Sunday, December 16, 2012

Making sense of the senseless

I've done a lot of thinking since Friday.  The whole day was surreal, I was attending a conference on the Common Core when I caught wind of what was happening in Connecticut.  When I briefly returned to the building for a short break I spoke with Mrs. Powers and we talked about how to improve our own front entrance at Warner.  At that time details were very sketchy.  As the day went on and into the night everyone learned of the complete senseless horror.

I've thought about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary and I continue to grieve.  I grieve for everyone.  As I contemplate what is best I decided to blog.  Mainly because I don't have all the answers.  I feel as the building principal I'm supposed to have all the answers, but I don't.  I felt writing things out would help me attempt to make sense of the senseless.

First, let me be very clear Sandy Hook was a safe and secure school.  I would even say that some of the safety measures at Sandy Hook are well ahead of most schools.  This is likely going to turn into schools locking down, policies changing, and communities demanding tighter security.  I do not believe that is the solution.  I agree safety and security are vital, but as I told a parent Friday, I will not waive the white flag and have inside recess everyday.  What makes elementary schools unique is that they all have youthful exuberance, the kids are full of life, and most kids live in their own bubble.  I for one do not want to burst that bubble by radically changing policies and taking the youthful fun out of elementary schools.

Second, if we are truly honest with ourselves most people hurting right now are adults.  I believe the pain is warranted, and I also believe that kids around the country need the adults to be steady, strong, and positive.  I have a seven year old, the last thing he wants to talk about is this.  He simply wants to know that mom and dad love him and that we will do everything in our power to keep him safe.  Kids need reassurance now more than ever.  A smile, a hug, a positive comment, and the steadiness of all of us to reassure them that we will protect them.

Finally, the brutal truth is we will never forget Sandy Hook.  We will never forget Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and all the other horrific events that have happened.  This is a time that we all grieve in our own way.  We lean on each other for support.  We remain steady for our kids. We reassure everyone that school is a safe place.  Most of all, we trust in our faith.  There is no making sense of senseless acts.  I simply pray and try my best to be the "rock" that my school, students and family need me to be.

Articles that you may find useful:

There is no lesson plan for tragedy

How to talk to kids about a school shooting...   (I strongly believe this is a parent issue)

Talking to kids about scary things

Teaching through Tragedy

This is why we do what we do.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What is your Mindset?

Several months ago I happened to be perusing around Twitter when I stumbled upon a blog post by @PrincipalJ , she had just finished the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.  I really enjoyed her post and I found that I connected with the frame of thinking.  A few weeks later my good friend and colleague Sue Haney began reading Mindset.  She raved about the book!  She also posted thoughts in her blog.  You can find Sue on Twitter @susankhaney , her blog pushed me over the top and I purchased the book.  As of now I'm not finished, but I'm compelled to share my current thoughts, charts, and quotes.  

First, what exactly is a "Mindset"?  Technically speaking a mindset is a noun.  The definition is:  a set of beliefs or a way of thinking that determines one's behavior, outlook and mental attitude.

Given that definition I feel as though I have several mindsets or so I thought.  Then I began reading Carol Dweck's book.  I soon found that maybe I was over thinking this, maybe there are only two mindsets.  That got me to think back...

Throughout my ten years in the classroom I encountered hundreds of students.  It did not take me long to get a feel for students.  Early in the year I always assigned a project.  The project was titled, "Home to School Map".  I shared past examples, I gave students poster boards, and I also gave students the option of working on the project at school, home, or both.  I listened to the comments students made.  Several loved the challenge, but every year I had a few that grumbled.  Now that I have researched, read, and learned I believe the difference in these students was the mindset.  Below is a diagram of the Fixed versus Growth Mindset.

I love this quote by Dweck, "The View you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.  It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value."  

As you look at the above chart I ask you to analyze yourself.  Be honest with yourself.  Where do you fall?  A few categories stick out to me, they are, Success Of Others, Criticism, and Effort.  I think of my students, I think of the ones that rose to the challenge.  I think of my old colleagues, as a teacher I knew who had a Growth and who had a Fixed Mindset.  I think of my close friends, here again, I have a pretty good idea where they fall.  

