Tag Archives: teaching

Celebrate Success (Even When It’s Someone Else’s)

It’s pretty easy to celebrate your own accomplishments.  I mean, you know your journey.  You know what you have been through to carry out the goal.  However, it can be harder to celebrate the success of others.  It got me thinking.

  • Do we not celebrate the success of others because of the competitive world we live in?  Maybe we don’t celebrate because we are fearful that someone else’s success diminishes our own.  Maybe it makes us feel a little safer with our own status.
  • Do we not notice? Let’s face it, it’s a fast pace world we live in. Maybe we get so busy, we just don’t see anything going on with anyone else because we have hyper-focused on our own circumstances.
  • Do we doubt the impact our “congratulations” mean to someone else?  Maybe we think that the other person will question our sincerity or even value our acknowledgement of what they have accomplished.

Recently I had a colleague of a campus that had been through a tremendous challenge to help her campus meet some specified accountability standards.  While I had not directly experienced the steps and measures they had gone through to achieve the goal.  I knew it was certainly arduous.  Her team rallied. They invested.  They learned. They reflected and they grew.  Most importantly, they never gave up.  It was huge accomplishment when they achieved this task they had worked on for years.

As I watched them celebrate, it hit me how important it was that not only they celebrate for themselves, or be acknowledged by superiors, but that they be acknowledged by peers and colleagues.  I didn’t know whether my words would really matter to them, but it just seemed important.  When we live in a world where education is constantly under fire, we must stand together in good times and in bad. It just seems like it’s easier to acknowledge and feel pity for someone’s struggles. We must not compete against each other, but celebrate each educational organization as a part of the great big “whole” of public educators who make a difference for children.  That is why my teacher leaders did a twitter storm of celebration for this campus marrying their hashtag and ours to celebrate their success.

I don’t think it matters if you are a district, a school, or a teacher of a classroom.  As Susan Phillips says “Celebrate the success of others.  High tide floats all ships.” When you are in a battle, you unite your armies, not battle over who is the frontline or the support. Both are critical to winning longterm.  We must recognize that every success of any campus is asuccess for all public educators.  It’s a check in the win column to tell the world what a difference a group of educators can make in the lives of children when they have a common vision and purpose. Congratulations, Central Elementary! You have accomplished great things.  You have shown grit, growth mindset, and grace under fire!  You did it and you make us all look good because of that!

 

 

No Excuses (Especially on Saturday)

Two years ago, my campus learned about No Excuses University. It happened accidentally when a visitor to our campus said, “Oh, you’re an NEU Campus.” I had no idea what it the world NEU was, so I looked it up. Basically, it is the implementation of best practices for instruction, combined with a passion for the learning of all students. It is a fierce commitment to adults not making excuses about why a child cannot succeed in school, but rather doing whatever it takes to overcome barriers and ensure that all children (no matter their background, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or disability) are proficient or advanced in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics so that they can go to college if they choose.

In trying to be aligned to this belief, my campus has looked at the students who we believed were not quite ready to hit that “proficient or advanced” expectation and created what we call NEU Saturday. This is a time where selected students come to school on Saturday for two hours so that they have a little extra time to learn. I need to be clear. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with our state assessment. My commitment is not to a test, but to these children’s being prepared for their future. If we do that right, they’ll be fine on a test, but the test isn’t the driving force.

I love this! Learning isn’t about worksheets! It’s about relationships, relevance to life, and things that can connect with the learner!
Because we aren’t bound by constraints of tutoring for a test, we serve all grades. YES, all grades, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. They come and a band of teachers welcome these children with open arms and celebrate the child’s commitment to his education. So many of my students are still learning that things don’t just happen to them, but through the choices they make, they have the power to change the direction of their lives. I tell each one of the students that they are the “chosen” ones. That their teachers specifically chose them to come to this special time because of the grit, growth mindset and commitment to no excuses they make every day.

We feed them a full breakfast. While I know it is big talk in Washington D.C. that breakfast doesn’t make a difference in education, that is just plain malarky. When people are hungry, they can’t think about anything, but their stomach growling and “hangry” is a reality. Many of my children rely on the food from school as their primary source of nutrition. It’s just a sack breakfast with cereal or a muffin, string cheese, juice, and milk, but knowing my students are getting one extra meal over the weekend makes a huge difference.

