To Thine Ownself Be True

reflections

I spend a lot of time each week reflecting on what has gone well and what has gone not so well in our school, as I am sure a lot of you do.

I consider my actions and reactions, thinking about whether or not I need to make changes in my focus in order to support the growth of the school team.

Lately I have noticed a sense of urgency and almost robotic panic in our building seemingly based upon the number of things everyone is juggling. I hate to see people so tired and overwhelmed to the point of not enjoying what they do.  One thing I never doubt, not even for one minute, is each member of our team being focused on our students- always.

We can be bombarded with requirements, committees and changes coming at us from various directions outside and inside of the school.  It can be a difficult task to balance the expectations and requirements coming at us,  with what has to happen in our classrooms, with our students, and in our school, on a daily basis.

I know as an administrator I often feel overwhelmed by the number of things we are expected to balance and complete and spend a lot of time thinking of how to make that easier for teachers.  I don’t think we really stand out in the educational crowd with these feelings.  I also feel it is something that is not going away anytime soon.

On Thursday of this week, we had the opportunity to have the home town and much-loved, hockey team players from The Estevan Bruins,  spend the afternoon in our school.  There were 25 of them, spread out, working in every classroom for an hour and we ended the day with a floor hockey game in the gym involving as many students and staff as possible.  What a fun way to spend the day!

I am not going to lie, it was a bit of an over the top frenzy for the whole afternoon.  The students were so excited and it was nice to just take time to have a whole lot of fun together.

Estevan Bruins
Estevan Bruins

Looking back at that afternoon, I have wonder if that is what we are missing right now.   Do we give ourselves permission to  shut it all off occasionally and just have fun with each other without feeling guilty about it?

It seems like we can get so caught up with all of the expectations we are  balancing we can let those expectations control our actions, rather than us controlling how we will fulfill those expectations.  We have many things in our profession that we can’t control.  I am always trying to bring our conversations back to the things we can control and reminding myself about those things often to refocus.

For example, we can’t control parental actions and reactions.  We can promote, encourage and assist, but in the end we will always have some parents that do not support all of our actions.  Should we focus our energy on those few by allowing their negative feedback to control us?  Or does it make more sense to focus our energy on forging relationships with all of our supportive, eager to partner, parents and see what we can accomplish?

Now I would never say we should stop reaching out, encouraging and trying, but when they do not reach back, we should try not to take that personally and feel bad about it.  Our energy is better spent on ways that we can reach out to the majority and the benefit it will be to all of our students.

Another example…

Many expectations are put upon schools by different departments at the school division/district level.  The intent of all of them is  based on best practice, school division/ministry goals and improving the way we do things.  The desire to improve our practice is strong, and good intent is there,  but it can be overwhelming when there are too many changes.  Once again, however, are we concentrating and spending energy by becoming too focused on things we can’t control?

We do need to continue to improve our practice.  We do no need to continue to drill down our data. We do need to continue to improve team function so we can meet individual student needs and improve academic achievement.  No one can argue that.

At the same time, however, we do not need to lose our individuality in the process.

We can stay true to the good practice and routines we have developed and feel are important in our classrooms and schools.  We do not need to change who we are, what we are, or the things we feel are important to our school culture.

Let’s spend more of our energy supporting relationships, reaching out to each other to meet our goals, having fun with our students and families, enjoying reading and the love of learning, meeting in the staff room for a quick chat at recess rather than working alone, letting ourselves walk out at the end of the day and not looking back, rather than dragging home our laptops and book bags for a long night ahead.

flickr.com
flickr.com

The long list of expectations and things to do will keep coming.  Where we decide  to spend our energy and focus each day is up to us.  I have a feeling the expectations will be met much easier if we allow ourselves to be true to who we are and what we stand for.

Any thoughts?

“To thine own self be true.”  

              -William Shakespeare-

 

 

 

 

Meaningful Mindset

http://timetothrivecoaching.com
http://timetothrivecoaching.com

Here I am being prompted to write another post because of something I saw on Facebook.  I am not sure if that means I should spend less time on Facebook or not, because it does lead me to think of some important topics.   Growth mindset is a topic that comes up often in educational discussions these days.  Growth mindset for teachers, growth mindset for students…what does that even mean?