I must say that I do believe people can change.  I have a great friend, he and I attended college together and for the past several years we have played together on a summer golf league.  During college I would have told him that he had a "Fixed Mindset".  Over the past several years I have witnessed a transformation.  His Faith is much stronger, his Fitness is drastically improved, his Attitude is very optimistic.  I now believe he has a true "Growth Mindset".  People can change.  Change is not easy, change takes time.  

For example imagine this scenario - you are an adult and you are experiencing a "really" bad day:  you receive criticism from your employer, you are feeling angry and upset.  Later as you begin to drive home you receive a ticket.  You are very frustrated, you decide to share your experience with a close friend, but essentially you feel brushed off.  If you begin to blame, talk negatively to yourself, start to think that life is unfair, resort to calling things bad luck, or question your faith you would likely fall into the Fixed Mindset.  BUT, if you received the criticism and immediately thought "I must improve" or "I can work harder."  As for the ticket, what if you take ownership and responsibility and simply pay the fine.  Finally, as for your close friend brushing you off, what if you said to the person is anything troubling you, rather than focusing everything on yourself.  These small steps are part of the Growth Mindset.  

Each day we are tested, each day several circumstances come up that force us to react.  It is human nature to not be perfect.  I say embrace this, grow from mistakes, continue learning, and take on the Mindset of Growth.  
I highly recommend the book by Carol Dweck.  As you reflect, think about this:  Would you want your own kids to have a Growth or Fixed Mindset?  Would you rather work with someone that has a Growth or Fixed Mindset?  What Mindset to you gravitate towards?

Next Week at a Glance:

Tuesday, December 18th:  Select Choir 9am Assembly in Gym
Wednesday, December 19th:  K-2 Assembly
Wednesday, December 19th:  K and 4 Field Trip to Optimist Arena
Wednesday, Decmeber 19th:  Warner Community Outreach 4pm-7pm
Thursday, December 20th:  Holiday Parties
Friday, December 21st:  Lil Boy Blue has reserved the Cafeteria at 9am and 2pm

Great Things Noticed or Heard:

*  Enjoyed watching Mrs. Struck's students discuss axis, tilt, and seasons with each other.  Always powerful when peers teach each other.
*  Spent the day with Taylor R. pleased with his appropriateness and mental math ability.  He surprised me with his knowledge.
*  Saw a spectacular train track in Mrs. Kline's room!  Well done Abby!
*  Read stories to Shilah, Joshua, Lilly, and Heidi...reading never gets old.
*  String Teamers were delighted that their performance was on YouTube!  
*  Impressed with Dominic's ability to clearly explain his reasoning in math.  
*  Feeling a bit Rotten, headed into Mrs. Moffitt's room and thoroughly enjoyed my time with Bella, Breslin, Alex, Tyler, Grace, and the rest of Mrs. Moffitt's great group!
*  Random Acts of Kindness from Mrs. Dault's First Graders!  The enthusiasm and excitement make the holidays enjoyable.
*  50 degrees on December this Michigan?
*  CP Federal Credit Union workers were doing a fabulous job with our students.  Proud of the maturity and initiative this group is showing.
*  Great Science lesson in Miss Hinkley's class.  Prof. Kuntzelman came in and amazed the group with dry ice, liquid nitrogen, and other science tricks!  This was 100% engagement!
*  Enjoyed walking through the halls and classrooms and seeing so many wonderful decorations. 
*  Thank you to Susan Walz for continually helping out!  Susan stayed late into the night helping to prepare for Breakfast with Santa!
*  Really terrific messages sent by Secret Santas!  I like how we all pick each other up.  Thank you for making Warner special!

Articles Worth Reading:

Videos Worth Watching:

Year in Review (3 min)


Kid Snippet Dance Class (2 min)


Thoughts and Prayers with Connecticut. 


