The Principal's Office
Leadership. Collaboration. Innovation.
As we come to the conclusion of the standardized testing portion of our year, it got me thinking about all the great things we do with our students. Unfortunately for the past two weeks our students have had a very linear approach to learning. "Open up your chromebooks, enter your testing ticket username and password, answer the questions that appear on your screen. You have 60 minutes." While the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA) does give an example of what our students "should have" learned, it is certainly not the end all-be all of what they did learn. Our students are much more than a test.....and learning is much more messy than an exam on a computer.
I love the picture represented above. Weston Kieschnick, author of Bold School, tweeted out the picture this week. As teachers, administrators and parents we all want our students moving from point A to point B as quickly and as successfully as possible. However, we all must realize that learning doesn't work that way. In fact, it shouldn't work that way. Learning should be messy. It should involve loops, twists, turns, dips, curves and yes...more loops. It's like five rules of dodgeball.....dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge. (I hope you all get the Dodgeball movie reference). Learning takes time. It isn't often demonstrated in 45, 60 or 90 minutes.
As we finish up the school year, I hope you reflect on the "messy" year your students had. I also hope you reflect on your learning this year as a teacher or administrator. Hopefully you find out that your path and the path of your students was very much the same...…We should all be learning and growing together....and it can get messy!
I am very proud of how the students did for the past two weeks on the NJSLA. They worked hard and gave their best. Now it is time to get back to making a mess!
"Do you want to be great?" It's a very interesting question to think about. I'm sure the typical answer would be..."Of course I want to be great." The question that I have is "How do you measure greatness?" Do you measure greatness by an evaluation score? My answer is no. Do you measure greatness by an SGO or PDP? My answer is no. Do you measure greatness by a series of lesson plans? My answer is no. While all of those things contribute to the effectiveness of a teacher, Dave Burgess states in his book "Teach Like a Pirate" that "A teacher’s impact can only be measured through generations, not through a single test." Too often we lose sight of what is important about our jobs. We have the opportunity to shape the lives of young adults. At an elementary school, or middle school level (where I am) we often don't see their success as students move on into high school and beyond so we tend to live in the "now." However, sometimes we are fortunate to hear from a former student or hear about a success that one of them has had later in life. Defining greatness is difficult.
However, the great thing about teaching is that you don’t have to figure it all out before you begin. Greatness evolves. We are working with students who can be molded, shaped, encouraged, cared for, nurtured and dare I say it....loved. Each day we get to make an impact with them. There will be good days. There will be bad days. But with each new day we learn more and more about our students and ways that we can reach them. While yes, we have things like SGO's, PDP's, evaluations, lesson plans, and grade books, each one of those things, in some way, are focused on ensuring that we are being great for our students.
With greatness comes accountability, responsibility, determination, grit, perseverance and a relentless pursuit of making a positive difference in students. It takes work. We have to be willing to look inside ourselves (like the picture above) and decide if we are willing to grow...willing to go the extra mile. We have to spend time building relationships, challenging ourselves and those around us, to make schools great for kids. It begins with us. The path to greatness is not easily traveled. If it was, everyone would take it. Robert Frost said it best when he said he took the road less traveled and it made all the difference. Do you want to be great? The road lies ahead.....
This year my staff and I are reading "Teach Like a Pirate" by Dave Burgess as we explore ways to creatively engage our students in the learning process. Below are reflections that I sent out to my staff during our study of the Instructional "PIRATE" Hooks. Each week these reflections were designed to push each other to learn, to grow, to reflect on how we can be better for our students and for ourselves! This is Part II of my "Teach Like a Pirate" Reflection. Thanks to Dave Burgess for pushing our thinking and helping us find our "Inner Pirates!"
Are You Plugged In?
"Much of your success as an educator has to do with your attitude towards teaching and towards kids. The rest of your success is based on your willingness to relentlessly search for what engages students in the classroom and then having the guts to do it.." This quote stood out to me as I started reading about instructional hooks and integrating them into the classroom. The remainder of our book study will focus on how creative you can be in designing lessons for your students. I expect it to be challenging. I expect it to be frustrating. I expect there to be questions about how these hooks can apply to your instruction. I expect you to think that Dave Burgess might be out of his mind. However, I also expect that we all, at the very least, reflect on how it MAY benefit your class.
The Kinesthetic Hook can really have major effects on the success of our students. How often do you let students move around in your classroom? Or how many times do you actually take students out of your room? Do you have lessons that you plan where students could move around and do not? Stepping outside of your comfort zone may surprise you with what you find out about your students. You might even surprise yourself about how creative you can really be. Get moving......Teach Like a Pirate.
Long Live the Arts
"We have unbelievably talented kids sitting in front of us and many are starving for the opportunity to display their creativity." Are you taking advantage of those opportunities? I remember a lesson I did as a teacher when I taught a unit on Career Planning with my high school students in my Life Management Class. We were doing job interviewing skills and students were permitted to interview for any job they wished that was tied to their college major or future career path. The students would dress up and interview with me. One student decided to interview for a Broadway production and proceeded to belt out a song from "Cats." The stunned faces on the rest of the students in my class were followed by applause and murmurs of "wow, that was awesome," "I didn't know she could sing like that," and "woah." Not only was it one of the highlights of my career but it was one that I talk about whenever I run into the former student in town. What was even more remarkable was that the student happened to be blind.
You never know what can happen when you "hook" students in through creative ways like art, music and theater. It may be outside of your comfort zone but it is right in your students' wheelhouse. Awaken the joy of creative expression....you will be surprised with the results.....Teach Like a Pirate.
What's In It For Me?
"What are we learning this for?" It's a question that I always encouraged my students to ask me when I taught a lesson. While sometimes we don't always have the answer that they want (or care) to hear, there are times when we can link what we are teaching to real world experiences, student interests or moments of inspiration. It is when we can do the latter where we make great strides with our students. When there is some autonomy and choice in their learning you will often find students more passionate, more energized and more willing to collaborate. In the lessons I was able to see this week there were high levels of engagement because students were "hooked in," able to make their own decisions, guide their own learning and reach outcomes through collaboration with their peers or their teacher. Teachers brought their own passions of games, movement, areas of content and hobbies and created lessons that sparked student learning.Can this be an everyday thing? Who knows. What I do know is that when students can see that learning can happen in different ways, in different spaces through different perspectives, instead of asking "What's In It for Me?" they are more likely to ask "When can we start?" Teach Like A Pirate...….
What's In It For Me? (PART II)
It's a question that as an educator we may not always think about because we are dedicated to our students. However, the students are the answer to that question. We have the ability to motivate and inspire student every day. We have the unique opportunity to create lessons that provide students with knowledge, skills and perspectives that will help them be successful not just in your classroom, but in their lives. Associating what we teach with the world around us, with our own personal experiences, and with their interests can bring lessons to new places they have never been to before.
