Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Importance of Being Present

I remember the conversation as though it was yesterday.  The date was July 22, 2010.  I met with the Superintendent after being recommended for hire by the committee.  I was a bit nervous going into the meeting, I had never met Mr. Smajda and I wasn't sure how he would take me.  I sat down in his office and simply tried to be myself.  We talked philosophy, community and education.  I shared anything and everything and felt very comfortable.  As the meeting wrapped up I felt good about my potential new boss and I was fired up to begin a new chapter in my life.  Just as we were about to finish I mentioned to Mr. Smajda that I did not own a cell phone  (yes, this was 2010).  He told me that it wasn't a requirement, but that I may want to get one.

Up until that point my philosophy was simple.  If you can't reach me, I don't want to be reached.  I know, I know...I was young and naive.

What I discovered after purchasing my first cell phone was that I was distracted.  I went from never on a phone, to being on it constantly.  I had zero balance.

I will admit I still have moments that my connectivity is very high.  Some of my days involve putting out a "fire" or expecting a very important message.  Other days, I feel as though the balance is improving.

What I like about cell phones and similar devices is that the information is in the palm of your hand. If I need assistance I can get it in a blink of an eye.  I also like the fact that I can "share our story" through pictures, tweets, phone calls and emails.  This is an important feature in being transparent, relevant and positive.

What I don't like about cell phones and devices is that they can become a crutch.  For example, I began teaching in the year 2000.  At that time, I had no projector, no Smart Board, no iPads, no cell phones...nothing.  I had one teacher computer and one student computer.  And guess what...I was perfectly fine.  My lessons were hands-on, I utilized visuals through imagination, video (I would use a VHS recorder and bring in tapes) and drawings.  For years I didn't have resources in the palm of my hand and I was just fine.  I believe my students were fine as well.  

Then along came 21st Century Teaching!  I'll admit, I was excited for my first smartboard and projector in the classroom.  It revolutionized how I taught.  I felt as though I could "enhance" my lessons and truly help my growing number of visual learners.  I loved the technology and my students responded very well to it.  The interactive component to the Smart Board allowed for a new way to formative assess and the projector allowed me to ditch the old VHS recordings.  

But then came the day when my Smart Board wasn't working and then my projector began to overheat.  Oh dear!  I was in a panic, how would I teach?  What would I do?  I specifically remember calling the help desk and just being angry.

Later that night I was trying to figure out what to do the next day.  It was at this moment that I had my own self-talk lesson.  I told myself that for years I never had these tools and I was perfectly fine. I had become so reliant on the tool that it no longer was a was all about the device.  I pulled out a few old lesson plan books and note cards that I used in the past.  I reminded myself about the importance of Being Present.  Don't make it about the technology, make it about the individual!

Every now and then I have to remind myself to shut down.  When I walk into a classroom I may snap a few pictures and tweet out a cool moment, but I also connect with kids.  I don't want to be the adult that has his face in the device.

I say all this for a few reasons:  

First, why is the device out?  If you have a device out, I hope it has a purpose.  Are you posting on your class Facebook page?  Are you tweeting a cool picture that you just captured?  Are you fact checking information?  Are you updating assignments on Edmodo/Schoology?

Second, if your technology crashes should it be the end of the world?  For years most of us never had these tools.  We didn't have cell phones, iPads, tablets and more.  I get it, many lessons involve these tools, but I challenge you to remember the days before these tools.  I bet you did more than survive, I bet you had days that you flourished!  Keep those memories in your back pocket; they may benefit you in the future.

Finally, Be Present!  If you have a device out make sure you have a very specific purpose.  We must Be Present in front of our kids.  We are the role models and we need to set the example of shutting down and focusing on people, not devices.


Monday, October 20th:  String Team 3:45-4:30
Tuesday, October 21st:  TEAM Meeting 9am
Wednesday, October 22nd:  6:30pm 5th Grade Curriculum Night
Wednesday, October 22nd:  Mobile Dentist at Warner
Wednesday, October 22nd:  K-2 Assembly 8:45am
Wednesday, October 22nd:  String Team 3:45-4:30
Friday, October 24th: Staff Meeting 8am
Friday, October 24th:  5:30pm - 8:30pm Warner Fun Night

Articles Worth Reading:

Popularity Grows for Year Round Schooling @EdWeek

6 Keys to a Classroom Makeover @thomascmurray

The Science of Fear @edutopia

A veteran teacher turned coach shadows students... @grantwiggins

Start a Reading Revolution: Flip your class with blogs @edutopia

Empathy and Trust @TonySinanis

10 Reasons Why Non-Readers Don't Read - and how you can change their minds @scholastic

Connecting in your own building @Fearless_Teach

The Next Time You're Ready to Give Up On A Student @TeachThought

What if this was your districts grading policy? @justintarte

40 Things I want to tell my kids before they're too cool to listen @marcandangel

Professional Learning That School Leaders Need and Deserve @E_Sheninger

Videos Worth Watching:

He guessed what? (4 min)

She said what! (1 min)

Well done boys! (4 min)

How to learn from mistakes (10 min)

My Wish...great story! (7 min)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I Choose To See Great Potential

Sometimes when you are really close to a situation you see every flaw.  As you analyze and critique the flaws you have the tendency to become discouraged or even pessimistic.