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Enjoy the Ride

As a runner I covet the finish line.  Whether I'm running a hard, fast 5K or a steady half-marathon I always have a surge of relief and joy when the finish line comes into view.  I don't think I'm alone in this feeling, I believe most people are thrilled to finish.  

Just recently nearly everyone in Michigan had to complete the retirement reform options.  This was the online decision on insurance and retirement benefits.  In this process there were calculators and projections based on when you would retire.  If you are anything like me this got you to thinking.  I've been in education for 14 years, I'm planning to be in education for another 15-20 easy.  This process did make me think of when I will retire and some of the dreams and goals of retirement.  I don't think I was alone in these thoughts.  

I was reminded recently to enjoy the ride.  This was timely advice for me.  Sometimes we get caught up in so much that we forget to enjoy the present.  Everyone has busy lives, people are taking graduate classes, going to conferences, attending their own kids events, trying to just keep their head above water, and life seems hectic.  These are the moments that people think of the finish line.  This is also the time of year that things can be stressful.  Don't get me wrong, I love the holidays, but it can be stressful.  People want to get just the right gift, or attend a Holiday party. Time and money become scarce around the holidays.  That adds to stress and takes us away from enjoying the ride.

I happen to be lucky enough to have two young boys that remind me of, "the moment".  The mentality of youth is living in the moment, as adults sometimes we want them to plan more and "think about the future", but sometimes we should heed their advice and "enjoy the ride".

How does this translate into the classroom?  I think of Education in the year 2013 (right around the corner), standardized testing is everywhere and it is definitely HIGH STAKES.  Legislators look at the finish line, they don't look at the journey.  The only thing that matters is the final score, I say bologna!  The journey is what makes us who we are.  My college golf coach once told me, "Ben, your score is your's not how much you are worth."

As life gets stressful, as we so often think ahead or project the future I say, enjoy the ride!  The day to day journey is what shapes us and makes us who we are.  

Next Week At a Glance:

Monday, Dec. 10th:  Santa's Secret Shop Opens
Tuesday, Dec. 11th:  NO after school string team practice 
Wednesday, Dec. 12th:  Grades 3-5 assembly location TBD
Wednesday, Dec. 12th:  Last Day of Santa's Secret Shop
Wednesday, Dec. 12th:  2:40 Sam's Club Giveaway (10 min) (meet in Library)
Wednesday, Dec. 12th:  Holiday Tea in Boardroom 1:30-4:30
Thursday, Dec. 13th:  Fire Drill in the AM
Friday, Dec. 14th:  CP Fed. Credit Union Checkbook Presentations
Saturday, Dec. 15th:  Breakfast with Santa 8am

Great Things Noticed or Heard:

*  Miss Hinkley's class loved the adventure at the YMCA.  I heard great stories of reaching the top of the rock wall, fun in the swimming pool, and great games played during the day.  
*  Impressed with Vanessa's lightning quick spelling skills!
*  Enjoyed the snuggle messages I read in Mrs. Smith's class.
*  Got mobbed with 9 hugs in Mrs. Moffitt's room.
*  The perimeter and area song got stuck in my head in Mrs. Oliver's room.
*  Shaving cream spelling in Mrs. King's class.  Smelled great and the kids were loving it!
*  Fun to watch students creating their own blends in Art.  I can't wait to see the Van Gogh.
*  Very thankful to our SAU tutors.  Most tutors are now on holiday break.  
*  Can't say enough about Mrs. Powers and Mrs. Rouse, Thursday the office looked more like a med unit.  Mrs. Powers and Mrs. Rouse were patient, understanding, and helpful.  

Articles Worth Your Time:

Thinking of having your students blog? Check this out - > KidBlog

Closing textbooks  by @Educationweek

10 Tips to Run in the Cold by

Videos Worth Watching

This week's staff meeting focused on Video Story Problems:  Here is my page on Vimeo.  This is really easy, please don't be shy if you are interested.  (2 min)

Check out trim.RwZtaY on Vimeo My first "basic" video story problem.  If you cannot access go to Vimeo and type in my name, my videos are all public.

Give this video a chance, at first you may not see it.  (2 min)

Be Infectious!  (3 min)