Then for the next two hours, I have an incredible staff that pours into these children. They talk with them, hug them, and provide them with meaningful learning. They do cool activities with Versa-tiles, read, and play games with higher-level thinking and strategy. There’s not one test prep material. Only opportunities for the students to think, discuss and problem solve in meaningful situations. The best part is that these students say this is the best day of the week and and ask to come back on Sunday, too!


There’s lots of criticism about public schools and their effectiveness. I haven’t seen that. Public education is the heart of our society’s future. It takes ensuring that all children have access to a quality education to ensure they have the tools to become productive citizens in the future. It is when we take off the constraints off and allow educators to do what they love and teach that this happens. They do whatever it takes because this is why we get into teaching: to see all children succeed. No excuses.

Not Just a Building

This past week, I attended the Texas Association of School Administrators Midwinter Conference and had the opportunity to hear Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, speak. She had so much to say about advocating for public schools, but the thing that has resonated with me most was this quote:

“Public school is not a building. It’s a promise that a community makes to itself.” Shanna Peeples, TASA Midwinter Conference 2017

I’ve thought a lot about what she said, but I would take this statement a little further. A public school is not just a building; it is a promise that the community makes to itself to inspire hope for a better future.

We live in a tough world. We have people feeling entitled to rewards without work. People who cannot communicate effectively with words, so they use violence. People who are angry because they feel invisible, and other people who are afraid of the people they don’t understand so they put up the barriers that make angry people feel even more

disenfranchised. Instead of fixing the systems we have and contributing to a better world, people want to take their toys and go home resulting in soft segregation. This is only going to create a continuous cycle of decline.

But here is what I have to say-public schools are the hope for a better future. Public schools are the embodiment of our forefather’s vision, and capture in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on The Statue of Liberty.

In my school that promise is:

  • to a young girl that there will be someone there to care for her, despite her mother suffering from stage 4 cancer and having no extended family.
  • taking a moment to talk about what went wrong when a boy lost his cool and threatened a peer and to develop a different plan while helping him let go of his angry past.
  • a letter waiting for you at your new school when your family moved away and a teacher worried about your transition because you have moved so often.
  • a teacher braiding your hair because you are staying in a homeless shelter and mom couldn’t fix your hair before you came to school.
  • knowing that we will exhaust every option before we label you in a way that may limit your future opportunities.
  • the nurse recognizing a rash as a bigger problem to alert you to the need to seek immediate, life-saving medical attention.
  • a concerned teacher taking money from her own pocket to ensure the electricity is on so a child with asthma can have nebulizer treatments.
  • teaching peers to show compassion to a student with low cognitive ability and them applying that compassion by looking after her when she is outside the classroom.
  • designing work with incubating germs that help you learn “school stuff” but make you feel like a grown up in the real world.
  • setting goals and celebrating achievement and talking about how to regroup when the goal falls short so that all children, no matter of their ability, are coached and guided for growth.
  • talks of college embodied in grade level cheers and the dreams that a college degree can hold for your future.
  • songs of education and being “world changers” with the entire school every Friday.
  • the adults not making excuses that prevent children from achieving the best future, no matter where they started.
  • diversity and the opportunity to be around all kinds of people and learn that there is no need for fear, just value of multiple perspectives and willingness to use words to discuss differences.

Public schools are the place that we value every individual. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity, your native language, your religion, whether or not you have a disability or giftedness. You may come from an average background or one fraught with trauma. You may be wealthy, poor, or just middle-class. You may be the child who tries to please or the child who is continually demonstrating your displeasure with the world by spinning things into chaos. In a public school, we love you, we value you and try to earn your trust. We stretch you and grow you. We teach you to collaborate and communicate with those that are nothing like you. We teach you to think critically and set goals. We teach you to read, write and problem-solve using multiple strategies. We prepare you for the ability to thrive in a diverse world with the confidence that you can not only achieve your goals, but make the world a better place.

The things that public schools do to prepare our world for a better future are not easily measured by standardized tests or accountability systems and high performance on a test doesn’t guarantee your success if you cannot relate to the 21st century world.  Many would have society believe that paying for an education is a better option, but the don’t tell you what opportunities you miss because of a separate, homogenous education

Just remember, public schools are not just a building, we are people who ensure the promise that the community makes to itself, who love all and accept all, to inspire hope for a better society and future for all.

