A Million Little Things

I do not watch hours of television, but sometimes a series grabs me and becomes “my show”. For the past couple of years, “This is Us” was that show for me. No matter where I was on the road, I had to watch it on Tuesday night.  This year, the new series by the same producers, “A Million Little Things” is my go to show.  I watched the trailer this summer and didn’t really think that a show that started with a suicide would grab my attention. For those of you watching it, you know that there is much more to it with twists and turns that were unexpected.  That is why it reminds me of school improvement work and so begins my blog for this week…

In the opening show, John eloquently explains what friendship means.  He talks about experiences we share with others that defines a friendship and he ends with “friendship is… a million little things”.  I could easily write this blog about just that; how perfect that description is to me with the amazing friends that I have. I could tell you about the way my friends draw me in and, as we share our lives, it truly does become about what we experience together and how we lean on each other. fullsizeoutput_fa3The energy we get and give our friends, the support and kindness that is authentically there, the people who you can not forget… it really is about a million little things.

However, this blog is not supposed to be about my friends.  I intentionally want to use my writing and this space to support continuous improvement of schools. I want to acknowledge the dedication and commitment to a common purpose that drives schools that improve. I share the experiences of others as well as my work to help you benefit from what is being done elsewhere.  I strive to give you encouragement when you think you are losing sight of your goals and that you are reminded that it is difficult work and you do have to learn and grow together in order to make the biggest impact on students.  In other words, it really is about a million little things.

One of the principals who I work with told me that the most difficult part of school improvement work for her was that there are too many pieces of the puzzle.  She described her stress to me by saying that she always worries about losing a piece or not knowing how all of the pieces fit together.  She takes the work home with her (physically and mentally) and admits that it seems overwhelming at times to really lead this work.

A million little things…yes… this is the work of improving schools.  Addressing cultural issues, getting all staff on one page about the common goals and commitments that it will take to change the way things are done is often job #1.  Being collaborative around what is taught, how it is assessed and how we respond to student needs takes great leadership. Being a skillful communicator who can match a vision for improvement with consistent messages and practices requires great courage, trust and patience.  Creating opportunities for evidence-based decisions to provide guidance is necessary. Sharing leadership with others, empowering and respecting the expertise of staff and allowing for your own vulnerability to be visible are skills that demand your on-going attention.  And, doing all this while students are in the building needing our daily attention (after all, schools do not close while we figure this out!) brings us back to the twists and turns.  A million little things…

The great news is that, in my opinion, the little things add up to the big thing. Sometimes, it reminds me of a complicated book. You read and read and sometimes want to stop because it doesn’t seem to be getting you anywhere. You find it hard to stay with it and you might even take a break sometimes because it exhausts you just trying to figure it out.  And, then, one day you turn the page, you start the next chapter and it all makes sense. The little things have finally led you to the big thing.

In the complex world of improving schools, I am so thankful for the teachers and school leaders who will continue the journey. They might close the book but most of the time, that is just temporary.  It is a bit like falling off a bicycle and getting up and back on it again.  We have to stay the course.  We are doing this for our students and they deserve every one of the million little things that it might take to turn a school around.

This is the time of the year when energy levels in schools start to be depleted.  When the rest and rejuvenation from the summer feels a hundred years ago.  It is the time to make sure that we don’t close the book  or stay off the bike too long.  It is a very great time to refocus, revisit our collective commitments and goals and to ensure that we are working on the right work.  Are we prioritizing everything so nothing is really important? Have we allowed the distractors to invade our direction?  Do we stand up for what we believe in when others try to move us off course?  What really is happening right now?  What do you need to adjust? Which of the million little things do you need to focus on? And, lastly, what are you going to do today, tomorrow and the next day to ensure improvement?

Thank you, again, for being with me on Saturday mornings. I appreciate your comments and your support. Have a reflective, successful week and to my American friends, enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am thankful for each and every one of you in my life.

