Sunday, November 20, 2016

Seeing the Light!

   I hung up the phone and heaved a sigh of relief while simultaneously plopping into a comfortable chair and taking a deep breath. Parent conferences completed- check. Follow-up phone calls made, and emails answered- check. Report sent to the office- check. Lesson plans made- not yet. For the moment, I just wanted to sit in silence and catch my breath. I closed my eyes trying to relax, but it was almost a futile attempt. The “to-do list” in my head kept getting longer. I was exhausted! I needed to get to work, but my body wouldn’t move...not yet. And so I closed my eyes, took some deep breaths, and tried to visualize my next steps.
   Now, I’m not saying that you can dream your life away, but visualization is powerful. The neurons in our brain that transmit information interpret imagery as real life action. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Believe it to achieve it.” Performers, athletes, and many successful people have used visualization to increase the likelihood of realizing their dreams. Mentally preparing a lesson, presentation, or using visualization to break down and see the detailed action steps required to achieve one of my goals is something that I’ve always done. If I could see it, I knew that I could overcome any barrier to achieve a goal.
   But what happens when you set a goal, like furthering your education, because you feel compelled to do it not because you can “see it” actualized? This has been my challenge.
   I couldn’t see it. I’d close my eyes and try to envision myself as a principal leading a school. It just didn’t happen. Faded snapshots of being a building leader quickly came and disappeared. I couldn’t hold onto the images. Whenever anyone would make a comment to me about how I should be a principal, I’d smile and joke about why I’d never “move to the dark side.” (We shouldn’t view leadership in that manner by the way.) My calling was in the classroom! So without any real motivation to ever become an administrator, I started down the path thinking that it was a way to further my education. Other options for leadership didn’t seem to exist.
   The last couple of years have been a journey. While others in my cohort spoke and wrote about their excitement of being a school leader, I often asked myself, “Why? Why would I ever want to leave the classroom to be a principal?” My dream job of somehow having one foot in the classroom and one foot with more leadership responsibilities wasn’t available. Friends often said, “Keep going, Sandy. Once you’re in a school around kids, you’ll love it!” And so I grabbed onto that tidbit of hope and stayed somewhat reluctantly in the program.
   Fast forward a couple of years. I’m now finishing up my internship, and all of the course requirements will be completed by the end of January (hopefully). And...I can honestly say that I found a new passion! I can see the light!
   One day while making several classroom visits to help teachers integrate technology into their lessons, I experienced an epiphany. I knew that I was in my “element” as Sir Ken Robinson describes, serving students, teachers, and the broader school community. At that moment, I realized that I had gifts and talents that needed to be shared with more than the students in my classroom. I knew that I could have a larger impact on education. I can’t say that I knew that I’d be a principal some day, but I knew that I was ready to serve kids in a different capacity. I knew that I was ready for the next step. And my heart would always be in the classroom.
   My fixed mindset about what a school leader had to be has changed quite a bit. I envisioned a principal as being hardly anything more than a manager who dealt with upset parents and misbehaved children all day. I have learned a lot over the past couple of years from the LED program, the books that I’ve read, the webinars and classes I attended, and from my students and colleagues. But with all sincerity, I learned more from my PLN about leading and leadership than from any other source.
   An important lesson I learned was that there are many types of leaders and leadership styles. (I’ve always known that, but I’d never made a personal connection.) Although I have many weaknesses, I also have strengths as a leader. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not to lead a school. I don’t have to fit a mold. I can be true to myself. There is a light within me, and I need to let it shine. I can’t let fear stop me from reaching my potential. Although the negative self-talk critic on my shoulder has a pretty loud voice, I have a quiet confidence that I can be a school leader. There’s no denying that I have a lot to learn! But I also know that my strengths of being a people person, of having an insatiable appetite for learning, a love for kids, and a passion for excellent instruction in the classroom will benefit teachers and students. I know that I can help others discover their strengths and light within themselves too. 
   Now when I close my eyes, I smile because I can see myself as a lead learner. The images are clear and in full color! I’m surrounded by other great educators who are student-focused and working with me as a team. We have a shared mission and vision.
I can hear our enthusiasm!
I can see us collaborating!
This will be no ordinary school!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Time to Listen