 

You Can’t Compare Apples and Oranges

This is a great read if you don’t understand why public schools are NOT failing. For example, if you looked only at my campus’ non-disabled, non economically disadvantaged and native English speakers, we would be at the top of the charts. Even so, we are climbing those charts because we educate all children in a social-emotionally healthy, rigorous way.


The great thing about America is that everyone has opportunity. You don’t have to be wealthy, non disabled, or meet a standard to get the in. We start with whatever you give us and grow you. In public education we educate every child. And here’s the great news, if you want a different product or possibility, you can home school, or choose a private school.
Just remember, our constitution guarantees a FREE and APPROPRIATE, PUBLIC education. Everyone having a quality education is how we make America great, not through soft segregation. If you think public schools can improve, roll up your sleeves and help.

If you decide not to help, please just don’t take every report you read at face value.  Rates of American Public Schools include all children.  Private schools, Charter schools, and schools from other countries often have selective processes.  One’s an apple, one is an orange.  However, unlike the picture above, these reports and media stories are clearly labeled as such.  Make sure you only compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

#standupforpublicschools #proudpublicschoolprincipal #donttreadonme

U.S. Public Schools Are NOT Failing. They’re Among the Best in the World

 

Leadership: Mastering The Art of Juggling and Clear Feedback

I love metaphors.  I think they are excellent tools in learning to promote higher level thinking and help learning stick.  Metaphors provide something for us to relate to that we already know and understand so that we can connect our new learning in an innovative way. My most recent leadership metaphor came to me when I was participating in a session with the Texas Principal’s Visioning Institute and they asked us to juggle scarves.  First, we had to juggle by ourselves and without any interaction or feedback from anyone else.  Very few in the room were able to juggle the scarves successfully.

juggling-scarves

After we had attempted to teach ourselves, we had the opportunity to work with others and provide feedback and encouragement.  Collaboration increased the rate of success tremendously. What resonated with me as I walked away (besides the fact of how cool it was that I learned to juggle scarves and taught someone else as well) was the power of clear, constructive feedback.

Not long after that, one of my campus leadership teams hit a real roadblock.  We have faced some real challenges this year.  People were exhausted. With Halloween, the Super Moon, and an election season with lots of negativity, not to mention some unexpected situations with students, we hadjuggling-fail stretched our productive coping mechanisms thin and resulted in a heated meeting. I know everyone left feeling frustrated.  As I reflected, I think I was most discouraged that the snowballing anxiety had resulted in angry outbursts that still weren’t necessarily clear about the real issues or root causes.  They were mostly just an expression of exasperation. I was upset with myself that my team had reached this point and I had missed the signs.  How could I have let my team down?  I definitely felt like my leadership juggling was resulting in everything hitting the ground.

The whole experience got me back to thinking about juggling scarves.  Leadership in education is much about juggling scarves.  This is because juggling scarves isn’t like juggling balls.  The motion is entirely different.  Instead of a circular motion, it is more juggling-womanof a crisscross.  Rather than an immediate gravitational force, there are a few seconds of floating.  It requires focus, rhythm, and gentle touch to get the scarves flowing. I think this is how educational leadership works as well.  You are constantly crisscrossing to monitor, check, and keep everything moving.  You have to use a gentle touch, because if you grab, cling, and forget to let go,  you can’t catch the next scarf.   You also have to keep everything at eye level to monitor the progress and make adjustments. Educational leadership has to be intentional, but with a light touch and keen perception.

juggle-quote

A few weeks later, I repeated the experience I had learned with my leadership team.  I added some of my own twists. Not only did they experience learning to juggle in isolation, my twist had to do with the type of feedback when it came to that time. The jugglers were paired with someone who could only give nonverbal feedback. They could use their faces, body language and gestures, but no words.  Some smiled and clapped.  Some looked disinterested.  Others looked angry, and some even grabbed the scarves away to demonstrate in frustration how to do it.

Feedback is just as critical.  When the team gives clear feedback about your strategies, you can use your mental energy to make adjustments and improve the flow.  When you take your eyes of the scarves and try to read someone’s face and decipher nonverbal feedback, your focus has moved off the scarves, and they are more likely to fall to the ground. As leadership teams, we have to give clear, constructive feedback on the process, so we do not get distracted from the goal and all the scarves stay up in the air. However, if the scarves fall, you don’t give up.  You pick the scarves up and start again.  Practice improves the process and the chances for success. Add in a team providing clear, constructive feedback and encouragement, and the probability of achieving the desired outcomes are even more likely.