 

 

Prepared

About a year ago I started this weekly school improvement blog. Writing has provided me with an opportunity to reflect on my work in schools and I have tried to make as many connections as I could to life in general.  Some weeks, it has been difficult to put pen to paper and have this ready for Saturday.  The “difficult” part of this is only time and staying on top of things. When a busy week is filled with lots of work and travel, I need to stay organized.  At first, I wrote several blogs and stayed ahead by knowing I had a few ready to go. As the year progressed, I decided that I enjoyed the reflection on the week and wanted to make my writing as immediate as I could.  So now the honest part… this is as immediate as my blog has been. It is midnight on Friday and I am just writing for you now.  It has been a busy week and prior to this week, I had an amazing vacation. So, this week I decided that I would write about something I know first hand…being prepared…or …perhaps not prepared.

As a young girl, I remember learning the Girl Guide motto, “Be Prepared”.  At the time, I knew it was important but I don’t think that I quite understood how much a part of my life that phrase would become.  In both my career and my personal life, there have been times when I was able to live up to that motto and other times when my guide leader would not have been impressed.  I have “flown by the seat of my pants” more times than I want to think about and eventually I learned to prioritize and figure out what I had to do to stay organized and on top of my life.  Two things this week (besides my own late writing) reminded me of the importance of being prepared; one involves my work in schools  and the other is, personally, near and dear to my heart…

Going back to work this week after a great vacation required me to “be prepared”.  It seemed to take a little longer than usual to pack, to organize and to have my work ready.  Once I walked in to my first school though, I was quickly reminded that my preparation was nothing compared to what the school leaders and teachers are doing each and every day.  And this time of the year, what is so obvious is a feeling that there is just too much to do, not enough time to do it all and a fear of failure when the list of tasks continue to grow. In one school, we looked at the calendar and quickly realized that the year is more than half way over.  The urgency of the work is obvious and requires care and attention to the tasks at hand. Staying organized, prioritizing and determining the best use of time requires a serious commitment to doing the right work.  It also means being prepared.  There has to be an intentional focus on knowing what to spend your time doing and taking the necessary time to be prepared; be prepared for class, for meetings, for the unexpected, for safety requirements, and the list goes on.

The second reminder I had this week about the very critical need for all of us to be prepared, comes from my son-in-law. Resized_20181108_152603_6278 As you can see in this picture, he is in the Canadian military and currently on an exercise that is all about “being prepared”.  Throughout the year, he participates in organized field practice to ensure his ability to respond if necessary. This keeps him acutely aware of what he would need to be prepared to do if he was called to action.  The seriousness  of his chosen career absolutely comes in to focus during these trainings.  Just like our work in schools, there are systems, effective actions, skills that can be learned and expertise to develop if we are going to improve.  This improvement does not happen without study, practice and commitment to being totally prepared.

My challenge to you this week is to consider if you are doing all that you can to be well prepared. Are you asking questions, reading, studying and finding out the most effective practices when you are not sure? Are you taking the time to work with others in preparation of meeting the needs of your students so that when you go in the classroom you have done all you can to be ready to serve your students? Does being well planned seem like an “extra” task instead of just part of needed preparation?  As a leader, do you reflect and consider carefully the meetings that you should have, where your time is best spent and how to manage all of the tasks at hand? Or do you go in to school each day with a more “reactive” style of leadership rather than a proactive one? And, lastly, are you spending your time on what matters most to the students? Are your preparations truly focused on saving the lives of your students?

This weekend,  we honor our veterans and share in remembrance of the sacrifices made for us. The commitment that is made when a uniform is put on represents the ultimate “preparation”.  With my sincere gratitude to all veterans and active duty members (including Bryan, who is in the picture and my daughter Elizabeth, who serves as an officer in the Canadian Air Force), I dedicate this blog.

Waiting

I know it isn’t Saturday…yet.  By the time Saturday comes, and it is time for my weekly blog, I hope to be in South Africa.  I am leaving for a two-week vacation and so this blog is early.  To say that I am a little excited is an enormous understatement. To my friends and family, thank you for your patience as I have been talking about taking this trip for at least twenty years.  You see,  I have a friend that I am on my way to meet; someone whom I have been in contact with for close to fifty years… but we have never met.  Yes, you read that correct… we have been writing to each other for several decades.