I have lived most of my life in Jackson County.  During this time I have witnessed a lot of memorable events.  

Truth be told I have not always enjoyed life in Jackson County.  As a high schooler I specifically remember being ready to get out of town.  It was during my time away that I began to appreciate Jackson.  During the last few years I have really come to enjoy many things that Jackson offers. Some of the events that I have enjoyed are:

- The Amazing Race Jackson, Michigan
- The Jackson Running Series
- The Jackson Rose Festival
- The Civil War Muster
- Cascade Falls
- Thought 1 Foundation Events
- Eve on the Ave
- Grand River Expedition
- Fitness Council Events
- Hot Air Jubilee
- Tough Mudder at MIS

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but the point is Jackson has some fun stuff going just simply have to look!

I say all that because sometimes when people get close to something they don't look at the positives...they focus on the flaws. 

Last year I was asked to be a judge for The Outstanding Teen Jackson.  I was honored, and so I accepted. I had never been a judge before, but I thought my experience with young people would really help. The first part of the competition was Q & A.  The question focused on how they would celebrate Jackson.  As I listened to twenty girls share outstanding ideas I couldn't help but feel pride for our youth and Jackson County.  A few of the young ladies talked about how they feel doubted by adults and how some of their peers frown on Jackson County.  I could tell the stress and pressure to be everything to everyone was weighing on them.

I have heard several times in the past few years that the kids of today are not prepared for the real world.  I feel the urge to share a few reasons why I believe in our kids and our future.

My first story is from 5th grade camp.  Each year the Western 5th graders head north to Mystic Lake Campground in Northern Michigan.  Each year we take 25-30 High School students to be Counselors, Mentors and Role Models for our students.  This year I was really impressed with a few of our outstanding high school students.  
The first day at camp is always filled with nervous excitement.  As I headed out to take pictures and check on the groups I noticed one of our groups located at the giant swing.  As I approached I noticed Julia.  She was talking to the students in her group about cheering for each other and being brave.  I took a handful of pictures, but what I really noticed was Julia's warm nature and ability to be the consummate positive force.  Over the course of three days I was truly impressed with Julia.  I don't ever remember seeing her on her phone...every image of Julia was her supporting kids.

Next comes two counselors that really stepped up!  I met with Nora and Jacob about a week before we left for camp.  I told the two of them that I was going to lean on them during camp. Those two didn't blink!  They both looked me in the eye and said, "no problem."  At the time I thought, well we'll see, once things become difficult I'll need to step in.  To my surprise those two never needed me.  I checked in with them a few times and each time they were in control. As 5th grade camp began to wind down I sat down and began to organize pictures.  Going through the pictures allows for reflection.  It didn't take long to stumble across pictures of Jacob and Nora.

When I hear negative comments about our youth I sometimes struggle to respond.  Just last week I had an adult tell me that the kids of today will not be as successful as their parents.  She went on to tell me that they are too dependent on technology and they don't understand what responsibility truly is.  These conversations make me sad, but then I think of Julia, Jacob, Nora and so many others. I remind myself that we have amazing kids all around us.  I won't give up on our youth and I won't give up on our community.

The next time I have someone talking negatively about our youth or about our community I'm going to ask them if they have ever heard of the group, Most Teens Don't.  I'm going to shift the conversation.  I urge you to do the same.  Speak up for what you believe in...I believe in our kids, I believe we have a lot to look forward to in our community.

This week's big question(s):  Do you focus on the flaws?   How do you show your community pride?


Monday, October 13th:  Spirit Week: Crazy Socks
Monday, October 13th:  MAISA Writing Visit
Monday, October 13th:  String Team 3:45pm
Tuesday, October 14th:  Admin Meeting 9am
Tuesday, October 14th:  Spirit Week:  Pajama Day
Tuesday, October 14th:  7pm PTO Meeting
Wednesday, October 15th:  Grades 3-5 Assembly
Wednesday, October 15th:  Spirit Week:  Hat Day
Wednesday, October 15th:  String Team 3:45pm
Thursday, October 16th:  Spirit Week:  Crazy Hair Day
Friday, October 17th:  Spirit Week:  Western Wear! Go Panthers versus Mounties!
Sunday, October 19th:  Red Egg Farm Fundraiser...proceeds benefit Warner Elementary

Articles Worth Reading:

A Letter to My Daughter's Kindergarten Teacher @pernilleripp

A Veteran Teacher Turned Coach Discovers a Sobering Lesson... @grantwiggins

The Wonderful Comfort of a Blanket Book @strohreads

Reflecting on the #Bammys

Be The Hope @coolcatteacher

How to Burn Yourself Out @TeachThought

After being told their son died, parents get the shock of a lifetime...