This is how leadership works. Scarves hit the ground. Practice improves the process and the chances for success. Add in a team providing clear, constructive feedback and encouragement, and the probability of achieving the desired outcomes are even more likely.

I can say I am fortunate to have great educators around me.  They are willing to take risks, make mistakes, and learn together to do what is best for our students. As a result, I do believe that for now, all the scarves are up in the air and moving again!

What If?

We seem to be at a crossroads in education.  If we go one direction, we will continue to judge schools and their success by a single test without giving consideration to the growth that has occurred. Teachers will feel it necessary to resort to test preparation as that is how they are judged. Our best teachers will avoid the demanding classrooms so as not to put themselves at risk of judgment, mandates, and additional paperwork. Students will be limited in what they learn because what is assessed on a test is only a fraction of what they need to know to be successful in life. Parents will become disillusioned with the progress and those with means will move them to other options. District will put pressure on school leaders and will, in turn, pass this on to teachers with more paperwork and documentation. In the meantime, our society becomes more and more segregated. The ones left behind become angry and the ones who left become fearful of them because they can no longer relate to each other. What if this approach results in more violence in the future than what we see even today?

what-if

But what if we choose a different future?

What if federal and state governments quit trying to define student success with a test? What if they quit trying to quantify complex human development by a test score?  What if they encouraged schools to use these assessments to improve their instruction and meet needs of students, but left the true definitions of school success to the communities where those schools reside? What if special interest groups took “special interest” in our schools and pledged support rather than trying to find out ways to take the public funds that they haven’t yet been able to touch?

What if communities stand behind their schools?  What if when they feel the school is struggling, they step up to help, provide support for students, staff, and families? What if those with criticisms couldn’t sling mud at public education without having direct
knowledge of the situations with which they are passing judgment?  What if wanted to speak about a school and it’s performance, you must first spend time there with the people volunteering?  What if you couldn’t lump schools all together but had to speak specifically about situations in which you had personal experience? What if our media spent as much time talking about all the accomplishments of public schools and didn’t just highlight the isolated negative examples?

What if school administrators don’t have to worry about spending funds to survive, but can use dollars in practices that promote thriving such as professional learning for teachers?  What if they felt free to restructure schedules to provide teachers with ongoing collaboration and professional learning so that they could be sure that teachers were always at the forefront of their profession, masters of the learning standards and best practice in instructional techniques? What if when they saw a teacher in need, they could provide that teacher with the support they needed to grow and improve rather than feeling pressure to get them out?

What if because schools feel supported, teachers feel less stressed and feel they have the time to stop and build strong relationships with students and their families? What if teachers feel they can develop innovative, meaningful lessons that actually apply to the future that our what-if-4-300x175students will live in because they aren’t scared about test outcomes? What if they could collaborate and share without the pressure to hold back so that they could ensure they weren’t the bottom performer?  What if we valued teachers as the creators of all other professions and compensated them as such?

What if parents didn’t abandon schools for homeschooling, private and charter schools in an effort to isolate their children from those with experiences that may be very different from their own?  What if they were adamant to model that when something isn’t what we want it to be, they stick with it and become a part of the solution?

What if we had children from all different backgrounds that learned to value each other and learned to live together without fear and without anger? What if these students were able to learn the skills needed in reading, writing, math along with skills like collaboration, grit, growth mindset, technology, and problem-solving?

What if?

I can say I am fortunate to be a part of a district where our school board fights for local control.  I work in a district where our district leaders don’t point fingers, but rather ask “what can we do to support you?” and give campuses the freedom to do what they need to let-be-what-ifdo to make a difference with their students.  I have parents walking my halls taking care of all students, willing to take part in conversations when they have concerns, rather than resorting to silence and abandonment.  I have teachers that are the epitome of lifelong
learners. They have become masters of state standards and design meaningful learning that is resulting in stronger students with each passing year.  I have students that are learning the value of diversity.  They are learning to work things out together and hold themselves accountable for high levels of learning and growth. My campus has gone from plummeting scores and declining enrollment to scores and enrollment on the rise.  I am one of the fortunate principals who has had the freedom not to be defined by a test and the feel the support of my district and community.