I’d seen her many times traveling down the road in her electric wheelchair. Wisps of gray hair poking out from beneath her bright orange beanie along with her Levi jacket and wooden staff across her lap combined to make her a curious site to the passerby. I always wondered who she was and about her story. As I was leaving the grocery store the other day, I saw her. Part of me wanted to introduce myself; the other part told me that I was too busy to stop. I almost passed her. Almost. I stopped and introduced myself.
For the next 20 minutes, I listened intently as her story unfolded. At 80 years old, she made the nearly 4-mile trek to the grocery store and other places because she was fiercely independent. She did have a son and some grandchildren, but they were an hour’s drive away from where she lived. (Their pictures were taped to her staff.) Lynn, originally from Tennessee, was a former teacher. She first taught fourth grade and then moved to the high school. Afterward, she spent most of her career teaching at a boys’ correctional facility in California. She was an obvious tough cookie packaged in a small frame.
As we continued to talk, we found that we had a lot in common like our birthdays being only a day a part. We talked about our love of kids and education. We talked about our passion for science, history and trying to make a difference in the world. It’s funny how I thought that by stopping and introducing myself that I could offer to help her in some way. Instead, she helped me. Her wisdom, experiences, and insight uplifted my soul and gave me strength. I will be forever grateful that I stopped and took the time to hear her story.
Meeting Lynn makes me think about how many times we don’t take enough time to get to know the people we work with on a daily basis and how much our lives would be enriched if we took more time to have face to face conversations. Everyone has a story. How many stories are going untold because we’re too busy to listen to each other? How many lessons are going unlearned? How many people, like Lynn, have so much to offer but no way of giving back and feel of little worth and value?
Now, more than ever, our country needs to show kindness to others. Taking the time to listen is the first step.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Getting My Feet Wet

Last week, I started as a full-time administrative intern. I loved it! For someone that has battled about the decision to even start down the administrative path, this was huge!

Sure, it was a little awkward at first. Anytime I jump into something new; it's a little uncomfortable. But, I've become so accustomed to being uncomfortable that this experience was no different.

My plan was and is to build relationships, be positive, recognize the strengths in others, support, and learn all that I can during my short stay. I started off by emailing the staff a couple of positive thoughts for #CelebrateMonday and an introduction to myself. Monday morning, I came to school early and walked around the school introducing myself and chatting with anyone in the building.  I honestly had a great time talking with the custodian, kitchen staff, a few teachers, and later with the crossing guards.

Throughout the week, there were some meetings that I attended, but my favorite part was going into the classrooms and interacting with the students and their teachers. IF that were the only responsibility of a school principal, it'd be my dream job! I learned so much from observing! I'm so grateful for the teachers who willingly opened their doors and invited me into their rooms. The opportunity to watch teachers teach spoke right to my heart! I know this is where I'm supposed to be!

My second favorite part was having a personal mentor/coach. Having an intern is extra work and not every principal is willing to take time to teach an aspiring administrator the ins and outs. But my mentor not only is taking the time to coach me but is also an excellent role model in many other respects. And the assistant principal is also someone that I admire.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn! I know that I was placed here at this school, with these great people, for a reason. My one takeaway from last week is that leadership is truly about service. I fell in love with serving this community!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

High-5 Specialist

One of my (AS) boys came bouncing in my room after school really excited. I asked him what was up. He said, "Ms. King, today was the first day that you weren't at the door to give us a high-5 as we left. You had to grab your bus duty stuff.

But don't worry!!!

I gave everyone a high-5 for you as they left and reminded them to read."

I gave him a high-5 and made him my high-5 specialist (especially when I have duty). He left beaming with pride and excited to tell his mom.

Words can't even express what a big WIN this is! He's one of my biggest challenges and not very verbal.


Almost Back To the Drawing Board

I was so PROUD of my class today! We're FINALLY catching on about the importance of making quick and quiet transitions. We're FINALLY realizing the importance of keeping our classroom neat and organized. We're FINALLY being more independent and making good choices. And then....we went to an assembly.


