Finishing Strong…

So here we are, with less than a month to go before we head off for the summer holiday. I often marvel at how fast a school year goes by, and in many ways it seems like just yesterday that we were welcoming the kids off the buses on the first day of school. I’ve written before about how much I love this time of year, mostly because of the opportunity that we all have to reflect on ourselves as educators, on the learning that happened with our students, and on the personal and professional goals that we all set almost ten months ago. We also get to celebrate the work, the accomplishments, and the successful initiatives that have taken hold for the betterment of our school and students, and we can think critically about how we can make some purposeful changes that will help us do better in certain areas for next year. When I look back over the past year much of it seems like a blur, and I’m left feeling a little dizzy and overwhelmed, and a lot grateful and proud. We took on so much this year as a faculty and we deserve to take a few moments to revel in the positive changes that are transforming our community. That being said, the last few weeks of a school year can be tough…arguably the toughest of them all because of the fatigue that has begun to set in…because of the onslaught of emotions that comes along with saying goodbye to students and colleagues and friends, and because of all the culminating events that get packed into the last several days.

 

I’d like to reiterate a challenge that I put out to my faculty at a previous school a couple of years ago, by asking you all to re-commit to our students, their learning, and to each other over the next three to four weeks, and to dig deep to finish what we started. You see, sometimes when schools and educators aren’t careful, there can be a tendency to take the foot off the gas so to speak when speeding toward the end of the year. It can become very easy to let complacency creep in, and to ease off on the work, the effort, and the attention to student learning. Losing focus and looking ahead to next year can quickly turn what has been a wonderful year into a disappointing end result simply because the finish wasn’t strong and the goals weren’t seen through to completion. In my opinion we’ve put ourselves in a great position to end the year on a high, and to be able to look back on the year with an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment. It’s an exciting time of the year I know, and the kids are happy and smiling…we all have one eye focused on our summer adventures, and we can see the finish line on the horizon…I’m asking you however to not lose sight of the importance of what’s still left to do.

 

Finally, I’m asking you all to pay careful attention to our beautiful kids over the next few weeks. Many of them are navigating the rough emotional road that leads to saying goodbye to their friends, saying goodbye to a school that they love, and saying goodbye to the identities that they’ve forged during their time with us here at AC. It’s also very easy for all our kids to get caught up in the promise of summertime fun, and to get distracted from the goal at hand, which is to work hard right up until the end, and to set themselves up to move on with confidence, pride, and with the right mindset. Talk to your kids…ask them how they are feeling…give them extra support if you see them veering off track, and be the amazing role models and mentors that they’ve come to expect. Don’t let them off the hook, and go above and beyond (even though you’re tired) to make the final three or four weeks their best of the year. Starting the year strong is so, so important as you all know, but it’s comparatively easy compared to the challenges of June. Finishing the year strong is where the rubber hits the road in my opinion, and it’s here that master teachers and school wide leaders worth their salt show their mettle.

 

For those of you moving on to new adventures, remember that you’re only ever as good as your last exit…….and for those of us returning, know that students remember the educators that we are in June…..so let’s make sure they remember the best of what we have to offer. The last few weeks are going to speed by everyone so please commit to making them count. Let’s all feel great about what we’ve accomplished so far this year…it’s been amazing…but we’re not done yet! Finish strong and wrap up the year with a beautiful bow…Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

No one has a problem with the first mile of a journey. Even an infant could do fine for a while. But it isn’t the start that matters. It’s the finish line.”

  ― Julien Smith

 

Important Articles on Finishing Strong:

http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2011/05/05/tln_ferlazzo_3.html

http://www.justintarte.com/2015/04/10-ways-to-finish-school-year-strong.html

http://www.ccparent.com/articles/finish-the-school-year-strong/

http://www.lifeway.com/Article/parenting-family-kids-school-Finishing-Strong

https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/article/bringing-school-year-strong-finish

http://teach4theheart.com/2014/05/19/how-to-finish-the-school-year-strong/

 

Awesome Videos…take time to watch!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBdSSD4GWAM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFzDaBzBlL0#t=368

https://www.facebook.com/HuffingtonPost/videos/10152896176896130/?pnref=story

 

What Counts?

This year, I have been lucky enough to work with a talented group of educators who have helped me process, plan, deliberate, challenge, and fail. That last one is of course what I’m holding right now as I push myself up off the floor.

Failing is what we say we want to be open to, and yet when you are in it, you can’t help but think “I don’t want to do this again. Thanks, but no.” It is how you hold, describe and live inside “the fail” that allows you to learn from it. So here goes…

Learning how to be a leader has allowed me to continually modify what I think leadership should look like. There are times when the image I see in my mind is that of a ship’s captain, at the bow, telescope out, checking the horizon for storms, pirates, or land.

While that leader is brave and secure, in control and courageous, he or she is also the only one with the looking glass, the only one with vision and sight.

That type of leadership is not only lonely, it is probably highly ineffective. Why? Because as the sole person responsible for deciding the path, that leader then must tell people what to do and how to do it rather than utilize the collaborative energy and strength of the team “mates” around her. There is no ownership for the others on board, and there is no shared sense of purpose with or for the leader.

