Positive connections between students, their teachers, administrators, and their school community lead to academic success and a balanced education. During the school year, most kids spend more time with their school family than they do with their own family. This gives the school family an incredible opportunity to help students grow and learn. To reach their potential, it is integral that children connect to at least one person in their school community. This connection needs to exist within a safe and stable environment providing opportunities for these relationships to strengthen and grow. The middle school leader plays a key role in fostering this these important components of success.
Consider the typical day of an adolescent child. Besides a myriad of changes taking place physically, emotionally and academically, these kids exist in one of the most volatile social worlds imaginable. How often have we looked back on our own middle level years and remembered the struggles? When you pile on the perils of social media and the increasing temptation of drugs and alcohol that our children face today, most of us cannot even imagine reliving those years.
For many of our kids, school is their one true refuge. Imagine being greeted by the soul-crushing energy of a teacher who does not like you or, even worse, an indifferent teacher. These children face chaos at home, in the neighborhood, on the bus, and eventually in our school. Creating a safe, positive environment for kids is critical, especially for these students’ success.
School communities need to gain a firm grasp on how well they really know their students in order to effectively connect with and eventually educate them. An activity called “Do You See Me?” (also known as the “Dot Activity”) provides leaders with a chance to measure not only how many students connect with educators in the school, but also how many staff members each student might see as a resource or support. “Do You See Me” is best done toward the end of the first quarter which gives staff time to get to know their students.
To prepare for this critical activity, we take the student pictures provided digitally by our school photographers at picture day and print out a copy of each student in the entire school. We fit two 5x7 images on one standard letter-size paper. We then tape all of the pages onto paper and hang them in a large area like a gymnasium or library. From there, faculty and staff are given a small variety pack of small circular “dot” stickers (available at any office supply store). Then give the directions below:
After completing the survey, conduct a group discussion with your staff (whole or small group depending on the size of your staff). Use a protocol for the discussion to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to have a voice in the conversation. Some examples of effective discussion protocols include Affinity Mapping, Final Word Protocol, Four Corners, Pinwheel Discussions, and Socratic Seminars. This is an opportunity to focus the conversation on your building goals, vision, or specific issues you are facing at your school. Some guiding questions for these discussions may include:
After the activity ends, be sure to follow-up in the coming days and months. Consider having your guidance counselor(s) collect the student papers that had very few stickers or more superficial stickers. Identify ways to support the students who need more of a connection in your school. Look for commonalities between the students with lots of stickers. Do they have any similar characteristics that could translate into skills to teacher less connected students? In the final analysis, there is no right or wrong way to go about performing “Do You See Me?” As long as the building community has the opportunity to reflect on the relationships they have with students in the building, it’s guaranteed to be a successful exercise. All students need to know that they are more than grades on a report card, more than a discipline form. They need to know they matter.
One word I usually don't use to describe school systems is "agile." Change and action in districts happen at a glacial pace. This can be incredibly frustrating for school leaders (and everyone). Recently, I was listening to an episode of Seth Godin's podcast, "Akimbo," where he discussed the benefits of Critical Path Management. Simply defined, Critical Path Management (CPM) is used to complete projects on time by focusing on key tasks. In his podcast, Godin focused on an important part of CPM that involves "getting out of the way" of personnel completing key tasks.
First and foremost, I would love to see public school entities actually adopt a philosophy of project management. I am personally a fan of CPM because of the intense focus on execution and action. But more importantly, school systems could learn from the "get out of the way" mentality, especially when further steps in the project management chain are on hold waiting for a prior step to be completed. How many times have you been stalled because other departments or parts of your organization hadn't yet completed their portion of a complex project?
In closing, I'd like to adjust the old saying, "Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way." For our purposes, let's go with, "Lead, Follow, AND Get Out of the Way!"
In light of the recent articles highlighting research showing the failure of the standardized testing push in the United States, this look at a recent employer survey shines further light on the disconnect between the "real world" and "what's easy to measure."
As educators, it is our responsibility to prepare students for what comes after the traditional school years. So it would stand to reason that our curriculum would center around current research around the skills needed to be successful in today's economy. And that means we should be collaborating with large companies and employer sects to see what skills they are looking for. We should be researching the shifts and trends in the economy to steer kids in the directions of careers that have potential for robust growth.