My bad. I didn't explicitly talk about the expectations during an assembly. I didn't model. Modeling is a MUST DO with this class. They weren't terrible. But, I expect my kiddos to act appropriately for whatever type of an assembly that we watch. Usually, that means polite applause vs cat calling and other similar types of behaviors.

I love the Arts! Over the years, I've seen the expectations of behavior and dress standards go down the drain in the public arena. School assemblies are worse. Parents are often much worse than the kids. Call it old school, I still expect kids to act politely.

And so after the assembly, we came back and I modeled for them about what to do and what not to do. I had them laughing so hard that they cried, which made me laugh and I cried, which made them laugh harder! It was one of those experiences!

After we settled down, we had a good chat about how our class will behave regardless of what other kids in the school do. I think they got it!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

An Apple A Day...

After Labor Day Weekend, I've always tried to ease kids back into the working mode by starting off with an art project. It gave the kids time to relax, and share with their friends all the things that happened over the long weekend. We made 3-D pop-up apples--an art project that I haven't done for a long time.

We also had a great class meeting, went to the media center, and finished our class book, Among the Hidden. We all started our next book, Pax. Kids are hooked already after reading the first chapter. And...we also had time for independent reading which is quickly becoming a favorite time of day for the kids.

The kids also really enjoyed the MysteryScience lesson about why apples are different colors. I used cooperative learning for the discussions throughout the lesson. They always enjoy the opportunity to talk and share ideas especially when there really are no right or wrong answers.

For part of math, I read the Apple Fractions book. It's a little Primary but I still have a couple of kids struggling with the basic concepts of fractions. It was a way to review the basics without drawing attention to those couple of kids who are struggling.

At the end of the day, kids wrote a descriptive paragraph about their apple. Normally, we don't do writing at the end of the day, but because I switched the schedule around a bit, we wrote and without any complaining. :) We put all of the apples back in the basket. Tomorrow we'll read the paragraphs and see if we can match their description with the correct apple.

I was really proud of my class today. We laughed, had fun, and yet when we needed to, we were able to focus and do our work. (most of us)

Monday, September 5, 2016

THAT Class! Keeping My Hair and Sanity!

Starting a new year is always full of excitement and anticipation! We dream. We hope. We look forward to a new adventure. This year was no different. In fact, the thought of beginning another year, and possibly my last, made me more reflective about my legacy. My intention was to blog every day throughout the year as a commemoration of my 30th year in the classroom. I was highly motivated and inspired to document all of the great learning. Keyword=was. I had to put the “great learning blog posts” on hold.

School started about six weeks ago for me. (We’re on a year-round schedule.) The start was incredible! The first day of school I taught the kids a quiet signal and what “ready position” looked like. And then we played! We created with Legos and shared personal stories. The next day we “took a field trip” to our recycling bin and participated in the cardboard challenge. Each day in our morning meeting, we talked about learning, growth mindset, treating others with respect, and how to build a community of thinkers and innovators. Throughout the first few weeks, we participated in various STEM and team building activities. We read, wrote stories, and started on our journey of learning together.

My focus was to know more about my students and to build relationships. I learned about my students through play and casual conversations. It was a pleasure to make a positive phone call home about each student and to surprise their parents with good news. (Although to be entirely transparent, it was easier to make some phone calls more than others.)

So waaaaiit!!! Why is the title of this post: “THAT class! Keeping My Hair and Sanity”?

On the outside, it appeared that everything was humming along like a typical school year. But on the inside, I was struggling! I’ve never had issues with class management. However, this particular group of kids was/is challenging me on multiple levels. I feel like I’m in a constant game of Chess or Survival and am being forced to out think, outwit, and outlast. I had no “honeymoon” week or so of school. There have been a lot of behaviors that I’ve had to address. I could play the blame game and send kids to the office like others do, but those are games I don’t play. Instead, I’ve had to be very intentional about my practices and have used just about every tool in my toolbox. It's been exhausting!

I was asked by a friend and principal to share my frustration and how I've worked through the challenge. I hope that by sharing, that others (especially new teachers) will see that we all struggle! Teaching is hard! My epic fail is that I didn't blog each day to show the struggle. No one wants to be negative (especially at the start of a school year), and no teacher (veteran or otherwise) wants to be viewed as incompetent. But, we need to share both the good and the bad and that's why I'm blogging now and will make more of an effort to blog about this year's journey. It may not be pretty!