As we get deeper into our study of Instructional Hooks you may still be thinking, "What's in it for me? I'm comfortable teaching how I am teaching. What I'm doing works for me and I don't have time to do all of this "Pirate" stuff." In a keynote address at Techspo this week I heard a quote that got me thinking...."The love of comfort is often the enemy of greatness." So ask yourself, "What's in for me?"..........GREATNESS. Teach Like a Pirate.......
Stand and Deliver
We have had the opportunity to hear from some great speakers over the past several years. Jack Berkemeyer, Alice Keeler, Jimmy Casas, Joe Sanfelippo and Weston Kieschnick all brought different ideas, thoughts and messages to inspire us to keep moving forward....to keep making a difference. Each person, in their own way, drew us in with stories, kinesthetic activities, upcoming technology practices or teasers for what was to come during the day. Each speaker brought energy, enthusiasm and a passion for their message to a large audience of people who for some, were looking to learn, for others may be have been indifferent and for others...maybe wondering, "can't I just be somewhere else right now." It didn't matter who they were speaking to. They believed in their message and they were ready to share it with you.
It is the same way for you as a teacher. You may not realize it but you are a keynote speaker every day. You are delivering a message for your students. Whether it is a story, an activity, a set up for the next day or creating a buzz that gains interests from your students, you are looking to spread a message in your classrooms every day. As educators, we can either embrace that we are "public speakers"..intentional about making a difference in students or we can continue to say "I don't like to speak in front of audiences because it makes me nervous." Like our keynote speakers, do you bring energy, enthusiasm and a passion for your message? Is what you are doing memorable? Yes, students need to be in your classrooms every day. But what if you needed to sell tickets to your lessons? Would anyone show up? Stand and Deliver.......Teach Like A Pirate.
The implementation of the 1:1 Chromebook program has had its benefits (and drawbacks) over the past several years. (Drawbacks...yes...I said it.). Whether you knew it or not, you have been utilizing #tlap hooks for the past several years through the "techno wiz" hook. We have been able to create paperless activities, capitalize on our students' knowledge of technology by integrating different projects, connecting students to the world that lies outside your classroom. We have utilized breakout-edu activities in some classrooms, QR codes for scavenger hunts and some of us are seeing the power that social media has in branding our classrooms. We have seen engagement levels rise in certain areas of our curriculum that were once "uneventful." Some of "less tech savvy" have dipped your toes in the water and have taken risks and have seen the reward that can happen.
However, we must remember that technology is a tool. We must not become so dependent on it that we forget that it is not the ONLY tool we should be using. The drawback to technology is that it can tend to take over a classroom. We must continue to focus on designing solid outcomes guided by our curriculum (treasure map). Our expertise in instructional strategies must continue to direct us (compass) as we navigate the outcomes we are looking to accomplish with our students. Tools like technology can help us reach our destination but ultimately it is up to us as PIRATE educators to continue to learn "advanced tactics" as we provide uncommon experiences for our students. Advanced tactics like technology are great....but teachers are better........Teach Like a Pirate.
Around the Edges
"Students will do amazing things if you can design a class and environment that is positive and empowering." This quote by Dave in the final hooks in the book is a great reminder that no matter how much time you spend planning how you are going to "hook" students in, the most important thing is building trust, respect, responsibility and accountability.....a place where students feel supported, encouraged and celebrated. The final hooks of the book really extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom and encourage creating experiences that build the school connections that are critical. Whether it is a contest, a mnemonic hook, or a challenge hook, we have the opportunity to encourage students to raise and fulfill the potential that they have burning inside of them. After all, we can all be PIRATES full of...
I hope that you enjoyed reflecting on the various ways we can engage students in learning. I look forward to seeing the Pirate Hooks in Action! Don't be afraid to take risks, raise the sails and chart a course for success. Your students are waiting......TEACH LIKE A PIRATE!
Work Like a Captain, Play Like a Pirate
I'm sure some of you are thinking that education is getting crazy and that it sounds like we should be entertainers rather than teachers. While I know that our book study has been about student engagement and making the classroom exciting for students, it is also my hope that it is understood that the ideas in this book and the strategies/tools that I share with you are all ways in which we can CHOOSE to educate our students. There is no "one way" to do it. What I do know is that we have to teach the students that are in front of us. Those students are changing. They are coming to us with different stories, with different skills, with different passions. with different experiences. As much as we want them to adapt and learn the routines of our classrooms, the content of our course and wisdom that we can bestow, we must also understand that they are kids. They are going to make mistakes, they are going to challenge us, they are going to try to "just get by." But they are also going to learn, they are also going to grow. They may fail once, twice, three times..... we must be there to support them......sink or swim. Why? Because we made a CHOICE......a CHOICE to make a difference in the lives of our future. This is the journey we have set sail on. The ocean changes day to day just like instruction may have to. Use your compass that has guided many of you for years but don't be afraid to chart new courses every once and a while. You never know where the wind might take you...….. TEACH LIKE A PIRATE.
This year my staff and I are reading Teach Like a Pirate" by Dave Burgess as we explore ways to creatively engage our students in the learning process. Below are reflections that I sent out to my staff at the conclusion of each week of reading together. They are personal reflections, challenges and observations as we learn and grow together! Thanks to Dave Burgess for pushing our thinking and helping us find our "Inner Pirates!"
THE PASSION CHAPTER
This chapter tugged at my heartstrings...(Passion...heartstrings....get it?) in regards to the fact that I had to admit to myself that I was not passionate about everything I taught or everything that I may do as a Principal. Seeing it in writing by someone else helped me realize that I am not alone. I like to be passionate about everything but is it truly possible? Defining my content passion, professional passion and personal passion (and actually writing it down) focuses my energy and enables me to be "on fire" whenever I am around students, staff and parents. If you haven't written your passions down, I would encourage you to do so.
On page 6 I liked the line, "....it is crucial to make the commitment to change your perspective and consistently focus on your professional passion........to include it in every lesson that I teach with what I call life changing lessons (LCLs).....they allow me to consistently bring it." Even on days like today where we are tired after Back to School Night, how did we "bring it" it today? Were we tired and mailed it in or were you filled with a passionate fire of enthusiasm about your lesson where you would be willing to have students come from miles around to watch you burn? Your answer matters.... to our students and to our community. They are counting on us....Teach Like a Pirate
THE IMMERSION CHAPTER
Well, the opening of the chapter certainly peaked my interest! As Dave mentioned when he spoke with us on Tuesday, hooking people into a chapter by his first few sentences got my mind thinking about how we can do that in our classrooms. Perhaps having signs outside our door that spark a message to students that get them excited about coming into the classroom for a lesson much like Dave started off this chapter would be pretty interesting. What if the sign was a question about what happened to a character in the book you are reading or "Danger: Hands on Experiment Happening Here..." It creates an atmosphere for learning and sets the stage for excitement, curiosity and wonder.
