Sunday, February 22, 2015

I'd Like to Thank the Academy

I’d Like to Thank the Academy

Admit it; we’ve all done it. I know I’ve done it. Along with beauty pageant acceptance speeches, I have done my share of Academy Award acceptance speeches while holding my hairbrush Oscar, although not in the past 40 years. I’ve thanked my parents, my siblings, my friends, and yes my teachers. As I’m thinking about watching the Oscars tonight I started thinking about those acceptance speeches. There has been a celebrity or two who has thanked their music teacher, their English teacher, their drama teacher, etc. I wonder if those teachers were surprised to hear their names? Did they know they had influenced a future Academy Award winner?

I started thinking about this last year when a student wrote me a note, telling me that I was the only person in her life that she trusted. I had no idea. I knew her name, I talked with her almost daily at lunch commenting on her One Direction t-shirt or glittery hair bow, but I had no idea that I was “an important person” in her life. After I read that note I got scared. I was that important to someone and didn’t realize it? I only saw her maybe once a day for just a moment? What if I had walked past her one day and ignored her need for attention? Even worse, what if I had made one of those comments my principal likes to call “throw away comments”?

More recently one of my 7th graders came to me afterschool and just stood next to me while I was supervising dismissal. She asked me about my day, talked with me about running the mile during PE, and gave me a rundown of her friends and the boys they liked. When I was ready to head into the office she asked if she could follow me in and get a Jolly Rancher off my desk. When we got inside she sat down and started crying. She said she had a lot on her mind and I was the only one who ever listened to her. Me? Once again, I had no idea. She had never given me a sign that I was important to her. She sat in my office for about 45 minutes that day telling me about her personal problems and how it was difficult to concentrate at school with so much on her mind. After she left for the day, I reminded myself that I needed to treat all 900 students at my school as if I was the most important person to them or at least someone who was a consistent listener, someone with kind words, and someone they could trust.

How many students think their language arts teacher, their math teacher, or their band teacher is the most important person in their life? The only person they can trust? Do we value that trust? Do we realize what an influence we have on these children? That they hang on our every word? That we can build them up with a smile, a compliment, or with time? Do we realize that we can devastate with a thoughtless comment, a harsh word, or by ignoring?

My students may never be award winning actors or directors and they may never give acceptance speeches and thank their teachers or me. But we need to realize our importance and influence nonetheless. They might not even stand in front of the mirror, hairbrush in hand, accepting and thanking, but it doesn’t minimize the fact that we are influencing them everyday.

And for the record, I would like to thank my parents!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Being Left Out...or Belonging

Being Left Out…or Belonging

I grew up one of nine children. I shared a bedroom with three sisters, heck, I even shared a bed with at least one of them. There was little alone time in my childhood. Very little. As the parent of an only child, and now an empty nester, I now have plenty of alone time. It is time I enjoy; I relax and I unwind, and I am downright lazy during some of my alone time.

But I also enjoy my friend and family time.  Talking, laughing, camping, listening, singing, hiking, biking…all good times! So this brings me to this quote, “I love being alone but hate being left out.” This blog is inspired by today’s feeling…being left out.

One year ago today I was at the International Society for Technology in Education Conference (ISTE) in San Antonio, Texas. There were keynote speeches, exhibit hall prizes, engaging sessions, and fun evenings of bonding with my team. One of the many highlights was being on stage with this team singing karaoke loud and proud.
My ISTE13 Team at The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas
I opened up TweetDeck tonight to see my Twitter feed blowing up with the hashtags #ISTE14 and #ETK14 (karaoke). The thought of karaoke at ISTE brought a smile to my face but also made me feel a little left out and a little sad. People were in Atlanta, at ISTE, having fun without us. Sure it was our team’s decision not to go to ISTE 2014 and to spend professional development money elsewhere, but it still made me a little sad, a little disappointed, and a little left out.

I started thinking of my students. They open up Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter everyday…50 times a day. How often do they feel left out? How often are their friends at the mall, at the movies, or having a sleepover without them and posting the fun pictures online? My students might not mind being alone, but I am willing to bet they hate being left out.