The particular post I was reading on Facebook was a person venting out about city planning here in the City of Estevan.  I am not sure why people continue to vent things out on social media using a string of curse words to get their points across, but that is the subject of another post perhaps.  The thing about this post and the number of comments that followed, was the attitude that we can just post something, get others to join in a negative tirade and then feel that some positive change might come out of that.  I know schools and school principals are sometimes the target of these posts and if the truth be known, most times we don’t even see them.  It is difficult to promote positive action or change when the right people do not even receive your thoughts or concerns, which is probably what happened in this case.

I have to wonder, if we stopped for a moment before venting out the negative and spent some time, sharing positive solutions or possibilities, what a difference that might make.  I don’t know much about city planning and even though the railway tracks going down the middle of the city cause me some frustration at times, it seems to me, if I want a voice in decisions, I need to get involved in a positive way.

I came across a blog post on the weekend titled, “Quit Complaining”.  It caught my eye, because it was exactly what I was thinking in response to the Facebook post.   The author of the blog post explained that complaining negatively impacts the energy of the complainer and everyone around that person.  The post goes on to say, after 30 minutes, the effects of complaining actually start to change the ability to problem solve.

“Exposure to negativity for 30 minutes or more impacts the neurons in the hippocampus, impairing the ability to problem solve. We give away our power and become victims when we focus on complaints over solutions.”

In my last post, I mentioned the opportunity I  had, recently,  to listen to Tom Hierck speak on student engagement with the rest of our school division admin team.  Our grades 4-12 teachers then spent the day listening to him at the beginning of October.  One of the messages he left with us was the opportunity we all have to judge the actions of others in a positive or negative light.

For example, the person who cuts you off in traffic…

Is that person really being a jerk, who is irresponsible or has that person simply made an error in judgement that we all make at different times while driving?   Mr. Hierck was trying to get the point across that we should consider giving the benefit of the doubt in these simple situations and moving on without misplacing frustration and energy on negative paths that truly lead no where.

It makes sense when you think about it.  The time spent stewing in frustration or anger is lost on the person who cut you off, but takes away from the ability we have to move on with our day and focus our energy on much more important things.

www.flickr.com
http://www.flickr.com

Having a growth mindset, seems to be the ability to  focus on the process of learning rather than the fixed end result that cannot be changed.  Is it possible there might better way to do something  I have done a million times, if I stay open to the possibilities?  Can I truly stop and consider someone else’s perspective and be a better, more informed person because of it?  Can I make a mistake and look at it as a pathway for growth, rather than a failure?  Can I tackle something difficult and not give up in the middle of the struggle? Can I look at my weaknesses as opportunity for growth and not be discouraged?

So, what does this mean for students in the classroom?

We used to believe that intelligence and ability was fixed.  A sort of-you either have it or you don’t when it came to intelligence and talent. When I was in school, we were all given intelligence tests and our overall ability was judged looking only at that number.  Over the years, research has shown us that is not the case. All of our students have the ability to grow in different areas given the right circumstances and the right motivation.

I was watching a TED Talk presentation by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University, psychologist who specializes in research studies based on motivation and “growth mindset”.  In her presentation, she is talking about the power of “not yet”.  Her theory seems to be,  we are always on a continuum of growth towards achieving our goals.  Students who have been taught to have a growth mindset, look at challenges much differently than those who are just aiming for a passing grade or the end result.  Students with a growth mindset will not give up when given a difficult challenge, but rather look to it as being “not yet” there.

She offers many studies that show having a growth mindset can make a huge difference for our students and their ability to problem solve.  Her advice to parents and teachers is to stop telling our students how wonderful they are.

Now, we might say… “What? We are trying to build up their self-esteem?

She does not want us to stop praising them, she just wants us to think about how and what we are praising.  Instead of always telling our children and students that every little thing they accomplish is the best, she believes we should praise the struggle, the quest for understanding, the process needed to stretch and solve problems.

The “Quit Complaining” blog post, I mentioned earlier, suggested a quick strategy that might benefit us as adults, but seems to me could be a habit that might benefit our students as well.  The strategy was to simply add the word “so” to the end of our complaints or frustrations followed by the actions needed to make a positive difference.

