Simple Ideas to Build Relationships with Students (#41 will blow your mind!)

It all goes back to relationships!

Relationships are the essential element in our schools. The old adage, “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is true especially in today’s society when kids are used to so much choice in their world. Also, in today’s busy world, it’s important for teachers and school staff to make positive connections with students. We must be intentional and taking time with these relationships must be purposeful.

Members of the Compelled Tribe have teamed up to share practical ways for educators to build relationships with students. As connected educators we also embrace the notion that it is the power of the team that drives much of what we do. How do you build relationships with those that you serve? See the list below for ideas to add to what you may be already doing in the buildings and districts in which you work.

  1. Greet students at the door. Smile and call them by name. Tell them you are glad to see them.
  2. Ask your students to share three things about themselves. Let them choose what they share. Keep them on index cards to help make connections throughout the year.
  3. Know your students families. As important as it is to know the students, make the connection to home. Great relationships with your kids starts where they kick off their day. As the year continues and both the good and bad arise, having that connection will be crucial to getting the results you are seeking.
  4. Journal writing is an activity to get to know your students well and give students a voice in the classroom.
  5. Make positive phone calls home especially within the first two weeks of the school year.
  6. Genius Hour/Passion Projects really give teachers an opportunity to learn about student passions.
  7. Have kids make something that represents them out of Play-dough and share.
  8. In the first couple of days of school, learn the first name of every student in your first class of the day, and something personal and unique about them that has nothing to do with your first class of the day.
  9. Be vulnerable!  Let your guard down and show your students that you are a learner, you make mistakes, and persevere.  They will see you as a person, opening the door for a relationship built on trust. Share stories about yourself as a learner or challenges you’ve faced when you were there age and help them see what it took to overcome it. It’s easy to forget how much a simple connection can make the difference.
  10. Eat together.  Have breakfast with a small group of kids or join them at the lunch table.  Gathering around meal time provides an informal way to have conversations and get to know your students.
  11. Hold Monday morning meetings (We call them “Weekend News Updates”).  Ask each student to share about their weekend – good or bad.  Ask questions.  Be sure to share about your weekend too!  Occasionally bring in breakfast or make hot chocolate.
  12. Laugh with them. Frequently. Show them that school, and your class, is just not about learning stuff. It is about sharing an experience. Tell them you missed them if they were out.
  13. Keep in touch with past students.  Show past students that you do not have a 1 year contract with them.  The ongoing relationship will also model to your current students the value of a positive classroom community.
  14. At the elementary level — hold morning meeting everyday as a class and stick to the routine of greeting, sharing, team building activity, and morning message.  This is a sacred time to build and maintain a culture of risk tasking and building relationships.
  15. Send positive postcards home to every child. Have them address it on the first day of the quarter, keep them and challenge yourself to find at least one thing each quarter to celebrate about your students, let them and their parents know.
  16. Find their interests and what motivates them! Sometimes it may take a bit to break down barriers and build trust, but through being genuine and authentic with them this will happen in no time.
  17. Make personal phone calls to parents. Find one good thing to say about the children in your class.  It can be how they contributed to a class discussion or how well mannered they are in class or in the halls. For older students it can be how diligent a student is at learning challenging content.
  18. Share something about yourself that they will find relevant or interesting to extend your relationships with students.
  19. Tell a story from a time you were their age. This approach allows students to see teachers as they once were and make connections easier to establish and maintain.
  20. Create a unique handshake or symbol for each of your students.  Use it when you greet them at the door or say goodbye.