Because of a “pen pal” exchange in our Brownie/Girl Guide troops we were matched up.  Back then, it was through long letters that we corresponded.  Letters that went in to those awesome “air mail” envelopes and took forever to get to each other.  airmail-envelope-clipartI will never forget waiting for her amazing letters to arrive. We moved to a time when we had MSN chat, email correspondence and then to Facebook and Skype.  We have literally grown up together; knowing about each other siblings, parents and then children, husbands and jobs.

Imagine that a Canadian girl from the small province of New Brunswick is on her way to the country of South Africa to spend time with a ‘long-lost” friend.  We are connected in ways difficult to explain to others and this is just something that we finally are going to do. Meet!

As you know, this blog is suppose to be about school improvement. I am sure that many of you are starting to ask how I will make this connection… my personal trip to South Africa to the subject of improving schools.  Actually, I found a really great reason this week to include this trip in my blog.  Here is why…

First of all, this is only happening because adults, in my life, knew enough about having an impact on a young girl from a family with limited resources.  The fact that I was included in the pen pale exchange, opening my eyes to a world beyond the north side of the city of Fredericton, still amazes me.  So many things happened to me when I was young, because someone at school, at church, at Brownies or in our community took the time to do something with me or for me. The truth is, adults believed in me. They saw my potential and they offered me ways to grow. And I wonder, as adults, do we understand the impact that our small (or not so small) gestures will have on others?

The teachers I worked with this week know what I am talking about. As I left the  high school in Lafayette on Tuesday, I was struck by our last conversation about the impact that we have on our students.  I truly understand that the teachers in the schools that I work in face very challenging times with students who come from difficult situations  and how hard it is to really build confidence and stamina in these young adults.  Sometimes, it feels hopeless. I understand. I was one of those children.

I can still recall each and every adult in my young life that had an impact on me.  I grew up in a loving family but, as I said before, with very limited resources.  I can tell you the exact time that one teacher invited me to be part of a group of students who were able to go to see the New Brunswick Symphony Orchestra perform. I don’t know why I was chosen but I remember every second of that concert, the seat I was in at the Fredericton Playhouse  and I know for a fact, that has had a huge impact on my life. I love live music and artists of all kinds. And, this influenced a decision I made as a superintendent to bring the music program Sistema (www.sistemanb.ca)  to our schools. I appreciate now how this program has grown and impacted thousands of students.

I can also still remember the moment that my South African friend, Felicity’s name and address were given to me. I remember going home and asking for the special air mail paper and envelopes so I could send a letter off to this girl. And, I will always remember seeing the envelopes in my mailbox- the impact of an adult decision felt over and over again. Now, I feel so blessed that we will meet this week and truly close the circle of friendship and love that we have shared over the years.

So, my message this week is short and simple; never undersell your impact as an adult/educator in the lives of your students.  Every second you spend looking at their progress, thinking about their needs, understanding what you can do to support them and taking action is not wasted.  If you are an administrator, it is making sure that your time is spent in the mindset of what is best for students.  If you are a teacher, it is digging deep, even when it is tough to reach just one student.  Saving lives, one student at a time is what your impact is truly about.

Students know about impact. They may not be able to articulate it until later in life, but they know.  And, the students who you think might not appreciate it or notice because they come from less fortunate situations, do notice. They recognize support, they see the smile you give them, they know when someone has expectations of them and pushes them just a little further.  It all adds up to very important and influential impact.

I will leave you with these reflective questions- Do you know your impact on a daily basis? Are you intentionally seeking opportunities to challenge, support, guide and build confident learners? Do you go home at night feeling comfortable with the relationship that you are developing at your school? And, most importantly, do your actions match what you know you should do?

