Give the kid a pencil

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The pencil, a universal symbol for schools. We see their images on Back to School advertisements, in flyers, on school newsletters and on classroom walls. Who would think that they could cause so much controversy.

The inspiration for this topic came from I read a post on Twitter by Danny Steele @SteeleThoughts about pencils. It read

“If your student forgets his pencil, give him a pencil. Don’t make a thing of it. There are better ways to teach a kid responsibility.”

You would not believe the responses. It had received over 1200 likes, over 600 retweets and 25 replies and counting. Should this even be something that has to be put out there as a message on Social Media? Yup, apparently so based on the conversations that ensued. There seem to be three camps out there. One camp feels, just give the kid a pencil, another feels that there needs to be some sort of responsibility and therefore require collateral and another is very cut and dry, if the kid doesn’t bring a pencil they will be asked to leave the room.

There are some students who come to school without having eaten breakfast, have no lunch, no gym strip, they have clothes that looks old or too small and yes, may have no pencil. Isn’t providing them with a pencil an easy fix? Quietly handing a student a pencil when they need one, without making a federal case out of it can be the first step in building a positive relationship with them. It’s a simple gesture which can say a whole lot. It tells the student that you want to provide them with what they need to be successful in your class.

Sure, there’s the possibility that the student is being irresponsible and sending a subtle message to the teacher that they “couldn’t be bothered to bring a pencil” but isn’t it our job to teach them responsibility and encourage them to be actively involved in the class? Step one, hand over a pencil, ask for collateral if that’s what you want, but sending them out of class? Surely, that’s not the way to deal with it. Treating a student with kindness, getting on with the day’s lesson, isn’t that the easiest route to take? The least disruptive to the class?

Haven’t we all forgotten a pencil at some point in our lives? I know that on occasion I have shown up at a meeting without a pencil. I haven’t been singled out and embarrassed by anyone. I have been provided what I need at my table without issue. Actually, most of the time there are pads of paper and plenty of pencils and pens laid out at the table in anticipation that we, the adults, came unprepared. Not once have I ever been asked to leave a meeting because I forgot my pencil. (Though, I’m sure we all have wished at least once, that we had been. Meetings are not always a whole lot of fun.)

Please, just give the kid a pencil.

Spring? Break

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The #compelledtribe common topic for April is to share how I used Spring Break to become a better educator.

While many people headed off to find sunshine, our family had decided to stay home this Spring Break. Our 16 year old daughter was scheduled to get her wisdom teeth out smack in the middle of Spring Break so we thought we would all just stay home and relax.

Here on the North Coast of BC we use the term Spring Break rather…hopefully. Sure, on the calendar it should be Spring  but more often than not the weather is not even close to evoking feelings of Spring. You know, rejuvenating, energizing, out with the old type stuff. Well, our Spring Break started with several days of snow. Now don’t get me wrong it sure is pretty, with all the trees and mountains covered in the white fluffy stuff. But…Spring? Not even close. It was another winter break so it made you feel like sitting in your PJ’s with your blankie in front of a fire and hibernating with a good book. So, I embraced that feeling to its fullest extent and planted myself on my couch in my “spot” as I like to call it, for much of the time and did a whole lot of reading. My daughter and I did some baking as well because, as she said, “It feels like Christmas so why don’t we do some Christmas baking!” She is always able to look at the positive and make things fun, that’s one of the many things I love about her!

Anyway, back to me, in my flannel PJ’s in my “spot”. I started with a fun book. I do a lot of reading about education and leadership throughout the school year so I thought I’d start with a fun, non work related book. My friend, a teacher on staff, dropped it off in my office on the last day before Spring Break and told me to “Read this over break, you’ll love it!”, as she headed off to pack for her trip to Montreal. It was Jenny Lawson’s, “Furiously Happy”. That woman makes me laugh out loud. I burned through that book in no time, it was so entertaining, strange and refreshingly honest.