11 Ways To Let Go and Feel Stress Free @marcandangel

Consumers Energy App helps teach Warner Students...

Videos Worth Watching:

#Hashtag Humor on Jimmy Fallon (3 min)

Ellen from the backseat... (3 min)

What Play Can Teach Us... (11 min)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reflecting on the #Bammys

The plan was to sneak out and sneak back in.  That was the plan...and I almost got away with it.

Before I get to that, I should start at the beginning.

Back in February 2014, I was invited to participate in the BrandED Podcast with +Joe Sanfelippo and +Tony Sinanis.  This was quite a thrill.  In the days leading up to the podcast I listened to all the previous shows and I tried my best to just relax and be myself.  The day finally arrived and Joe & Tony really made life easy.  I thought the podcast went really well...feel free to check it out:  Identifying the Best School Stories from Best School Storytellers

At the tail end of the podcast @TonySinanis had some very kind words for me and he also mentioned he would be nominating me for Elementary Principal of the Year.  I was honored, I'll admit, I was flattered.  At the time I didn't give it much thought, shoot how could I?  I was in the day-to-day grind mode and everything else was secondary.  A few months passed and I noticed the Bammy Nominations were up.  I made a point of nominating a few very deserving people, but I did not lobby for any nominations.  In fact I downplayed the entire process.  Some may ask why.  It goes back to the 2013 Bammy's.  I read a post by +Pernille Ripp titled: Dear Bammys, Where Did It Go Wrong? After I read this I reached out to some of my closest EDU friends.  I did not attend the 2013 Bammy's and I was sad to hear what had occurred.  After speaking to a few people I made up my mind.  I decided three things:

1)  I was going to give the Bammy's another chance.  I thought the intentions were good, and we all learn from mistakes.  I was confident the Bammy's would be a great event in the future.

2)  I was not going to promote myself, I was going to promote Warner Elementary!  I viewed the Bammy's as everything that is good in education.  Everyday I see great things at Warner.  My focus was on our school, not on me.

3)  If I had the chance to attend the Bammy's at any point, I had a tough decision to make.  Do I attend or not?  I was officially torn.

Towards the end of the school year I received notice that I was one of five finalists in the Elementary Principal category.  It's important to note that I didn't share this information with anyone.  I didn't tell a soul at school, I didn't even tell my wife.  I don't exactly know why.  I believe it was the fact that I didn't know if I would attend and the simple fact that I don't view myself as the best principal.  I see my flaws and I see what areas I need to improve.  I admittedly am my own toughest critic.  Maybe this is why I didn't share.

After a few weeks, I received an email from the Bammy's.  I inadvertently left the email open and my wife happened to see it.  It's safe to say she was more excited about the recognition than I was.  I couldn't help smiling when I saw her pride and enthusiasm.

In was now mid-summer, we had to finally decide whether or not to attend the 2014 Bammy's.  I didn't want to spend a lot, but fortunately my wife found amazingly affordable plane tickets.  Once this occurred I figured it was a sign.  How many times in your life is this opportunity going to be there?  I reserved two tickets to the Bammy's and Amy organized the rest of the trip.

The Friday before we left I had a few people ask me about my weekend plans.  I simply told them that Amy and I were going to get away for a quick trip.  I was intentionally vague.  The next morning we sat waiting out a delay at Detroit Metro.  As I killed time I received a handful of texts.  Most were from my teachers.  The cat was out of the bag.  My assumption was Amy shared the details with @PowerofPE and it turns out I was correct.  The well wishes were very kind.

Our plane touched down at Dulles International and the day was filled with family and fun.  Amy's aunt and uncle picked us up and took us through DC and to lunch.  The day was flying by.  After they left us for the day I decided to reach out to a few friends that I knew were in DC for the event.  Most of my friends were busy in one way or another, but my good friend +Todd Nesloney was available. Todd and I vox often along with +Brad Gustafson.  I was really looking forward to seeing Todd face to face.  We met in the lobby and chatted for about 45 minutes. I always enjoy spending time with positive people.  Todd is easily one of the most positive people you will ever meet!

The event finally arrived.  Amy and I walked across the street to wait for the limousine.  While waiting several people congregated around each other and began snapping photos and chit chatting. I took my fair share of pics, but I'll admit, I posted nothing.  Some may ask why?  I didn't want it to be, "Look at me!"  I wanted to celebrate all that was great in education.

We finally arrived and walked out onto the red carpet.  I got to meet +Rae Pica and +Holly Elissa Bruno.  This was very cool!  I enjoy their Bam Radio shows and now I got to meet them in person. After about thirty minutes of mingling we finally went in and found our seats.

