Giving Thanks

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I had the great pleasure of visiting a variety of schools this past month.  I love to capture what I see, hear, and experience especially in the hallways and when no one knows I am observing!  I should have taken pictures or videos, but I didn’t want to ruin the moment and not be fully present during my visits.  I am thankful for the educators who are the models for why we choose to do this difficult work on a daily basis.  We spend a lot of time “teacher bashing” – we need to celebrate educators more and on a more frequent basis!

Here are some highlights:

  • watching young children (3-6 year olds) eagerly choose a book to read while waiting in the lobby to be picked up and invite their friends to come read with them
  •  teachers chatting after school in the hallway about their day with smiles on their faces and talking about their kids with passion and love
  •  staff interacting with parents in the hallways during dismissal, knowing every parent by name and knowing specific details about their children
  •  working with teacher leaders that are excited about coaching – when establishing expectations for our meetings, one fellow said,  “outside of the box thinking” – what a fabulous norm.  We should always be thinking differently and I hope to foster that.
  •  observing a Socratic Seminar in a middle school where the teacher is truly facilitating or observing from the sidelines and students own the process
  • observing an elementary school math lesson where students were working in small groups and enthusiastically talking about math
  • listening to young entrepreneurs from the middle east share how they are working to change the trajectory for youth in their countries
  • facilitating professional development sessions at a Common Core conference with educators in Dubai, UAE who were so gracious and invested in learning new strategies

As a school principal, I would capture the good that I saw in children, teachers and even parents and guardians.  I made it a priority send a hand written note (at least twice a year) in the mail thanking someone for something they had done to impact the life of a child in our school.  Although it seems like such a minor gesture, my staff was always grateful to be acknowledged in that way.  Don’t get me wrong, I always had chocolate in my office as well!

How do you thank those that are making an impact in your school?  How would you like to be acknowledged?

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So You Want to Facilitate a Webinar

I participate in many webinars and usually I am disgruntled as I think to myself, why am I participating if the presenter is just reading the sides out loud?  This time, I was on the other side of the screen…I was the facilitator…and I bombed!  I learned how challenging it really is to facilitate online learning as there are so many moving parts.  This experience led me to a metacognitive moment…thinking about my thinking and my process.

Lessons learned:

1.  Practice, practice, practice- don’t just practice what you are going to say, practice using the “virtual classroom space”

2.  Make sure your speaker and mic are both ON

3.  Provide frequent pauses to read and respond to questions by participants so that it’s as interactive as possible, especially when your audience is only participating through a Q&A box

4.  If you are going to use the cursor – use it!  Otherwise, it’s a distraction

5.  Revisit step one

Heartbroken

I am heartbroken.  We are failing kids in DC and beyond, but DC really takes the cake for me today.  It’s not the city per se…it’s what has been allowed to happen over and over again.  School doesn’t meet the needs of a student.  Student has challenges inside and outside of the classroom impacting their ability to learn.  Student gets fed up, and drops out.  Another one bites the dust.

This week I have been left to Facebook stalk a former student of mine.  We met when he was five, in the Kindergarten class next door to my First grade classroom.  He spent a lot of time in my classroom that year and was enrolled in my class the following year.  We had already establish a strong rapport and I knew his aunt and father by name and had their phone numbers on speed dial.  This child had a lot of energy, was extremely creative and artistic, had a terrible time following directions, very charming and had a huge heart.  When he was in Kindergarten I remember getting down on eye level with him and saying to him, “I will be there when you graduate from high school and college, you can’t get rid of me.”.

Over the next five years I was his Principal and was able to keep a very close eye on him.  Middle school rolled around and adolescence forced him to want more autonomy and we communicated less and less over the past few years.  I knew he was in a strong middle school program and I helped him get into a high school that I knew was a small enough setting that he would be able to get the support he needed.  Fast forward, August 30, 2011, after multiple messages back and forth and me promising I would not yell at him, he tells me he has been out of school for quite some time and wants to go back.  All the details about why he has been out of school can be left up to the imagination.

Today, he is 17, has enough credits to maybe be a freshman, continues to live with a learning disability and will soon age out of the system completely.  My charge is to get him into school by Friday.  I have a few that I have selected and told him that we will go together and he needs to decide what is best for him because this is going to be tough…really tough.

My biggest fear now, is that we go, register, he attends for a short time, and becomes frustrated and drops out for good.

How many more kids do we need to see in this situation before we start making big changes?  It is not a one size fits all. If the kid doesn’t fit the school, find a school that fits the kid.

What would you do?

The End in Mind

I had the privilege of working as part of a team implementing the transformation model for school improvement for a struggling school in NE Washington, DC.  In the year and a half that we worked with the staff, we supported building a foundation to transform beliefs and practices.  The teachers reflected upon their personal and professional goals during their one on one conferences in June.

Check out the brief video highlighting some of their powerful work:

The End in Mind