Asterisk

2 weeks ago, I published a post about the importance of supporting all of our students as they engage in various levels of activism. My rallying cry of the post was that we support all our students, and that all means all.

But, as is often the case, there are exceptions. There are asterisks to catch-all phrases. This post is about that asterisk.

I stand by my words from the first post (I mean, they’re only 2 weeks old; humans change and evolve, but usually not that fast). But I think there’s something that needs addressing that may seem obvious to some, and may not to others.

I gave examples of supporting students regardless of the activist position they were taking. The examples I gave were perhaps loaded with emotion, but also were all of a certain type. The examples were for/against 2nd Amendment/gun owners’ rights and for/against the banning of books.

While there are certainly powerful responses to those topics, and a lot of passion involved, they all are opinions socially acceptable to hold (though certainly each carry their own set of consequences).

So let’s push the issue.

What opinions are no longer socially acceptable to hold? What opinions infringe upon the rights of others? When is holding a particular opinion actually harboring hate speech?

How do these examples fit in the “support the student regardless of their views” thought?

  • A student group opposing the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage
  • A student group supporting the NRA
  • A student group supporting the building of a wall along the US-Mexican border

Those are all political stances that exist in the US, but carry with them much more weight than the previous examples.

What about these?

  • A student group that declares homosexuality is an abomination and supports gay-to-straight conversion camps
  • A student group that declares the superiority of one race above another
  • A student group supporting Richard Spencer and the rallies he has organized

Do any of these push into the asterisk zone where you cannot support the student because of the opinions they hold?

I cannot answer that question for every individual teacher. But I do know that the last three bullet points would be an absolute deal-breaker for me.

I can be a teacher who supports a trusting community by supporting my students in their opposing views.

However.

I cannot be a teacher who supports students in actions that tear down the very fabric of that trusting community. I do draw a line. I do dwell in that asterisk. When a student supports a message of hate, I can no longer support that student, because hate has no place in a community.

Let me repeat: hate has no place in a community. And it doesn’t matter if the hatred is directed at members of the community or not. Directed hatred cannot be allowed to be a part of the communities we build in our schools.

Most countries have free speech laws. But many countries also have laws that limit that speech when it turns into hatred of others. And regardless of the level of those laws, we have an obligation to support our students and defend our students. When it comes to a point where I have to choose between supporting my students or defending my students against their peers, I will defend them.

And I will also let my students know why I cannot support them. Why I cannot give them space to meet. Why I cannot give them advice on how to get their message out. Why I cannot provide them with any assistance. Why I believe their message is one of hate, and why I believe that has no place in our schools.

Those will be incredibly hard conversations, and those students will likely lose all respect for me, as they very likely disagree. They will feel as though I have failed them. They will feel as though I am a hypocrite. The community will be damaged, and it will not be likely to recover.

I have to stop here. This post is getting too difficult to continue right now. The hardest thing I have encountered as a teacher is when I have been faced with a choice, and all options lead to a fractured classroom community. All options lead to fracturing the thing I value the most for my students. But sometimes, we are faced with just those sorts of choices. I am in tears thinking about it, and I must take time to recharge.

Next Saturday, I will attempt to have a post about hope in these situations, as well as what administrators can do to support their teachers who support their students.

Was It Enough?

Was it enough?

Do they
Feel
Prepared for middle school?

Do they
Feel
Prepared for life?

Do they
Feel
Physically and emotionally safe?

Do they
Know
Their own potential?

Do they
Know
How much they’ve taught me this year?

Do they
Know
How much I care?

Was it enough?

Will they
Fail?

Will they
Fail
forward?

Will they
Act
With purpose and drive?

Will they
Do
The right thing, even when it’s hard?

Will they
Read
With the same excitement and passion as they do now?

Will they
Write
With the same tenacity and courage as they do now?

Will they
Respect
Everyone’s differences?

Will they
Embrace
Productive discomfort?

Will they
Return
To visit and share their successes?

Was it enough?

Please continue to
Collaborate well.

Please continue to
Use your voice.

Please continue to
See the power of the word “yet”.

Please continue to
Stay curious.

Please continue to
Notice and wonder.

Please continue to
Find your passion.

Was it enough?

Did I
Provide
Books that mirrored their life experience?

Did I
Listen
To them sufficiently?

Did I
Push
Them beyond their comfort zones?

Did I
Empower
Them to own their learning?

Did I
Give
Enough high fives?