The event was wonderful.  +Kristen Swanson & +Eric Sheninger were witty, funny and professional hosts.  The Junior Orchestra really impressed me and I felt truly uplifted.  This was exactly what I hoped it would be...Everything that is great in education!

My favorite part of the night had to be the 3i Talks.  Each one of these talks inspired, motivated and lifted me up.  The 2014 Bammy's got it right!  As I sat there I simply thought, if everyone got to see this, they would feel good about the place education is in.

As the event came to a close we all shuffled out into the main hall.  It was there that I got to have some of the best conversations.  I talked with +Victoria Day+Tom Murray+Salome Thomas-EL+Jeff Zoul+Joe Sanfelippo+Tony Sinanis, +Billy Krakower +Jason Markey+Erin Klein, +Laura Gilchrist+Amanda Dykes+Todd Nesloney and others.  To meet and talk with so many inspiring people really motivated me.  I constantly empower educators to "Be The Change!" Now it was on me...

Just before I was getting ready to leave I made a point to find Errol St. Clair Smith 
( @BamRadioNetwork ).  For those of you that don't know, Errol is really the brains behind the Bammy's.  He's the one that took an idea, a vision and created a reality.  I found Errol and told him that the 2014 Bammy's got it right.  I was so uplifted and inspired by the 3i Talks, the Junior Orchestra, the speeches and the atmosphere.  I told Errol that I wasn't sure what to expect and that I didn't share my nomination with anyone other than my wife.  I told him that I came because everyone deserves a second chance.  I ended the conversation by thanking Errol for celebrating the great things in education.  

I was wrong to not share this with my staff.  My intention was to not focus on myself, but in hindsight Warner is my family.  I should have allowed them to know that they were being represented at the Bammy's.  It wasn't about me, it was about the greatness that we all have achieved. Just like the Bammy's I continue to learn, grow and improve.  If you ever have the opportunity to attend I encourage you to go.  I bet you'll leave feeling good about what is happening in education.

The story ends with my attempt to sneak back into Warner Monday morning.  It was approximately 9:30am and I was hoping to pull in, get out and begin to assist teachers with our NWEA assessments. But that's not what happened.  As I turned the corner I saw the entire school lining the driveway. They were waiting for me.  I was shocked, surprised and blown away.  I got out of my car and walked towards the school.  The cheers, hugs, high fives and fist bumps will forever be a memory in my mind. The entire school was decorated with banners and music was playing.  I didn't return with a Bammy award, but that didn't matter.  I was proud to represent Warner Elementary, I was proud to represent The Western School District and I was proud to be an educator.  As I look back, the Bammy's were about much more than me.  It was about our staff, students, community and my supportive family.  All of these pieces help make me who I am.

Articles Worth Reading:

My Take On The 2014 #Bammy Awards @TechNinjaTodd

Celebration and Compassion in Education @amandacdykes

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Advocating for the Underdog

Who doesn't love the underdog?  The cinderella story? The improbable comeback? I have a soft spot for the underdog.  Growing up I loved the feel good stories, maybe that's why my favorite movie of all time is Hoosiers.  One of the best cinderella stories I can remember was in 2007.  The Fiesta Bowl featured The Mighty Sooners from Oklahoma versus the Blue-Turfed boys of Boise State.  For most of the game Boise State hung tough but it was obvious they were going to come up short.  And then this happened...

Boise State pulled off the improbable with the "hook & ladder" and the "Statue of Liberty".  This was easily an Instant Classic!  

Most people love the underdog...

This past week I had the opportunity to attend camp with our 5th graders at Mystic Lake.  I look forward to the three day trip.  To see our kids showing independence, courage and teamwork always gives me a feeling of pride.

This year was more of the same, but this year also had a couple of question marks surrounding our trip.  The question marks centered around our special needs students.  Ever since I volunteered at the Special Olympics as a teenager, my awareness, sensitivity and understanding have all been heightened.  In the lead up to this year's trip my concerns were two-fold:  One, how could we give ALL students the opportunity to enjoy camp?  Two, we needed to have multiple plans in place just in case things went awry.   

As educators we often use two phrases:

1)  What is best for kids?

2)  What is the least restrictive environment?

During the days and weeks leading up to camp I had several conversations with parents.  Discussions ranged from sleeping arrangements to bee stings.  One conversation that was of specific concern involved our special needs students.  The big question, could they handle it?

My stance going in was that we had to give them the opportunity.  Basically we had to give them our best effort.  We couldn't give up on a student before they even started.  During my educational career I have witnessed many adults lose perspective.  The focus shifts from "What is best for kids?" to "What is best for adults?"  During my sixteen years in education this has always been tough to see and hear. 

As we embarked on our annual trip to northern Michigan I felt cautiously optimistic.  I felt as though I had adults in the right spots, I frontloaded the Mystic Lake counselors, I met with a couple of our own counselors and I was honest and straightforward with parents.  The planning and preparation was done.  

