Taking it Easy

In January I had the fun experience of visiting Winslow, Arizona and I was able to “stand on the corner” that The Eagles made so famous in their song Taking it Easy!  As my friends, know… I LOVE that band and since I have not been doing much standing for the past month, I am really happy that I had that opportunity.  IMG_8938As I was thinking about this week’s blog and talking with some of my principals, I realize that this is the time of the year that really does not “feel easy” to educators.  There is a sense of urgency about year-end assessments, graduations, meeting expectations, finishing the year and for leaders, planning the next year.  I remember, as a school and district administrator, feeling like I was wearing more hats than I could during the spring season… part of me was in the current year and the rest of me was thinking and planning for what had to happen to get ready for the next year. It was not the time to take it easy.

Student by student/skill by skill… that is what educators are working on in schools that are improving and especially right now.  For example, at Jan’s high school, (which I have told you about over several blogs), collaborative teams of teachers are well aware of the students who still need extra support and more time to master key skills and concepts and they are living an “all hands on deck” mantra to meet their needs.  As much as we educators don’t want to talk about “teaching to the test”, if we are authentically ensuring that students are being given every opportunity to be knowledgeable about what are the essential learnings, they should be well prepared for end of the year assessments.

These assessments are sometimes referred to as the autopsies versus the ongoing assessments (formative assessments) that really are the check ups all year.  As important as these end-of-the-year summative tests are, the real information that educators and students need, is the evidence of what they know or do not know throughout the year.  Great teachers know that by using this information all the time and making adjustments to their instructional practices, they are able to give students timely and immediate support where and when it is needed.  Of course, the student has to know what is expected and what the steps are that will make them successful.  To a student, it should not feel like a moving target.  The bulls-eye should be clearly in sight. So, as important as this time of the year is, it really is an accumulation of great educational practices all year… the right steps have been taken to help ensure student success.  What is happening now should only enhance the learning.

As I write this, I can not help but think of my own circumstance right now.  I have had several “check ups” to determine why I had so much pain and immobility from my left hip and leg.   I have had a forced “take it easy” and I have had to rely on the information and evidence of the assessments to know what possible next steps to take.  As I continue to have support and gain more understanding of my injury, I learn more about what I can and can not do.  The most frustrating times for me have been when I could not see the target…when I didn’t know what was wrong or what I could do to improve the situation.  As the steps were clarified for me, and as I took this to heart and followed the steps, I could start to see progress.  It might not be as quick as I would like but as long as there is an improvement, I can see that I am working on the right work.  Isn’t this how we want students to feel?  Doesn’t it make sense for the steps to success be made very clear to them and for every opportunity to be given to them for them to be responsible for their success? I am pretty sure that the chiropractor and orthopedic specialist that I am seeing are expecting me to do the work necessary to continue to improve and, of course, I need their leadership, guidance and support.  And, I know that a long-term plan of healthy habits will be necessary to prevent this injury again, just like how year-long great instruction and assessment practices really pay off for both educators and students at this time of the year.

So, as I continue to take it easy, I know that this is not the situation that my friends in so many schools are facing.  The sense of urgency, overwhelming exhaustion and the mixed emotions that come with saying good-bye to students who are graduating, moving on to other classes and schools is all part of spring season in schools. Drama and musical productions, art shows, science fairs and end of year sporting events create unending energy and excitement and so many students and educators will feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.  Do not let this be lost during this assessment time.  Even though you can not take it easy right now, you can continue to take the steps necessary, follow the plan and support what matters the most- student success. And, you can take a few minutes and consider this wonderful profession that you have chosen.  You make a difference. This eighteenth blog in my series on school improvement is dedicated to you- the educators who I learn from each and every time that I am with you. In my absence, know that I am thinking about you.  Until next Saturday…

 

A Puzzle

A life lesson that we all experience- there are always silver linings even when situations are not what we want or expect.  As I end the fourth week of recovery from a hip injury, I have to admit there have been a few silver linings. I have had more rest and relaxation, I have seen some of my family more and I spent wonderful hours doing the first jigsaw puzzle that I have done in years. Every colorful piece had its appropriate place and if one piece was wrong, the entire puzzle was thrown off. There was a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment as each section came together and a need for patience when there just didn’t seem to be a fit. And, in the end… even though the puzzle was brand new out of the box and stayed in one place the entire time… a piece was missing. So, at this moment, I have a 99.9% completion rate with no control over the final outcome!  I can not find that last piece anywhere (if you look really close in the picture, you might see where it is missing!)  fullsizeoutput_9f5Are you wondering what a jigsaw puzzle has to do with a blog on school improvement? I actually think that it makes a wonderful analogy.  Let’s take a look at the comparisons…