Next…

I have a stack of books on my nightstand and another stack on the floor beside it but nothing was calling to me and I had already committed to binge reading so, what to do? I turned to Twitter to see what books my PLN was tweeting about and there were several. One was “Lead like a Pirate” by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. I had read many things about the “Pirate” movement but I wasn’t quite sure what it was all about. What did eyepatches and hooks have to do with schools? But,  people were loving the book so I downloaded it on my Kindle and started. I was “hooked”! I know, lame teacher joke, can’t help myself sometimes! But truly, I was loving this book. It was filled with real life stories and lessons learned through experience in schools as leaders and teachers. By the way, for those who aren’t familiar the whole PIRATE thing, it is an acronym for Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation and Enthusiasm, nothing really to do with eyepatches but the connection is so much fun! I was drawn into the book and found myself participating in chats with the authors and readers. It was and still is providing me with some great professional development.

All the while I was also re-reading “The Innovators Mindset” by George Couros and participating in his #IMMOOC challenge. I find myself going back to his book often to revisit the ideas and find inspiration. During my Twitter convos around these books I learned about #BookSnaps from @TaraMartinEDU. I watched her video on how to do a BookSnap and I was on my way. These are such a great ways  to share what you are learning through your reading, express your opinions, be creative and engage in discussions. I shared what I learned with my husband, he’s a teacher too, and he  has used them in his class.

I went on to read a couple of other books but I’ll share about those in a future post. During the rest of the break I went on a few nice long walks to get some fresh air. Walks in nature are such a great way to clear your head and get yourself moving. I didn’t sit in my spot all Spring Break! My husband and I got out of town for a couple of days, took a long…very long drive actually and enjoyed the scenery and some shopping. It was a great Spring Break!

“What if…we just tried something new”

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Whenever you decide to try something new in a school you are going to find that there are three types of responses that you get from the people involved. 1.  “I don’t see why we need to try that, what we’ve been doing is working just fine.” 2. “Sure, whatever,  I’m willing to give this a try.” and 3. “Yes, please, let’s try that!”. You will find that these responses come from parents, teachers and students alike and you can probably, as a teacher or administrator, predict with amazing accuracy, the people who will give you each response before you even make a suggestion. The challenge comes with following through on your idea. Sure, it may be a risk that you are taking in implementing a change but how can we move forward and encourage risk taking if we don’t model it?

This past month we tried a new format for parent – teacher conferences.

We opened up the afternoon to “drop in” meetings for parents. In the past parents had to call ahead and book appointment times with each of their child’s teachers.

We had coffee and treats available for parents as they entered the building to welcome them to our school and also had parents fill out a ticket for a door prize draw. We have never had food or prizes before. (Who doesn’t love food and prizes?)

The teachers gathered in the gym at tables that we arranged around the perimeter. There were several advantages to this.   It  felt less isolating for staff and more like a school community, parents did not have to walk from classroom to classroom and wait outside in the hall while other parents were finishing their appointments, instead they could scan the gym to see which teacher was available and easily approach that teacher to discuss student learning. Our school is very large, it takes 20 minutes for me to unlock and turn on lights in the morning so having the teachers in one location made it much easier for parents.

When this new format was first suggested to staff, the three expected responses mentioned earlier were received. When I suggested food and door prizes I was almost laughed out of the room. The plan would also involve more work  in organizing the gym and getting the food set up. This would be my responsibility but we have amazing students and support staff who helped out and when the last class left the gym at 2:11pm, everyone sprung into action and had all 30 tables, labelled with teachers names and subjects, 90 chairs,  and the food tables ready to go by 2:30pm. Whew!!

While the turn out was not as great as I had hoped, the conversations that were sparked as a result of the change made it all worthwhile. I had parents drop by my office to give me feedback on why they liked this new format. I had teachers drop by with amazing ideas about how we can make this format even better next time. Ideas like using this time to showcase student success and creativity, displaying student work in the center of the gym for parents to see and having student council members present to greet parents, just to name a few. I know I will still have those people who are stuck on response number 1 but that is to be expected.

What if we promoted risk taking to our staff and students and modeled it openly as administrators?

 

 

The Power of Connection

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This quote applies to all stakeholders in the education system. Whether we are speaking about how students, parents, teachers, education assistants or administrators feel, there is little doubt regarding the power of connection. People want to feel that they are valued, that they have a voice and that they are members of a community.

I want to focus now on the feeling of connection amongst educators.

