Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pink Shirt Day

On Monday we celebrated Cantiague Cares Day at our school as part of our school-wide ABC Countdown to the end of the year. During a Shared Decision Making Team (made up of staff, parents and kids) we decided this would be the day we celebrated Pink Shirt Day in an effort to promote being UPstanders and fighting against bullying! Pink Shirt Day, which originated in Canada, marks a moment in time when a kid who wore a pink shirt to school was bullied. So, a group of students decided to take a stand and they all came to school wearing pink in an effort to stand against bullying. We felt this was an important message for the entire community to hear and experience, especially at this time of the year when our levels of acceptance and understanding seem to be lower and our stress levels higher. 

In addition to wearing pink, we also chose five picture books that we felt communicated the importance of being an UPstander and a bully battler. Each child in the school would be exposed to all five books throughout the week and a common language and experience would be shared - we always believe there is power in numbers! We read books like One, Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon and The Recess Queen and the powerful message has permeated the building at a critical time! 

Check out the pictures below from #PinkShirtDay at Cantiague as we hope to encourage as many schools as possible to take a stand against bullying by coming together as a community!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Surviving the End of Year Craze

The Lead Learner Edition

Does this sequence of events sound familiar... You have responded to a bunch of emails, spoken to your Assistant Superintendent about a budget issue, assigned subs, figured out coverage for the teacher who has no sub, informally met with several teachers, attended a CSE/Annual Review, spoke to a parent about a classroom learning concern and addressed a behavior issue on the bus before the school day even started? If you answered yes because this describes your typical day during the months of May and June, then, these tips may be exactly what you need to survive the end of year craze...

  1. Stay calm and never make decisions from an “emotional” place - this tip is critical because we need to maintain a calm throughout the building when there are so many challenges to “manage”... requests (parents asking for specific teachers, teachers asking for specific things, etc.); anxiety (teachers concerned about what grade they will be teaching the following year, will we be able to balance classes for the following year so that no one teacher gets the “bad class”, etc.); and things that are totally out of our control (the heat and humidity, whether or not the budget passes, etc.). No matter what the situation, we, as thoughtful and patient Lead Learners, must stay calm and rational and remember that any decision we make must always be in the best interest of children... even when its not the easiest decision to make!
  2. Maintain a clear and strong balance between wrapping up the current year and planning for the next year. As Lead Learners we never want our actions to communicate the rest of this year doesn’t matter - learning matters till the last day of the school year! This is an awesome time to immerse our children in Project/Passion Based Learning experiences (see below) because it is a great way to keep the kids engaged in learning.
  3. Keep being the Lead Learner - try and learn something new each day and encourage the entire community to do the same! We cannot treat the end of the year as the time to kick it into “neutral” and just coast to the last day of school - HECK NO! We must continue learning, growing, trying, failing and succeeding! On some levels, this is the best time of the year to experiment with new resources, techniques and approaches because various “pressures” have been lifted such as high stakes testing, “covering” the curriculum and getting to know your kids. This is the time to take risks and try something new and fun - it is worth a shot because it could only make things better!
  4. Make things fun - lighten the mood a little (especially if the high stakes tests are over) - maybe the infusion of spirit days, school-wide activities, etc. Fun makes people feel good and when people feel good their confidence levels grow, then the brain releases more endorphins and people avail themselves to learning! This is an AWESOME time of year! Maybe try something crazy like a Teacher Swap where each classroom teacher trades places with another teacher from a different grade level for fun (and what an awesome way to gain perspective and appreciation for what a colleague is doing at their respective grade level). Give the kids five extra minutes of recess at least once a week - they have worked so hard and they deserve it! Do an ABC End of Year Countdown as a school - this builds community, gets kids excited and is a blast!
  5. Encourage Project/Passion Based Learning opportunities in the classroom - remind everyone about the importance of keeping the kids at the center of the teaching and learning! The end of the year presents us with this amazing opportunity to let the students’ interests guide teaching whenever possible! By implementing Project/Passion Based Learning experiences, we can challenge our students to synthesize the skills they have learned in various areas (literacy, math, science, social studies, etc.) and have them apply the most important of those skills within one experience. What an awesome way to increase engagement, investment and strive for the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy - those are wins all around!
  6. Get plenty of sleep and engage in out of school distractions, whenever possible, because a relaxed Lead Learner is an effective Lead Learner! The importance of maintaining balance between life in school and life outside of school is really critical to the successes of the individual and organization!
  7. Stay connected with your staff, kids and parents - don’t get caught up with all the paperwork - carve out time to be in the classrooms, lunchroom and at recess because your presence is critical at this time of the year! For all our Lead Learners out there, this might be the most important thing to remember as the end of the year unfolds! We can get caught up with planning meetings, IEP meetings, administrative “stuff”, reorganization meetings, etc. but no matter how much needs to get done during the day we MUST make time to be present and keep our collective fingers on the pulse of the building! We MUST make time to connect with our kids, talk with our staff and interact with parents - they are looking to us for leadership and we must make the time!
  8. Build in time to reflect - whether it's in a notebook, through blogging or just taking a minute to sit back and think about everything that is happening. Your ability to thoughtfully keep everyone grounded will be enhanced by this reflection time and thus, it is a necessity. The role of building leader can be isolating so making time to reflect can help flush out issues and pinpoint important focal points! Starting a blog or an Evernote notebook, even if you don’t share it with others, is an awesome way to accomplish this goal and track the progression of an idea over time.
  9. Start planning for next year and promoting any and all exciting things that are to come next year! Provide the staff with some direction on the things they may want to explore over the summer... maybe a blog study over the summer? Or a virtual book chat?  Find ways to incorporate community voice in the decision making process for the next year. It is critical to give all stakeholders a voice in the vision, mission and direction of the organization - a collaborative effort can be incredibly important and powerful!
  10. Celebrate the successes from the year... the units of study that went really well... the lessons that were a home run... the kids who made incredible progress... the things that you want to try before the end of the year... the things that you may want to do differently in the future! It is important to make time at faculty meetings, grade level common prep periods or planning sessions for the classroom lead learners (our amazing teachers) to share various “A-HA” moments where the whole learning experience, for whatever reason, clicked on various levels and student engagement was maximized! These types of celebrations, shares and discussions contribute to the development and nurturing a Professional Learning Community (PLC) where the classroom walls become transparent and colleagues take on the roles of coach, sounding board and critical friend!

