard you warily. Like, Have you ever taught? Or, what’s her agenda?

I am not indicting consultants. (I was one). We need them. They can see things we can’t. They impart (and if they are good) can mine the knowledge and expertise of others. They can push us out of comatose comfort zones and jolt us into discomfort. They can be change agents. They always hold up a mirror to our own settings. They can be confessional and priest like whom we can say things to that we would never utter to our colleagues or supervisors. But they are not fixtures in a community. They won’t be there when the toilets get stuffed with paper towels and the boy’s bathroom begins to flood. They won’t there to have that difficult discussion with a teacher who is not rising to the occasion or the kid who will be put on home suspension for deriding a teacher on Facebook.

I am pleased that sojourn is over (for now). Now as I prepare to step out of these ranks my greatest anxiety (one of) is the loss of time. I can’t remember ever having this kind of open field of managing my time since I was in college. And too much of that was squandered because I didn’t know how. But the time to read, the time to write; the time to wander streets with no aim or metric or benchmark to meet; the time to take advantage of the immense cultural resources of this city; the time to be quiet and do absolutely nothing at all. This has been a privilege and a gift for staying mindful.

Half a year on the sidelines, in the audience and from the balcony, has been a source of perspective. That being said, I don’t like being an outlier in schools, because nothing comes close to approximating the existential tightrope of running a school. And now, it is time for the world of ATS exams, ELA, SF1s, the common core, lockdowns, shelter-ins, and fingerprints. And the immense responsibility of changing one life at a time.

It feels like returning home.

How to save a life? The culture of school management

How to save a life?

Okay, so I worked the title of this entry around one of my favorite songs of all time. Maybe understanding school culture isn’t life or death, but it may be a sort of professional suicide if you don’t understand it. So, maybe the tune is relevant.

By far the hardest part of my job as Principal is managing human conflict and drama. Add a boarding school environment and it can be turbo-charged. One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Peter Drucker who said “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” I could write ten blog entries on that alone. Rob Evans, author of The Human Side of School Change, told me at a meeting that one thing you need to understand about working at a school is that “everything is personal.”

But how much do we explore this fundamental phenomenon in schools? We talk and talk about the I.B., cultural diversity, innovation, global citizens, collaboration, technology. But all of this work is ham and eggs (see Drucker quote above) if we do not understand the culture first. One of my favorite ‘teacher’ books of all time is Talk it Out by Dr. Barbara Sanderson. One of the chapters I’ve read several times is called “Unproductive Triangles in the Workplace.” I really don’t like math, but I quickly calculated the sides of this geometric figure: the villain, the victim and the rescuer. Ever been in one of those? And you don’t need to be a mathemetician to understand that the victim and the rescuer are usually aligned against, you guessed it, the villain (insert Principal).

The point I am trying to make here is that we must add how we design the management of schools to this exciting dialogue around the future of schools. I was passionate about what I did as a teacher because I had so much autonomy and impact on kids. I feel much less so as a Principal. Why is that? One of the best things I have done as a Principal is to teach a class. Besides the obvious part about being connected to students, it has disarmed a lot of the unproductive triangles I have had with teachers who think I am out of touch and don’t know what I am talking about. (Actually, some still say that). But that is not the solution. That is just tinkering. Just as the industrial model of teacher in front of class is outdated, so is its model of management. In these environments where, as Evans says that things are so personal, there will always be the triangles, and that is not productive for anyone, especially students.

I really don’t have the answer. Maybe that is the beginning of solving the problem!

I guess at the end of the day, I realize that I will never be able to Fix You. But at least you could Talk to Me.

Bonne Chance

Hopes and Dreams- with Legs!

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” – Alan Lakein

This weekend was a busy one. I was invited to attend our regional organization’s professional planning annual session. The goal was to plan for next year’s (and beyond) professional development at NESA conferences- topics and speakers.

Sounds pretty cut and dry doesn’t it? And it would be too, except I was meeting with an exceptional group of people, working for an exceptional organization, trying to ensure exceptional offerings were in place for the teachers and schools out there depending on them. No small feat.