First of all, my class of 28 students is a group of kids with many diverse needs and abilities (aren’t all of our classes like that now). Colleagues wanted to warn me about so and so and give me a heads up about so and so’s parents, but I really didn’t want to hear it. I believe every student deserves a fresh start. In fact, I think that many of my kids are beaten and battered down by the labels slapped on their foreheads. I took the time to write down the potential that I see in each student. It’s that vision that drives me and motivates me to push through the hardest days.

Secondly, I don’t blame the kids for misbehavior. I have high expectations. If the kids are not meeting those expectations, I blame myself. Somehow, I’ve not communicated clearly enough what the expectations are by modeling. For this group of kids, I’ve had to “break it down” more than I’m used to. I’ve had to model, model, model. They’ve had to practice, practice, practice. I smile. Practicing procedures and manners is not a punishment. Some kids have never learned the common courtesies that I expect. (Think Ron Clark) This whole process makes me sometimes doubt myself and I can't help but wonder if I'm doing the right thing. Some use the word "strict" which has a negative connotation. I prefer to borrow the brilliance of my PLN and call it being a warm demander. I have reflected a lot about "old school", compliance, expectations, empowering students, etc. Having high expectations for my students have never failed me. I just can't go where others have gone. (Topic for another blog post)

Thirdly, our class meetings have proved invaluable! It’s here in our meetings where we’ve shared honest feelings and thoughts, celebrated growth and achievements, and where we’re building community. 

My "Go-To" strategies include (in no particular order): 

  • Greet every student every day by their name and with a personal comment.
  • Plan/prepare engaging lessons!
  • Walk around the room and use subtle proximity to manage the class. There is no “front of the room” in my classroom.
  • Teach from “the carpet” or an area where everyone can gather together- Yes, I do this with older kids, and they love it. It alleviates kids playing with stuff in their desks and keeps everyone on task.
  • I started off the year with students sitting where they wanted to. Since then, I’ve had to change seating strategically a couple of times. Kids think I’m doing it only because we’re doing team building activities. I’m actually changing where students sit as a management strategy.
  • Ready Position: Cleared off desk, clean floor, quiet, hands on desk, and optional to put head down on the desk
  • Transitions: I give kids about 5 seconds, but I have fun with this. Sometimes I use fractions, decimals, skip counting, etc. They’re hustling, but I can give them a few more seconds by adding in decimals.
  • Quiet Signals: I use a bell if I need their immediate attention. Kids freeze and must be ready to listen within 3 seconds. I use a chime if we’re working in cooperative learning groups. The chime means to finish your sentence and then get quiet. I also use “Give me 5” because that’s what our school uses. My students also have the power to say, “Give me 5.” (This takes some teaching.)
  • Procedures: Plan a procedure for everything so that there is no wasted time. (passing in papers, bathroom, sharpening a pencil, etc.)
  • Teams/Partners: I divide my class into groups of about four students. Each member has a number. Team member jobs rotate each day. I also use partners a lot. I use a variety of ways for kids to find and work with a partner.
  • Modes: I teach my students about different modes- work mode, relaxed mode, play mode, etc. We can laugh, joke, and have fun but when we need to get in “work mode” we have to focus quickly on completing a task.

These are the little tricks that I use- usually without thinking about them. I’m sure that I left many ideas off of this list. What would you add?

The bottom line is that a little “training” for lack of a better word at the first of the year, high expectations, practice, and preparation have huge pay-offs down the road. I’m a little behind teaching the required curriculum. I’m not panicked, though. I’m not quite to the state of pulling out my hair and going insane. My students have learned a lot about respecting others, working collaboratively, the growth mindset, effort, and what it means to be a good citizen.

The big picture is helping my students grow up to be productive adults who have a passion for learning.

So yes,

I have THAT class!
I have THAT class that is going to challenge me!
I have THAT class that will require me to model more!
I have THAT class that will help me to grow!
I have THAT class that will make a difference in the world!

There are many “tricks of the trade” that would help teachers when the “honeymoon” of starting school wears off. Refer to  Teach Like Champion by Doug Lemov