Luckily, I’ve had a recent and very different experience. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a team of people who are smart yet open, passionate yet cautious and always ready to lean-in to work collaboratively on a task.

As a group, we have wrestled with big questions around who we are as a school and how we can best serve the children in our care. Our backgrounds are different; two of us are directly from the US, while the others have taught internationally for years. We have different views on what should be, but a collective idea that schools are here to serve the needs of the children within them.

So how did we fail exactly?

The team failed in execution, not in the process. The work we embarked on required a system for discussion, analysis, and thoughtful planning. On that journey, minds were made up; then minds were changed. The individuals in the group were willing to stretch because the group itself was working toward a common collaborative purpose: “How can we serve the children in our care?” Together we made some difficult recommendations. Recommendations we felt best for those children.

However, those recommendations were not heeded and a very different path was taken. Which left the team questioning our purpose, our goals, and even, our own beliefs. (Collaboratively and individually.)

The toughest part of my leadership journey has been these severe right turns. When what we had been working on is suddenly and inexplicitly changed. Often, without developing the understanding of those that have been working through or living the experience every day.

However, knowing that this failure is a result of the outcome and not in the collaborative process itself is what encourages me to continue. To move forward, this team needs to go back to and reaffirm the good, human work they presented. The stage is set up for this team to try again.

As I leave this school and job for a new one next year, it is the experience with this particular team that I will take with me and grow from. I’ve learned that while you can go all-in, the outcome still might flop. However, it isn’t the failure that counts. What counts, is showing up and trying to do what’s right, while working to really understand the people next to you.

Everyday. Again and again.

Art at the Heart of What We Do…

So this past week I had a fun conversation with our outstanding IB Art teacher, Greg Giles. It was all about the importance of Art in education and the role that creativity plays in unlocking a person’s ability to learn, to be inspired, and to find their best selves. We took a few minutes to dream about what it might be like to design our own school, with the Art room as the focal point of the entire campus. We’d start with a huge, open space that would become the center of the learning environment…it would be a place that teachers and students and parents would flock to every minute of the day, and it would be a mash-up of a media studies space, a maker space, a play space, and a world class Art space, which would literally be the hub of our community wheel. There would be music and books and collaborative learning pods and healthy food and fresh fruit smoothies and this space would drive all that we did as a school…we were giddy at the end of the conversation, wishing that we had the money and the resources to bring this dream to life, and when Greg left to go teach a class I started thinking about the incredible value and worth that Art has in all aspects of our lives, and whether or not we’re doing enough to put Art at the heart of all we do.

 

I decided to do a little experiment the next morning with a few different grade levels to see what they thought about themselves as artists, and I bet you all know how that went. I asked two simple questions to dozens of first graders, fifth graders, and eighth graders, and the answers weren’t that surprising…a little sad, but not that surprising. I asked, “Do you see yourself as an artist?”, and “Do you love going to Art class?”… I listened intently not only to their answers but to how their faces responded when they were mulling the questions around in their heads. Every single one of the first graders answered with an emphatic “yes” to both, and continued on with anecdotes about their love of painting and creating and singing and dancing, and their faces lit up like mini works of art in themselves…when I asked the fifth graders, all of them said that they loved going to Art class, but I only had about half of the kids answer “yes” to seeing themselves as an artist…it also took a lot longer for them to think about their answers before they gave their response. I even had a number of kids ask me what I meant, like it was some sort of trick question or something, and at this point I was starting to see the trend. When I got to the eighth graders, again they all answered that they enjoyed being in Art class, but it was down to less than a fifth of the nearly 30 kids that I asked who answered “yes” to whether they see themselves as artists or not. I left them wondering about what it is and how it happens that as we grow older we start to lose our inner artist…what is that about? The most troubling thing about the answers that the older kids gave was that many of them qualified their answer with, “I’m a terrible painter” or “I can’t draw very well at all”, as if being an “artist” had only to do with being able to paint or draw a picture.

 

There is plenty of research out there which definitively shows the incredible benefits that art has on the development of young people. Things like motor skills, language development, decision making, visual learning, inventiveness, cultural awareness, improved academic performance and so much more, so why isn’t Art more explicitly embedded into all that we do? I wonder if we’re doing enough to incorporate a variety of art options into our assessments, and our daily lesson planning, and our curriculum writing, and all the rest. Art isn’t and shouldn’t just be a stand-alone subject that students can choose only as an elective…I bet it could be a part of the many learning opportunities that they encounter across all subject areas each and every day. We need to foster a sense of creativity and artistic value in every student, so that when they reach High School and beyond, and deep into adulthood, they are still as feverish and eager and passionate as first graders. I’m asking you all this week to think about how you’re using art in your day to day lives with our kids, and whether or not you’re doing enough to foster that inner creative artist in each and every one of them. Have a conversation with Greg or Ana or Valeria or Brian, and use their expertise to provide more artistic opportunities in your classes. While you are doing that, I’ll be dreaming about how we can design that new art hub, so that art is literally at the heart of all that we do. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other…Oh yeah, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all you Mom’s out there…To my own Mom, I love you more than you know!