What if all schools had this?

what-if-why-not

It Takes One to Grow One

Being the principal of a Title I school with fifty-two percent of our students coming from impoverished backgrounds has been a challenge, to say the least.  Three years ago, we began our journey making sure all teachers clearly understood the learning standards.  We expanded the second year to include some quality training in small group instruction, higher level thinking strategies, and writing.  This third year we have really worked on when teachers growunderstanding our students, especially those who come from backgrounds that may be very different from our own. It has become clear that relationships are key, and to develop relationships and give feedback in ways that are meaningful, you must truly understand the one that you are giving the feedback.

As we have entered the second semester of our third year, I have been amazed at the progress I have seen in such a short time.  Teachers and staff are teaching our students skills at deep levels.  Not only are they able to apply it in the context of the classroom, but the students are also starting to be able to transfer their learning into abstract testing situations. It was looking at our last round of data that got me pondering.

Yes, all the things we have intentionally worked on as a school are important.  But I have to admit that there was something present that allowed these initiatives to be successful.  At their core, the staff members in my building exemplify the characteristics of strong learners.

  1. Curiosity and Desire to Learn- Teachers who are learners continually assess their current situation and the factors that impact it.  They ask questions like “why?” and “what if?” to help them make sense of their world.  They are not satisfied with someone else’s definitions for understanding, but must experience them for themselves. Their classrooms are an experiment of trial and error to find what works.
  2. Grit in the Face of a Challenge- Teachers  who are learners recognize that failure is a part of learning.  Even when you have a path of steady growth, there is eventually a Grow-Brainplateau or even a dip in progress.  Teachers who are masters of learners accept this as a part of the growth process.  When faced with a challenge to their progress, these teachers persist, taking risks to find new ways to overcome the challenge rather than accept defeat.
  3. Growth Mindset to Continue to Improve- Often, once we as educators learn a strategy that works, we cling to it, even when it is no longer effective.  Teachers who are learners recognize that the goal is to perfect the craft of creating learners, not a strategy.  Teacher Learners are continually reflecting on their practice and learning so that they keep up with the needs of their students.  They know that the need to learn is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength in that they recognize the power of continually evolving.

I think no matter the circumstances: whether students come from affluent, middle-class, or poverty backgrounds, to grow children into learners, you have to possess those characteristics. When you have these traits of a learner yourself, and you understand your students you can instill these same qualities in them. How can you help another person achieve this level of learning if you haven’t experienced it yourself?  It really does “take one to grow one”!

Finding the Sweet Spot

“To transform schools successfully, we need to navigate the difficult space between letting go of old strategies and grabbing on to new ones.” Robert John Meehan

This quote struck me this week.  It is true to have a real transformation in schools, we must master this balance of old and new strategies.  This dual mastery is especially critical if we are to escape the constraints of a dysfunctional standardized testing cycle. We must find that optimum point of where critical elements of instruction intersect to have the most effect on student learning -“the sweet spot.”


As I began teaching twenty-five years ago, we ushered in the beginning of the demanding, rigorous, standardized testing era.  The tests at that time were increasingly more complex than anything we had seen before.  They were tied to accountability and a school’s performance on these tests was publicized for the world to see.

No worries.  Teachers were smart.  If the world said these tests were important, we could figure out ways to ensure students were successful.  I remember as a young, fifth-grade math teacher using a strategy that could assist even a struggling reader to determine the correct operation to use to solve the word problem. In reading, we could pinpoint the critical information the students needed to answer the questions, even if they didn’t have the stamina to read the entire lengthy passage.  I don’t think it was that we were trying to shortcut student learning.  We could essentially teach our students to follow a set routine of steps in a strategy, and they could be successful.  We were designing learning according to what society valued.  What was being communicated was that “tests” and “following instructions” were what was important.

authentic-skills

Over time, when have seen the shortfalls of this focus. Society has adjusted their perspective and decided tests based on this limited thinking were not important. We have realized that many students were crippled with no ability to solve a problem when they are not given a specific strategy or procedure.  We unwittingly created dependent students who struggled to approach problems with creativity.  As a result, tests have systematically been recreated to make those strategies from twenty-five years ago almost impossible to use. Words formally used as triggers are now embedded as distractors to see if students understand what they are doing. Tests are now designed to force higher level thinking.  They don’t rely on one set strategy that the teacher can say, “just follow these steps.”  It just won’t work. Regurgitation of facts or actions is essentially useless. To pass the “new generation” of high stakes assessments, our students must be proficient readers, mathematicians, communicators, and creative problem solvers.