Did I
Treat
Them all fairly?

Did I
Tell
Them how proud I am?

Was it enough?

All About Me to All About Us

IMG_1995

I had the pleasure to attend The Ohio State University’s Commencement this past Sunday as a proud parent of an undergraduate senior.  I had no idea I would find a topic to share today and start taking notes during the keynote address while listening to, Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Desmond-Hellmann shared her story; growing up, education, and research.  She had bumps, valleys and success.  Her message to the graduates was based on her own journey.  Shifting her thinking from all about me to thinking all about us; brought depth and purpose to her work.  She urged the audience to ask, What can I do for our world?  This will shift our thinking from me to thinking about us.  She urged us to question ourselves and cautioned us that good intentions are not enough.  Good intentions are still about me.  She wants us to ask; What was the impact?  What improved?

She urged the graduates to shift their thinking as soon as possible from me to us!  I began thinking about my second graders.  Why do we need to wait to start thinking broader? Can we shift our thinking at seven and eight years old to be bigger than me? I started brainstorming questions and ideas  –

  1.  What can we do for a younger grade?
  2.  What can we do for a special group of students?
  3.   What can we do for families staying at our local childrens hospital?
  4.   What can we do to impact our world?
  5.   What can we do to make a difference in our own building or classroom?

 

  1.  Read biographies about those not so famous.
  2.  Find stories about kids making a difference.
  3.  Discuss and identify feelings we have.
  4. Do things locally now to make a difference and make it concrete.
  5. Encourage and foster inquiry.
  6. Foster a relationship with an organization that needs help.
  7. Do community service more than once with an organization.
  8. Field trips are so limited – bring speakers from the organization to us.
  9. Share photos with the organization or video for visuals.
  10. Spark and provide creative moments to be a maker.

When Dr. Desmond-Hellmann said, “we under estimate ourselves” I instantly thought about our elementary age students.  I think they get under estimated. They are powerful and filled with potential.  Listening to her speak on Sunday made me think about fostering a community and how that is really taking the thinking all about me and making it all about us.  However, can we take that all about us and make a difference?  Can we go outside our four walls and have an impact on others?

I’d love to know what others are doing to take help their communities to make a difference and impact others.  Please share ideas in our comments.

How My Fitbit Made Me a Better Principal

Earlier this week, I received an email that I have been waiting four months to receive.  This long awaited email was from Fitbit and it was my 30 pound weight loss badge. Fitbit awards users various types of badges for accomplishing different things: number of steps in a day, total steps since joining, flights of stairs climbed, and total weight loss.  I’m very proud of this accomplishment. I have stuck with my New Year’s resolution for four months. During that time, I have logged at least 10,000 steps every single day. I have more energy, my blood pressure has greatly improved, and I even started playing hockey in a men’s league.  My health is better thanks to a change in diet and exercise. My Fitbit plays a big part in keeping me motivated with both. My Fitbit has also helped to make me a better principal.

30 lbs

I didn’t notice it right away.  In fact, when I first bought my Fitbit, I thought it would be a pretty useless tool for me.  My daily routine was pretty set, and I was certain I had about 10,000 steps every day. To prove this, I decided to make no lifestyle changes when I first bought the Fitbit.  I was just going to follow my normal week and check the results. As an elementary principal, I am pretty active during the day and assumed I easily would amass 10,000 steps without even thinking about it.  Wrong! I was shocked to see that during my test week my steps per day ranged from 3,238 (Did someone carry me to work? I am pretty sure it’s more steps than that to walk to and from the building.) to 14,730 (Recess soccer with the fifth graders is so much fun).  My average for the week was 8,340 steps.

When I reflected back on the week, I noticed 2 days were really low (3,238 steps and 5,098 steps).  Furthermore, I had 2 days that were pretty high (13,294 steps and 14,730 steps). I thought about my attitude during the week, my stress level on those days, and how much energy I had for family time at the end of the day.  It is probably not surprising that there was a direct correlation between number of steps I took in a day and how I felt at the end of the day. More steps = more energy, less stress, and a better attitude. My Fitbit became a tool for school culture.  I am the leader of the school, and I can’t be the best me if I have low energy, high stress, and a bad attitude.