  21. Eat lunch with a group of kids throughout the week. They will enjoy a time dedicated just to them. (And you will enjoy a peaceful lunch!)
  22. As a school, hold monthly celebrations to recognize students and educators their accomplishments.
  23. Take pictures with students. Print. Write a special note on the back to the student.
  24. At the end of a term or year, write a thank you to students telling them what you have learned from them. Be specific and honest – authenticity goes a long way. Try to make the note handwritten if possible, but email works well too.
  25. Each day write two students a personal  note about something that you have noticed about them.  Go into some detail and be specific. Keep track of who you reach out to over the year and try and reach as many students as you can. The time you spend doing this will deepen connections and pay off 10 fold.
  26. Have dance parties! It is so fun to let loose and get down with students. Students love seeing you have fun with them, and the saying goes, “The class that dances together, stays together”.
  27. Play with students at recess or during a free time. Climb the monkey bars, play kickball, or tag. Students will never forget you connecting with them on the playground.
  28. Hang out in the hall to give high fives or to have quick conversations with students. Relationship-building can be squeezed into any time of the day.
  29. Notice students having a bad day. Ask questions without prying. Show that you care. Follow up the next day, week, etc.
  30. When a student is having a rough day, ask if he/she has eaten. We are all more unreasonable when we are hungry. Keep a supply of snacks on hand (ex: breakfast bars, crackers, etc).
  31. Go see students at their events: sports, theater, dance, volunteering. Meet parents and families.
  32. When a student stops to say “Hello” and has a friend in tow, introduce yourself and be sure that the guest feels important.
  33. Stop class from time to time with a comment such as, “Hey, everyone, Katie just asked me a great question. I think you’ll all benefit from this. Katie, could you repeat that for everyone?”
  34. Sing “Happy Birthday” to students; send birthday emails (I use “Boomerang” to schedule my birthday emails each month).
  35. Say “I missed you yesterday” when a student has been absent. Be sincere.
  36. We have to make time to grow relationships with our students. This time can not always be in a planner or a calendar. Sometimes, this simply means just being there for your students.
  37. Mail them a postcard for their birthday. They are always amazed to receive personal mail!
  38. In a leadership position, learn as many names as you can. Greet students by their name as often as you are able.
  39. Music! Bond with your students over music. Play soft classical music while they are working. Incorporate music/songs into special events or lessons.
  40. Classroom: Start a compliment jar. Share comments at the end of class or randomly throughout the day. School: Do shout-outs during morning (or afternoon) announcements/news show.
  41. Smile and make eye contact.  “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”.  Something as simple as a greeting in the hall with smile and eye contact conveys both warmth & safety.  Try it tomorrow.  
  42. First day of math class have them choose 10 numbers that are significant to them (3 for number of cats, 1 for brothers, 20 for number of hours they work, etc.).  Everyone shares out.  You will learn lots about all your students in one day.  
  43. Cut them some slack every now and then.  “What were you doing?  What should you have been doing?  Can you do that for me next time?”  We all make mistakes.  
  44. Hold class celebrations and have students develop unique cheers for various accomplishments…these can be anything from a sports team victory, to being selected for something, to earning a grade, and they need not be school related.
  45. Allen Mendler’s 2×10 strategy for challenging students. Spend 2 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days talking to a student about something not academic.
  46. Share your own goals, successes/failures. Don’t be a mystery to your students.
  47. After morning announcements have students participate in a daily discussion question.  Have a student read the question and set a timer for two and a half minutes.  Each person turns to a partner and answers the question then volunteers share with the whole class.  Each question, in some way, will help you get to know your students.
  48. Halfway through the year, have your parents and students fill out a feedback form.  In my classroom, these forms look different.  Allow them to evaluate you so you can keep what works and change things that aren’t working.
