I believe that one of the most important lessons that we try to teach our students is that you have only failed if you have given up. We do not consider failure to be an option. It is never too late to learn. We want and expect our students to not give up. They can reach their competency in any class. We do not give Fs or Ds, we give incompletes to let them know that we just need to work harder and maybe look at it in a different light until we reach success. In our middle school, we provide daily intervention before, during, and after class. We have interventions and office hours before school, we have lunchtime Academic Recovery that is optional for most students and if a student has put their incomplete off, we step in and provide a lunchtime tutoring to teach them not to ignore it. We also have an hour of optional Academic Recovery. I know that I also have many of my middle school students that feel comfortable emailing me after hours to get extra help.
6. Commit to 5 things you are willing to do this semester that will make your school a increase learning opportunities:
1. I need to have a faster turn around for assignments so that students know sooner if they want to raise a grade.
2. Sending more GRIT letter home to students who really give it that extra effort to get out of a slump.
3.Student- Teacher checkins during lunchtime AR. Having a sheet where students can sign up for personal time may help.
4. Praising students for their work in other classes may help them if they know we are talking about them. This could be a great motivation.
5. I am not exactly sure what to say for this last one, but I want to think about some way to help students personally plan their workload. Any advice on this one is greatly appreciated.
1. What role does school play in building students’ agency and identity?
Students spend half of there time at school, maybe more. Many students go home to an empty house, or a destructive one. School has more influence and power over our students than we often realize. Students learn more from us than just content.
2. How aware are you and your colleagues of the impact our choice of words have on developing students’ agency and identity? Can you give examples?
We try our best to be proactive in our use of choice words. I think about many situations where we are aware of the power of words. In my classroom, I refer to the students as "English Scholars". We have discussed the idea that we have a writing community where we use words to build each other up instead of tear each other down while we offer constructive feedback orally and written. We carry out circles where students practice engaged listening and speaking skills that they carry out through class. If something was to happen that did not follow our pillar of Do No Harm, we look to our restorative questions as mentioned in How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom.
3. What would you do, if anything, to make using choice words a more conscious and accountable school wide practice if you were the school leader?
I am a strong believer of continuously discussing character with my students. In doing this, we often connect this to our social purpose of the day. More times than not, we find that this comes back to body language. In our middle school, it seems that this is the language that seems to be easily forgotten about yet misused. We practice role playing in the classroom to bring attention to what they are unable to identify personally.
4. What could you do, if anything, to make the use of choice words a more conscious and accountable personal practice as well as one embraced by others on your site? Are those things within your sphere of influence?
This is something that I can have a stronger influence on and believe that I have had the unfortunate opportunity to practice this. As many would agree, for people to always meet eye to eye in a work environment is hard to come by. Well, it is hard to come by in life in general. I have also had the opportunity of attending a professional development workshop regarding having "hard conversations". A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues was feeling pretty ill and due to the fact that she had missed much work because of it, I feel that she was under a bit more stress than a normal workday. Lets face it, everyone's workday contains stress, even if it is brought on by excitement. Well, I did not feel completely comfortable with they way she had spoken to me and after some though about what I should do, I decided, after sleeping on it, to ask her to meet with me to let her know how I felt about the situation. We each had a chance to speak. In the end, we laughed about the misunderstanding, hugged, and realized a few things. One, body language and tone is not just something that our students need to pay more attention to. This is something that adults need to practice to set the "tone". Two, we talked about how sad it is that not all adults do what we expect in our students when it comes to resolving a conflict. And three, by discussing this with one another and then sharing this with our coworkers, we set an example of what is expected when conflict arises in our school community and family.
5. Commit to 5 things you are willing to do this semester that will make your school choose words wisely?
1. Provide our students with the opportunity to role play situations more often. We have done this once in our English class which in turn showed up in another content class. They practiced it and then used it.
2. Continue to lead by example with restorative techniques.
3. Use proactive language instead of reactive.
4. Provide opportunity for real world discussions through text by using a new website that i learned about at the Time to Thrive conference this year. The website is called Teaching Tolerance.
5. Collaborate with my fellow teachers to assist in language instruction in the various content areas.
6. Actively participate in "Spread the Word to End the Word". Incorporates a lesson involving a pledge to stop using the "R" word.
When it comes to the concept of Do No Harm, I believe that although it may seem difficult for some to ask yourself those internal questions of Will this do harm to myself? Will this do harm to others? or Will this do harm to the environment?, it is also a habit that can be learned and is a truly important one to teach our students as well as practice ourselves. I feel sad to say that to many adults expect students to follow this pillar yet do not always practice it themselves. I honestly believe that if your follow this in your life, it is reflected in your work environment and the students can feel your sincerity and commitment to the matter. They will then pick up on what you do and in the end, you are modeling to them as you would any other lesson. As silly as it may seem, we as educators should too lead by example. I am very fortunate to be lead by several educators who demonstrate this for all of our teachers to see. I feel that it is not just their responsibility as leaders of the school though. I feel that it is each teacher’s responsibility to model for each other each and everyday. I think that with this being said, it is also important to have an open door policy for all educators to observe your practices. I personally love teachers, principals, and leaders from all over coming into our school because I feel that they can see this in all of our staff. It gives me hope that they will then go back to their work site and model for their campus. I have friends who could benefit from their school thinking about these questions, as her fellow teachers are continuously doing harm to fellow teachers and she feels that the students pick up on it. I think that she is 100% right.
My commitments for this semester are:
1) I will start a GSA, as I intended to first semester and was not prepared for it yet.
2) I will provide opportunity for more proactive circles in my classroom (once a week check ins). This could even be as simple as a sharing of the book that they are reading, or what they learned this week.
3) I will write more grit letters. And to hold myself accountable, I will dedicate one night a week to writing 5 letters of acknowledgement to my students and/or colleagues (they also deserve and need praise).
4) I will focus on habits 1-3 on a daily basis by having a reminder up in my classroom. This will bring down my stress, which will have a positive impact on my communication with students. If they see me unorganized or stressed, they could feel it too!
5) I will put posters up in our middle school hallway connecting to our Do No Harm policy! Visuals are very important. I was reminded this by many students in a panel at a recent professional development conference that I attended. They mentioned that visuals in the hallways and in the classrooms are more important than teachers realize.
I feel very passionate about our school pillars. I strongly believe in every one of them yet know and understand that it is an ongoing conversation. This isn’t something that comes naturally. Ok, for some it may, but for most students and faculty, this conversations needs to be not only had, but had often. I have friends that I truly feel sorry for when I hear about just how unwelcoming their campus truly is. There are rooms that they rather not visit and many rooms that rather not be visited. I am lucky to be in a school that is not caught in this stressful situation.
Right now, we are working with our middle school students in welcoming visitors in the classroom. I feel that my students are wonderful and are doing a great job but I of course want them to do better and feel more comfortable. We are often having conversations about them being the first to stick out there hand and introduce themselves. One activity that helped them become more comfortable was having a visitor at each table who they had the opportunity to interview. The students received notes from the visitors after being interviewed and they also had the opportunity to write a reflection. I know that they are continuously growing as leaders and school ambassadors. This is a focus of mine and I would love some feedback as to how I can continue to grow with my students I this situation. I know that I absolutely love having visitors in the classroom, but I wonder if I come across as welcoming as I think I do. Sometimes it can be tough to balance answering questions from visitors and continuing with a lesson. I often wonder if I am doing a good job with this.