The first day at camp is always an eye opener.  This year the kids started out with enthusiasm and excitement. It lasted until just after dinner.  Next came a bit of anxiety for some.  Several students got a bit homesick and our special needs kids needed a bit of down time. In the past some students have needed to call home, needed to be reassured by their parents and then they get right back at it.  This year was a little different.  A couple students needed some extended support...but that is what we do. We support our kids!

Day Two had a couple neat events.  Just after lunch I headed to the canoes & kayaks.  Once I arrived I saw Mrs. Chamberlain with one of our young ladies.  I talked with her for a minute and I figured the three of us would take a canoe and head out onto the lake.  Remarkably our young lady did not want to sit in the middle, she wanted to be in the front paddling.  So, we changed the plans and I ventured out with her.  I'll admit, in the back of my mind I had already told myself it was okay if we tipped.  I wasn't going to get upset, I was simply going to smile and chalk it up as a memory.  But we didn't tip! In fact we paddled around the entire lake!  We were out on the water for an hour and we talked, took in the sights and practiced paddling.  What a success!  After we finished canoeing the entire group headed to the open field for games.  Two young ladies began playing kick ball. This was pretty adorable to watch. 

Our Annual Trip to Mystic Lake felt like a success.  I always stress about the details, but as I reflect on the past few days I smile.  The smile comes from the opportunities we gave ALL students.  I'm not going to say it was easy, but that's why this is an underdog story.  The odds were not in favor of ALL students making it to Friday.  But just like a feel good story you'd see on television...we did it!  I'll admit, I learned a lot these past few days.  We will encounter challenging moments, but as adults we must find a way to help our students succeed.

As I wrap up this post, I challenge you to look inside yourself for two answers.  The first is, are you truly student-centered?  I'm sure you know someone in education that is not.  You know what that looks like.  The adult that is looking at the clock, checking the contract language and bringing down the climate of the building.  I hope you rise above and focus on kids first!  The second is, do you expect the best or fear the worst?  When we work with ALL kids we will encounter challenges.  Kids are human beings and often times can be unpredictable.  Yet the mindset of the adult is critical.  Each day I challenge myself to expect the best.  We have many champions in education, the people that love the underdog story and do whatever it takes for our kids to succeed!

This week's big question:  What do you stand for?  


Monday, October 6th:  1st String Team Class 3:45-4:30
Tuesday, October 7th:  PTO Meeting 7pm
Wednesday, October 8th:  K-2 Assembly at 8:45am
Friday, October 10th:  Staff Meeting 8am in the Library
Friday, October 10th:  AM Fire Drill

Articles Worth Reading:

Keep Driving @Fearless_Teach

Videos Worth Watching:

Food Fads with Ellen (3 min)

Family Feud...Good Answer...or not (1 min)

3 Questions that could change the World! (3 min)

Catchphrase with Jimmy Fallon! (3 min)

What are your true colors? (3 min) Inspiring!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dealing with Avoidance

"Please don't call on me, please don't call on me, please don't call on me."  I would whisper these words in my head as a 7th grade Algebra student.  Up until that time I enjoyed math, shoot I liked school.  Then in 7th grade it all changed.  Algebra.  I was a mess.  What happened over the course of that school year I'm not proud of.  I continually remember wandering the hallways, complaining of stomach aches and continually trying to escape class.

What's sad is that this became a bad habit.  Eighth grade was not much better, I got out of class every chance I could.  Even as a freshman I still avoided math class.  Then as a sophomore I started to bounce back.  I was put into a remedial math course and my teacher was Mr. Brockie.  I knew Mr. Brockie and I had mixed feelings about him being my teacher.  I was scared he would realize I wasn't smart in math.  But on the flip side, I liked him, he was a golfer, he liked sports and he kept things real.

Starting day one with Mr. Brockie I was locked in.  I participated in class, I raised my hand and I was really trying.  Unfortunately for me the damage had been done long before.  Since 7th grade I had checked out. You can't lose 2+ years and not expect a sharp learning curve and some harsh learning pains.  I was working hard, but math was really tough.  I remember vividly asking underclassman for support.  The good news is they did help me.  The better news is they helped me by teaching me...not doing it for me.  I look back and a few things made a difference in me refocusing on learning and stop avoiding my struggles.  The first was Mr. Brockie.  The two of us had a relationship and I simply didn't want to disappoint him.  I worked harder for him than I did for myself.  The second was Mr. Brockie's sense of humor.  In this class he used humor to get his students to relax.  Once we were relaxed the participation improved.  The third and very critical point is, my classmates didn't enable me.  They pushed me, they taught me and they didn't let me cheat. That year I busted my tail for a C+, but this was the beginning of the turnaround.