If I could find my Brown Owl now, I would tell her about this amazing story of travel and the impact that she has had on me.  If I could find my fifth grade teacher, I would thank her for taking me to the symphony.  And, mostly, I would want to express my appreciation to every teacher who made me work hard and expected me to learn at high levels.  Someone, someday, will want to find you to thank you for your impact. Trust me, they will. We just have to make it happen.  I look forward to being back with you after a couple of weeks of vacation.  Until then, create the opportunities for success. You do make a difference.

 

Humbled

Living our lives with humility.  What does this really mean?  In a world where we can tell and show everyone our daily happenings and receive feedback on every experience, it can be  easy to forget it isn’t about us.  Without intention, we can make it about us.  I know this from experience.  I write this blog, I post lots on Facebook and I enjoy a life that truly feels amazing most days.  When I talk about my work as a school improvement coach, my intention is to share my learnings with others.  It isn’t to make it about me…however… I fear that we are all guilty of this at times.  Sometimes, we need little reminders about why we do what we do. And, here is how that happened for me this week…

I was given this t-shirt in Arkansas.  As you can see, it says, Remember Your Why. The district I am working in, Dollarway School District, has several different ways of expressing their work and Remember Your Why is one of those messages. fullsizeoutput_f11 As I left the school with the t-shirt, I started thinking about what it really meant and why it was such an important message for the educators in that district.

In the schools I work, we spend great amounts of time discussing practices and processes that we know will make a difference in the school.  Lots of this work focuses on discussions with teachers and leaders about how to create change and opportunities.  There are lots of books to read, Powerpoints to view and data to analyze.  Money is spent and educators give up the most precious thing, time in their classrooms, to learn together.

In most schools, all of this pays off.  Teachers figure out what is best and they do the right work.  They create the school that they want to see and they impact change.  But, sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder if we all forget the why.  The ONLY reason I should hit the road every week to work in schools is to create success for students.  The synergy and commitment of teachers and school leaders has to be because of their students.  The only talk that should matter is about the students. They have to be present with us at all times. The absolute why of all of our work is students.

If we are going to remember our why, what should that look like and sound like in your school or district?  How do you work with this intentional purpose every single day?  Most importantly, what actions do you need to change to realign your work?  If you are being honest, do you work for the students or do we move away from this and make it about the adults? About us?

I challenge you this week to address this head on.  If you work in a school or district, or do what I do as a consultant, reconnect with your why. For a few days, listen to how few times your conversations, your plans, your advice is about students. If they are not part of your discussions, your focus, then it is time to reconsider what your work is about.

I was humbled by the gift of the t-shirt. I recognize that it is a great reminder for me that I must hold dear to my heart. This work is about student improvement not “school” improvement.  It is about moving students, not moving schools. It is about students having great days filled with learning, not you or me, as the adults, having a great day. It doesn’t matter how many posts I make or tweets I send about my work or even what I write here, it really is about what I do when I am in a school each and every day to make a difference. To authentically work in my schools, with humility, I can never forget my why. And, I don’t believe any of us can if we want the very best for our students.  Make it the very best student-centered week that you can! See you next Saturday.

 

 

Messages

A week home means catching up with friends and family. It gives my life balance; allowing me to regroup, reenergize and be ready to hit the road again to work in my schools.   It also means that I have time to pay more attention to the world around me and to really notice the important messages that are part of my life. As I sat down to write this week’s blog, three experiences that caused me to pause and consider my own actions were in my thoughts.