There has been much talk over the past few years about people in the field of education building their own  PLN (Personal Learning Network). The feeling of connection that comes from a PLN is powerful. I have spoken to many people about the role that Twitter can play in developing a PLN. Most of us already have some sort of electronic device, a cell phone, a tablet…that’s all you need. Reaching out to connect with others in the field of education and sharing expertise can be a valuable learning experience. After all, many of the challenges that you face as an educator are not unique to you, your school or community. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands  of people out there who have or are experiencing many of the same challenges that you are and can share their stories about what has worked and what hasn’t. Connect with some of them, have conversations, get feedback on your ideas, take charge of your professional development.

Sure, often when I mention Twitter and other forms of social media like Voxer, I have often been met with “eye rolling”, often followed by “I don’t understand Twitter”, or “I don’t believe in technology”. The fact is, that technology is a part of our lives and most definitely a part of the lives and future of our students. If you are unsure how to use it, then have someone teach you.

You can also build your PLN by attending conferences and workshops about topics that are of particular interest to you. It is easy to get caught up in daily routine with all of the things that seem to pile up on your desk. You can get so focussed on attacking the tasks, prepping, marking… that you don’t take the time to pause and search out experiences that can help you to grow, to connect with new people and have new conversations. Go to a conference and take advantage of the opportunity to share new ideas and opinions, you may even find that you gain a new energy that you otherwise may not gain while staying within the four walls of your classroom. If you do choose to attend a conference, try to sit with people you don’t know, dont just sit with people that you can talk with every day, you already know their opinions, their experiences. Branch out. This can be difficult for those of us who are more introverted but believe me, you will be glad you did. Connecting and collaborating are important skills that we want for our students, don’t you want the same for yourself?

 

 

 

Learning Can Be Messy!

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First of all, an update on my #OneWord2017, “balance”. I’m working on it and have made some progress, I’m proud to say. I am making an effort to try new things. I decided to try out a paint night with friends. You know, the ones that you hear about on Facebook where a group of women get together to have a glass of wine, a few laughs and try their hand at painting. At times it was difficult to hear our instructor as people were laughing and having a great time. It was so much fun and the interesting thing is that while everyone is painting the same picture, the results are all unique. I was apprehensive at first, I’ll admit that, but once you get started and dab some paint here and dab some more paint there, before you know it you have a painting. As a matter of fact, I liked it so much I decided to sign up for another session.

This weekend I also spent some time at the curling rink watching my son skip in a bonspiel. I remember when he was 9 and he had just started to curl. He is 17 now and will be heading off to university in September. (Don’t know how that happened, where the time went?) During the bonspiel I watched as he skipped very good games and made some great shots under pressure. It was so enjoyable to watch him play. Curling has been such a wonderful learning experience and I am so proud of him.

As I reflect on these two things, my painting experience and my son’s growth as a curler, there are so many lessons here that can be applied to life in general and to education. First of all, take risks, you’ll be happy you tried something new. When I arrived at the paint night event I remember looking at the painting sample that was on display, the one we were all, supposedly, going to try and duplicate. I turned to my friend and said, “I’m not so sure about this, how am I supposed to do that?” But you know, once you get started you see that it is doable. Just relax, don’t stress, and remember to enjoy yourself. It can be messy…I had paint up to my elbows! Learning something new usually is, but when you start to see it all come together its pretty amazing and you most certainly feel a sense of accomplishment.

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With curling, I watched my kids when they were little (my daughter also started to curl when she was in Grade 4) go from barely being able to push a rock, to easily sliding off the hack while getting a rock to curl just the way they wanted. They went from developing the physical skills to developing the psychological skills. Strategically reading the game, deciding what calls to make and how to focus on a shot, take a deep breath and make it happen. Anytime we learn something new we first gain basic knowledge and skills, move forward into the understanding and application of that knowledge and then progress to critical thinking, often working with members of a team to be successful and collaborate on decisions.