I start with that story because I have come to notice something.  As I peruse the hallways and travel from room to room I always notice the same faces at the drinking fountain.   The same faces trudging towards the restroom.  The same faces coming to the office with a headache or upset stomach.  This repeated behavior is tell tale Avoidance Behavior.  We all know it, but how do we stop it?  How do we turn the ship around?  How do we break the bad habit?

As a 5th grade teacher I had a young man named Tyler.  Tyler was a little guy and to be candid, he was pretty immature with his behaviors.  Within a few weeks I felt as though I knew Tyler.  I knew that each morning he would come in and share a story.  His stories would be about playing with his puppy or fighting with his brother.  Tyler's energy level was sky high, the enthusiasm he came in with usually diminished by midday.  Around 11am Tyler would begin to show major avoidance behaviors. What was Tyler avoiding?  Roughly 11:15 each day as a class we began writing.  Tyler despised writing.  I quickly learned if I didn't let Tyler use the restroom his avoidance behaviors would escalate.  Tyler would cry and after the tears came anger.  

It took weeks to slow down Tyler's avoidance behaviors.  I met with Tyler's parents, I had conferences with Tyler and I tried strategy after strategy.  The good news is I never gave up.  The bad news is Tyler never completely stopped avoiding writing.  As I reflect, I believe most of us have a student that is using avoidance strategies.  How can we stop this bad habit, this negative behavior, this fixed mindset?

Let's begin to right the ship by looking at the research.  Dr. Julianne Turner says, "The classroom that places greater emphasis on getting an answer correct, with little explanation and understanding, will see more avoidance behaviors."  Turner added, "Teachers that seek correct answers and move from student to student until the answer is correct often see students disengaging from the learning." Because the teacher typically did not respond to mistakes and misunderstandings with explanations, the students may have felt vulnerable to public displays of incompetence and adopted more avoidance strategies.

How can it be remedied?

Turner gives great insight into assisting the student that is avoiding.  "In classrooms where students use fewer avoidance strategies, the teachers tend to model, hint and elicit support from other students to help their students learn."  Those classrooms have students as active participants and stress understanding and explanation.  The research also points to these traits:

One - Teachers that use humor as a part of the lesson often see a more relaxed learning environment. The humor needs to be appropriate and not sarcastic.  We've all heard the saying, "Laughter is the best medicine!"

Two - Teachers that see less avoidance strategies were often viewed as master motivators.  The teachers understood the importance of inspiring and motivating students to actively learn.

Three - Classrooms that have a culture of learning.  Learning is different than simply giving and receiving correct answers.  It's not about getting all answers correct, it's about continuous growth. This is where we focus on F.A.I.L - First Attempt In Learning, as an everyday way to develop a growth mindset.

Four - Connecting.  Teachers that connect with students, build relationships and care for their kids on a deeper level often see less avoidance behaviors.  It goes without saying, kids don't want to disappoint teachers that care about them...and that they care about.  

I believe we all have a student or know a student that uses an avoidance strategy.  We've seen that student wander the hallway, revolt in the classroom and just flat out check out from the learning.  It's never too late to save a student.  I'm grateful for Mr. Brockie.  His classroom helped turn me around. Without him I'm not sure where I'd be.  Teachers make a difference in lives, I hope you will begin to reach out to your student that is often avoiding learning.

This week's big question:  How will you help a student that is showing avoidance behaviors?


Monday, Sept. 29th:  Y5 - 2nd grade Curriculum Night from 5:30-7pm
Tuesday, Sept. 30th:  9am Admin Meeting
Tuesday, Sept. 30th:  3rd grade Field Trip to Chelsea Milling Company
Tuesday, Sept. 30th:  Happy Bday to Lori Phillips
Wednesday, Oct. 1st:  No AM assembly for grades K-2
Wednesday, Oct. 1st:  Happy Bday to Brad Lenhart
Wednesday, Oct. 1st:  5th grade students to Mystic Lake Camp
Wednesday, Oct. 1st:  Count Day
Friday, Oct. 3rd:  5th grade students return from camp
Sunday, Oct. 5th:  Happy Bday to Jeff Kinney

Articles Worth Reading:

12 Apps for Smarter Teacher-Parent Communication @TeachThought

Embracing Vulnerability @Joe_Mazza

6 Principles of Genius Hour in the Classroom @TeachThought

My take on the #Bammys  @TechNinjaTodd

What our fear actually inhibits @gcouros

101 Things I've learned so far in teaching @TeachThought

A Tale of Two Libraries @E_Sheninger

Our Invisible Rich by Paul Krugman

20 Things to Remember When you Think You Aren't Good Enough @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

5 Second Summaries... (5 min)

Derek Jeter's last game... (1 min)

Do Dogs Get Depressed? (3 min)

Get out of your own way! (10 min)

Ellen improves your airplane seat (3 min)

Derek Jeter granting a WISH! (8 min)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Connecting with Families Through a Focus on the Students

"Every single family can make some contribution to the school.  Recognize all forms of family engagement and offer different outlets for involvement.  Send thank-you notes or little certificates of appreciation." (Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davies 2007)

The above excerpt is from the book, Beyond the Bake Sale.  I participated in a book chat with my #PTCamp friends this summer.  