I quickly realized that I didn’t feel better just because I was taking more steps during the day.  I felt better because the activities that required me to take steps were also the activities that are essential for being a good principal.  Coincidentally, these are also the activities that make being a principal an awesome job. Examples include activities like frequently visiting classrooms in the building, talking to kids and engaging in recess games with them, and walking around before and after school talking to parents and teachers.  I also realized that the activities that didn’t require me to take steps are also the activities that are necessary but also the boring part about being principal. They are activities like answering emails, filling out never ending reports, and reading memos…long, long memos. All of those things are essential parts of my job that I am required to complete.  However, it is way too easy to get stuck in my office doing those things and neglect the importance of being out in the building.

One feature on my Fitbit that I love is the hourly reminder to get at least 250 steps.  There is no excuse for me, as a principal, to go a full hour without ever talking to a student during the school day.  Reports have to be completed and emails have to be answered, but students are the most important part of my job. That alert on my Fitbit reminds me of that very thing.  Principals have more and more responsibilities every year. Recent surveys show that principals are more stressed than ever and have more demands on their time than ever before.  It is easy to get stuck in my office all day long. My Fitbit helps to remind me how important it is to not let that happen.

Last week was the perfect example of how powerful this simple tool has been for me as a principal.  I was bogged down with state testing paperwork and school improvement surveys. I needed to send letters to incoming families, write a 504 plan, and hadn’t even started writing an evaluation report that was due to the Superintendent.  No way was I getting out of my office but that pesky buzz reminded me that I had been sitting for 50 minutes without taking a single step. Although I almost ignored it, I also can’t deal with a missing red dot on my Fitbit app, so I stood up and headed out of my office.  Get the 250 steps and get back to work on the reports.
Amazing things happen at Hemmeter every day and I can’t ignore them even if I have a mound of reports due.  Outside the office, I started talking to students and visiting classrooms and chatting about books and posting pictures to our Facebook page.  An hour (and 3,300 steps later) I felt recharged. I helped a teacher fix their Promethean Board, watched students present to parents about what they learned during a coding unit, learned from students how to use MicroBits, witnessed the largest Keva block tower I have ever seen, and did an impromptu book talk on Ghost Boys to a student browsing my principal’s bookshelf.  I’m glad I didn’t ignore that Fitbit alert. I would have missed an awful lot sitting in my office.

Enough

I am.

 

I am struggling.

 

I am struggling to write this post.

 

I have known I was on the schedule to post on May 3, 2018, for months now. I have begun a post at least 5 times in the past week. But when I go back to reread or revise I know my writing is awful.

 

I am.

 

I am struggling.

 

I am struggling with stress and worry.

 

I have had too many restless nights. It is impossible to focus when you are consumed with uncertainty.

 

I am.

 

I am struggling.

 

I am struggling because I can’t control the cause of my stress and worry.

 

I am struggling because I want to scream out into the void – all the time – but I can’t.

 

———————————————————-

 

I am.

 

I am learning.

 

I am learning that it is ok for me to be stressed and worried.

 

I am learning that I am not quite the extremely rational and logical thinker I thought I was.

 

I am learning a great deal about humility and empathy.

 

Since the cause of my stress and worry is something I am not ready to share to share with my fellow writers and readers of Classroom Communities I feel like I am being a dishonest member of this community.

 

However, while I know that I am struggling, I am learning a great deal about myself. I am realizing that it is not so easy to compartmentalize when something out of your control is taking up so mental energy.

 

I am struggling.

 

I am learning.

 

I am enough.

Mission Seek and Uplift

Several weeks ago our superintendent challenged all departments and grade level teams to come up with a series of goals around the idea of creating a “generous and welcoming” school community. We were asked to create thirty and sixty day goals, and goals for next fall. The notes from my department included the phrase “Mission Seek and Uplift” under 60 Day Goals. Someone added “Can someone clarify this?” to our shared doc. I’m not sure what we meant we originally wrote this, but here’s what I added:

Between now and June 1, we will seek out and reconnect with students who are currently getting a D or an F in our classes and develop a plan with the student to raise the grade to at least a C by the end of the marking period. This will include the ability for students to show proficiency toward essential standards to earn credit. We will exercise grace and exempt failed or missing work from early in the semester if the student can demonstrate proficiency now. We will give full credit for makeup work during this period.

I once sat in a meeting where third grade teachers argued vehemently that their students should not get full credit on a spelling test unless they can pass it the first time. They taught itthe kids should have learned it. A fifth grade math teacher and I disagreed with them; students earned full credit even if it took them longer to master material or a new skill.