Now that you have reviewed the tips, please leave a comment and share your thoughts on these tips... are they useful? are they ridiculous? which one was missed? Please feel free to add to the list so that the power of the PLN can help us soar through the end of the year!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Educators: More Than A Number

I am currently reaching the end of my eighth year as a building administrator in New York State.  During that time I have only worked in public schools and I have never been more concerned about the state of public education in this country, and specifically in New York State, than I am today. Although there are many things that concern me there is one thing that stands out as the most disturbing - it seems that there is a tremendous push, by policy makers and administrators, to reduce all educators to a number.  A number that is being shaped and influenced by the standardized test scores of students, value-added models (which have not proven to be successful but we are still using them) and different growth measures.  Well, I don't know everything about teaching and learning but what I do know is that the educators we value and cherish in this country cannot and will not be reduced to a number for the purposes of evaluation and accountability! 

The dedicated educators who go above and beyond for the purposes of meeting the needs of every child do hundreds of things during any given day that could never be measured with a multiple choice question, quantified with an artifact, assigned a score or given a number value. 

If you don't believe me, try assigning a numerical value to...
  • the educators who pull a small group to re-teach something early in the morning, before school has even officially started, because some students didn't understand their math HW;
  • the educators who conduct a 1:1 reading or writing conference with a child to help them grow at their own pace and address their specific needs;
  • the educators who work together as a cohesive unit and subscribe to the belief that the children in their schools do not belong to any one person because it actually takes a village to educate a child!
  • the educators who always consider the WHOLE child when making decisions; these educators don't just look at the results from various summative assessments or from a moment in time! 
  • the educators who are excited to make technology common place in their classrooms even when district leadership or the IT department present more obstacles than solutions!
  • the educators who provide food, clothing and even shelter to their students who are so needy that just getting to school is an accomplishment!
  • the educators who give their cell or home phone numbers to parents to maintain a constant and open line of communication for the sake of a child!
  • the educators who create a learning environment that encourages risk-taking on the part of the students with their learning because there is a strong sense of mutual trust and respect between educators and students!
  • the educators who are comfortable relinquishing control of the learning in the classrooms and gradually release the responsibility for learning from themselves to their students!
  • the educators who value a child-centered classroom and empower children to develop and explore there own passions and interests!
  • the educators who spend their evenings, weekends and summers developing units of study and learning experiences that they think will be powerful and meaningful for their students!
  • the educators who use email, newsletters, a class blog, phone calls and any other medium to flatten the walls of their classrooms (or make them transparent) so the families and community become partners in the daily learning experiences!
  • the educators who spend thousands of dollars of their own money to fill their classroom libraries and get "just right" books into the hands of their children!
  • the educators who seize the opportunity of a teachable moment even if it wasn't planned!
  • the educators who not only like their kids but genuinely love them!

The list can go on and on but I think the message is clear- educators are so much more than just a number! Many educators dedicate their days to making those critical decisions, sometimes hundreds of decisions in a day, that are in the best interest of their children regardless of how those decisions will reflect on them and what it will mean during their end of year evaluations where in many places, like New York State, the educators' efforts and work will be reduced to a number!