This quote takes me back to my days in the classroom.  Each school year I had "the binder."  This folder was my right hand when it came to my students.  I kept notes on each child, I documented information and I also saved notes from families.  One important piece in the folder was a questionnaire that I asked all families in September.  This form gave me some critical information on students and their families.  Here are some of the questions I used:

1 - What are your child's strengths?

2 - What is one thing you hope your child improves on this year?

3 - Describe your child's hobbies and interests outside of school.

4 - How often would you like to be contacted?  Daily? Weekly? Bi-Weekly? Monthly? As Needed?

5 - Is there anything you would like to share that you believe would help me be the best teacher I can be for your child and your family?

The questionnaire contained roughly eight questions, but this gives you the overall idea.  Question number four was a big one for me.  Each year I had a handful of families that requested weekly phone calls.  On the surface this looked like, "One More Thing."  Yet deep down, I enjoyed it.  I typically carved out about an hour or two between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon.  I contacted families, shared successes and listened.  These weekly phone calls truly helped me bond with several families each school year.

That brings me to this weekend.  Every week I encourage students to let me know when they have an event and I tell them I will try my best to make it.  This past Saturday I attended a Flag Football game in Jackson and I had the opportunity to watch three of our Warner students.  I really got a kick out of watching Justin break a long run and score a touchdown!  Then I got to see Gavin put himself in just the right spot to grab a flag.  Finally, young Derek was playing center...he made me smile when the ball skidded across the ground.  It was nice talking to the families at this event, but more importantly you could clearly see the glimmer in each child's eye!

As I chatted with one parent about the beginning of the year I was beaming with pride!  The first thing she did was bring up one of our amazing teachers.  She pointed out to me that the teacher had called and left the most positive of messages.  She said, "My son asks to listen to that message each day."  WOW! What an impact, a thirty second message that is replayed daily to create smiles and build self-confidence.  The mom went on to introduce me to the boys grandparents.  As we began chatting, she then told me that she had also heard the positive message and that she was so impressed with the level of care and kindness from the teacher.  Those moments make me smile.  I continued to walk around and cheer on our Warner kiddos, and deep down I just felt good inside.  

When we look back at the quote from Beyond the Bake Sale (see above), it's important to focus on ways to connect with families.  My experience has taught me, parents want to help in some way. Some parents would love to volunteer in the classroom or school, some parents relish sending in supplies and some families are simply trying their best.  As September winds down, think to yourself and reflect...have you shared student successes with your families?  Have you looked for a way to allow each family a way to connect and contribute?

As I begin another fantastic week at Warner Elementary, I'm going to be reaching out to our new families.  I can't wait to start building relationships and develop a lasting partnership.


Monday, Sept. 22nd:  NWEA testing begins
Tuesday, Sept. 23rd:  TEAM Meeting 9am
Tuesday, Sept. 23rd:  9am Bible Release
Tuesday, Sept. 23rd:  3:45pm 3rd grade Mackinac meeting
Wednesday, Sept. 24th:  Grades 3-5 Morning Assembly
Wednesday, Sept. 24th:  3pm Engineering in the Elementary with Mr. Lloyd Hilger
Friday, Sept. 26th:  Picture Day
Friday, Sept. 26th:  PM Lockdown Drill
Friday, Sept. 26th:  8am Staff Meeting

Articles Worth Reading:

The Letter From School That Stopped Me In My Tracks @HuffingtonPost

Why Some Kids Try Harder and Some Kids Give Up @HuffingtonPost

25 Signs You Teach in 2015 @TeachThought

I Reached @JonHarper70bd

How Does Physical Activity Affect Academic Performance?

Why Girls Tend To Get Better Grades Than Boys

The Best Classroom Management Develops Classroom Leadership @gcouros

A Bright Idea for Building School Morale Through Compliments @Angela_Watson

Videos Worth Watching:

Oh My Word!  Funniest answer I've heard. (1 min)

Apparantly Kid talks Kindergarten... (4 min)

Lets teach kids to FAIL FORWARD (14 min)

This is a cool App...the Looper!  Check out how Jimmy uses it. (4 min)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tough to Admit

Those of you that know me know that I have a soft spot for some of our most challenged students. Several years ago I was teaching 5th grade and I had a boy that was in my class.  I had been hearing about him for a few years.  For privacy purposes we will call the boy Robbie.  Literally since the boy was in 2nd grade I had heard the murmurs.  I watched other educators shake their heads and I listened to people write the boy off.  Deep down I thought, hmmm, I think he could be a "year ruiner".