I enjoyed the lifeguard vs. swimmer analogy. It is easy to want to have a few minutes to yourself to catch your breath when students are working collaboratively. However, you tend to miss out on little details, teachable moments, and relationship building if you are not "all in" on a lesson. You only get students for 60 minutes a day. I may only get one interaction with a particular student on a given day. We need to make the most of that time and be immersed in the moment. Our kids are depending on us....Teach Like A Pirate.
THE RAPPORT CHAPTER
Rapport is a critical aspect of a successful classroom. Being a month into school we are starting to learn a lot about the students....what their strengths are, their areas of growth and hopefully even what they are passionate about on a personal level and on a learning level.
The quote that made me think a little bit happened in the last part of the chapter. Dave said, "I'm selling education....a life altering product that can transform the human spirit and literally change the world one student at a time........at the very least I want the most difficult and stubborn student in my class to leave with an open mind and say to themselves, "OK, maybe this guy is on to something." A question to think about is, "Do you think about how your most difficult or stubborn student feels about your class?" While the answer might not be the one you want to hear, it is an important one to consider. Thinking about the response, would your instructional strategies change for that student?.........Teach Like a Pirate.
THE ASK AND ANALYZE CHAPTER (In three parts)
This chapter comes at the perfect time. We are all feeling overwhelmed as the start of the school year is in the rearview mirror and the excitement and energy has been replaced with a feeling that seems to happen every October but is tucked away in the brain in the area of "things I want to forget." As the fall approaches, is the time when we want our creative juices to flow. Now that we know more about our students and what they are capable of......now that we are into our curriculum a bit.....now that we had the opportunity to get some "hands on" professional development at the start of the year. This chapter reminds us that regardless how how creative we may be, it comes down to asking the right questions of ourselves.
ASK AND ANALYZE (PART II)
Where do you get your creative ideas? Sometimes I do my best thinking on my drive to work, getting ready in the morning or even when I'm up in the middle of the night. However, with the million things running through my head sometimes I forget to write down those ideas and I miss out on opportunities. This portion of the Ask and Analyze chapter was another one that got me thinking about how important it is to jump on creative ideas when I have them. (Don't be the guy who misses out on two boats and a helicopter.) Read page 45 for the reference.
What plans do you have in place to capture your creative ideas? Do you keep a journal of ideas? Do you take notes on a cell phone? Do you use Google Keep? (If you don't know Google Keep, I can help you!) Do you keep a folder in your Google Drive and call in "Creative Ideas" and just drop things in that you find for later lessons? The same organization and creativity that we expect from our students is something that we should model ourselves. If you find yourself saying, "I'm not creative," it isn't because of lack of trying. It may just require a little organization.......Teach Like a Pirate.
ASK AND ANALYZE PART III
My first year of teaching was not great. I would constantly go home and question what I was doing. I knew they days that I had great lessons but they seemed few and far between from the lessons that had me banging my head against the wall. As I reflected on my first year I began to realize that many of the lessons that the kids enjoyed and the ones that I enjoyed teaching were the ones that involved risk taking, either by me or the students. The ones that didn't go so well were ones that were "safe" because I wanted to make sure I covered the material. I wasn't letting my creativity and "creative alchemy" take over my lesson planning because I was hyper focused on "is this the day the Principal walks in? I have to make sure I look like know what I'm doing."
I teach and lead best when I infuse my passions into what I'm doing. I enjoy reading, public speaking, sports, music and the list goes on. I have started (yes, there is still a long way to go) incorporating these things into my leadership style. Whether it is our faculty meetings, Professional Development workshops, weekly newsletters, inspirational quotes or coaching techniques, each one of my passions has a profound influence on who I am as an educator. Some of my passions I am good at....others I am not. Heck, I walked around town on Halloween as a Pirate this year. Talk about not comfortable.... How are you venturing outside your area of expertise and then bringing it into the classroom? Are you asking more of yourself or are you pulling into your parking spot and saying...."It's Friday...time to give an assessment." Your answer matters.......Teach Like a Pirate
THE TRANSFORMATION CHAPTER
Have you ever considered what it would be like to follow a student around for the day? I actually may try it this year. (It's a "thing" on Twitter.) We often get caught up in the 60 minutes we may have with that student and forget that they have six other teachers during the day with six other subjects. How do you make yourself stand out? What lengths do you go through to make sure you successfully deliver a "remarkable" lesson?
I know what some of you may be thinking. Rich has no idea what it is like. The kids aren't doing homework, some don't study and the parents don't support us. I can't do these "remarkable" lessons if the kids don't give the effort. My answer is...if you never do a "remarkable" lesson, will your class be remembered? If you never try it, you will never know. We didn't go into teaching to be "average." We all went into teaching to make a difference. Soon you will be reminded of your 5 words you wanted students to say about your class at the end of the year. What direction is your GPS headed?
As we head into the last letter in the Pirate Acronym (Enthusiasm) I hope you have been reflecting on your journey as a teacher. This weekend I had the opportunity to attend EdCamp NJ in New Brunswick with over 400 educators from across the state. It was a humbling experience as I listened to some amazing presenters and even had a chance to present myself. I continue to look inside myself to see how I can learn and grow as an educator. I can be more passionate, I can immerse myself more in what is best for students, I constantly seek to build rapport with my students, staff and community, asking questions, and analyzing myself along the way to ensure that I am doing everything I can to continue to transform myself into something bigger. I know that "Teach Like a Pirate" may not be for everyone. But, if it gets you to reflect on yourself and where you want to go, you may just find yourself pushing yourself to places you have never been.....with a little bit of ENTHUSIASM!......Teach Like a Pirate!
THE ENTHUSIASM CHAPTER
"Our mission is to teach in such a way that who we are as human beings has a more powerful and lasting effect on students than what we say." This chapter has special meaning this week when I think about Lynn Connelly. Although I only worked with her for two years I will remember her for being a great person....for her spirit and all around tremendous personality. She was always full of passion, always making your smile or laugh. Her personality could fill up a room. She loved her job. She loved her students. She loved her friends and family. Right up until her retirement she was enthusiastic about making a difference. She was a dear friend to many and will be sorely missed by those who knew her.
Through the good days and bad days that we have in the classroom, how do you want to be remembered? For me, I would hope people would remember my passion, my desire to make a difference, my love for learning and my desire to do whatever it takes to help students and staff achieve success. More importantly, that I loved what I did and that it showed in every facet of my being. In reading the "Enthusiasm" chapter, it reminded me that it's okay that every day you may not be "enthusiastic" but if you change the focus of your attention, think about your professional passions and be willing to light yourself on fire with enthusiasm, you carry a light that can shine brightly in the dark and make your classroom great for your students and your colleagues. Whether you have been teaching for three months or 30 years, bring the enthusiasm and let your students receive your joy.....Teach Like a PIrate.