I don’t know if there is a right or wrong way when starting a jigsaw puzzle (I didn’t ask anyone, I opened the box and started) and sometimes that is the best advice that  I can give a school leader. If you want to improve your school, just get started and do something.  Now, I know there is research and proven strategies that should be considered and they will need to be built-in to long-term planning, but just getting at the work is sometimes what has to happen.  Look in the box considering all the pieces that you have to work with and start figuring out where they make the most sense and best fit toward school improvement.  Opening the box and just looking isn’t going to get you anywhere- that is admiring the problem. You see, I could have spent some time just admiring the pieces of my puzzle- sorting them, looking at the themes within the puzzle, organizing them by color, shape, etc. (and this might have made more sense than how I went about it) however, you can not just “look” at the pieces, you have to do something with them. Action versus inaction. Taking steps, even if they are small ones like the hours that I spent looking for one piece of the puzzle, will get you closer to results.

Ok, honestly, I did start with the frame.  I assumed that this was a good first step.  In a school, what pieces would make up the frame?  What forms the foundation that might be the places to start?  As I have mentioned before, we often start with a comprehensive needs assessment to really take a good look at the current reality.  Before you can build the frame, you should know what your school is about.  What evidence do you have of student achievement, attendance, parental involvement, student behaviors, teacher retainment, course selections, graduation rate, instructional practices, teacher collaboration, polices and procedures that are effective, overall satisfaction with your school and other factors that can support the frame for continuous improvement? What happens when some of these things are missing from the box?

It took me a couple of “sits” to recognize that I had to pay closer attention to the details of each piece of the puzzle.  At first, they were just a bunch of pieces but as I spent more time with them, I recognized their unique qualities.  The same thing can be said for all that you have to work with in a school. Every student comes to school with their own edges and curves, bold colors, vibrant images and quiet sides. Each teacher and school leader also creates a special piece to the puzzle.  If left in isolation, these puzzle pieces may be beautiful pieces of art but their real strength comes when they work in community and collaboration with others. The puzzle pieces are interdependent on each other.  The “hole” that I might have in my expertise and wisdom can be complemented by someone else and vice versa. And, I learned, that trying to make pieces fit when the timing was not right was a struggle.  So true with school improvement… it is better to make sure that you build a common understanding of the why of the work rather than to just force the practices.

Now, for my principals reading this, you might find that in this last paragraph I am contradicting what I often tell you… for many people, it might take practice before belief.  If you wait for everyone to come on board as believers in collaborative processes, common assessment practices, sharing instructional strategies, etc. you may be waiting a very long time for things to change.  This isn’t any different from my puzzle this week. I tried to “fit” pieces several times that wouldn’t go but because I kept trying and looking at different ways to create opportunities and above all, stayed patient and true to what I was working towards, I eventually found a way to make the pieces fit.

Lastly, I was super happy to have a picture of what the puzzle was going to look like in front of me.  I have heard from my puzzle friends that you can buy puzzles without a picture… I am pretty sure that I am not ready for that!  And, school improvement needs the same thing.  A vision of what you want to accomplish… what are the goals- short-term and long-term that you are working towards?  How are you communicating and helping others see this picture? If you are the school leader reading this blog, I want you to really think about the picture that you help others see of your vision.  Is it clear?  Can they make out the details? Does it make sense? Do you come back to it often or did you empty the box and put it away? Is it time to get it out again and really look at the desired outcome?

On this weekend filled with the colors of spring, special time with family and friends and the blessing of Easter, I wish you a lovely weekend.  I hope that this seventeenth blog has inspired you to consider the pieces of your puzzle, personally or professionally. Perhaps, you will revisit the pieces that are challenging you and try again to create the picture that you want. I look forward to being with you next Saturday.