Each week I print a grade check for my advisory students and we have the same conversation about any low grades: “Have you talked to your teachers? Do you have the missing work? Can you retake the tests?” In my AVID class we also do weekly grade checks, and I suggest that students bring questions about the classes they’re struggling in to tutorial. With some students I offer to talk to the teacher, but for the most part the burden is on the student to figure out how to raise their grade.

But what if we, as teachers, took on that burden instead? Of course, many teachers already do this, but what if the mission of an entire department, or an entire school, was to seek out struggling students and help them succeed during these final weeks of the school year? Not because an administrator is hounding you about graduation, or because you don’t want to deal with that one awful parent, but because our students need our help.

We all have students who have given up. Maybe they’ve missed so many days that they don’t know how to rejoin. Maybe they fear students calling attention to their return. Maybe you’re the problem. Have you ever greeted a returning student with a sarcastic, “Hey, nice of you to join us?” Maybe that’s why they don’t want to come back.

It takes courage to ask for help when you’re struggling, courage to try to pass a class that you’re currently failing. It’s much easier to act like you don’t care.

What are you doing to seek and uplift your students who have given up?

All Means All

Yesterday was the National Day of Silence, a campaign started by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Going back to 1996, this is a day where students take a vow of silence in honor and support of those who feel they cannot safely speak the truth of who they are in terms of their sexuality.

But that’s not what this post is about.

The National Day of Silence is the most recent example, but we don’t have to reach too far back (all of one week) to find another large student-oriented (and, in many cases, student-organized) awareness/activist campaign. In the world of social media, these are much easier for students to organize nationwide. There is also an increased awareness about a lot of things that various students find themselves passionate about and wanting to do something about.

But that’s also not exactly what this post is about.

This post is about our response, as educators, to these sorts of movements and campaigns.

As there are more and more of these student activist events, it is likely that we will find ourselves in varying stages of agreement with them. Some we may fully support, and some we may fully oppose. After all, as humans and as teachers, we should be engaged with the politics of our world, and we all have different political beliefs.

I’m reminded of this quote from Dr. Demond Means, the Superintendent of Mequon-Thiensville School District:

“We made a commitment as educators when we walked into our classrooms for the first time that we will reach every kid in our classroom. We didn’t make a commitment to reach 75% of the students.” [source]

While this quote has often been used to talk about not leaving our students hanging out to dry academically, I think it applies to our students as people, not just as brains. Putting another spin on the quote, we didn’t make a commitment to support 75% of our students. We made a commitment to support all of our students.

As a reminder: all means all.

If we want our students to develop as members of society, we need to support them when they find something they’re passionate about. Even if (and perhaps especially if) the thing they are passionate about, we are equally passionate about, but with an opposing view.

If you have a student who is raising awareness of gun violence, support them.
If you have a student who is raising awareness of 2nd amendment rights, support them.
If you have a student who is protesting the banning of books, support them.
If you have a student who is campaigning to ban a book, support them.

That last one was hard for me to type. I am adamantly opposed to the banning of books. But this is the key, and I want to be sure I am absolutely clear:

It’s not about supporting the message. It’s not about agreeing with the campaign.
You are supporting the student, not the campaign.

We need to support all of our students. We don’t need to share their views. We don’t need to agree with their goals. We do need to show them that they are supported in working for something they believe in. They’re going to meet resistance to their message; they don’t need resistance to their actions from those they have come to rely on for support.

It is impossible for us to divorce ourselves from our politics. However, it is important for us to realize that our job requires us to not allow our politics to suppress the voices of our students. If a student campaign is something we want to support or oppose, we can certainly do that as well, in the same ways that anyone else can and does. But we don’t have an option when it comes to supporting or opposing our students: we must support them.

Our world is more partisan now than it has been in recent memory. Anecdotally, it seems as if those who have any given ideology don’t believe that they could ever work with those who have a different ideology. If all our students can see that they have the support of all their teachers, even if some of those teachers don’t support the politics at play, imagine the world we can be a part of creating. Imagine the community we will have. Imagine as people realize that it’s okay to support someone even as they disagree.

We need to support our students as they engage in the political process. All students. All means all. No exceptions.

And I know: this is HARD. WORK. It’s arguably easier to help a student who hasn’t read a book in their entire life become an avid reader than it is to support a student in a campaign that we are completely opposed to. The important work is rarely easy. It doesn’t make it any less important.

Note: this is the first post in a planned series. Subsequent posts will explore the nuance of these situations and how to engage in that nuance with students, as well as from the administrator perspective.