  49. In your summer introduction letter, include a letter asking parents to write about their children in 1,000,000 words or less.  Keep the assignment voluntary and open so they tell you what is most important to them.
  50. Don’t be too busy to truly listen.  Listen to understand, not to respond.  Are you starting a lesson when a student interrupts and tells you they are moving?  Take the minute to hear them out.  That time will mean more to the student than the first minute of the lesson ever will.
  51. When students get stuck in class, teach the other students to cheer them on.  We do a simple, “Come on, [Name], you can do it,” followed by three seconds of clapping.
  52. Teach students call and responses to uplift each other.  When a student responds with something profound and someone loves it, that student gets to start the cheer.
  53. When you check in with groups to give them feedback or see how it’s going, make sure you are seeing them eye-to-eye.  If they’re sitting, don’t stand.  Pull up a chair next to them.  If they’re sitting on the floor, sit down on the floor next to them to avoid standing over them.
  54. Give honest feedback even when it may not be positive.  Your students will appreciate that you expect more out of them than they’re showing.
  55. Create a “You Matter” wall.  Take fun pictures of each of your students.  Print each photo and put each student’s photo in an 8×10 frame.  Hang them all on your wall under a “You Matter” heading.  At the end of the year, send the photos home with students.
  56. Tell them what was hard for you when you went through school and how you worked to overcome the challenges.  It shows they aren’t the only ones who struggle.
  57. Defend your students in front of other people.
  58. Take risks so students feel comfortable doing the same.  Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do.
  59. Create something that is unique to your class.  For us, it’s a house competition.  It’s something that connects my past students and current students.  It’s also a family bond that only the students who have been in my class understand.
  60. Apologize when you make a mistake.
  61. Cook together and then you can eat family style in the classroom. Some fun and easy crockpot meals: applesauce, vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings. Then, make cupcakes for dessert!
  62. Every so often, take the pulse of your building according to students. Convene a volunteer roundtable with student reps from various groups (athletes, scholars, quiet, loud) and ask them for critical feedback about topics you are working on. Some ideas I’ve seen discussed in this format include schoolwide incentives (assemblies, sledding event, etc.), dress code, and discussing recess options for winter.
  63. During your informal walk throughs, saddle up right next to students and ask them the purpose of the lesson they are involved in. Why do you think the teacher is asking you to work on this? You’ll be more than surprised with the honest feedback.
  64. Bring board games back! Add a few games like Checkers, Uno or Chess to your lunch table options. See if any students are willing to play a game or two with you and others.
  65. Use sidewalk chalk to decorate the entry of your building with positive messages to students. Have teachers help you write and draw the notes!
  66. Leave nice notes on post-its for students on the outside of their lockers. Recruit other students to help spread the kindness throughout many lockers!
  67. Forgive them when they make mistakes. Remind them that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Don’t hold grudges against misbehavior and don’t allow other adults to hold them either.
  68. Make time for dismissal. Tell them you can’t wait to see them tomorrow and share high fives on the way out!
  69. Notice which students still don’t have money to pay for lunch. Help them out when you can. Treat them to a snack they don’t usually get to purchase at lunch time.
  70. Find special projects that need to be done around school and recruit the most unlikely helpers.
  71. Remind your students you and your staff were all kids once too. Have your team bring in pictures of themselves as children (at the ages you have in your school). Post them and have a contest allowing students to guess which teacher is which. Those 80s pictures are the most popular!
  72. My favorite question to ask my students or any student I come in contact with is what are you into lately? This opens communication with your students and let’s them know you are interested.
  73. Allow students to do a job shadow. Give them a peek into what you do and how you make daily decisions.
  74. Host an ice cream social for students that meet certain goals.