Is school a place where they continue to feel left out or is it a place where they belong? We have the usual clubs and activities for students to join. We have ASB, yearbook, and sports. But at Sierra we also have a Clean Campus Crew. It is my club for those with no club. We have a principal who circulates the lunch quad daily kicking himself if he isn’t able to greet every student by name. We have teachers who take the most struggling student as a TA. We have office staff who recognize the needs of students even as they walk though the front door. We aren’t perfect. There are many who still struggle to belong. But we are trying. Each day when they enter our school I hope they look forward to laughter, listening, maybe learning, and belonging. Maybe we will never be their ISTE or their fun time at the mall but maybe we can be there home each day from 8:30-2:40.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ready or Not!

Ready or Not?

My niece Lindsay is having a baby today. She’s a 29 year old, college graduate, an officer with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, married to a great guy, and a homeowner in a nice neighborhood. We were sending text messages back and forth about a week ago, and she wrote, “I don’t know if I’m ready. I’m scared. I’m worried.” I sent a message back that no one is ever ready for parenthood, and what she doesn’t know now, she will learn along the way.

My own 23 year old son is here visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I can say I am still learning. There is no way that I was ready 23 years ago for all of the experiences, challenges, tears, hugs, smiles, fights, and love we have shared. 
25 Years Old and "Ready or Not"
As a teacher during the day, I tried to be a teacher at home, too. I read to my son, took him to museums, national parks, church, etc. Yes, I felt comfortable in the role of teacher. But he has been a teacher too, and I the learner. He taught me that I wasn’t ready but I was ready to learn. He has taught me not to give up, on him or myself. He has taught me to be patient and persistent, to look at things in a new way, to compromise, and to ask for help from him and our “village”, to be resourceful (and as a single mom for more than a decade I really needed to be resourceful). And most recently, during this visit, he has taught me that I still have so much more to learn. He’s a great human being (my time to brag: an Army veteran, a small business owner, a person of compassion), and we have done a great job teaching and learning from each other. But he’s not a perfect young man, still facing dilemmas and challenges, and I am not a perfect parent. We are a family work in progress.

The many lessons I have learned from my son Steven I am trying to apply to my job as Assistant Principal of a 1:1 device school. Two years ago when it was determined we would go 1:1, I thought there was no way we were ready. No way! Good thing I had my son as a teacher.
  • We cannot give up. “How can we make it work?” needs to replace “It can’t work” (thanks Susan)
  • We must be patient and persistent. We won’t find every solution overnight and new problems will pop up everyday.
  • We can learn new things and look at problems in a new way.
  • We can compromise. We don’t need to create a long list of rules for the students or be in control of all situations or scenarios.
  • We need to ask for help from the students, from the feeder schools, from the parents, from the district, from the community.
  • We need to be resourceful. How can we communicate our needs and see that our students get what they need to be successful? 

We have come a very long way in such as short time. We can be very proud of our accomplishments (my time to brag again: we are ahead of many large districts in our implementation of technology, we have more teachers doing amazing things than teachers resisting, our students are seen as experts by the teachers and community), and we have done an unbelievable job of teachers being both leaders and learners. But we are not done learning. We will continue with our own dilemmas and challenges. We will face the common core, lack of word processing experience, and problems not yet imagined. We are a school in progress.

My wish for Lindsay today is a safe delivery of my great-niece Gracie Ann. And of course, I hope she and her husband Matt have many years of learning ahead.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Life Advisory Council

How many times have you seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart? I was thinking about that movie recently, and about the dilemma young George Bailey faces when the local druggist accidently poisons a customer’s medicine. George knows the consequences if he doesn’t speak up, yet when he does, the pharmacist doesn’t listen and responds with a quick smack to the young man’s head (and sore ear). Not sure how to react to the situation, George looks around the drug store and sees a “sign”. Many people might ask for a sign telling them what to do in difficult situations, but George’s sign is an actual sign hanging on the wall; “Ask Dad…he knows”.

 I’m rarely faced with life and death decisions regarding poisoned medicine, and when I do ask for help, I’m rarely smacked in the head. But I do have struggles, dilemmas, feelings of defeat, and tough decisions to make, and I am thankful to have my very own Life Advisory Council: those I turn to. The members of my advisory council are administrators, teachers, and counselors but they are also neighbors, church members, family, and long time friends. I think my council can be divided into categories:

Give it to Me Straight: I don’t need you to pick me up, pump me up, or tell me what I want to hear. The members of my Life Advisory Council in the “straight” category push me to do it better, give me honest feedback, and help me grow.