March for our Lives

As I submit this blog, I am anxious to follow the high school students (and many of their parents) who will  come together today in Washington to use their collaborative voice for influence as part of the “March for our Lives”.  There are also over 800 events planned worldwide.  With my ongoing hip injury, I will not be walking in an event but want to honor the efforts with this writing.  Beginning in my second blog on December 16, “Starting with the students”, I have consistently gone back to the message of student relationships, the need for conversations with students and the attention that must be paid to the needs of students if we are truly about improving schools.

I have written about some of the conversations that I have had with students who have articulated the disconnect that they feel at school and their own desires to learn, to have a voice and to be understood. I believe this to be a critical factor in our world of education and I also feel that it is frightening to many educators.  Sometimes, we avoid those conversations that are needed and we focus more on the curriculum to be taught, the assessments to be given and the accountability that is ever-present.  In this sixteenth blog on school improvement, let’s look at the mental well-being of our students and how important it is for their voices to be heard.

As I was reflecting on what to write about this week, I read a post from edutopia.org titled, “In High School, the Kids Are Not All Right” by David Tow.  Mr. Tow speaks to the same needs that I have seen in efforts to improve schools… attending to the mental well-being of our students.  He suggests, that many times, we educators have used  a strategy to try to support students that actually works against us… telling them to take some time to get themselves together and to get caught up on their work.  I am sure that I used this strategy myself back in the days of teaching and when I think about it, how was this making a difference for my students? What great changes can be made when we basically tell someone to take time and get themselves together, oh, and while you are at it, get all caught up with everything that has stressed you out.  Thinking about it now, I recognize that this is without support or understanding of what actually caused the concerns in the first place.

The real difference that I made was when I learned to talk to the students and honestly listen to what they needed, what they feared and what their dreams were.  I know that once I knew how to do that, and was not afraid of the student voice, I was much more impactful as an educator.

One of the most challenging conversations that I have in schools is when I have to tell principals and teachers what students have to say about their school.  It is disheartening for many educators to learn that they are not being as successful in meeting the needs of students as they think that they are or that the students are so aware of how bad things are going.  As I have said before, we definitely don’t fool them but unfortunately, we don’t ask them enough about what would be best.  I often suggest to the school leaders and teachers to consider holding regular small group or one on one conversations with students to ask their opinions, advice and seek their understanding.  I see school leaders who take this on and do it regularly, and others, who try it once and never go back to the students. For many reasons, I don’t believe we have given students enough credit to voice their concerns and suggestions. As adults, are we afraid to do this?  What barriers are really coming between us and understanding the students?

Tow writes about five strategies for promoting high schooler’s mental well-being. He suggests that we ask how they are doing… and mean it.  Again, we are talking about authentic conversations taking the time to really listen and understand.  Secondly, he suggests that we actually set times when students can talk to us… almost like office hours… we make ourselves available at specific times that they know about. His third recommendation is to remember basic needs first (Maslow’s).  Academics can not be fixed when students are still without their basic needs being met. Help the students feel safe and grounded first before working on the academics.  Tow’s forth strategy is focused on truly focusing on what is important. Is it necessary for a student behind to catch up on every single thing or what really are the essential learnings?  And lastly, he suggests that we seek support and recommend students to the professionals when needed. As educators, we can not fix everything although, I know many, many who try to do that every single day. In a nutshell, we have to be all about the students…every decision maker, every educator, every person who has the opportunity to impact the life of a student.

The people gathering in Washington this weekend have taken the lead from the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who have been expressing their voice for the past month and hoping that we, the adults, will listen. They know that not all students have mental stability and well-being and they know that more work has to be done to create safe environments for learning. More conversations, more time to be understood, more attention to what their needs really are and adults who can take on the courageous decisions necessary.  For communities, schools and nations to actually put the student first in their decision-making protocols requires bravery, time and now, a sense of urgency.  Feeling safe and having confidence that your opinion and you are valued goes a long way in creating well-being for our schools. It is time.

So, this post is dedicated to all of the students, parents and educators, who this weekend, will try to make a difference in our world.  Their concerns are real. To my good friend, Lissa Pijanowski and her high school daughter, Sadie, who traveled from Georgia to take part in the march, I am so proud of you. IMG_0217.jpeg Travel safe and know that others are listening. Sadie, proudly hold  your sign and know that your voice matters. You are our future.