The list will grow as our experiences and our connections grow. Feel free to reach out to any of the Tribe members listed below to learn more about the power of our team and how our tribe constantly supports each other in our teaching, leading and learning.

Compelled Tribe Contributors:

Jennifer Hogan, The Compelled Educator  @Jennifer_Hogan

Jonathon Wennstrom, Spark of Learning  @jon_wennstrom

Craig Vroom, Fueling Education, @Vroom6

Allyson Apsey, Serendipity in Education, @allysonapsey

Sandy King Inspiring The Light @sandeeteach

Gary Kidd Reflections and Rants from the Asst Principal, @hinotewailer

Jacie Maslyk   http://jaciemaslyk.blogspot.com/    @DrJacieMaslyk

Jodie Pierpoint  Journey In Learning @jodiepierpoint  

Jim Cordery   Mr. Cordery’s Blog  @jcordery

Allie Bond   The Positive Teacher @Abond013

Angie Murphy ConnectED to Learning @RoyalMurph_RRMS

Karen Wood https://karenwoodedu.wordpress.com/ @karenwoodedu

Lindsey Bohler lindseybohler.com @Lindsey_Bohler

Starr Sackstein http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/work_in_progress/ @MsSackstein

Debbie Campbell The Curious Educator @DebraLCamp

Michael McDonough M Squared at the Microphone @m_squaredBHS

Barbara Kurtz bkurtzteachermentor.blogspot.com @BJKURTZ

Stephanie Jacobs www.thisblogiswhy.blogspot.com @MsClassNSession

Michael Todd Clinton Motivated teacher blog  @MotivatedThe

Cathy Jacobs https://cathyjacobs.org/ @cathyjacobs5

Reed Gillespie Mr. Gillespie’s Office @rggillespie

Molly Babcock Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree @MollyBabcock

Lisa Meade Reflections @LisaMeade23

 

Peace, Love & A Little Competition

Five years ago, I decided that I wanted to run a half marathon.  I had run lots of 5Ks, many 10Ks, yet had never taken on 13.1 miles.  I was in my early 40s and so maybe I could chalk it up to any number of generalizations, however it ended up being a powerful learning adventure for me and has influenced my work as an educator.

Faced with the question of Collaboration vs Competition, I found myself in that quick struggle to choose one or the other.  And after further reflection, I found myself, similar to most educators (I suppose), reaching for collaboration.  Of course it has to be that, right?  Either as a product of working with Professional Learning Communities (PLC), leading a large campus, or simply being part of a larger Professional Learning Network (PLN), I have routinely placed myself among others working on something larger.  All of this was churning through my head as I ran a tempo run earlier this week in hopes of setting a new personal record (PR) in an upcoming race.  And then it hit me.  Given one condition, I am convinced that competition maximizes collaboration.

zero-sum-game

The concept of Zero Sum is often used in negotiations and business dealings.  It is centered on the idea that whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other.  The concept of “winners” and “losers” naturally grows from this idea and, I would suggest, consumes our notions of competition.  When the Astros play the Rangers, one team wins and another loses.  When our boys basketball team plays its rival, once the competition is completed, there is one team feeling successful while another looks for corrections.  Yet, if we shift competition away from the idea of Zero Sum, and look at it more similar to track, cross country, or swimming, then I believe competition enhances collaboration.  Personally, each year I run the Houston Half Marathon with 25000 other people and I will never win.  Yet, I can set a new PR (get smarter/faster/stronger) and the race (competition) brings me to that outcome.

Competition can also bring a sense of purpose to collaboration.  If you are bringing a group of people together to work interdependently on something then the idea of getting smarter, faster, or stronger should be part of the discussion.  And when that team has an achievable goal or standard in front of them, then there is a measuring stick to use at the conclusion.

stop watch and running track

Certainly there are other schools in my district that we measure ourselves with and I am always protective of how my teachers are perceived when it comes to growing kids each year.  So there is a sense of competition.  However, similar to when someone is passing me in the Half Marathon (which often occurs more than the reverse), I am happy for them.  As I have learned that together we compete yet the individual growth I make in my performance is for me alone.  There really are no winners or losers.

Thus I would leave this post with the idea that once we shift from the Zero Sum idea of competition, our students can benefit tremendously as we collaborate to create the best learning experiences for them.  Making them smarter, faster, and stronger brings the potential for all types of rewards.

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My #OneWord for Two Lives

I am going to be honest in that I am not big on themes or resolutions.  In fact, I secretly would crack wise about the neighboring schools that felt a theme or idea should guide their year.  I believed that the work was the work and that we shouldn’t need pencils, or t-shirts, or shiny signs to get there.  I suppose I also took on this philosophy in my personal life and thus refrained from resolutions every January.  Sure, I might secretly mutter something to myself, however, I wouldn’t share it with others.

 

oneword2017Truthfully, I don’t know much behind the idea of the #OneWord.  I suppose that at it’s essence it is a decision to not subscribe to a specific act (eat better, be nice, say thank you, etc) and rather commit to the concept behind a word.  And so I am going to give this a try for 2017.  My #OneWord for 2017 is ENGAGE.  And this word will thread through both my professional and personal lives.