 

Quote of the Week…..

The purpose of Art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls

– Pablo Picasso

 

TED Talk – Why Art Matters (Dr. Linda Nathan)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Odbcty42MaM

 

TED Talk – Teaching Art or Teaching to Think Like an Artist (Cindy Foley)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcFRfJb2ONk

 

Teacher Appreciation Week Video! Teachers have the hardest job in the world…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2LNK2MW_xQ

 

Articles and Websites:

http://www.edutopia.org/arts-music-curriculum-child-development

http://www.teachertube.com/video/the-importance-of-art-in-education-112187

http://www.education.com/reference/article/art-important-young-children/

http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=509

http://www.arteducators.org/

 

Language has Power…

So I had two experiences this past week that made me really think about how much power there is in the language that we use with others. These experiences have made me reflect deeply on how I have been using language with my students and my colleagues, and how often the language that I use, and how I use it, actually inspires another person to feel better about themselves or their day. Our language, both body and verbal, is the single most important tool that we have which can affect another person’s mood, the mindset of a classroom full of students, a relationship with a friend, a kid, or a colleague, and the overall culture of a school. Using positive and direct language is the key to developing strong and lasting relationships in my opinion, and the key to how we feel about ourselves deep down as individuals and as leaders. The language that we use shapes who we are, as well as the impact that we have on those around us. It takes skill, practice, and courage to think before we speak, and to ensure that what comes out of our mouths is actually going to be received in the way that we intended it. Words have the power to crush a person’s spirit or to inspire them to be the best that they can be. Words can change a person’s day instantly for the better or for the worse, and in many cases we don’t even give our language a second thought. We often say things that have a profound impact on another person’s mood or day or self-esteem and we don’t even realize it… and that just isn’t good enough.

 

The first experience happened late last week, and it came from one of my teacher leaders in the Middle School. She gave me a compliment just when I needed it the most, and I’m sure that she had no idea how important those words were to me at that time. You see, I was having a tough day, dealing with some difficult issues, and her kind words instantly re-framed my mood, and gave me the extra boost of confidence that I needed to deal with these issues head on. I often joke that I can live on a single compliment for a month, but there’s some truth to that. We all need a boost once in a while, and I wonder how much conscious thought we give to recognizing verbally the positive contributions that others have on our lives. Words always cost a great deal even though they are free, and often times they cost more when they’re not said at all. When was the last time that you thanked a colleague, or a student, for changing your day for the better? How often do you purposefully go out of your way to compliment, or to use positive language with every one of your students and colleagues…every month…every week…every day? Do you ever think about the body language that you’re using when you have your dozens and dozens of interactions with people each and every day at school? Our language is the most powerful thing that we have, but I don’t think we take advantage of the power that it has as much as we should.

 

The second experience happened early last week with one of my Middle School kids. He made a mistake (like we all do), and I came down on him pretty hard. My direct words had a profound impact on him I think, and after the initial jolt they allowed us to strengthen our relationship, and for him to gain a clear understanding of our high expectations as a school, and the importance of learning life lessons. Using direct language with kids, and colleagues, is so important to developing a strong school culture. Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say is the way to garner respect, and to have you viewed by others as a person of integrity. Often times we’re afraid to say what we really want to say, and we sugar coat or tip toe around the root of an issue. We often don’t have the courage to address a problem because it’s difficult, but all that does is make the issue worse and build resentment. Honestly, it’s all about HOW you say something…difficult conversations can be framed with positive intent, and in a way that doesn’t make it about the other person necessarily…just about the issue itself. Having the courage to have these direct conversations is what leadership is all about in my opinion, and the only way that a school, and the relationships within a school can truly move forward for the better. If you choose your language carefully, then in most instances It’s okay to speak to kids like adults…the can handle it…and they will respond in a way that will impress you beyond your initial expectation.

 

I’m asking you all this week to think about the language that you use, and how you use it. Does your language inspire…are you saying what you need to say in a positive way…are you giving the compliments to the people who positively impact you as a person…and are you using your language to develop strong and lasting relationships. Language has power, and it’s time that we all consciously thought about that…and acted on it. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote  of the Week…

I can live for two months on a good compliment – Mark Twain

Articles around the Power of Positive Language:

https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/article/want-positive-behavior-use-positive-language

http://work911.com/articles/poslan.htm

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept08/vol66/num01/Seven-Strategies-for-Building-Positive-Classrooms.aspx

http://www.tlnt.com/2011/08/05/the-power-of-positive-words-how-they-can-inspire-a-workplace-culture/

http://teachertechniques.com/welcome/?p=19

TED Talk – Kathryn Schulz – On Being Wrong

http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong

Inspiring Videos…older ones but still profound

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hzgzim5m7oU

http://www.upworthy.com/every-parent-and-teacher-and-camp-counselor-should-start-the-day-with-this-1970s-declaration?c=hpstream

http://www.upworthy.com/how-one-teacher-told-her-students-that-theyre-worth-more-than-their-test-scores?c=hpstream