 

An Empty Seat

During the past couple of weeks, I have been “absent” from most of the things I love to do in my life.  I have a hip injury that has caused me to take a pause; a forced rest and time to reflect. I am that ’empty seat’ on the plane; you know, the one that you secretly hope to happen next to you when someone doesn’t show up for their flight. Just having that extra space on a plane, as anti-social as that sounds, can be a beautiful thing.  This is very different for me. I am usually the one coming down the row at a concert or sports event to climb in to that empty seat beside you that you were hoping would stay vacant.   So, what I thought I should write about in this fifteenth blog about improving schools is just this… being absent.  How absenteeism by students impacts their learning.  Let’s take a look at this issue…

I want to take you back to Jan’s high school.  As she continued to work with her leadership team and look at who is in danger of failing courses and not graduating, one of the first things that we noticed was attendance.  For some of the students, attendance was a non-issue. They are failing and they are attending on a regular basis. These are the students who clearly need more support, remediation and interventions. They are willing to learn and need more time and attention to help them understand. It might be their study skills,their own lack of engagement or our ability to reach them in the classroom, but they are coming everyday so we have to assume that they do want to learn.

The other group of students that Jan’s team finds difficult to plan for are the students who skip classes or full days.  Looking at the “current reality”,  some of the seniors in danger of not graduating are not coming to school much at all.  One student had missed forty days and still was passing some courses, but not all that he needed. Ok, I can hear some of my friends right now saying… don’t we have another problem?  How can it be that you can miss forty days and still be passing at all?  Yes, this does bring us to a different discussion; about instruction and assessments.  Does a student just have to show up to get a grade?  All of these concerns have been discussed by Jan’s team as she continues to drill down in to the data in front of her.

What I appreciate here is that they are facing the brutal facts.  They are looking at the data student by student and figuring out the “why”. Why is a student struggling? What are the patterns of attendance, failures, etc. in specific courses or with specific teachers? And, all of this work has led to some critical discussions about the overall messaging in this school about attendance.  Honestly, as a student or parent, would you understand how important attendance really is?  Who owns the responsibility of student attendance?  Doesn’t everyone have a part in this?

I love this sign at Fox Elementary, “we can’t teach an empty seat”.  For many teachers, this is the current reality.  fullsizeoutput_9efWhen students do not come to school, they miss valuable instruction. In elementary schools, this means foundational reading, writing and math skills and when they miss these basic lessons, they fall further and further behind as they move along in their studies.  Rates for dropping out of school , non-graduating students and incarcerated young adults can usually be predicted by most schools based on attendance and this starts at a very young age.

There is much written about the disadvantages created at a young age when students can not read and it is extremely tough for elementary teachers to work on literacy skills if students are not at school. These same children are often in homes without books or with adults who also struggled with reading.  And, in many cases, the parents of these young children did not have the school experience that you and I did; they did not grow up understanding the value of education and being in school. They know what they know and we have a responsibility to help them understand that this has to be different.  So, how are schools working on this?

A few things that I notice that positively impact attendance include paying attention to it, making sure that others know how important it is and having conversations with students and families about it.  These may seem like simple solutions (and I appreciate all that schools do with many other initiatives) but I could tell you many success stories when attention is given to truly looking at it and dealing with it.  It might be tracked in every school but like any data point, it is only informing decisions when something is done with it.  In elementary schools, for example, young parents need help in understanding the critical importance of getting their child to school, on time, every day.  I have been told by many parents that when they are clearly informed of the importance, they do more to get their children to school.

One of my favorite memories of the past month is the young mom I met in a school hallway… she was in her pajamas and house coat. When she saw me she stopped to explain that she had overslept but was determined to get her first grader to school on time.  She brought him in a few minutes late and told the teacher that it was her doing.  She owned it but also did what she could to get him there. The most interesting part of our conversation was that she also told me that on these days, she used to roll over and go back to sleep. She didn’t bother to get up and take him to school if she already knew that they were late. She doesn’t like getting up in the morning however, the school has taken great steps to help parents understand the importance of attendance and she has taken her responsibility in this with serious intent.

I  remember learning about a “walking school bus” project in another school.  The neighborhood felt unsafe to many of the young children who had to walk themselves to school so grandparents of one child created a “walking bus”, stopping at houses along the way so children could come out and walk with them. This was just what was needed for many of these young families.