Don’t Let Me Get Too Big for My Britches: (this one is especially for my AEL buddy J. Perez). I need you to remind me where I came from and that I have spent many summers without any new shoes. The members in the “britches” category remind me that there is someone ready and willing to take my place, help keep me humble, give me honest feedback, and help me grow.

Keep Pushing Me: I need you to help me remember that I am always a teacher and always a learner. The pushy members of my council make me sign up for conferences and trainings, show me their shiny new gadget and challenge me to test it out, try something that makes me uncomfortable, give me honest feedback when I try something new, and help me grow.

Tell Me You are Proud of Me: I need you to build me up when I am tired and sad and feeling defeated. Remind me of how much I have accomplished and encourage me to keep my head up. The cheerleaders on my council believe I can do something long before I believe it myself. They give me honest feedback and they help me grow.
If you are on my council, you know who you are. Sometimes you are in the cheerleading category and sometimes you may need to remind me not to get too big for my britches and you sometimes have to give it to me straight. But you are always a part of my Life Advisory Council, giving me honest feedback and helping me to grow.

I hope my teachers and my students find their council in life. We all need a group of people to help us figure out what to do when we know we must act, yet not sure which direction to go.

Thanks to my Life Advisory Council it is indeed a Wonderful Life.

Friday, August 23, 2013

It Starts Today. #SAVMP

It was 1974. Patty Hearst was kidnapped. Ted Bundy was on a homicidal spree across the country. Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record by hitting number 715. There was an oil embargo against the United States, and fuel shortages began.  It was the year of the Watergate scandal, and President Nixon resigned. Our country was in a Space Race and Cold War. And my family moved…again!

I was 10 years old when September came, and it was the night before The First Day. My sisters and I had our clothes in neat piles on the dresser, and we went to bed early as directed by our parents. I was upstairs in my bed, pulled back the curtain, and stared out the window at Washington Elementary, Public School #5, New York state. From my view I could see part of the playground and at least one wing of classrooms. I kept thinking about the kids I would meet, the supplies I would need, and the exciting things I would learn.
4th Grade

I went to Washington Elementary for about 7 months; we moved again in March. Although that does not seem like a long time to me now, I had many treasured experiences at Washington. I was in 4th grade, and 4th graders changed classes for math and language arts. I remember entering school shortly after the first week, when my current math teacher excitedly showed my neatly completed homework to the “advanced class” math teacher. They had no test scores for me, no previous year data, and maybe an end of the year report card from the former school, if it had made it into a moving box. There were no fax machines, and request for records went through the mail and took months to arrive. But a week into school a teacher saw potential in me and saw that I needed to be challenged and took me to her peer for help. In my mind, I became a math wiz that day; someone believed in me. I also became a scientist at Washington. My teacher taught us how to observe the world, and I remember taking that so seriously that I kept a journal about what I saw on my way to school each day. I was observing! I was a scientist.

Unfortunately, not all experiences at Washington were positive. I endured taunting and teasing from many 5th grade boys; I was new, I wore glasses, I was smart. The combination was not a formula for popularity for me. I was also poor. I didn’t know how poor I was until a teacher told me.  She didn’t tell me in an innocent, meant well, kind of way. No. She humiliated me in front of my class when I wasted two sheets of paper. Didn’t I know my parents didn’t have the money to spend on more paper? Didn’t I know my parents had 8 other kids to provide for? Didn’t I know paper costs money? It was probably my single most humiliating school experience.

Today is the first day of school for my 7th graders. Did they have trouble sleeping last night, although their well intentioned parents sent them to bed early? Did they have a troubled stomach just thinking about today? Are they dreaming dreams about the possibilities and promises of a new year? Will our school staff validate those dreams? Will we be the ones they remember for convincing them to believe in themselves? Or will I allow them to be bullied? Will I allow them to be disrespected and humiliated by adults? I have spent the summer focusing on professional development, reading books, attending conferences, and reading thousands of tweets. It’s time. I must head out the door today, greet each student, and convince them that this is the place. Their future begins today. They can be a math wiz, a scientist, an athlete, a musician. It starts today.