Previously a literacy coach, now as an administrator, before as a teacher and often as a parent, I am faced with the need to plan for action and outcomes. Like me, I’m sure many of you plan on a daily basis, for a variety of reasons. However, what I learned most over this weekend was the necessity of having a planning process that gives all of your hopes and dreams (which the best plans are reaching for) the “legs” to actually walk the path toward completion.

The more moving parts, or the bigger the plan or the goal, the more necessary it is to have a process in place which ensures things are covered, thought through, and allows for you to evaluate both the plan and the actual event you’ve planned for. In fact, without the plan and then the evaluation, there is really no way to know if plan was successful.

With the help of Joellen Killion from Learning Forward, (Professional Learning Organization) I learned, right alongside the planners at NESA, how to create and evaluate a plan for professional learning.  The evaluative piece is new for me. What I like about it, is that it allows a school or organization to learn from the work at the level of the idea and process, and not just from the product generated.

As I reflect on my learning at NESA this weekend, I’ve been thinking about how we often hear about the pendulum swinging back and forth in education. I’m beginning to wonder how much of that is due to a lack of precision in our planning, and/or the fact that we often do not return to the plan to evaluate if it worked. Add to that the fact that so many of us start plans and projects at one school and then move to another. What happens to that work when you leave? Might it be continued if there was a better plan and/or a way to evaluate that plan- left for the person filling your shoes?

We have so much to do, so many hopes and dreams for our learners, our schools, and ourselves. There are days when it is overwhelming and seems as if we are never going to get there. Putting your time and energy into the planning process is one way to ensure the end result you desire becomes a reality.

Here’s to better plans, which lead to intended outcomes. In other words, here’s to taking your hopes and dreams and giving them the legs they need to take off.

(Crossposted on www.literacybytes.com)

Skating and School

So I went home to eastern Canada this past Christmas for the first time in six years and it was amazing. A cold and snowy winter wonderland that provided my two kids with some new and challenging experiences like skating, snowshoeing, sledding, and snacking on freshly fallen snow and icicles…yummy! We spent a lot of time at the rink (as you do) watching hockey, sipping on hot chocolate, and for my two little ones, learning to skate. It was a challenge that they both embraced wholeheartedly, and after several hours of practice and a bunch of bumps and bruises they finally got the hang of it. It was a highlight of our holiday for sure, and it made me feel a lot less sheepish about being a Canadian father with two kids who had never been on the ice. Anyway, throughout this entire on-ice adventure with my little ones it became crystal clear to me that skating is a lot like learning and a lot like school, and the parallels between learning to skate and navigating through our lives are impossible to miss. It reminded me so much of Carol Dweck’s work with “Mindsets”, and I want to quickly share something with you that played out right in front of my eyes during our first day at that rink, which brought this idea of mindset and perseverance to life in a very real way…

On the first day that we went skating we were all really excited as well as a little bit nervous. We just happened to show up on a day that hardly anyone was there, which was nice because it gave my kids a chance to do their best impression of Bambi on ice without anyone watching. Just as I was doing up their skates and reminding them that learning to skate is a long process filled with frustration, excitement, and a series of small successes, two other kids showed up with their fathers. They were both about to lace up the skates for the first time, and right away you could tell that the attitudes or mindsets of the two children were markedly different. So we all got out on the ice and the kids were falling everywhere as you imagine….getting up and falling down….getting up and falling down……trying and trying and trying again…..watching and listening and fully engaged in the process and it was awesome. About 30 minutes into the session however, one of the other kids started to get super frustrated and began to cry. He said things like, “I hate skating”, and “I’ll never be good at this”, and “Skating is too hard and I’ll never learn”. The father tried to get his son to soldier on encouragingly for a little while, until suddenly his tone changed and he began to get angry at his little boy for not “getting it” like he did when he was young, and for not trying hard enough. It eventually ended in a melt down with the young boy desperately pleading to go home and to get these “stupid skates off of my feet!” The father was at that point more than happy to oblige and away they went, and I didn’t see them again for the rest of our time at home. The entire time that I was watching this happen I couldn’t help but be taken back to when I was struggling with math as a Middle School kid, and my teacher getting angry at me for not “getting it” and telling me that I wasn’t trying hard enough. I wonder if that little boy will ever lace up a pair of skates again, and I wonder about how he’ll view all the rest of the challenges in his little life.