I know, in many of our high schools, our students are doing all they can to juggle jobs that support families, take care of siblings and get themselves to school. I see amazing teachers deepen their relationships with these young adults and find flexible and individual ways to support their learning.  There is much to be gained in a conversation that creates two-way understanding of both needs and expectations… this can go a long way in helping a student find the motivation to keep on when things are tough. Sometimes we learn about bullying, safety issues and other concerns that may be the real reasons that students are not attending when we truly listen.

Wishing everyone a wonderful safe and fun St. Patrick’s Day!  With the luck of the Irish behind me I am hoping to “attend” to my life again real soon! See you next Saturday.

 

 

South Dakota

The greatest thing about my work is the amazing people I meet and spend time with in the schools.  Even though the conversations can be challenging and the expectations might be difficult, almost every time, the teachers and school leaders find a way to rise to the occasion and steal my heart.  This describes my trips to Rapid City, South Dakota for the past three years.  First it is about the people and their commitment to making a difference in the lives of students.  I want to tell you about three of the schools that I visited last week…

Let’s start with General Beadle Elementary School. Cary Davis and her staff have welcomed me with open arms.  I appreciate that they accept coaching and are working collaboratively to change the lives of their students. During this visit they were able to show me evidence of student growth and I could see a change in the student conversations as well.  There was more talk about what and why they were learning and many more were engaged in what they were working on then I can remember seeing there before.  It is also a fun place for me to go because they love to tease me about being from Canada. They know I love sports and so they were all ready for me this trip… presenting me with a hockey stick and a silver medal to remind me of the loss of the Canadian women’s hockey team to the US team for the Olympic gold medal. IMG_9071 Of course, they also had to torment me about our lack of medals in curling.  I love mixing fun with the hard work that is needed in these schools so it means a lot to me when I feel so welcome!

My next stop was at Horace Mann Elementary School and what I love about this school is the focus on student writing that is so evident in all classrooms.  Kelly Gorman and her teachers have taken a serious look at the research and effective practices that link reading and writing and they are very focused on increasing every opportunity that they can to increase writing in their school. My favorite memory from being there this time was the conversation with a young man in fifth grade… he was working so hard on his writing and I asked him if I could read what he had written.  He politely replied, “No, I would rather that you didn’t read this story yet. I am still thinking very hard about how it will end and I would prefer that you wait and read it when I finish.” And, he was thinking very hard… most of the students were so focused on their work that they hardly noticed the visitors to their room.  This is what we want to have happening in our classrooms… students doing the thinking and I know that the teachers at Horace Mann are on it!!

Lastly, I want to tell you about Knollwood Elementary School and in this case, mostly I want to introduce you to Shannon Schaefers, the principal.  Every time I do leadership coaching with Shannon, I leave feeling so blessed that I know her and mostly, that the students at Knollwood have her for a principal.  Picture a big heart that cares about children and now multiply that by as many numbers as you can think of and that is Shannon. I have never had a conversation with Shannon that was not focused on her students and her concern for their needs.  She feels personally responsible for their well-being and what happens to every one of them in her school.  As she works to create more shared ownership and leadership in her school, this attitude of students-first will do her well.  She knows that leading a school is complex; it involves the adult community within the school as well as the student community and she is working hard to balance taking care of both.  She has led her teachers in creating collaborative, evidence based teams and is working on improving classroom practice. She knows that there is more to do to have collective commitments around the work needed at the school and she also understands that she will need to continue to build this foundation while at the same time making sure that they are all focused on meeting the needs of students. Shannon also knows that it is important to celebrate successes and find joy in the work of school leadership.

It is a balancing act for school leaders… schools do not close while we figure out what to do next… principals are adjusting as they fly the plane and this can feel overwhelming at times. The great thing about principals like Shannon is that they are willing to learn from each other.  Networking between principals to share ideas and figure things out together is so helpful and Shannon and I were able to do that on this visit (thanks to Kimberly and Yvette!) which I appreciate as her coach.

Lastly, the Rapid City School District is part of this improvement process. They are providing professional learning opportunities for their principals and teachers and most importantly they are creating direction and focus. All of this can only help students and so I feel that the families of Rapid City are fortunate to have this happening in their city.

Rapid City is also a very nice place to visit.  It is close to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments, with amazing vistas and landscape all around, and the city itself is clean and friendly.  I get to stay in a beautiful, historical “haunted hotel” when I am there and eat bison and very good chocolate. There is beautiful art and jewelry from native American communities and other local artists that will take your breath away. And, did I tell you that the people in South Dakota sort of steal my heart every time I am back?  What more could you want as a road warrior?