Part II and III Reflections of Teach Like a Pirate to come!
I wrote this speech in honor of our Veterans for our school's annual Veterans Day Flag Ceremony held on November 12, 2018
"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." This quote by President John F. Kennedy during his inauguration address is one of the most famous quotes in our nation’s history. At the time of his speech, it was a call to action. It was a challenge made to every American to contribute in some way to make our country better. Today as you know is Veterans Day. It is a day in which we recognize, celebrate and honor, the men and women who answered that call…..the call to serve…the call to be bigger than themselves and represent our country as a member of the armed forces.
The importance of service is a vital part of a person’s character. It helps to define who we are a person, a school, a community, a town, a state, and a country. The decision to serve means that you are making a choice. A choice to make a difference. To take up a cause and enrich the lives of others. The Veterans that join us today made a choice….a choice to set aside their personal ambitions and dreams to protect the lives of their fellow Americans and the freedoms that we hold dear. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Today I think of my childhood friend, United States Senior Chief Thomas Baldwin who in May retired after 20 years and 9 months serving our country. I remember when I was 18 years old and ready to head off to college and Tom pulled into the driveway of my parent’s house to say goodbye. He was heading off to basic training and did not know when we would see him again. I was so proud of him but so scared at the same time. I remember giving him a big hug and yes, even shedding a few tears because neither one of us quite knew what the future would hold. Over the next 21 years he served our country proudly. The sacrifices he made were many. He would spend months at sea far away from shore, over time he missed family holidays, birthday parties, and seeing his children grow up for periods of time. In fact, he even lived in a different state then his family toward the end of his service so his children could stay in their schools. He is a man of integrity, honor, loyalty and American pride. I’m honored and humbled to call him my friend and so proud of all he has accomplished. Thankfully he has rejoined his family and has started his life as a civilian. His service made a difference. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
In preparing my speech today I came across an interview with Jeffrey Courter from Chicago, Illinois. He had served his country as a Marine, a Navy Reservist and an Army National Guardsman. When talking about his time of service I was struck by the comments he said about his time in Afghanistan. “My deployment to Afghanistan changed me in many ways. It opened my eyes to poverty, oppression, and human need. I saw children standing barefoot in snow. I saw old villagers afraid of terror. I saw families of Americans providing toys, school supplies and clothing to poor Afghans. I saw bravery, kindness, and evil up close. I saw suffering on a scale I had never encountered before. People asked me whether I made a difference being deployed there. I would say, “A very small difference, but if everyone makes a very small difference, in time it will make a large difference. Service is the gift we give to the world. It’s what makes us human. It is also what gives our lives meaning. Serving my country is part of serving humanity.” Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Throughout the day you will have the opportunity to hear from our veterans about their service to our country. I want you to pay attention, not just to what they are saying but how they are saying it. I want you to notice the passion, honor, conviction and pride in how they speak. For some, they have recently finished their terms of service while others served proudly many years ago. The veterans that sit before you today have served in Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan and peace keeping missions throughout the world. They fought proudly with their brothers and sisters against some of the world’s most dangerous enemies. They all made sacrifices like my friend Tom.. They all have stories like Jeffrey Courter. They made a difference.. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
My challenge to all of us here today is “What difference are you making?” It is a very important time in our country where we are in need of leaders. We are in need of people, whether you are a student or a senior citizen, who are willing to follow their passion, that “thing” that gets that fire burning inside of you that you can wait to spread to others. There are so many ways that we can serve. For the students…get involved. Serve your community, get involved in a service project, be a student tutor, read to elementary students, design bulletin boards around the school, donate food to a local food pantry, join the boy scouts or girl scouts, be a leader on Student Council or one of our clubs, be part of a local youth group, help out at the Boys and Girls Club. For those of us in the community, be a mentor to a student, be a guest speaker in a school, donate your time at the library, if you are talented and can make a blanket for the homeless or organize a fundraiser, it helps make us stronger as a person, a school, a town, a state and a country. We need to make it a life-time commitment to help others. It can’t be a one time thing. Today we recognize those who were willing to sacrifice their lives…..and some did….so that we can be here….today….standing in the sunshine….. Through service, we participate in our shared commitment to create a "more perfect union." As Robert Kennedy said, "Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice he send forth a ripple of hope." That is the power of service…..Ask not what our country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
November 11th is certainly a special day each year. Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. It was 11:00 in the morning, on the 11th day, on the 11th month……One hundred years ago yesterday……tired and weary, members of Battery E, 11th Field Artillery marched onto an empty battlefield, loaded a round into their favorite canon nicknamed “Calamity Jane” and fired a “closing” shot signifying the end of World War I. 100 years = 36,500 days, 100 years = 876,000 hours, 100 years = 52,560,000 minutes. There have been millions of men and women who have served our country since that time. Today we thank you….we honor you and celebrate you for what you did for our country.
In closing, I would like to end with a poem that I found this weekend on Instagram. It was posted and narrated by movie star, Dwayne Johnson, otherwise known by fans of the WWE as “The Rock," a strong supporter of the armed forces.
We look back at 100 years with honor in our eyes..
From the ocean to the desert and beyond the farthest skies
We thank the men and women that stand up for our rights
Walking into battle, morning, day and night.
A nation on their shoulders every single day
For your peace and safety
We will always pray
And although you may be far from home
Never feel alone
Because in our hearts
And in our minds
You will always roam
Gratitude to the hardest workers
Is What We Have to Give
To Show Respect for the Freedom
With Which We All Live
Thank you Veterans for your sacrifice, your service and your commitment in helping make our country the land of the free and the home of the brave! Pequannock Valley School salutes you!
Have you ever had one of those moments in the classroom as a teacher or in your school as a building leader where it takes you a few days to reflect on the joy and excitement that it has brought you? Moments where when you close your eyes you can still feel the energy, see the smiles on the face of your students or staff, hear the "buzz" of conversation, witness the learning that is going on around you. If you have had those moments, Congratulations. If you haven't had those moments yet, they are coming. Those moments transform you as an educator. They make you stop and realize the tremendous power in what we do in education and help you recognize why our roles are so important in the lives of our students, our colleagues and our communities. They are moments that can happen when you least expect them, or ones that come from a vision, from hard work, from dedication, from a relentless pursuit of wanting to do what is best for those you serve. When they happen.....cherish them.