If we go back to the complainer I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it might go something like this…

I get so frustrated by many of the decisions made by the city planners, so I think I should try to contact my city counselor and explain my frustrations and find out why certain decisions are made or think about running for city council so I would have a voice in the decisions that are made.

Now, I know, that sounds a bit optimistic, but again, if we do nothing, we get nothing.

Is it possible to change our language in classrooms to promote positive mindsets in our students? Rather than praising the student for doing well, can we instead, praise the process or the struggle?  When a student makes a mistake or does not quite achieve to the level he or she needs to be at, can we promote a “not yet” there atmosphere instead of a “you failed” atmosphere? Can we focus on the problem solving or seeking positive solution, type actions in our classrooms, rather than on end results?

We cannot do this alone.  Like most things that happen in schools, we need parents and families to be an equal part of the team.  Can parents also promote the idea that learning and growth is a process and perhaps it is okay if we are “not yet” there, “so” how are we going to get there?  Our first response may be to solve problems for our children, but imagine the benefit to them learning to solve problems for themselves.

Learning from the struggle.

Our students do not need to be praised for every move they make. They do not need a reward for every step they take.  Instead, they need encouragement to build a growth mindset that will take them into the future.  If we model and encourage growth mindset, we could be well on our way to having a group of young adults that might not be discouraged when challenged and might not expect to be rewarded for completing the simplest task.

 Imagine what those young adults might accomplish.

 

Staying the Course

 

http://magicalmarketingmakeover.com/
http://magicalmarketingmakeover.com/

Everywhere we turn in the media are interviews and information about job stress.  I have seen multiple articles, posts and studies lately about the teaching profession and how many young teachers we are losing due to job stress and other reasons.  The statistics show that our young teachers are only staying in the profession for 4 or 5 years and then moving on to something else. This morning I came across an article about stress in the teaching profession and I was shocked by the negative and misguided comments written in response.

 

 

 

Teacher well-being is a timely topic for many of us. I have always considered myself to be a high energy and tackle anything coming my way, sort of person, but at the end of last year I was definitely suffering from some serious stress related health problems.

Over the summer I realized 2 things:

1.  I can’t make everyone happy no matter how hard I try to no matter how many extra hours I put in.

2.  I can’t solve everyone’s problems no matter how hard I try to and no matter how many extra hours I put in.

I think there might be a few different reasons that young teachers are moving on from our profession at what some might consider an alarming rate.  I have noticed a change in the respect given to teachers over the course of my teaching career.

I didn’t always want to be a teacher, but once I decided that was the direction I was going, I was always proud to be able to say I am a teacher.  It didn’t matter what school I was in or what position I had.  Over the course of my career, I have taught every grade kindergarten through grade 12 in some capacity or another and have enjoyed them all.

Some of the lack of respect I notice seems to come from government, who do not always treat us like professionals in the manner we might like, some comes from the public perception that seems to be driven through media,  and yes, I think we need to take responsibility for some of it as well.

http://timetothrivecoaching.com
http://timetothrivecoaching.com

I sometimes look back and wonder if I was starting all over again, if I would still choose to be a teacher.  I look around me and see many other professionals which appear to have equal job satisfaction, making much more money than me with much less educational investment.

As you might have guessed by what I have said so far, I am pretty close to retirement, so I am not changing my focus from teaching at the moment.  As a matter of fact, I am not even negative about my job and I enjoy what I do very much.  If you ask any of my three children if they want to be a teacher, they will answer with a resounding “NO”.  I am not sure if that is a reflection of what they have observed in me or if it is just their destiny to go in another direction.

I have learned over the years that I do not function well without a challenge.  I can become bored with what I am doing and need to add some element of challenge, before I suffer discontent.  It has happened a few times over the years, but I have been able to find enough opportunities within the teaching profession to branch out and try different things.

One piece of advice I would give to others is to keep learning and keep challenging yourself to be better at what you do. I think we do enjoy some autonomy within our profession that we do not always take advantage of.  Yes, our curricular outcomes are mandated to us and many expectations are directed to us, but how we meet those outcomes and live up to the expectations is up to us, so why not have a little fun with it.  I hope that I set this example  for the teachers I work with and they know that thinking outside the box is always welcome and trying new things is what it should be all about.

images2DS5Y4E6

I have also learned, maybe recently, as a result of my health problems, that I can step back and let others be leaders.  I do not have to control everything that goes on around me.  I know now that I cannot make everyone happy, so I need to step back and let others take control at times and not feel like I am personally responsible for everything that happens in our school.  I am not very good at this, but getting better and I think that it is a benefit to our students every time I am able to do it.