Have a great week and I look forward to our time together next Saturday.

 

 

Holding Up the Mirror

It is that time of the year when energy levels in schools is lower than usual. We see this  around October and again in February.  Many schools are looking forward to spring breaks and teachers are relishing any well deserved rest that they can find to get ready for the final weeks of the school year. In this thirteenth blog on school improvement, I want to take you back to Jan’s school and look at what starts to happen when adults make changes instead of waiting for the students to change…

At Jan’s high school there have been many conversations about students and what they need to be successful. They have looked at the graduate list and really focused on supporting each student. The leadership team and teachers of the seniors have divided the list of graduates and they have been meeting with them over the past few months, one on one, on a regular basis to make sure that each and every graduate’s courses and marks are on target for graduation.  They have a goal of ninety-five percent graduation this year and they are working hard to get there.

The teachers in Jan’s school have also been very busy with the other students as well. This school has made me so proud as they have accepted the challenge of understanding any evidence put in front of them that really tells them what the students need.   They are collaborating and as I mentioned last week, they are holding up the mirror, more and more to really see what they can do differently.  I know that their hard work will pay off this year.  Remember, hope is not a strategy and they are not just hoping for improvement, they are working towards it every day.

I had an opportunity to talk with Willie again… my student friend at Jan’s school.  He loves to catch me up on things when I visit. He told me that students are “liking” the school more now that teachers are having more conversations with them. He was bragging that some of the teachers are even having the students write out their goals for the rest of the year and challenging them to keep track of what they are doing to meet their goals.  I was so happy to hear this as we have talked a lot about how student ownership of their learning is so important! This made my heart sing!! The school is on its way to creating great opportunities for students to be successful. Oh, and Willie also tells me all about the boyfriend/girlfriend break ups and what’s happening in the schoolyard! Even in high school, there are schoolyard stories!

Do you remember my New Year’s story about East Gresham Elementary in Portland, OR. – the school that “clapped” the students in after many snowy days and made the students feel so important to them? I shared their focus on GRIT and a motto of “No Excuses”. What I didn’t tell you was how much academic success they were also able to create for their students.  Four years ago, I started working with Kimberly and her staff and only 23% of their students were reading at grade level.  In school improvement consulting work, we should work ourselves out of a job.  It truly takes three to five years to turn a school around and in most situations, the life of a contract for a consultant depends on impact and the resources of a school. If we are doing good work together and the value is there for the school, a contract of three years typically gives us enough time to really see the gains.  My contract with Kimberly’s school had to come to an end at the end of the third year. I was able to have one visit with her in September but during her fourth year as principal, this year, I have had little contact with the school.  Recently, I received an email from Kimberly and had a follow-up phone call with her.  Both made my day, my week, my month… maybe my year!

Kimberly read my blog on collective commitments and wrote out to me to tell me that this had been so timely for her. She had just revisited all of this work with her staff.  Even though they had done the work together a couple of years ago, Kimberly recognized that it was time to revisit, revise and refocus.  I loved what she had to say about it so I want to share this with you:

Good Morning Karen,
Another enjoyable read this morning. You are still with us in many ways and your mentions of mission and vision statement is an example. We revisited ours in a leadership team meeting last month. 
The experience was something I wished I could have caught on camera, but I guess it will always be in my head. When beginning the discussion with the leadership team the conversation was honest, difficult, inspiring, raw, and powerful. I facilitated, but the dialog was theirs. We then brought it back to teachers and staff, discussed, revised, revisited, rewrote it further, and, here is what we came up with.
It was decided it wasn’t a mission statement, but more of a vision statement. Whatever it is called is not the issue, but the process it took to get us where we all agreed we are headed. 
fullsizeoutput_395

Kimberly now understands the value of shared ownership and as she continues to empower her teachers they will empower the students.   What I really love is that they are placing their value on every child. Their work is truly about the students.  The other reason that I am writing about East Gresham  is that Kimberly talked to me on the phone and told me that they now were at 50% achievement in the school for overall reading at grade level. Now, she is the first to admit that this still means that two out of every four students are not reading at grade level but remember that just three years ago it was 23%. The staff recognizes the work to be done but they have a road map and goals and the best part is they are using their collective expertise in collaboration to create their community of learners.

