Saturday, October 22, 2016

Finding Our Balance

     One of the hardest things about teaching kids is finding the magical sweet spot of balance.  When we have structure, discipline, and respect, but we don't balance it with anything else, we get ennui.  When we have creativity, passion, and enthusiasm, but nothing else, we get chaos.  When we balance them together, we get rigor and relevance.
     Most of the teachers I know have the structure side down cold.  They think they have an engaging classroom because they are teaching the way they were taught, so it's easy to think its the kids that are the problem for not creating their own engagement.
     A tough question that we need to ask ourselves, "If you were walking down the hallway today, would you choose your classroom today?"  

Monday, August 5, 2013

I Believe

     The theme at my school this year is "I Believe."  My principal asked me to create a presentation for the faculty sharing my core beliefs about my role in the school, our students, the teachers and myself.  Thinking it would be easy, I agreed.  Then I spent two weeks trying to decipher what I believe.  It seemed so easy in the abstract.  After all, I live my beliefs every day, or so I thought.
     I realized that this request was more than just an exercise for welcoming back our teachers and kicking off the year's theme.  The reflection made me truly look at what I believe and why I do the things I do.
     After sharing my presentation with the staff, a funny thing happened.  Suddenly teachers were coming to my office, just to talk.  They began sharing their stories and looking at ways to implement our shared visions.  I was no longer just the assistant principal.  I was a person they knew and understood.  The atmosphere became charged and excited.
     I am not so naive to believe that this is due to what I believe.  The change is from understanding the person behind the title.  It is feeling a connection and sharing our visions of a future for our students.  It also comes from the reflection that aligns our vision to our daily actions so we are able to "walk the talk."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Snap Judgements

     My teacher accused me of cheating this week.  I didn't.  He didn't ask me about it.  He just gave me a zero.  The worst part was when he wrote he expected better from me.  I haven't cheated since 6th grade and felt so guilty I swore I would never do it again.  I have been judged and labeled.  I know I am innocent, but the judgement and label still hurt.
     As an administrator it is easy to make snap judgements and assume I know who is at fault.  It's easy to believe that I know the whole story without asking questions and truly wanting to know the answers.   It's easy to hand out a punishment or consequence and move on to the next situation.  Situations come up so fast some days, snap decisions feel necessary.  This situation reminds me how hard it is for all of us to be judged, labeled, and punished without having a voice to tell our story.  We deserve better than that, especially from the adults in our lives.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

In this Job, You Don't Retaliate

     I wasn't a frog kisser today.  In fact, I did something I  rarely do.  I lost my cool.  It was the bad timing of the end of the year mixed with the stupid things we do when we are fourteen-years-old.  When it turned into making fun of other people, I lost it.  It was a controlled anger, but it was anger, nonetheless.  It stuck with me all day and made me feel sick to my stomach.  I just can't stomach anger.
     I've been reading Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom.  Tonight I was reading about a doctor who treated the rabbi horribly, but when the doctor's brother passed away, the rabbi made a condolence call.  Mitch asks the Rabbi, "After the way he treated you?"  The Rabbi responds, "In this job, you don't retaliate."  These words stopped me cold.
     I was so caught up in my righteous anger, I forgot that in this job, you don't retaliate.  No matter how bad today was, tomorrow is a fresh start.  I would hate to be judged by the way I acted today, or pretty much any day, really.  I am far from perfect and should be the last one to throw stones.  Especially at fourteen-year-olds who are still learning how to become adults.
     I am not sorry I got angry.  Sometimes a moment can only be taught by getting angry at the situation.  Bullying people is one of the issues I am willing to take that kind of a stand.  However, the lesson will be overshadowed by my quest to retaliate and destroy the last few days of school.
     Imagine what a world we would have if we all said, "In this ______________, you don't retaliate."  In this marriage...this friendship...this country....this school...this family...this church....this world... What a beautiful world it would be!   

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Quack Attack

     Today was our first annual Quack Attack.  Students who completed 30 hours of service since January chose a rubber ducky of their choice.  Every extra ten hours of service earned another ducky.  They giggled as they dove into the bag of duckies, looking for the right personalities for their duckies.
The manly men among us chose construction workers, cowboys, and army ducks.  The ladies chose beach duckies, princess duckies, and ones covered with flowers.  They wrote their names carefully with Sharpies so they wouldn't get lost in the attack.
After eating cookies so we'd have energy for the attack, we headed off to the gym.
Two of our guys held the water balloon launcher handles while we carefully took turns tucking our duckies into the holder, 
pulled back,
and sent duckies sailing across the gym.
It was an awesome sight. 
 The winners won a stuffed duck from Kohl's Care for Kids Foundation so we could continue to serve others.  They also got a large candy bar.
 You've never seen such big smiles!   Teenagers love to give service to others.  I love to serve them.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Getting out of their Way

     We admire creativity, but we rarely allow it in school.  This week I took a leap of faith.  I presented a project idea to my students, but instead of the usual controlled options, I only gave three guidelines.  
  1. You have to create a mash-up of two or more books we read this year.
  2. It will be presented to the class in 3 - 5 minutes.
  3. Everyone needs to have an equal share in the work.
     Hands shot up in the air.  How many can be in a group?  What should the project look like?  Can we have music?  Can the whole class be a group?  What books do we have to do?  My answer, "Whatever you want - be creative."  They sat silent for a second and then broke into excited conversations.
     I wandered around the room awestruck.  Everyone was so different.  5th period decided to work together.  They pushed the tables out of the way to create a big empty space in the center of the room.  Then they began cutting giant butcher paper squares and fashioning them into a giant game board.  Their plan is to create a Jumangi type game.  They will roll giant dice and act out the stories through the cards they land on.  
     In another period, three boys are busy writing new words for "Boys in the Hood" to fit the right rhythm with the new words from "The Outsiders" and "The Dangerous Days of Daniel X."  When the words are complete, the boys plan to add their own beatbox music to perform for us.
   I learned a lot the past few days.  My usual tendencies would be to provide a few well-structured projects for the students to work from.  Luckily, I have been doing too many things on too little sleep and my creativity stalled.  Up against a time frame, I was forced to take a leap of faith and see what would happen.  What a wonderful piece of synchronicity.  Without my own loss of creativity and a unmovable deadline, I would have missed out on the true lesson of creativity.  When I got out of the way and stopped trying to control everything, my students truly began to learn.   
     My students are amazing teachers.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dr. Seuss Goes to 8th Grade

       1 day
       4 teachers
    450 eighth-graders
+  108 Dr. Seuss' birthdays
1 amazing birthday celebration  

     What better day to celebrate our first cross-curricular day than Dr. Seuss' birthday?  We started the day together to learn more about this man we think we know so well, but really don't know at all.  Then off we went to see the world through Dr. Seuss' eyes.
     As 8th graders, we were finally old enough to learn the grown-up meanings behind Dr. Seuss's stories.  We read his political cartoons and discovered amazing insights and connections with our world today.
     After all that hard work, the Cat in the Hat came to play.  We tried out our own funny cat tricks with flips and kicks, tongue twists, and crazy beard hangings.  We even created a human pyramid for a minute.
     Time to relax and hear a great book with The Sneetches.  We chose an amazing thing about ourselves to share with everyone.  We have officially been together for five months, but some of us have known each other for years, and we still learned new things about each other.
     Finally, time for reflection on the words behind the man.  So many amazing quotes to choose from.  After choosing our favorites, we illustrated them in Dr. Seuss' style and explained the reason these quotes impacted us so much.
       A wonderful day together celebrating with Dr. Seuss and each other.  Here's to many more days together.