Most of the teachers I know do not like to brag about the things they do in their classrooms, despite the fact that, in my perception,  many of them are doing wonderful things.   To them it is ordinary and not worth talking about.  I think this may be part of the reason not every teacher wants to jump into using Twitter.  They might judge the educators that share as bragging or feel like they do not have anything worth sharing.

I think the “bragging” is more like sharing, collaborating and branding.  The one thing we all want more of is time and it seems to make sense to me to share the things we are doing so we are not all starting over from the beginning.  The ideas, thoughtful information and support that I receive from my twitter involvement is incredible.

http://www.jenksps.org/
http://www.jenksps.org/

Another reason I think the sharing is so important is because we need to tell our positive story.  If we allow others to tell our story it often comes from media sources that might not portray the positive things that are happening in our classrooms and schools.  If we make an effort to tell our own stories more often maybe we can change the negative attitude that I was reading about this morning, by offering up a different perspective.

Maybe we can engage our parents and communities in what we are doing.

Maybe we can set a positive example for our students as they are portraying their own “brands” in the social media world, if they see us sharing positive and exciting things about our schools.

I agree that things can be discouraging and there are many stressful things that teachers deal with on a daily basis that I did not even touch on in this little rant, such as class size, data tracking, high level behavioral issues.  The list can go on and on really, but I choose to concentrate on the things we can control and try to support the people around me in doing the same.

Thanks #saskedchat for helping me stay the course.

cropped-cropped-Screenshot-2015-02-20-16_50_25

 

 

The Beauty of a Fresh Start

http://allthewhitemoves.wordpress.com/category/writing/
http://allthewhitemoves.wordpress.com/category/writing/

I love fresh starts…those times when you are able to start with a fresh canvas and many options ahead.  That is why I love the beginning of each new school year. We meet, once again, as a school team looking forward to our students arrival and having energy we have built up over the summer to tackle new challenges.

When we arrived at the end of June and moved into summer I knew that I needed much rest and rejuvenation before I could even think about rallying up for another year.  I know I was not alone in these feelings.  There were many teachers who felt equally as exhausted as I did.  I spent my summer reading, hanging out with my family and reflecting on what the new year might look like.  There were  many wonderful things we were able to accomplish last year and there were many things that might not have gone exactly as planned or perhaps did not go on at all.

I always remind my staff that teaching is not for the faint at heart.  It is like the job that never ends.  Very rewarding, and very exhausting.  I would not want to be doing any other job than the one I have right now, but finding balance and maintaining a positive mindset can be difficult at times.  Once the new year begins it takes off with such speed and never really slows down until the end.

For me fresh starts involves much reflection.  Many questions ran through my head this summer.  How could I support my teachers, especially my new teachers fresh to the profession?  How could I organize my time to be able to maintain a balance in my workload?  How would I look after myself and not take things so personally?  How could I do a better job of communicating with our parents?  How could I change my teaching methods so my students might get the best experience possible?  How would I make it a priority to interact with my PLN and continue to grow as an administrator and teacher?

The reflection does not solve all problems of course, but some of my best planning happens through random thoughts when I have time to have them.  Through these thoughts I was able to sketch out my vision for the school year.

1.  The most important part of our school is the strong team that exists within.  My vision for this year would be for all of us to continue to work as a strong team. That we will welcome our new staff into our team and learn to use each of our individual talents to make us stronger.   As a school staff we will work together and help each other get to the places we want to be. I hope I can work with individual staff members to support and meet their needs.

2.  I hope we will continue to do everything possible to help our students succeed.  We will looks for ways to build their trust and readjust our teaching methods to bring out the best in each one of them.  Our journey towards more inquiry learning, digital portfolios, student feedback and reflection and team teaching will continue to grow and our students will benefit from that. We will get better at using our achievement and behavior data to drive our teaching and learning, starting with our early years and phonological awareness.