As a school improvement coach, my days involve problem-solving and working with educators and leaders to learn together and determine next steps as we seek opportunities for student success. There is no “cookie cutter” or  “one-size-fits- all”  approach and more times than not,  some of the heavy lifting that has to be done involves human relationship skills.  Sometimes, my work requires virtual meetings or telephone calls between my visits and one day this week, I spent almost all of the day on the phone in conversation with school leaders and other consultants as we worked together to provide ongoing support. It was a day that caused me to reflect on the advice that I had given, the challenging work that was ahead for my school leaders and the energy and time that I wanted to ensure that I had for each and every one of them. Honestly, it was time for me to dig deep to remain positive and forward thinking.  It seemed, just when it was needed, I became aware of three messages that provided synergy and renewal…

A great friend of mine is a leader but in a very different field than school improvement.  Every time I have the opportunity to talk to him about our roles, I am reminded of the commonality that exists for leaders; one being that interpersonal and communication skills must become highly effective if we are going to lead others.  This week, he shared with me, the post, The Four Agreements, from The Way of Meditation.  IMG_1027We see many inspirational quotes on-line everyday and for me, they might cause pause or, other times, it is hard to take them all in.  This one stuck with me.  I walked away thinking about it for a long time. Here is why.

In the school improvement world, change only happens when there is a clear understanding of the why and what of the work;  when leaders articulate purpose and take the time to build common understanding. We call this the foundation of great change in schools. And this post exactly describes many of the wonders of my school leaders. They wonder why others are not understanding their messages, why things are not changing and why they often react to the push back or negativity that occurs through the change process by taking things personally.  And, sometimes we falsely assume that others understand what our vision is.  Taking a few minutes, to read The Four Agreements reconfirmed for me how critical our interpersonal skills are in all we lead.  I especially loved two statements – “use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love” and “find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want”.

As the outsider going in to a school or district, it is often easier for me to see how mixed messages or unclear directions are causing issue.  As the leader in the middle of the work on a daily basis, this clarity can come through self-reflection and authentically listening to yourself and others.  Are you using the power of your words in the direction of truth? Are you courageously asking questions for clarity?  Are you communicating with others as clear as you can?

The second message that stopped me in my tracks this week was from Canada’s Nobel Prize winner, Donna Strickland. Ms. Strickland was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (sharing it with an American scientist and another from France for their work in laser physics).  She is the first woman in 55 years to be awarded a Nobel Prize and only the third in Physics.  During a fun interview for television, she described what it was like to receive the call and then made this simple statement about her work ethic, “The world works best when we all do what we’re good at.”  She worked at laser physics (resulting in  laser eye surgery and other outcomes) because that was “what she was good at”.

In schools, every day, we are building collaborative teams and shared leadership models. All of this work depends on every single one of us contributing from a position of expertise, in other words, what we are good at.  When we all share our talents with others who knows what can happen. Maybe a Nobel Prize?  Or, in our world, even better, achieving  our school improvement goals?

Lastly, I want to close this week’s blog with one more lesson learned; messages that resonated with me from Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. In her powerful speech to the United Nations on September 27, she made several points that reflected her values and her country’s values and beliefs. Despite the context being different, four of her statements truly reminded me of what we focus on when improving schools. Ms. Ardern talked of critical behaviors for New Zealanders (past, present and future) and what we all should pay attention to. She said that 1) “we (New Zealanders)  didn’t just observe (international) events, we challenged them”, 2) we, (New Zealanders) examine “how did we get here and how do we get out” 3) “we (New Zealanders)  acknowledge the problems we have and we can seek to fix them.” and lastly, 4) “our action ( all of us, globally) in the way of this (environmental) challenge remains optional, but the impact of inaction does not.”

I will close and challenge you to reflect on her four points.  Using her message and putting in the context of continuous school improvement, are you doing all you can to challenge what must be challenged in your school or district?  Is there an honest conversation to be had about how we got here and what we have to do to change? Are you seeking opportunities to address problems? And, lastly, is taking action an option?

Be inspired this week to work at what you are good at, use the power of your words to impact others positively and know that change requires action, not inaction.  I look forward to being with you next Saturday.

“The Deep End”

If you have been a reader of my weekly blog on school improvement, I am sure that there have been times that you have wondered what the subject that I introduce has to  do with improving schools!   If you have stuck with me, I hope that the connections have become clear to you and this week, I am going to beg your patience with me. Secretly, I  wish that this situation that I am describing had been part of my elementary school experience! My learning lessons come from many people and places and this week it is all about the “deep end of the pool“.