Is this a bad thing?  I don’t think so.  Is it needed for our students to prepare for the future they face? Absolutely!  Is it easy? No way.  Essentially, it requires teachers and students to
“unlearn” everything they relied on in the past. Everything that worked and deemed them a success previously is now ineffective to achieve the new bar.

For those teachers in elementary schools today, it’s like being told you have to quit a bad habit, but you will continue to be judged on performance.  I liken it to giving up caffeine. Imagine you have been a heavy coffee or coke drinker.  Now you are giving up all caffeine cold turkey.  You know you need to do this for your health, but you still have to perform at high levels despite the fact that your body might be going through some withdrawal and experiencing caffeine headaches.  Finding that balance of teaching students at authentic levels with high problem-solving and performing triage for gaps between the newer test versions and previous ones take talent, practice, and hard work.

Effectively teaching students at high levels with meaningful, real-life problem-solving while performing triage for gaps between the newer test versions and previous ones doesn’t happen overnight.  Measures that previously determined students, teachers, and schools were high performers have been revised and now deem them lacking.  It is not the people who have changed.  It is the tests.  It is the expectations.  Even businesses learning-testingacknowledge that systematic change takes three to five years. There is often an implementation dip after starting new methods.  I would think that when you add young children to the mix, it can take a little longer. With that, we must be careful not to misinterpret or abuse test results. We are comparing apples to oranges.  These new tests are definitely not like any test you took in school.  It’s not in anyone’s best interest to make assumptions or broad generalizations, especially not the student.

This year is my third year as a principal.  I have been amazed at how fast positive change in instruction is taking hold on my campus.  I am blessed with a team of educators who know why they do what they do.  They understand what we need to do to prepare our students.  They have the grit to persist even when traveling this difficult road.  We are starting to see glimmers of this new way of thinking in our students while putting in extensive work to overcome gaps created by previous approaches.  They live in that sweet spot.

Yesterday, I read a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

These words were written in a paper Dr. King wrote in 1947. Maybe this change in values of education represents the next swing of the teaching pendulum.  Or maybe it has just taken us 70 years to find the sweet spot.

Time to Teach

My campus had some great conversations this past week with one of my leaderships teams and our grade level PLCs.  We talked about the tremendous impact student goal conferences are having this year on student achievement. During each of our PLCs, we spend part of our time specifically discussing any student who is not demonstrating growth. We don’t just discuss our most struggling students. During this time, we brainstorm interventions and strategies for any student whose growth has become stagnant.  As a result, we are seeing student scores increase an average of thirty to forty percentage points from last year on the same assessment. Honestly, I don’t believe I’ve seen growth as we are currently seeing in my entire career. Even with all the celebration, there was concern that student conferencing and goal setting takes a great deal of time away from instruction. This got me thinking. Is it really time away from teaching?

During this time, we brainstorm interventions and strategies for any student whose growth has become stagnant.  As a result, we are seeing student scores increase an average of thirty to forty percentage points from last year on the same assessment. Honestly, I don’t believe I’ve seen growth as we are currently seeing in my entire career. However, even with all the celebration, there was concern that student conferencing and goal setting takes a great deal of time away from instruction. This got me thinking. Is it really time away from teaching?

conferencing

Think about it! It’s not just people who perform poorly at tasks that get individual “tutoring”. Talented dancers take additional “privates”. World-class athletes have “form” coaches. Musicians take private lessons. Heck, I even have a “Principal Coach” that I speak with on a regular basis. Individualized feedback to help one improve is the very best and most meaningful type of teaching and learning. Because it is individualized, growth can occur more quickly.

When you spend time with a student, looking at results and helping them set goals for the future, you are teaching them to be reflective. That one-on-one conversation you are having with the students to discuss where they are, where they need to be, and how they goal settingcan get there is causing students to think about their learning and figure out how to improve. When you discuss with a student who hasn’t grown and tell them that “it is okay, sometimes we don’t grow, but what are we going to do now?” it helps them develop resiliency.  You ARE teaching! You are teaching them how to become a better learner. You are teaching them how to solve the most meaningful problem–how to overcome and address their own needs. You are teaching them the life skills necessary to exist in a future world that we don’t know how it will look when they grow up!