It’s pretty obvious I think to see the connection that I’m trying to make with how kids approach their learning in school, and how teachers approach their teaching. Learning for most kids in a traditional school setting can be difficult at times, and they will all face challenges that they need to overcome. It’s how they approach these challenges that makes all the difference, and it’s how we respond to our students that can make or break a child’s experience. Life and learning is all about falling down and getting back up…..trying and trying and trying again …….taking risks and failing and celebrating the step by step small successes. It’s about perseverance and resiliency and attitude and mindset…..and from what we’ve learned from Carol Dweck’s research, this can be fostered in all of our students. So with the second semester just underway, and the new concepts and units of study being introduced, I’d like to ask that you keep an eye out for kids who need a little bit of a mindset adjustment. Kids learn at different rates and in different ways as you all know so please celebrate the small successes and the process that is the coming to know…..it’s a beautiful thing. Remember that skating is like school, and for many of our students it can be very much about the falling and failing and trying and trying and trying again…….let’s make sure that they’re excited to get back up! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…….
If you get up one more time than you fall, you will make it through.
– Chinese Proverb

Resilience Articles and Websites –
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-robbins/when-you-fall-down-get-ba_b_791202.html
http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/prpsum.htm
http://psychology.about.com/od/crisiscounseling/a/resilience.htm
http://www.k12.hi.us/~mkunimit/perseverance.htm

Wonderful and Inspiring TED Talk – Diana Nyad
http://www.ted.com/talks/diana_nyad_never_ever_give_up.html

Taking Time

 

 

 

 

 

As the waning days of December passed I found myself clinging to the feeling that time is moving too quickly . . . that it’s a precious resource that there is never enough of or that doesn’t last. Much like money, if not spent wisely, it can slip through your fingers with nothing to show for it.

Fortunately, those melancholy thoughts did not persist into the New Year, in fact, with the turn of a fresh page of the new calendar, I suddenly felt energized and renewed and ready to start taking advantage of the promise that a new year represents.

Regardless of our intentions, or the length of our To-Do lists, time cannot slow down for anyone. Now that I am officially half-way through my first year of an overseas internship, I know how fast time passes so I am going to try and soak up every minute from this amazing experience from this day onward.

The most profound shift for me is going to be my relationship with time. So instead of the never-enough mentality, I am going to think of it as an abundant commodity simply by focusing on being in the moment and appreciating those I surround myself with.

This new attitude will hopefully find its way into my teaching practice and the learning experience I still have before me.

  • Focus on the Now – Being in the moment takes a conscious effort to not let your mind wander to what needs to be done next, or what could have been done differently in the past… but instead, recognizing that the most valuable lessons are right in front of me – now.
  • Be Engaged — A child’s interest and sense of discovery is more vibrantly enhanced when interacting with that child fully by engaging him or her with undivided attention free from distraction or tension.
  • Listen Fully — A mentor’s advice is more valuable when immediately put into practice right alongside them and participating fully. If it’s a conversation, listen carefully to what is being said and focus on the message and the present moment; not on your feelings or something that happened in the past or may happen in the future.
  • Express Gratitude — Your appreciation of a friend, co-worker, mentor or student will be more meaningful when you express those feeling of gratitude now versus sometime in the future (or never at all).
  • Savor the Experience — I want to savor every moment of the remaining school year because I know these days won’t come back again. I want to make the most out of this experience so that I can truly learn from it and continue to grow and succeed!

Although this New Year, like every other, still has 365 days, my goal is to make each one count by enjoying every moment of this round trip around the sun!

Reflection

First of all, Happy New Year everyone! I trust you all feel as rested, re-energized and rejuvenated to start another semester as I do. I’m looking forward to hearing all about your adventures and experiences next week when we gather together after the holiday. A three week break from students and each other certainly provides for a decent amount of reflection time, and that is what I want to briefly talk about this week……….the importance of reflection.