3.  I hope we will work hard to engage our parents as a valuable part of our team.  I look forward to finding ways to involve them in the things we do.  I hope we will  communicate better and strive to build stronger relationships that are key to students success.  I hope we can tell our positive story in a variety of ways and through that process help our parents understand the value they serve in our team.

4.  I never doubt the ability and desires of our school team, and I know we will continue to do everything possible to do our job well.  I hope we will take care of ourselves in the process.  There are many things we cannot control, so I hope we can let go of those things and concentrate on the things we can control and expend our energies on what is important within our building and within our families and friends.

I know it is difficult to wrap up the vision for a school year in one post and reality is much different than random thoughts during a summer.  I also know things will happen that we are not expecting, but right now I am riding on the beauty of a fresh start.

Having Fun Doing It

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/20/how-laughter-keeps-us-san_n_177353.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/20/how-laughter-keeps-us-san_n_177353.html

I was able to start my week in Saskatoon at the Saskatchewan IT Summit.  Not only that, but I had the opportunity to take two of my teachers with me and totally enjoyed being able to get to know them away from our building.  All in all it was a fantastic way to start my week.

There were many great ideas presented to us at the conference but my favorite part had to be our key-note speaker, Rushton Hurley.  He was full of very practical and easy to incorporate ideas and was funny and engaging to listen to.  Rushton offered up various links and ready to use resources, many of which I was able to come back to my classroom and use this week.  Take the time to check out his website Next Vista for Learning. It is a free online library of teacher and student made videos, organized and ready to use.  I used some of the videos and set my grade 6 students figuring out a new web tool, narrable.com.

Listening to Rushton brought forth a very important message that I feel we need to stop and remember on a daily basis.

Slow down and have fun being a teacher.

Here are a couple of my tweets as I listened to him.

I think it is easy to get caught up in the negative things that can be going on around us and overwhelmed with the demands of our jobs, rather than taking the time to enjoy the little moments each day that make us laugh.

We have had a difficult couple of weeks in Estevan and in our school division as a whole with the tragic death of a young teacher.  As we tried to rally around our own during that time and offer whatever support we could, the true meaning of what we need to remember to do came crashing to the surface for me.

Slow down and enjoy the moments.

Attending the memorial service and then attending the conference and listening to Rushton just drove it home a little more.

We need to take time to have fun with each other and with our students.

I know I am constantly bragging up my staff at school, but trust me I have reason to brag.  We try to have a lot of fun together which might be illustrated by a little trick that was played on me when I was at the conference last week.

BnFPnfQCcAExomD

Every day at school my little students make me laugh.  They are so funny, curious and passionate that it is difficult to have a bad day when we slow down and enjoy them.

Learning needs to be fun and we need to remember to have fun doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Designing My Own Life Plan

It is amazing what a break can do for attitude and rejuvenation. It has been a stressful fall term for a number of reasons, but sometimes I think I can get caught up in a circle of negativity that can be difficult to break. Having the opportunity to remove myself from the school over break has allowed me to reflect on the reality of my circumstances.

  • I love my job.
  • I have a fantastic, creative and innovative staff.
  • I have a strong supportive admin team with my vice-principal.
  • I enjoy my students and am glad to be back in the classroom.
  • I have a large group of hard-working and generous parents.
  • I work as part of school division team that challenges me.

I came across an article posted on twitter over the holidays, written by Franchesca Warren, titled “Taking the Bitterness Out of Teaching: Four Ways to Find Your Professional ‘Breath of Fresh Air’.” In the article she describes a similar mind frame to mine before our school break. It is easy to get caught up in the negative things that are going on around us. Most of these things are out of our control and it does not really matter how much we complain about them or to avoid them, the reality is they exist.

In the article Warren includes the following quote:

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. Jim Rohn

Five years ago my family made a huge change leaving our family farm and a teaching position I had been in for 20 years and relocating to another province. Our  children were fantastic at making the adjustment to a new school and community and the move has been positive for us all. At the time of our move I was very ready for a professional change and felt I was being overcome by the negative things in my professional life that I could not control. Looking at the move as a fresh start I vowed I would not allow myself to get into that negative frame of mind again.

Taking time to reflect has made me realize the importance of designing our own life plan. We cannot allow things out of our control to proliferate and overwhelm us to the point they are controlling our lives and not us.

As we start a new year, and start back to school after winter break, it is the perfect time to design a new life plan.