I choose to continue to ENGAGE in my own learning.  The past 12 months have been powerful for me as I pushed myself to remember what it’s like to be a learner.  I started this blog, reconnected via Twitter, began to build a larger PLN, and am enjoying my Voxer group.  It’s been a positive experience that I want to continue.  It makes me better.

I choose to ENGAGE in those difficult conversations that so often come our way as leaders.  In the past I may have prioritized the ones that were urgent or that challenged my curiosity.  However I know that when I am being honest with myself, I sometimes pushed off those tough chats in hopes they either resolved themselves or became moot.  The idea of something being “easier” can be quite alluring.  For 2017 I intend to resist the easy route and push myself to be better.

I choose to ENGAGE with my student body in new and exciting ways.  I know that I can’t personally connect with all 3500 students within one school year.  Yet I can make efforts to add new means for how, when, and where our paths do intersect.  Perhaps it will be via the use of video, social media, and/or a microphone.  I’m not sure yet.  It’s too easy to forget that it does matter just how present we are with young people and each other.  Around this notion, I know I can do better.

family-nyc-trip-july-25-2016

Finally, I choose to ENGAGE with my family more.  I could not be the type of high school principal that I am (and that I continue to aspire to be) without the support and understanding of my wife, my son, and my daughter.  There are times they get less of me so that I can offer more to my students, faculty, staff, and community.  My family rolls with it pretty well as that’s the gig we signed up for and they understand.  However, Jacob is in 12th grade and Emma is now in 10th grade.  They won’t be home for much longer and I can’t forfeit those remaining days and months.  So I choose to engage with them by sitting in their room together, making dinner together, listening to records together – trying to just be together.  These are small things however they matter and they can add up.  It’s important to me to be better with them.

In which ever way you interpret the turning of the calendar to January, I hope that you consider choosing a single word to drive your actions.  There are so many wonderful words out there to choose from; similar to a long journey beginning with a single step, your selection of just #OneWord might launch quite an exciting adventure.

How will you start today to engage in your own world?

Thankful to my mentors as they remind me about unity

“Focus on your primary”

basketball-referee

A dozen years ago, I was a new principal fortunate to have a strong mentor.  He guided many of us as we embarked on a new adventure.  Blessed with seemingly a never ending supply of energy and time, he shared with us a story about his experiences as a basketball referee.  He said that there would be times where the game was getting heated, fans were bristling with every play, and tensions were rising.  At that very moment a game could spiral out of control for the referees or it could remain a contest of skill and talent.  Our mentor would tell us that the way you make it through those times of turmoil was by focusing on your primary.  You see, unknown to the average fan like me is the specific tactic that referees are charged with -to focus on their primary coverage area.  If they do their job, then when working with the other officials, the game will maintain its intent.

I have to trust my teachers to focus what they excel at – which is to teach.  Ensuring that routine remains for kids is important.  Life outside of school can be hectic and the rhetoric that fills nearly every portal of communication can be overwhelming.  Thus kids need the refuge of school, and they need it to be predictable.  Enabling teachers to do what they need to do and keep the work moving forward is what sets the conditions for our kids, and for the entire school community, to persevere.

hot-seat

 

I had another mentor when I was a principal intern and he always had such wisdom to share and faith in young people.  Early on he tasked me with setting up interviews for an Asst Principal vacancy we had, and he told me to put together a group of 4-5 students.  These kiddos would take each candidate on a tour of campus.  After all the candidates had been interviewed by the committee, the students would come in to offer their take on each person.  My mentor would always say that anyone could come in with the right answers and impress adults.  However, he would add, kids have a much sharper radar for what can fit on a campus.  He would tell me to trust them.  As with many things this mentor offered, I adopted this practice and I’ve used it for each administrative vacancy.  And every time the students have been right.  If we follow their lead and trust them to sniff out the BS and navigate to what matters most, then we can make our way.  Kids are far more resilient than adults when it comes to change.  Maybe they have to be for reasons out of their control, however taking the time to stop talking to them and start listening with them remains a sound strategy in my book.