I have been fortunate to have several of those "moments" throughout my career. However, in the hustle and bustle of a school year, the feelings of those past moments tend to be a distant memory as you work toward "the next thing" happening on a particular day. I was fortunate to have "a moment" this Friday at the Pequannock Technology Summit (#peqsummit) where I am a co-organizer with my colleagues, Beth Sheridan (@beth_sheridan6) and Peter Cook (@pcooktech) that I am still having "all the feels" two days later because of the impact it had on me and on my staff.
The Pequannock Technology Summit was a vision that I had five years ago that members of our Leadership Team turned into a reality. Over the past four years it has evolved into a dynamic, personalized professional development workshop focused on providing teachers, administrators and support staff with relevant learning opportunities to enhance their practice. Thanks to our Superintendent, Dr. Brett Charleston, we have been able to have some of the top educators in the country come to speak. Educators like Will Richardson, Alice Keeler, Rich Kiker and this year's speaker, Weston Kieschnick have kicked off the Tech Summits with powerful messages. Weston is the author of the book Bold School: Old School Wisdom + New School Technology = Blended Learning That Works. Wes set the stage for this year's summit talking about the importance of realizing that education is not broken. Education is not all about technology. It is about creating outcomes, using effective instructional strategies and then capitalizing on the technology tools that will help bring the outcomes to fruition through solid planning. The message resonated loud and clear to those in attendance as applause, head nods and shouts of agreement came from the audience. Weston's energy, passion, humor, wisdom and outgoing personality set the room on fire! (Not literally, no panic ensued).
Weston's message to "Go Forth and Be Bold" came to fruition following his keynote as 500 educators participated in over 30 workshops focused on Blended Learning. If you do a search for #peqsummit on Twitter you will see all the amazing learning, collaborating, and fun that was being had by everyone. Weston also provided workshops throughout the day on Instructional Coaching, Maintaining Grit and What Blended Learning Should Look Like. The greatest part about the day and where my "moment" occurred, was to watch teachers and administrators feeling empowered to share the great things they are doing. In every classroom presenters and attendees were working together, sharing best practices, learning and growing for the betterment of their students and for the students that will come after them. All of the effort that went into planning this event for our staff came alive before my very eyes.
With every conversation I had with attendees the smiles got bigger and bigger. Comments like "I feel so fortunate to work in a profession where so many are willing to put themselves out there and share their knowledge/experiences so that the whole profession can benefit and grow," and "The Pequannock Tech Summit is one of the finest workshop opportunities on the East Coast. The #peqsummit energizes & boosts me every year! Thanks for the professional lift" gives me the motivation I need to strive to make next year's conference be even more "BOLD."
If we truly want to make a difference in education we need to "Go Forth and Be Bold." We must be willing to take risks, to share what we know, to collaborate with our colleagues and to push each other to be better than we were the day before for our students. Weston said it best in his keynote. "Education is not broken. But, it is a dangerous game when in the name of innovation we determine the skills of the past, have no place in our future. We have to get as excited about pedagogy as we do about technology. Create a culture of "AND." It was a tremendous day of learning that I am so proud to be a part of each and every year. The entirety of the day was a "moment" in my educational life that I will never forget. From the things I learned, to the people I met, every part of the day was what should be happening in schools everywhere.
Thank you Weston Kieschnick. Thank you Peter Cook and Beth Sheridan. Most of all, thank you to everyone who made this event so special. Thank you for your tireless efforts to learn and grow to make schools a great place to be for students. As you get ready for your next "moment," don't wait for it to happen. Go Forth. Be Bold. Do what is best for kids. They are waiting.
I am not a surfer. Honestly, I don't know the first thing about surfing. I marvel at the people that can do it and make it look so easy. It must be exhilarating when you "catch the big one" and ride it all the way to shore. My family is fortunate that we get to spend a few weeks down at the Jersey shore each summer. As my son has gotten older (10 years old), he has "dabbled" in surfing. He wants to be a surfer but has a hard time recognizing that it takes a lot of work to be able to stand up and "catch a wave." Two weeks a year does not make one a "surfer." Watching YouTube videos on surfing does not make one a surfer. Unfortunately, for Ryan having a Dad that is not a surfer is not a big help either. The biggest help to Ryan is trying it, failing, and trying it again. However, it takes a certain mindset for that to happen.
Yesterday,Ryan was out in the ocean trying to surf when I saw him slamming his fist in frustration when he couldn't stand up on the board. I kept encouraging him to keep trying but for a 10 year old growing up in today's world, he wants immediate results. With each wave I could see his frustration building and building. He was watching others around him catching waves and it wasn't happening for him. Then, it happened, the chord on his board broke off and there he went, carrying the board out of the water. "I give up. I stink," were the first things he said as he met me on the beach.
Remaining positive, I said, "Let's go get it fixed and get back out there." So we took a ride over to Ocean Hut Surf Shop were we met the owner, Tony. "What's up little man? Looks like you are missing your chord. Let's get it fixed and you can go catch the big one." Tony quickly got to work repairing the board and talked with Ryan the entire time. "I know why this happened," he said. "You are not standing on the board in the proper spot so it was causing pressure on the back of the board which popped the screw loose. Let me guess, you are having trouble standing up so you just jump off."
Ryan was surprised that Tony knew what was happening. As a 10 year old his mind was blown that someone could predict exactly what happened. "Yes," Ryan said. "I really want to stand up but I can't do it."
Tony immediately replied, "Yes you can. Every surfer fails...every day. In fact, if you haven't had this happen to you then you haven't worked hard enough to try to stand up. You have to keep practicing, never give up and realize that there is a wave out there for you. I've been surfing my whole life and I fail every day. It's how I get better." As Tony fixed Ryan's board he gave Ryan advice about surfing and what to do to stand up. He taught him out to ride out to a wave and paddle so you can catch one. After he fixed the surfboard I could see a determination in Ryan's eyes. "Let's go Dad, I want to get back out there," he said as we left the store. We thanked Tony and on his way out he said to Ryan, "Never give up. Surf's up buddy."
On our way back to the beach I reflected on what Tony said. It reminded me of the growth mindset that we must instill in our students that we have in our classes. We must continue to encourage them to never give up, and help them develop an understanding that if you work hard, failure becomes part of the learning process. Students often get caught up in a "fixed mindset" in that they feel like they will never be able to learn it or "it is too hard." As educators we must continue to emphasize the importance of finding their passion, providing feedback on how they could do better, putting supports in place to help them succeed and challenging ourselves to model learning for the students.
Tony didn't have to spend time talking with Ryan. But he was so passionate about surfing that he wanted to share his passion with a young boy who may have given up on the sport that Tony loved so much. As educators, we must do the same. Share our passion for learning with students who feel like they don't know how to learn.......yet. As we start a new school year, the tide is rolling in and there are plenty of waves out there to catch. With each wave that we try to surf to shore, may we be constantly reminded to never give up. Our students are counting on us. Surf's up!