When people talk about the beginning of a New Year, the conversation inevitably turns to New Year’s Resolutions, and all the amazing changes that people are going to make in their lives. From quitting smoking, to getting in the best shape of their lives, to spending more time with family, or to being a better correspondent to old friends. We all start the year with super high expectations and a new commitment to a better life. For many people however, these resolutions are empty promises that for whatever reason seem to fade before we finish the climb to spring. So instead, I want to encourage everyone to think about some New Year’s Reflections, and to use the promise of a new year to better yourselves through a focus on the how and why of change, and through a commitment to purpose and meaning.

In my opinion, the act of reflection is the most important part of learning and growing as a person. Whether it’s personal or professional reflection, the power of looking back is paramount. Thinking about your actions, your beliefs, your attitudes toward others, your reaction to things that may not have gone your way, or even the way you see yourself, your worth and your value to others and the world……….this  is remarkably profound. Without reflection, the opportunity to discover yourself and your potential is lost. Taking the time to think about how you learn, how you teach, your relationships with students and colleagues, and how you can give every aspect of your life more meaning is a necessary step before you make those concrete resolutions.

I read a great quote over the break in a book by Daniel Pink that says, “meaning is the new money”. He was referencing the significant 21st century paradigm shift that’s happening all over the world whereby people are looking for self worth more intrinsically, and looking for true meaning in their lives, regardless of the extrinsic reward. This got me reflecting about my life, our school, the opportunities that we provide for our students and how we as a group can bring more meaning into all that we do. I re-watched an inspiring TED Talk over the holiday as well that ties in nicely to reflection and finding meaning in our lives. If you do anything this week, watch Brene Brown talk about vulnerability. Anyway, I will be sure to say stop by tomorrow and say Happy New Year in person. Remember to be great for our students and good to each other! Semester two……….here we come  🙂

Quote of the Week………..
Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.
James Levin

Article #1 – The Power of Reflection The Power of Reflection
Poem – Life I am the New Year Life I am the New Year

TED Talk – Brene Brown on Vulnerability
http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

Just Joy

IMG_1198I’m sure many of you woke up this morning thinking about your next steps, journeys and outcomes. It is what we do at the start of a new year: plan for action, plan for making our best selves materialize in ways, which will make this the best year ever.

This New Year’s Day I’ve been thinking about how I want to feel this year as much as how I’m going to act or what I’m going to do. You see, at this exact time last year I was leaving the US to return to work overseas and had the heart-wrenching task of saying goodbye to my father who was dying. Having been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer just a few months before, we were certain he would transition before I could return for another break.

My 2013 focus became learning how to feel about continuing on in the face of that huge sadness. It wasn’t a planned resolution or a goal as much as it was a necessity. For me, it was also day-to-day work. Each day I had to remind myself that my father enjoyed every minute of his life (he was an international educator too); therefore his transition was a celebration of that life and I should be proud of him. I believed it, but often had to verbally remind myself of that fact lest I would sink into feeling badly that he was ill, or later on, so deeply sad that he was gone.

My best refuge last year was oddly enough- recess duty. I would wander outside and be with the kids during their playtime and just find myself relaxing into their joyful world of play, laughter, and movement. It was the 15-minute part of each day when I was reminded of what it can feel like to just be happy to be outside, moving, and with friends.

When I talk to people about this past year, I often mention how recess saved me because it allowed me to not think so much about this life, but to just see it and enjoy it for what it is. What I’ve been realizing as I enter this new year though is that it was as much the job (of which recess duty is a part) I was able to have and go to each day which helped me to feel happy and joyful in the face of such devastation.

Working with children is, if you are looking for it, witnessing joy.

It is my goal this year to approach each school day with the sense that I am indeed a lucky person to be able to work in such a joyful place. A place where learning to read (actually cracking that code!) is like getting to finally see over the mountain. A place, where conquering the monkey bars with one hand feels like winning a gold medal. A place where friendship comes with shared snacks, held hands and a chance to use our imaginations.

Joy is something that makes life worth living. Feeling joy on the job is my New Year’s resolution.

I hope you can join me.