Finally, I would add that as a principal, my charge toward unity lies in the work of cultivating a culture that can withstand the hardest of times.  Insensitive comments will arise – either from students, parents, or adults on campus.  It will happen.  And at those very moments we have to believe even more in the community we have established.  We have to have faith that, in some way, the values and commitments we have agreed to will help us respond in the most appropriate manner.

steam-train-344012

I have always believed in young people and what we can learn from them.  I’ve written often about how much more aware they are then we often give them credit for.  Yet at this time, as I try to bring to close the power of resilience, and the faith I have that we will unify and that good will still prevail, I find myself drawn to the words of a rock-n-roll veteran.  If you have never listened to “The Land of Hopes and Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen, then I encourage you to sample it soon.  The lyrics are below.

Grab your ticket and your suitcase
Thunder’s rollin’ down this track
Well, you don’t know where you’re goin’ now
But you know you won’t be back
Well, darlin’ if you’re weary
Lay your head upon my chest
We’ll take what we can carry
Yeah, and we’ll leave the rest

Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

Well, I will provide for you
And I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion now
For this part of the ride
Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine
And all this darkness past

Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Oh meet me in a land of hope and dreams

This train…
Carries saints and sinners
This train…
Carries losers and winners
This train…
Carries whores and gamblers
This train…
Carries lost souls

I said this train…
Dreams will not be thwarted
This train…
Faith will be rewarded

Public schools take everyone that shows up at the front door and commits to make them stronger.  During these challenging days, I believe that our school community can be the train for all of our students, our faculty, and the entire staff.  Frankly, I would argue that it may be the only reliable vehicle for both unity and change.

What else are you employing as you work with your communities?

Saying & Hearing Thank You

Early on in my career, I was encouraged to keep a box near my desk.  You know, a receptacle for all the letters and cards and words of encouragement that would surely come my way. And as I made my way through that first month, and then that first semester, I began to wonder if my small shoebox was too lofty of a goal.  Or perhaps I simply wasn’t connecting with my students as I wished.  Finally, on a piece of green construction paper, 7th grader Robin had glued a handwritten letter offering me praise for simply not giving up. Those words helped me keep my footing through the winter break, survive the tough February days, and launch me toward the summer.  Twenty-five years later and I still have that letter. However I have outgrown the shoe box and find myself filling a nearby desk drawer dedicated to these positive messages. Not only does the drawer remind me of my better moments, days, months and years.  It also reminds me to take the time to share positive words with others.  black-shoeboxA challenge I had to overcome was allowing myself to simply receive the compliment.  Too often we deflect and say something like: “oh, it was my pleasure”, or “no, you are the one I should thank.”  When we do that we steal from them a small piece of the joy they have for us.  We rob them just a bit of the power that comes with recognizing another.  I would recommend that, instead, we simply say, “Your words mean a lot.  Thank you for taking the time to share them with me.”  I know this is easier said than done however I have learned that those few words carry more power.

world-is-giving-answers

Becoming friends on social media with former students can be another way to remain connected while also serving as a reminder that you had an impact on their life.  When someone chooses to include you in the minutiae as well as grand moments in their life, they are telling you that you matter. And as I engage in pictures, videos, and stories of their emergence into adulthood, those beaming moments around marriage, the celebrations of becoming a parent, I am quickly reminded of my impact.  And I work hard to give it all the space to breathe.

thank-you-post-it_languagesSo as you sustain your effort through this fall semester and look toward the grind of the early spring, I hope that you will remember the power you have each day to positively impact a young person.  Regardless of whether or not they find the right words to thank you, I am certain they appreciate what you do each day.  Perhaps they will write a nice card or draw you a picture. Or maybe they will come in one morning to share something amazing their family did over the weekend. Or it will be a simple smile they offer, a “thanks” on the way out of class, or a nod in the hall. Regardless of the form it takes, work hard to not miss it.  Because you are significant and they want you to know it.