Oh yeah....and after we got back to the beach, this happened....
I had the pleasure of visiting the Disrupt-EdTV studio last week where I had the opportunity to share some ideas about how to creating a culture of curiosity in schools. Below is a snapshot of what I discussed......
“There are two types of schools. There are schools that prepare students for their future, and there are those that allow adults to live comfortably in the past.” (Insert mic drop here.) This quote by Weston Kieschnick, author of Bold School, sparks quite the debate about the state of education today. There is no doubt that education is changing. Are schools? As educators, we need to ensure that we are preparing students for a future that they are prepared for, not one that we as adults are comfortable with. Students are going to need to think critically, be creative, be able to communicate effectively with others, ask questions and be resilient. It is our responsibility as educational leaders and teachers that we are embrace a culture of curiosity, innovation and excellence. It may require us to reach outside our comfort zone but the reality is, our future is depending on it. Being disruptive in education means pushing the status quo and understanding that being uncomfortable may be the norm if it prepares our students for their future. There are some fundamental principles that you can put in place in order to create schools that thrive in a culture of curiosity and innovation.
Put an emphasis on building relationships. One of the reasons that I became an educator was because of the positive relationships that I had with my teachers throughout my life. They took a vested interest in me. It wasn’t just about my grades or their class. They got to know my strengths,weaknesses, interests and values. When I knew that my teachers believed in me, I wanted to do well not just for me, but for them. Students walk into our schools and our classrooms every day, looking for someone to believe in them. Before any learning happens, take time to foster relationships with your students. There is no greater influence on the success of your school than creating a culture where students feel safe, valued and supported.
Ask the right questions. Too often students go through a school day without answering a question or worse yet, asking one. If we are to create schools that are preparing students for their future, we need to ask questions that require students to think beyond recall. We need to push to levels of synthesis and analysis that require students to think critically. However, a critical aspect of creating a culture of curiosity is teaching students how to ask questions. In The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros says that “Innovation starts not by providing answers but by asking questions.”
As teachers we must also ask ourselves questions in order to ensure that we are meeting the needs and expectations of our students. Couros goes on to provide critical questions for innovative educators to ask themselves:
● Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
● What is best for this student?
● What is this student’s passion?
● What are ways we can create a true learning community where teachers and students are learning together?
● How is what you are doing working for the student?
If we are expecting our students to ask the right questions in our classrooms, we should be asking ourselves questions about whether or not we are doing what is in the best interests of our students and pushing them beyond what they think they are capable of doing.
Students need a voice and choice. The availability of technology has opened the door to endless possibilities for students to learn and grow. Technology evens the playing field for students of all abilities, skills and talents. Providing opportunities for students to research, explore, communicate, translate, create, modify and share allows them to take ownership of their learning that might not have been possible before. Allowing students to demonstrate mastery by providing options can highlight abilities of students who may not always be the most talkative, or the ones who may be more visual, or the artistic students or students who have difficulty working in groups. Providing choice to demonstrate learning gives all students a voice to own their own learning. The goal is empowering students to want to pursue learning beyond the classroom.
Embrace the “struggle.” Students (and parents) have been trained to believe that grades are the sole determination of a child’s success in school. School becomes more about chasing grades than what the grade truly represents. If we, as educators, are going to disrupt education, we must seek to move learning from “grade focused” to “improvement focused.” Students must learn to “embrace the struggle.” It is in failure where true learning happens. Learning from mistakes teaches resiliency and persistence. Schools must seek to cultivate a “growth mindset” in students where they believe they can grow. If we are going to prepare students for their future, classrooms need to emphasize the process of learning. Generating ideas, brainstorming, creating, testing, modifying, and re-doing should become daily practice in classrooms. When learning isn’t mastered, the answer a student gives should not be, “I don’t know.” It should be, “I don’t know…..yet. I’m going to find out.” Change the way we interact with students. Empower them. Make school an exciting place to learn and grow.
Invest in professional development. Whether you are an administrator or a teacher, there is no greater investment you can make in your students than a strong professional development program. A professional development program is not a few days built into the school calendar. It is a comprehensive, structured year long experience that offers varied opportunities to learn. Whether it is teacher driven workshops at faculty meetings, book studies, “power PD” at lunch or afterschool, teacher edcamps, twitter chats, voxer, podcasts, or simply observing your colleagues, there are so many opportunities to learn and to grow. As educators, we cannot sit back and let professional development be irrelevant. As Rich Czyz says in his book, Four O’Clock Faculty, “If we are to improve as educators, it is imperative that each of us takes responsibility for our own professional learning.” When teachers make the most out of their own learning, we are able to provide experiences for students that awaken their natural curiosity, creates a professional culture of growth, mastery and sets a myopic focus on student achievement.
There are some “in the trenches” that say, “Sure, this all sounds great in theory where we are creating innovative schools and students are creative and resilient, but it isn’t always reality.” I believe it can be. It begins with accepting the challenge to make schools a place where students and teachers foster positive relationships and shift the focus from “grades” to “mastery” and from “memorization” to “application.” It continues with embracing a “growth mindset” that is not only “improvement based” but actually encourages students to learn from “failure.” Schools need to be a place where teachers and students are learning and growing together. When all stakeholders feel supported and encouraged, there is no telling the levels of achievement that can be reached. Are you uncomfortable thinking about it? Good. It is time to disrupt education and create a culture of curiosity in schools. You may think your school is not ready. The reality is, your school is not ready…..yet. They are waiting for you. Get after it!
This past Tuesday I took a trip up to Sparta High School in Sparta, NJ to view a new educational documentary entitled "RE:THINKING" that was shown by the Sussex County Principals and Supervisors Association. I am not a big movie watcher, (the last film I saw was Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and I can't tell you the last time that I watched a documentary. However, there was a "force" (sorry, couldn't resist) that was pulling me to check this movie out this week. It was a great opportunity for me to challenge my thinking and assess my priorities as a leader because the documentary was going to address a fundamental question that I ask myself every day...."Are my students really prepared for their future?"
In doing some research on the movie, I came across the website , rethinkingmovie.com. There it describes the film as follows: "RE:THINKING dives deeply into the research and practice of what it looks like when students are asked to think and what it means to teach thinking skills in the classroom. Following the work of Drs. Derek and Laura Cabrera of Cornell University, RE:THINKING follows four school districts over the course of three years as they successfully meet public education requirements, while embracing a culture that emphasized thinking over memorization and valued the individual child not as an empty vessel to be filled but as an adult-in-training." I couldn't help but be excited because for the past several years my staff and I have worked very hard to shift the focus of our student's learning from memorization to critical thinking and analysis. I was anxious to see if we are on the right track.