But wait. We are not doing any of that. Nope. Instead, we still cling a 100+ year old philosophy that has seen very little upgrading. We all know the reasons why. "Big testing" dictates much of what happens and their products can only measure very basic (and mostly unimportant) things.
So "No Child Left Behind" didn't produce scores of students super prepared for the workforce and we didn't conquer the world in international test scores. This should further empower school leaders at the local level to do what's right for kids. Trust the real research and trust your gut. And guess what? States and Commonwealths are beginning to respond. Take a look at this link:
The choice is ours. Start small. Take a look at the "skills employers want" in the picture attached to the main article. Bring this list into your next set of classroom walkthroughs. Ask yourself, your teachers, and your students, "Does this lesson check off any of these boxes?" If it doesn't, well, let's make some changes.
Dr. Nicholas Indeglio, the 2017 Digital Principal of the Year, shows you the people and organizations in education you should follow to grow your PLN: http://bit.ly/2DlSmvy
Nicholas Indeglio, the 2017 Digital Principal of the Year, shares a quick guide on hashtags and chats to help you connect with other school leaders on Twitter: http://bit.ly/2Fa0rk9
We’ve all been there. A few students make a poor decision and create a situation that needs to be addressed. The only problem is that you don’t know who did it, or there are so many students involved that it would be improbable to discipline them all. So we take the easy way out...we punish everyone. That way we make sure the individual responsible is held accountable.That will send the right message to the school that you do not let anyone get away with violating policy. If you’re going to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs, right? Here are a few of my favorites. I assure you these are 100% real.
Offense: When the teacher has her back turned, someone shoots a spitball.
Punishment: The entire class has detention unless someone confesses to the offense.
Offense: Students misuse the condiment dispenser making a mess of the area.
Punishment: All condiments are removed from student use.
Offense: A couple of female students use their Ugg boots to conceal phones so they can have them during the day.
Punishment: All Ugg boots are banned because students are not allowed to carry phones.
It happens to adults too…
Offense: Teachers are discovered leaving the school grounds during their duty period to get coffee.
Punishment: All teachers must sign in and out in the main office whenever they leave the grounds.
This practice is what is commonly known as “shotgun discipline.” Rather than go to the source of the problem and address it with them alone, we punish everyone. Why? Maybe because it is easier? Maybe because we want to make sure everyone responsible is punished? I honestly don’t get it.
Let’s take the lunchroom condiment table scenario for example. So someone made a mess. Who is to blame? Not the students. If there had been proper supervision, it would not have happened. By taking away all of the condiments, not only are the kids who used it properly being punished, but the power in the entire situation is being given to those who committed the offense.
How about the teacher situation? So someone left when they weren’t supposed to. Here’s an idea: Take it up with the person who did it. Punishing the entire staff, even with a friendly “reminder email” about school policy being to stay on school grounds during off periods, will fall on deaf ears to the offenders and annoy those who follow the rules.
Here’s an idea: if you do not have the time to properly investigate and find the offender then it probably isn’t worth the trouble. Shotgun discipline is the epitome of laziness. It sends the message to everyone that the person in charge is more interested in making a problem go away than solving it. And what if you can’t solve it? Does that justify potentially punishing innocent people by using a hatchet in place of a scalpel?
These are the types of situations where the educational leadership expert and author Todd Whitaker would say, “What do your best people think?” These are the students, teachers and parents in your school community who are on board with your program. The teachers who support you and your ideas through thick and thin. What would they think about being lumped in with those who rip you in the faculty room? The parents who show up to help at every event: ow would they like being treated the same as the parents complaining on the weekend soccer fields? The students who brighten the halls with their positive attitudes and efforts: why treat them as if they were the problem rather than part of the solution?
The whole idea of “pushing the pendulum” is to take the notion of typical education trends and send them off the tracks. Don’t just let the pendulum continue to swing back and forth waiting for it to head the direction you prefer. Push it. Push it in the direction of what is best for kids.
"THe Boss" Jon Ross and "The Dr of Proctors," Nick Indeglio
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