The summer before he entered 5th grade I saw Robbie's name on my class list.  I had heard so much negative talk surrounding the boy that my immediate reaction was one of disappointment and defeat. After that initial feeling (which lasted a couple weeks) I decided to change my perspective.  I began to self-talk and read books that talked about teaching the whole child.  

As school was getting ready to begin, I intentionally skipped his CA-60.  I intentionally skipped meeting with his previous teachers.  I knew Robbie's best chance for success was going to be a clean slate.

The first time I met Robbie was at our Back 2 School Night.  He came down with his grandparents and his blonde hair nearly covered his eyes.  The next thing I noticed was Robbie grinning ear to ear. As I mingled with parents and met students I glanced Robbie's way a few times.  Each time he appeared happy.  I didn't see the anger or the defiance that had become synonomous with the young man.  

As the night came to an end, I reflected on the evening.  I began to get angry with myself for thinking the worst.  Shame on me.  Shame on me as an adult.  Shame on me as a professional.  I had listened to the worst and I was the one with a negative mindset directed toward this child.

As the school year kicked-off I met with Robbie frequently.  I discovered his love for riding quads and being outdoors.  I also found out that Robbie didn't like to sit still and learn about subjects and predicates.  I began to see why he caused others grief.  Robbie didn't care to learn what he didn't consider valuable.  He essentially checked out of the learning and disrupted the class.  When he was spoken to he got an attitude and the situation would quickly escalate.  I discovered this within the first few weeks of school.  So, as the professional, I decided to get ahead with Robbie.  I went to one of his football games early in the year.  I called grandma and grandpa once a week and I celebrated Robbie's successes.  What I was finding was that Robbie was a neat boy, but his story was tragic. Robbie didn't have a dad in his life, and mom was struggling to be a mom (her visits in and out of jail were not viewed as strong parenting).  

The more I learned the better I was with young Robbie.  I still look back and kick myself for thinking the worst.  But I feel good about the year Robbie had.  At our final conference in the spring I remember grandma telling me that this was Robbie's best year in school.  I remember the principal commenting to me, "I hardly saw Robbie this year, he must have grown up in 5th grade."  Those remarks wouldn't have happened if I had simply believed everything I had heard.

Most of you are still early in the school year.  I bet you have at least one student that is a "challenge". I'm turning the challenge back on you.  Here is my three tier challenge:

1)  Don't give up on kids!  Whatever you do, find something that is worthy of celebrating.  That child needs you more than you may ever know.

2)  Ask for help.  If you have exhausted your best tactics and nothing seems to work, ask for help. You could have a colleague sit in and watch.  You could meet with a family member.  You could read a book that gives you fresh ideas.  You could meet with other specialists that may offer insight into how to best move forward.

3)  Focus on yourself.  I often see educators showing displeasure through body language and through words.  Our kids see that and our kids hear that.  We must rise above and not tip our hand.  As professionals we need to show a positive disposition.  

For some, you may only be a couple weeks into school.  Have you already thrown your hands-up? Have you tried everything there is to try?  Does the student know when he or she has disappointed you?  The school year is a journey, and what I know is that the best educators are the ones that you cannot tell whether they have a good group or a bad group.  They are the ones that find the greatness and celebrate the small moments that make the difference.

This Week's Big Question:  After the first few weeks of school, can others tell if this is a "good" class or a "bad" class?  If you answered yes, how do you feel about that?


Monday, Sept. 15th:  PM Fire Drill
Monday, Sept. 15th:  NWEA Testing Window Opens
Tuesday, Sept. 16th:  Admin Meeting
Tuesday, Sept. 16th:  Nicole Kelly will be at CPI training in the MS
Tuesday, Sept. 16th:  Final day to submit videos for
Wednesday, Sept. 17th:  Grades K-2 Morning Assembly 8:45am
Wednesday, Sept. 17th:  Constitution Day
Friday, Sept. 19th:  Happy BDay to Marcia Etters

Articles Worth Reading:  

Are You a Reflective Teacher? +TeachThought @TeachThought

Expanding EdCamp Leadership +Joe Mazza @Joe_Mazza

Thoughts on Homework... +Jeff Zoul @Jeff_Zoul

Findings: Positive Relationship Between Family Involvement and Student Success +M.A. Stewart @MAStewartMA

Mike Rowe Gives Life Advice  (This is Fantastic!)

9 Signs it's time to take a Step Forward @marcandangel

How to dig deep when you want to quit @ShutUpRun

Why Sharing Your Good Work is Necessary, Not Boastful! +Kristen Swanson @kristenswanson

A Pre-Mortem for EdTech +Brad Wilson @dreambition

It Starts Here +Shannon Degan @shannondegan

Videos Worth Watching:

Can't wait to get a 3D Printer at Warner! (2 min)

Classic Ellen. The POWER OF PAYING IT FORWARD! (5 min)

Pay it Forward...just because. (3 min)

Where did that ball end up? (2 min)