While I won't spoil the movie for those of you who want to watch it, there were certainly many takeaways that I found to be thought provoking and transformational. As a Principal the movie caused me to stop and reflect on what I am doing as leader and what our school is doing to facilitate "thinking" for our students and our staff. Here are some snapshots of the movie that got me "rethinking....."
1) What are we preparing students for? Is it for what we are comfortable with? Wow. I haven't really thought about their learning that way. Are we leading students toward a future that makes us comfortable or are we challenging students to be prepared for a future that is uncertain? As I follow my PLN on Twitter and speak with colleagues from other schools, my belief is that we are preparing students to succeed far beyond the walls of our schools. However, although it might be uncomfortable for us, it is critical that we constantly adapt to the needs of our students so that we prepare them for the future that they are comfortable with.
2) Culture trumps strategy. Truth. In David Guerin's blog " 17 Signs You Are a Future Driven Educator," he highlights the importance of building culture. He says "When your students know you believe in them, it brings out the best in them. Your encouragement makes all the difference. The person who influences you the most is the person who believes in you. They will rise to your expectations. You see them for who they are becoming and not just who they are right now. You see a bright future for your students." You can have all the administrative meetings and action plans you want to develop the "strategy" for student achievement. If you do not have a culture of trust, empathy, accountability and responsibility in which everyone together is working toward a common goal and who all believe in the power of "we", student success will be difficult to attain. Building and fostering relationships with your students is essential to starting the shift in the thinking process. (Check out David's blog here: http://www.davidgeurin.com/2017/09/17-signs-youre-future-driven-educator.html)
3) Learning how to learn is transferable. We must help students understand that "how they learn" is often more important than "what they learn." Classrooms must be connected in that students can work with their teachers, regardless of content, to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, to learn how to collaborate and share ideas, and to take risks with how they learn. Failure may happen, but learning from failure embraces a "growth mindset" that will drive thinking and learning to new levels.... perhaps even to an "Innovator's Mindset."
4) People become alienated from curriculum because it is disconnected from their lives. Curriculum should be a living, breathing document. Far too often in schools "the curriculum" sits in a binder or a google drive and gets forgotten about when the daily routines of school begin to happen. The same lesson plans and assessments are used because "it worked last year." Our students are learning in new and engaging ways. It requires that our curriculum evolves. The last thing we want in our classrooms and schools is for them to be stagnant.
5) Are we allowing for natural curiosity in our schools? Taking after the #leadlap philosophy, we should be creating schools in which students want to run into, not out of. We want students to be curious about learning. We want to them to question. We want them to be able to explore what they are passionate about. When students are excited about what they are learning, they are more inclined to ask questions, think critically and explore opportunities that aren't always available to them when they are not engaged in their learning. I have been proud of what my staff has done through PBL, makerspaces, simulations, Genius Hour, and BreakoutEDu activities that have sparked student learning in various ways. Teachers must know what gets their students excited about learning. Help students find "their why" and "their way."
6) Are we okay with children not knowing the pythagorean theorem? Are we okay with students not knowing how to build a relationship? With state mandates and standardized testing there is an emphasis placed on "covering the material." Unfortunately education has become about numbers. Evaluation scores, school rankings, state report cards and test scores have become the norm. We have to remember that schools are about students. Are we willing to give up content for the sake of teaching students critical skills such as communicating with each other, building positive relationships, overcoming challenges, productive struggle? I learned the pythagorean theorem in 10th grade Geometry. That was also the last time I used it.... (sorry math teachers.) However, I do remember struggling and overcoming challenges in that class. I remember my friends helping me study for tests. I remember learning from failure. I'm okay with that.
7) The struggle is learning.....we simplify for students by trying to take the struggle away. Students today crave instant gratification. Technology has caused the world to forget what it is like to wait for anything. Answers are at our fingertips. All we have to do is "Google it," send a text, DVR it, or ask Siri. Students today need to learn to struggle. They need to learn how to think, to question, to analyze, to re-do. The reward of learning is in the journey, not the destination. We have to make our classrooms more improvement focused and less grade focused. As Yoda once said, "We must unlearn what we have learned." If we take the struggle away and never learn to think for ourselves, "that is why we fail."
8) Personalization is important. Everyone learns differently. Everyone thinks differently. We must embrace the individual student and seek to find ways to grow with them. When you find caring teachers, you have passionate students. When students feel that you know them and you will help them through the struggle, it makes all the difference between a classroom of students and a classroom of learners. Hearing the words, "I believe in you. You can do it" will not only personalize their learning, it also might be the only positive comments that your students get during their day. Parents don't keep their best students home. They send their best. Sometimes school is the safest place for them. Create opportunities to personalize learning.
9) The best way to improve education is to share all "the bests." Classrooms and schools cannot function in isolation. Schools must invest in their teachers. There must be meaningful, relevant, purposeful professional development for staff that enables them to share best practices, highlight key learnings, collaborate across grade levels and content areas. If we expect our students to be learners and thinkers, as educators we must model that practice. We must constantly seek to learn. Check out how we learn at our school... https://youtu.be/SmtVzHFl3rc When it comes to student success we can leave no stone unturned. We must look for the best ways to reach them. When we maximize our potential, so will they.
10) Imagine if all we are doing is rolling out students who are really good "at school." If this happens then we have failed them. Students must learn to be able to articulate their thinking, look at different perspectives, question their own view of the world, use evidence to defend an argument, determine fact from fiction. As much as schools are controlled by mandates, standards and regulations, they must remember that the future is not. Our students need to be prepared to be ready for a world that is constantly changing. The goal is to produce a citizen that is capable of thinking carefully, thoughtfully and critically for the rest of their lives.
On the drive home I reflected on what RE:THINKING was all about. The end of the documentary left a vision in my head that reminded me of our purpose as educators. We are responsible for educating the eager young minds of tomorrow. Their future is not written. It means that our best lessons have not been written yet either. We must challenge ourselves and our students to "rethink" what we are learning and doing. We need to make school a place where thinking transcends culture and embraces the unknown. Students are waiting. We need to make sure they are prepared. Put on your thinking caps...........
This past summer I had the opportunity to read the book "Lead Like a Pirate" by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. At the time, I was looking for something that would continue to cultivate my passion for leadership but also to guide me in how I can continue to transform my school to make it an amazing place for my staff and students. In a previous blog post, (https://richardhayzler.weebly.com/blog/a-pirates-life-for-me), I talked about the PIRATE acronym and how I would look to put it into practice this year. For the past five months I have worked to lead with Passion, Immerse myself in my work for students, build a Rapport with the Community, Ask a lot of questions, make positive Transformations in the building and be Enthusiastic about learning. It all paid off as my school was faced with tremendous adversity this past week. As captain of "the crew" we were about to head into uncharted territory...........