You know, last year I didn’t watch my son play a full game of curling. I was always too busy with work. Here’s to continuing to make 2017 a year with more “balance”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance, my #OneWord for 2017

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Balance, my #OneWord for 2017

Funny, the last time I posted in my blog was January of 2016. I haven`t written since then because I was “too busy”. In 2016 I started a new position as a principal of a Middle/High school and, believe me, the learning curve was quite steep. I have enjoyed the learning and challenges along the way and am continuing to learn new things every day. While the year was also sprinkled with fun new travel experiences that I shared with family, upon reflection I realize that my day to day was often consumed with my work.

 

When the Christmas holidays rolled around this year I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how I wanted to approach 2017. I am not usually one for  resolutions but when I read in social media that a lot of people were going with the #oneword type of resolution I felt that this was something I could do. I have seen many great #oneword choices, words like believe, growth, pivot, grit, be, hope…the list goes on and on. So, after much thought, I decided to choose one word to be my focus and that one word is balance.

I know that I tend to be an “all in” type of person, I have to be busy all the time. So this concept of balance is not necessarily going to be very easy for me. I am very good at advising other people about the need for balance, the need for them to remember to take time for themselves and slow down. Now, the challenge is, to apply that same advice to my own life.

I, like most, want to do the best I can for the people in both my personal and professional life and in order to do that I plan to be mindful of balance. I started by reading four books over the break which were for pleasure. I love to read and read a lot but over the past year or so my reading list was dominated by books about education. I plan to keep working on balance in my life, whether it be balancing the good with bad, work with play, spending with saving, you get the idea. Wish me luck!

Getting Above the Clouds

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I have not been writing in my blog recently. Many times over the past couple of weeks I have found myself in front of a blank screen, fingers held over the keyboard and… nothing.

So here I sit today trying to hit the reset button on my blog.

2016 has begun and I am having a great time! I have embarked on a new challenge in my career and am enjoying the journey so far. I am busier than ever but I feel energized.

I just finished reading “The Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon. It is a book about a guy named George who gets up one day and discovers that he has a flat tire, just what he needs given that his home and work life are not going well. George asks his wife to give him a ride to work but she refuses so he has no choice but to take the bus.

The story continues as George meets the bus driver named Joy and a cast of characters who teach him 10 life lessons about positive energy, all while using a bus as a metaphor for life.

The underlying message is that you must think positive thoughts because thoughts are magnetic. “What we think about, we attract.” I have certainly found this to be so within my own life.

We all go through periods in our lives where things just seem to be going all wrong and we tend to look at only the negatives during these times. But, if we try to turn our thoughts in a positive direction, and believe me I know this can be quite difficult, we will find that the clouds will part. Positivity is like a muscle that you need to exercise in order for it to become stronger.  You have to develop a habit of positive thinking. And, as Gordon puts it, you must not allow any “energy vampires” on your bus.

There may be people in our lives that have a negative impact on our energy, the ones who act as energy vampires and seem to thrive on negativity. You have to be sure that your positive energy is enough to cancel their negative. You have to have those crucial conversations with these people to let them know that you will not allow them to impact your path or vision in a negative way. That if they are not willing to develop a more positive outlook then there is no room for them on your bus. You don’t waste your energy on the people who are not willing to ride along with you and be a member of your team.

It is also important to acknowledge that the positivity which you project is real. People know when you are being fake,  like when you constantly throw around “I love you” and “You’re the best” to everyone you meet.

When building relationships that are authentic, you have to be aware of your energy. People, especially kids, can tap into your energy and are sensitive to it, they can feel when you are excited, angry, nervous…you can’t fool them with a positive façade. You may wonder, as George does in the book, what to do with your negative energy. Well, you have to transform it, look for the good and hold onto it. Rise above the negative. Its like when you are flying in a plane and the sky is completely cloud covered, but when you get up above those clouds, the sun is shining brightly. You just have to get above the clouds.

When you are working on building a strong, productive team, you need to show that you care about people. Be willing to communicate, and don’t let how busy or stressed you may feel interfere with that. You need to give people a purpose. This is the intrinsic motivator, productive teams are not driven by money or perks,  they are driven by purpose. You have to be willing to act as a coach to help people tap into their strengths, build their skills, feel that what they do matters.

Take risks, encourage others to do so, spend time reflecting and finally… you have to enjoy the ride. Life is too short not to go for it!