How are you making sure that you are showing gratitude for others while also being able to receive it?

Celebrating the 1st Week – Texas Style

So as school crept closer, I found myself and many others reflecting, writing, and sharing all that got us excited for the first day of school.  Wonderful ideas around vision, around what is possible, and around caring for our students filled my timeline and I ate it up.  This was my 25th opening day, and I still approach each one with energy and enthusiasm.  However it is another element present on the calendar this time of year that gets me really pumped.  Friday Night Lights!  And as the end of the first week of school drew closer, I couldn’t think of any better way to wrap it up then a home football game.

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Texas is known for football and in Houston it dominates the weekends in the Fall.  Now I am certainly a sports fan, and spending time at school games is an easy thing for me to do.  The passion and commitment that our coaches, parents, and community members bring to our student-athletes is strong.  There is something special about rooting for a team that brings people together.  If you’ve ever gone to a professional baseball game and high-fived the stranger sitting next to you after a home run, or embraced a group hug for your entire row after the winning touchdown, then you know what I am describing.

Yet I love high school football games for another reason.  After the weeks of practice, the prepping of uniforms, and the big pep rally, it is time for 3500 students and 250 faculty/staff to come together as one with the greater neighborhood/city.  I believe Friday Night Lights is the exemplar of what community means for a comprehensive high school.

BK FB PicThe sentiment I always share is that it is a chance to see many elements of our school together in one place, at one time, with one focus.  Perhaps it is the 50 players on the field flanked by 10 student trainers and managers, or the 18 cheerleaders leading the crowd.  Maybe it’s the 45 member drill team or the near 100 piece marching band that pumps up the halftime show.  Possibly the 8 Birdkeepers that are assigned to guard our mascot – a tradition nearly 50 years old – or the 12 elected Booster Club officers that run the flags after each score is what ties it together.  Regardless of the group that brings you out that night, we are talking about more than 250 students united.  Each of them with a role to support our school and show their pride in our school colors.

My point is that a school is more than just what happens inside four walls from 7:40am – 3:15pm.  The evidence is clear that extracurricular activities are vital toward students remaining both physically and mentally engaged during the day.  And it is many of those very programs that tie communities together.  They allow us to remember our history while celebrating the present.  Having something for us all to rally around allows the individual interests and passions of our students and our educators to flourish.  And as the opening kickoff approached for Texas HS football, each team, each school, and each community had a moment filled with nothing but hope.  An optimism that anything is possible.

BIGGER PLAYOFF CROWDSo as I wrapped up this week and watched others head to their cars with smiles yet exhausted shoulders, I found it easy to feel pepped up as it was game night.  And as I parked at the stadium and exited my car, I could hear the band playing a familiar tune and the PA announcer declaring a first down.  As I greeted the familiar faces at security and spoke to our ticket takers, I felt a peace come over me.  Grabbing my hot dog, popcorn, and bottle of water, I smiled at parents, said hello to students, and found my usual seat.  The first week of school was over and I was in my happy place.

What events at your school best represent your school community?

My 2 Week Personalized Learning Adventure

25 years.  Nearly a quarter century.  I have worked in education and within my single school district for more than half of my life.  Goodness.  And while I may not be able to explain just how I made it this far, how I stayed afloat through all the tough times, and how I stayed away from burnout and boredom, I do know that if you don’t continue to try things, to experiment, and to commit to remaining a learner, then you surely won’t make it.

Each of the last several years we have been given two consecutive weeks of professional development (PD) time with our faculty.  Now at first glance, you might believe that to be wonderful and such a welcome gift from the school gods.  However, I have learned that, as educators, we do much better with kids around.  Two solid weeks of only adults on campus can be taxing.  The energy, the zeal, and the urgency aren’t there when kids are not present.  We need them as much as they need us. The flip side is that designing two weeks of learning for your teachers that is not full of sitting in the cafeteria/auditorium/multi-purpose room and seeming like yet another meeting, can be daunting.  As the Principal, I have to remember that teachers want to move in, work with their teams, and prepare for the first day of school.  I have to give them that time. With all of that in mind, and as June headed in to July, I began to focus on planning PD for my 190 teachers.  I sharpened my focus on how to move from structured to personalized professional development.