On the road, I work mostly with school administrators, instructional coaches and teachers who are part of collaborative teams. These educators are usually teachers of Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and of course, English Language Arts.  For the most part, I work with the teachers of the core subjects that are heavily assessed for college and career readiness.  Sometimes, however, I meet and work with the other adults in the school that, collectively support and create learning for our students.  Often, these teachers attend professional development sessions with colleagues and I know that, for many, it is hard for them to connect what we are trying to do to impact reading, writing and mathematics with what they do.  But, often I see that they understand the big picture- the need for ALL staff to share ownership of the work to be done.  This week, I had the very best example of this and I am extremely proud to introduce you to Chris Wood!

I have had the good fortune of knowing Chris for the past two years. IMG_8249He is the physical education teacher (PE as we call it) at Cherokee Heights Elementary School in St. Paul, Minnesota.  This elementary school is blessed with a swimming pool and so the students rotate through three weeks of swimming instruction (four times a year) as part of their PE classes.  This is not, however, how I have come to know Chris.  I met him first, because, he is part of the leadership team, the guiding coalition, at the school. Principal Rivera had the great insight to include specialists on her shared leadership team.  She knew, that to really move her school, she needed their voices and guidance as part of the team that would support continuous improvement.  Every time I visit that school, we start the day with a 7:15 am meeting with this team and this is how I first met Chris.

For the past two years, Chris has attended leadership and all summer or after-school professional learning that I have done with the staff.  He is, for the most part, a quiet learner. He never misses the learning opportunities and he listens and asks great questions. That is what he did this week. At our early morning leadership meeting, he asked all of us a very reflective question about the trends in the data we were looking at that really impacted our conversation.  Honestly, he made us all sit up and take notice and so I started to explore what he was really doing with all of our learnings.  And, this is what I found out…

Chris has taken it upon himself to apply effective instructional practices to his instruction.  He develops amazing lesson plans that include activating ways to make students think for themselves and self-assess.  He was telling me, that for volleyball, for example, the students are given the rubric of what they have to do to excel and then they have an opportunity to videotape their performance (their serves, their bumps, their volleys, etc). Chris has set it up so they self-assess and then email their videos to him for his feedback as well.  This all fits with what we know about engaging students in their own learning journey.  We often talk about how they have to see the target as it has to be visible and clear to them and that we want them to really understand what they have to do to improve. Chris has listened, read, studied and applied this to his teaching!  He also is supporting the overall focus of improving writing in the school  and has students write in class (sometimes an exit ticket on the way out of class) to support the overall school goals. And remember, this is in PE classes!

What I really loved about my conversation with Chris this week, is his “deep end” goal for his swimming students. Chris has intentionally explained the goals of the swimming instruction and through the six levels of swimming progression, what the student must do to reach the next level is crystal clear to them. It is, as we say, a “visible target”. There is no guessing, if I am going to get to swim in the deep end of the pool, here is what I have to do to get there.  And, guess what? When I make it to the deep end, I get to wear a bathing cap of a different color.  The teachers were telling me that Chris’ students LOVE this. They are super excited when they come back to class with this new colored cap! And what I love is that the students know what the target is and they can work their way towards their goal.  Isn’t this what we want in all of our classes? That students can own the learning and be part of the responsibility for getting there?

I asked Chris about how he uses all that he has learned to improve instruction. We talked about how he might have decided that the work that we were doing was just for the classroom teachers, that, indeed, he could have checked out of this learning.  I asked him why he works so hard at these instructional practices and he explained to me that he 1) always seeks to understand what students can achieve outside of the gym or the pool, 2) that he gives very clear expectations of where students are going because that is how self-reflection and learning really occurs (he even has a great rubric for how to improve on the backstroke!), 3) he wants to support the overall school goals of school improvement and lastly, his fourth comments says it all, he loves his students and wants to see their full potential.