I received a call on Sunday afternoon from my Superintendent that there had been accident in front of my school that knocked out power to my building. Fortunately, the person was okay, but the telephone poles were not. If we were going to have school, I was going to need to relocate 550 students and staff to the high school and figure out a way to keep instruction going as the high school was having a "normal" day of school. After the initial "how I am I going to do this?" feeling, I sat down, collected myself and said, "What would a PIRATE leader do?" The course had been charted, it was time to set sail......
I have a passion for excellence. If we were going to do this, I wanted it to be as perfect as it could for my students and staff. I knew that people would be scared to send their students to the high school. (After all, it was only a few short months ago, some started middle school!). I immersed myself in the process of making this happen. I knew it would be important to have a plan in place before we notified the community. I worked out a schedule, in collaboration with my Superintendent and the high school Principal, and began to ask questions....
1) How many open rooms does the high school have in their normal bell schedule?
2)How was I going to get the students in the building, take attendance and centralize
3) How am I going to review security procedures and communicate with building staff?
4) What will learning look like?
5) How can I give my teachers time to get prepared to provide instruction when all of their materials are at our school?
6) What can we do to ease the concerns of the community about this scenario?
I was going to need to transform my school into a learning environment that was meaningful, relevant and powerful enough that the community would buy into it in the event that we would need to be here for multiple days. Regardless of what was going to happen, I needed to be enthusiastic that it was going to work! I set up a Google Doc that I shared with my administrative team and off I went in preparing for the day. T-minus 12 hours........
After organizing a bell schedule, building teacher schedules with room assignments, organizing a school wide lunch, creating an opening assembly for the students, developing an "afternoon" activity, speaking with company that runs the cafeteria, and discussing procedures with our Director of Security, I was ready to communicate the expectations to the parents. I sent a community email out to the parents explaining the expectations, I tweeted out from our School Twitter handle (@PVPantherPride), posted to Facebook and our school website. I did everything I could to assure parents that the day would be one filled with learning and FUN! I then set up a Google Doc with my staff and they began sharing lessons and resources. In the event that we were going to be at the high school for more than one day, we needed sail through Monday on calm seas.
When I arrived at the high school at 6:30am I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I put on a pirate hat that I had in the back of my car (I learned to always be prepared from Jay Billy at EdCampNJ). I was ready to captain the ship. I met the staff at 7:30am, had a quick meeting with them, explaining that our motto was "Win the Day." We greeted the students at the door as a staff and guided them into the auditorium where they sat by their first period class for attendance. I reviewed the day with them and then sent my teachers on their way to plan for the day.
The previous night I organized an assembly that I wanted to do with the students on "Learning in a Climate of Curiosity." I happened to be moderating the #learnlap (Learn Like a PIrate) chat on Monday night so I thought it would be neat to test out the questions and have a "Twitter chat" with the entire school. We had a four question "chat" in which they discussed "What makes them curious?" "What resources do they use to learn more about a topic?" "What happens when their learning doesn't go according to plan?" "In what ways do you learn best?" We had some great conversations with students talking with each other and with me about how to make our school a better place. It was a great way to kick off the day!
Following the assembly, we then had three instructional periods. Students and staff went to assigned rooms. Some classes were held in the auditorium, on the stage, in the cafeteria, in the media center, and in the gym. The high school staff was gracious enough to allow us to use empty classrooms as well. We were able to arrange for the high school students to meet with my 8th graders to talk about high school in the first instructional block. My staff did an outstanding job of keeping instruction meaningful. Being a 1:1 school we were able to continue learning with our chromebooks. It was a proud Principal moment for me. All of the hard work that we had put in as a staff over the past five months was on full display. We were truly a BOLD SCHOOL (great book by Weston Kieschnick) as we blended "old school" wisdom with new school technology.
After eating lunch as a whole school, I arranged for the end of the day for the entire school to watch the movie, Wonder. It was recently released on DVD so I was able to preview it the previous night and created some discussion questions that would follow the next day for the students in the event we would be back at the high school. It was also pretty neat that the Oscars was on Sunday night so we decided to have a "PV Goes to the Movies" portion of our day. My staff and students were all together in the auditorium as the movie played. It was certainly interesting watching the students respond to the movie. There are so many key topics that are vital to the life of a middle school child. Friendship, overcoming challenges, bullying, communicating with family and acceptance are all areas that need to be addressed with this age group. Since we did end up coming back for a second day, we had grade level assemblies with the three grades in which we highlighted each one of those topics and then had students design their own precepts that we will post throughout the school.
Following the movie, the staff walked the students out of the building (about 15 minutes before the high school dismissal) and ensured that all students left with a parent. We then held a staff meeting to review the day. It was one of the most rewarding and exhausting days of my career. I was so proud of the way that the staff and students responded. Little did we know that we would back for Day 2 on Tuesday!
It began the same way with students meeting in the auditorium. Now that we had experienced what a day at the high school was like, with the help of a few of my teachers, we designed a full instructional day with all of the teaching periods. We used the auditorium as our home base in between each period. We would gather there, take attendance by period and then head off to classrooms. Again, the staff and students rose to the occasion! We had our class assemblies as I mentioned earlier, to discuss "Wonder" so the staff could regroup and get ready for the second half of the day. We dismissed the students successfully and had a meeting to end the day.
I explained to my staff that you can never prepare for days like these but the true character of a person is shown when they are faced with adversity. This was not a one man show. This was a true team effort and I could not thank them enough for everything they did for me and for the students. Regardless of how rough the waters were, we were able to immerse ourselves in our work with passion, enthusiasm and a spirit like I had never seen.
At the conclusion of the day I had a staff member come up to me and say, "We would follow you anywhere." Another said, "I know you told the students that we wanted to show the community what our school was about, everyone in this room wanted to do it for you and John." (John is my awesome Assistant Principal). I have never felt more humbled and proud. We are a PV Family and to watch the staff and students come together to make school AMAZING, is everything that a Pirate leader searches for!
Unfortunately, Wednesday we were hit with a major snowstorm that cancelled school for the next three days. I can't wait to get back to the students and our school on Monday! As Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like home." In the meantime I sent out a moderated Flipgrid, https://flipgrid.com/77901c, to the parents and students asking for their feedback about their experience and what they learned from Wonder that will make our school a better place. All of the feedback has been positive with some students saying, "They couldn't wait to spend the next day at the high school!" and "I can't wait to go back to school!"
Learning can happen anywhere, a middle school, a high school, or in a snow storm. When you focus on building relationships, being passionate with your staff, immersing yourself in the success of your school, creating rapport with the community, asking questions, transforming learning and being enthusiastic, it is amazing what your school can be capable of doing. I was blessed over these past two days to be able to Lead Like a Pirate and sail into uncharted territory.....find me that horizon!
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.