So, I am feeling inspired by Jan and Kimberly and their teachers who are  courageous enough to hold up the mirror to determine what they can do, as adults, to ensure students learn.  Have a great week and I look forward to next Saturday when I take you on a road trip to South Dakota!

 

Energized

This is the twelfth time that I have taken pen to paper with you to blog about my school improvement work.  I have to admit, I have felt tired, these past few weeks on the road.  I have been in four different time zones, missing my family and friends, visited many schools and honestly, the work is not easy.  Knowing that I have a responsibility to the schools and districts that hire me, to have an impact, when I am on site, even if it is just for a day, weighs heavy on me.  But, this week, I had a great reminder of why I do the work. From both students and from educators.  Let me start with the students…

Rebecca Scofield, was a beautiful teenager from home, who at the young age of 18, died this week.  You may know her as Becca, who in December 2016, inspired people all over the world to be kind to one another.  She used her illness and time left on earth to inspire people all over the world with her campaign- #BeccaToldMeTo.  Stories grew as the campaign unfolded of people sending Becca messages from as far away as Japan and Spain; how they used Becca as inspiration to do something kind for someone else. Random acts of kindness everywhere and fourteen months later she is still inspiring us to be more kind. Her journey is well documented in Canada and you can see more of her story at http://www.cbc.ca. Just type in her name and many stories and videos should be there for you to read.

In the days following the Florida high school shooting, a silver lining appeared. Despite their sadness and grief, many of the school’s students are courageously speaking out about changes that are needed. They are not leaving it to chance that adults will figure this out; they are taking it on. I love how articulate, mature and respectful that they have been. Instead of just showing their anger, they are channeling their energy to make a difference and positively influence.  They are young adults trying to impact adult decisions.

Rebecca and the Florida students have energized me. They remind me about so many of the students, in all of the schools that I work in there are amazing young adults who care about others.  You know, students are the first to tell you that they get a bad rap by adults everywhere.  They don’t always believe that we, the adults believe in them.  As I wrote about before, at Willie’s school, there was a huge disconnect between what the teachers saw in the students and what the students wanted them to see. In my world of school improvement, we have to believe in the students or the work just doesn’t get done. How are we going to meet the needs of students-student by student/skill by skill, which is the work of school improvement, if we do not believe that they can do the work?  How do we, perhaps, hold up the mirror and say that it is the adults that have to change, not necessarily the students?

This past week,  I worked at Northside High School in Lafayette, Louisiana. northside n logo I love working in this school for three reasons.  The students are polite, respectful and have big personalities. I have fun conversations with them during every visit. They love to talk and introduce themselves (now, I do know that this might be a strategy to avoid going to class on time but it is still fun!). The students would be quick to tell you that Northside is  seen as a “difficult” school in Lafayette and they don’t like the perception that others have of the school.  The first place that the positive perception and intention has to be set is within the four walls of the school. I know that some of the teachers find it difficult to work in this school and I also know that this isn’t any different from other schools where the challenge of improving student achievement is being addressed.

The second reason that I love this school is that the teachers and school leaders are working collaboratively to create change.  They know that they are not there yet but most are willing to put their heads together to work with their students. They are focusing more and more on  what students can and cannot do and they are taking steps to change what they do, as adults. They are holding up the mirror often and accepting that the students will only change when the adults change what they do with instruction in their classrooms. This week, we spent a great deal of time looking at evidence of where students are right now on their learning journey and carefully considering what the adults need to do next to support student learning.

And lastly,  I love being at Northside  and get energized when I am there because of Mrs. Julia Williams, the principal.  She understands what she has to do and is tirelessly working to lead the  changes.  I know that she is frustrated some days that it is such a slow process but she is working on the right work.   It is a pleasure to watch and listen to how she has conversations with students and adults and how she celebrates their successes. No matter what the situation or challenge, she approaches it with a smile and with an attitude of positive intent.  People first is how she works. The students and staff are lucky to have her and I am so blessed to be able to work with her at this school. And, it doesn’t take much to make her day… a parent this week told her that they notice what she is doing and appreciate her.  She was so happy to get that feedback.  As teachers and principals know, they don’t always hear from parents who are happy so it really helps when they do!

So, feeling energized is a good way to end the week.  Thanks for reading and I look forward to being with you again next Saturday when we will head back to Jan’s school for an update on her work!