Death bu Inservice

So this is my 5th year as campus principal and 9th year on campus.  I have a strong understanding of my faculty and staff, and thus I wanted to try something different.  Simultaneously I wanted to create a setting whereby they re-engaged as learners while also respecting them as professionals.  I wanted to model choice and creativity and exploration.  Crafted similar to a conference format, I aspired to build something I had not, personally, ever experienced.  This was critical to me as I believe that these very elements, when put in to practice within our classrooms, lead to more authentic engagement by our students.

In a nutshell this was my plan.

During the first of our two weeks, I included all the usual stuff: a welcome back presentation from me, time for PLCs and Departments to meet, and devoted moments for everyone to complete the required online district trainings.  However this year I gave them a learning menu in the form of a Tic-Tac-Toe board that had new experiences as the nine blocks.

Tic Tac Toe Board

  • Chit Chats are 25-30 minute gatherings around a central topic or question.  Each of these Chit Chats was scheduled for six over the two weeks.  There was no formal presentation and each person could attend if they choose.  If the topic didn’t appeal to them then don’t come.  Keep working with your teams or on your own planning.  The Chit Chats were organic and I merely brought the food.  Cookies in the afternoon, donuts in the morning, and fruit for the mid-morning session.
  • Make & Take sessions are focus on a single strategy, skill, or tool.  These 45 minute sessions provided a forum for you to learn something specific that you could immediately incorporate in to a specific lesson (or simply in to your classroom).  I offered ten of these sessions during the two weeks of PD.
  • A Learning Lunch is centered on a larger question.  Both Wednesdays included these with the understanding that everyone brought their own food, and that we would sit in a giant circle.  While I opened each session with a reminder of the general question, and affirmed that participation is completely voluntary, it was not uncommon for me to stay silent the rest of the time as the teachers drove the discussion, and thus their learning.

The common threads among each of these three events begins with the fact that they were elective learning opportunities.  If someone wanted to learn about the topic – whether by actively participating or merely lurking – then they could do so.  Most of the sessions were not formally led by me or anyone from my leadership team.   Finally, each of these new experiences were chances for them to elect to learn.  That was the key in my mind.  Providing the setting for them to experience choice and then make a decision.  Now the Tic-Tac-Toe board could be turned in for prize drawings – if they choose to do that.  There were no signatures required as this was not any type of compliance piece.  Teachers are professionals and I wanted my faculty to feel that in an overt way.

I also asked teachers to join our faculty/staff Remind group and I used electronic communication to remind them of upcoming learning sessions that would be available. Joining our 11 day Twitter Challenge was also an option.  Finally, the center block  of the Tic-Tac-Toe board was each of them signing up and participating with a team during a BreakoutEDU session.

A large part of my learning in this adventure included a deep dive in to so many digital tools.  Making use of Google Docs, Remind, and Google Forms (to gather feedback & add topics over the two weeks) allowed me to communicate in a manner I couldn’t have before the technology.  My agenda was not a static document – I was able to change and adjust.  Agility was on display and that also was an approach I wanted to model for my faculty.

Jumper

I don’t yet know how it is being received or how effective it will end up being.  And I’m a little nervous about that.  Similar to my most recent blog post My Attempt at #GeniusHour with Adults, we have asked all of our teachers to choose something they want to learn about this semester or school year.  Now it may not completely meet the district expectations and I’m probably taking a bit of a gamble with that.  However I do believe it is the right approach THIS year with THIS faculty.  I now know that choosing to be a learner – whether your 1st year or 40th year as an educator – is critical to each of us staying relevant for our teams and, most importantly, for our students.

What types of behavior are you modeling for your teachers as the start of school approaches?