For me, as a school improvement coach, it doesn’t get any better than this.  A teacher who sees the bigger vision of shared ownership- of all of us owning the work to be done in a school and knowing that it isn’t just the English Language Arts teachers or the Mathematics teachers’ responsibility to ensure deep learning of essential skills.  He understands that it is about the students and he contributes as a leader in and out of his classroom.  And, I know that there are Chris Wood(s) in all of our schools. We just have to believe in them, support them and help them see their impact.  Including everyone in the messaging, the learning and the high expectations for implementation is what the school improvement journey should be all about.  I will leave you with this thought… is that what it looks like in every nook and cranny of your school? Is there focused, intentional learning everywhere? Chris has challenged himself to continue to be a lifelong learner; student by student/skill by skill and he is making a difference! Thanks for reading. See you next Saturday.

 

 

Real Heart

Growing up in Eastern Canada, our “home sport” was hockey. As in many Canadian homes, every Saturday night we all watched “Hockey Night in Canada”.  It was a ritual. I don’t know if there were other options on the television because it didn’t matter. We watched hockey and then we discussed it all week. GumpWorsleyChex I remember my mom idolizing one player, Gump Worsley, a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens.  She actually met him one day and to say that she was excited would be huge understatement!  (Interesting that my brother and my daughter went on to be hockey goalies). Over the years, I have grown to love most sports and I entertain myself on the road with lots and lots of sports gazing. I have had to teach myself lots about the rules of American football (which I am slowly understanding) and I have fallen in love with watching basketball games.  And, I idolize the players who play with heart- who demonstrate, time and time again, that they really care about others, they are on a mission to continually learn, they want to lead, they have tons of GRIT, they understand and overcome challenges and they just do not give up on themselves or others.  This brings me to this week’s edition of this school improvement blog.

I have to tell you that I found this week to be a challenge. Not because of the three schools that I worked in (you know who you were) but because there were so many conversations about what we must do for the students who need teachers who “play with heart”.  I am not talking about the teachers who I meet everyday who nurture and love their students; schools are full of these caring adults. I am talking about “tough love”, the teachers who have high expectations for learning with no excuses. To me, these are the teachers with “real heart.”

Who I am describing are the educators who create very positive cultures of learning in which failure is not an option; the kind of classroom where students clearly know what is expected and there is an attitude of “this is just how we work here”.  Students can describe it to me and this is what one recently said: “Teacher X, in that classroom I have to learn. I have to do my work because it is important and I know what is expected. As soon as I go in that classroom I have to be on. I am not allowed to be late because we can’t waste time. There is no time to waste because I have to learn.” Unfortunately, students can also describe the classrooms where the opposite is happening.  It doesn’t mean that the second teacher does not care or doesn’t work hard but the level of expectations for success is much lower.

I had the opportunity to reconnect with a friend this week who reminded me of his experience with a teacher with “real heart”. He grew up in a challenging community and I would say was a non-reader until the seventh grade.  He happened upon a teacher who made it very clear to him what was expected in her classroom. He was going to read out loud, he was going to read often and he was going to do all the work necessary to be a reader. As he has described to me, this teacher changed his life.  Now in his late 40’s, he is very successful with a challenging, rewarding career. He provides leadership to many, problem-solves at a very high, strategic level and has had many opportunities in his life that he knows, would have been impossible had he remained a non-reader. As he stated to me this week, “I wonder what would have happened to me, what path I would have followed if I had not learned to read.” He knows that he had fallen through the cracks until seventh grade and we know that there are students like him in our schools that need to be saved.

In my opinion, we can have no excuses. We must expect high levels of learning with all students.  Students without confidence need us the most; they need the teachers who can create the “failure is not an option” mindset as part of their classroom culture. They need the teachers with “real heart”.  I will leave you this week to pause and reflect on your current reality, are you leading or teaching with real heart? The kind that embraces high expectations, no excuses and creates confident learners? The kind that goes the extra mile to figure out the action plan for each student and sees it through? If your answer is no, what can you immediately change to save the life of a student? Thanks for reading and  I look forward to being with you next Saturday.