There is an epidemic of college-aged students who are floundering.  These students were “standardized” in school as we taught them how to “do as I do” and “perfection is the key”. I can’t help but believe this is due to a generation being raised with standardized testing and teaching students strategies to follow our lead rather than how to think it's a dream until you write it downindependently. These students have been brought up believing “less than perfect” is a failure and failure is abhorred.  It’s the fixed mindset of “If I can’t do it perfectly the first time, I must not be able to do it at all” and anything not mastered the first time is quickly abandoned by students with no grit.

Last year we tried to implement student goal setting folders. It was a disaster.  We made them too complicated.  They were too detailed to manage effectively, and the practice was quickly abandoned.  I didn’t resist, because I couldn’t see that the time spent was resulting in any student gains. This year, we simplified.  We kept our plan focused, and the payoff is huge. The most important thing is that we didn’t give up.

I am proud of the work we do on my campus to teach our students the skills they need to be resilient through challenges! They have grit.  They have growth mindsets. There is no argument to the fact that this type of teaching does take time, but if you think about how you use that time with each child to specifically meet their needs, you probably spent time more wisely in conferencing and goal setting than any content lesson you would teach that week. I do not think there is anything more powerful than one-on-one conversations with students specifically geared toward their needs. It IS teaching! It is teaching people not just content, and as educators, we should always have enough time for that!

Declining Resiliency In College Students

When Exhaustion Comes

Research has shown a typical pattern of feelings of 1st-year teachers.

However, I think that it often reflects the emotions of all educators, but perhaps with less drastic dips. Regardless, around October, the newness and adrenaline rush that gets us through the beginning of the year and September starts to dwindle. We have had time to build relationships with our students and because of that, the demand that we put on ourselves for their success weighs on our hearts. We have had time to assess our students, and we know the reality of the job we face. I have had this conversation more than once this past week…October is hard!

I also had a personal experience with hitting the wall of exhaustion. A four day week filled with teacher observations, data meetings, a homecoming parade, PLC Meetings and a night with three hours sleep left me debilitated.  I felt myself having less and less to give to my students, my teachers, and my parents. My smile was diminishing. It wasn’t good, but I was too tired to do anything to stop it.

Finally, I was able to think of something I heard Dr. Bertice Berry say the week before.  “When you walk with purpose, you collide with destiny.”  As I reflected on the statement, I realized that when we get tired, we somehow lose our ability to focus on our purpose.  We get bogged down in a survival of the moment to moment.  I acknowledged that if I am honest, my exhaustion sets in when I let the unimportant things start taking priority. When I start demanding perfection of myself rather than focusing on growth, I use more energy that leaves me feeling drained.

I know that to counteract problems effectively, we have to develop an intentional plan. This is what I came up with as a strategy to keep my emotional dips as shallow as possible:

  • Always remember your purpose. We enter education to make a difference. Make sure students always drive your priorities. Even when you have to do a “task” that may not feel important, see if you can connect it back to your students, whether it is the time it takes for conferences, lesson planning, or meetings, think about how that intentional time in this activity could make a positive impact on students. If you can’t make this connection, eliminate the task or find a way that you minimize the time that you spend on the assignment.
  • Give yourself permission to go slow and grow. Sometimes we should go a little slower in the beginning to develop the habits our students need so they can go faster later. Time is better spent moving at a slower pace early on than going too fast and wasting that time because you didn’t get the success you want. As the right habits build, you will be able to speed up, and students will also be successful. Breakneck speed with minimal success is exhausting. We can’t run a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. Find the stride that allows you to keep going while also getting you to the finish line at the front of the pack.
  • Find time for you. Educators must give a lot of themselves: to students, to parents, to each other. You can’t fill the cups of others if yours is empty. For me, it’s movies, massages, time spent in silence, inspiring music, and doing things with my family. Know what rejuvenates you and DO IT!
  • Count your successes. Make a list of all the great things you have done already this year that may be part of the reason you are tired. Celebrate the relationship you built with a child, the student’s growth that occurred because of your work with him, the parent that you reassured or that colleague you helped. We have to take a moment to remind ourselves we do make a difference!

I think October will always be hard in comparison to other months, but when we can look back over time and see this feeling is normal and that we always get through, it gives us hope. Jack Canfield says that what we see in our minds and what we think about is what we attract to us. If we see our abilities to overcome struggles when the realities of school set in we will successfully manage our dips because feelings of power and hope keep us from feeling drained. It’s hard work that makes us tired, but it is worth it when we remember our purpose and know that grit and growth mindset will prevail in the end.