Thursday, May 28, 2015

First Chair

Guest Blogger Monica Todd is an 8th grader at Hilliard Weaver School in Hilliard, OH. She is your typical middle school student. Or is she? What is shared below are her words, her takeaways, from her 7th and 8th grade middle school journey. Her English teacher, Meghan Schultz, introduced blogging to her students this year as a way to communicate and receive feedback for their leaning. With Monica's permission, I share her post with you.

Monica's Musings

Eighth grade was a tremendous year for me. I learned so much, did so much and changed so much. I just have to make one last blog post all about it. Just for closure. 

I've had so many great experiences over the course of the year, but Washington DC wins by a landslide. I truly believe that Washington DC changed me as a person. I got so much closer to my friends, I saw so many beautiful things and I learned so much about our country. But the most important thing I learned wasn't about history- it was about life. I had a revelation standing atop the Lincoln Memorial. In that moment, I realized I needed to be an optimist, that I needed to think positively in order to have good memories. To savor every moment. That had to be from God. I've been trying to live like that ever since, and it has made me so much happier. If I've learned anything this year, it's how to live in the moment and that good thoughts are what make good memories. 

Another huge win for this year was that I have made some truly amazing friends. Making good friendships is something I've always struggled with. I've always been shy, so the beginning of 6th grade was a nightmare. I was going to Tharp, away from all my friends in elementary school. I prayed and prayed for God to send me good friends. I thought I found them, but at the end of 6th grade, I realized that they were not good friends at all. Again, in seventh grade, I thought I had found the perfect group of friends. It also didn't work out. Finally, in eighth grade, I think I've found my group of friends. I finally have friends that know me well, that support me and I can hang out with for hours. Sure, we're not perfect, but at last I have found friends that I'm comfortable being myself with. 

Finally, I have done so much this year, I can't write about it all in detail. I'll just do this highlights, then a long list. First, I made first chair in orchestra. I still do not get tired of the thrill of seeing your name on the top of the list. All the hard work paying off. Your tired fingers and rosin-coated strings were worth it. Your passion paid off. I know I won't be feeling that kind of joy for a long time. I may never be first chair again in high school, so I'd better savor it. I've also become a much better artist this year, and not just in skill, though I have improved. I am so much more passionate about art than I was at the start of the year. I'm much more relaxed and I've learned how to have fun with art. I'm also learning to become proud of my art. I used to get so embarrassed about how people would just go on and on about how good it was. Now I know that you shouldn't be ashamed about how you inspire people. Yes, I'm still working on dealing with the embarrassment, but it doesn't stop me. 

This year, I've been so involved in drama. I thought it was a minor passion, but now I think it's a real one, specifically directing. I loved it. Even all the stress was worth it. I wish I could do it all over again, just to feel the joy of seeing your vision come to life. It's a feeling like no other. I've done so much else this year, but I think I'm going to have to draw this to a close. I'm running out of good words. 

All I have left to say is that I have done so much this year. I have changed so much, from becoming an optimist atop the Lincoln Memorial, to growing in all my passions, and becoming truly happy. That's right, I became truly happy this year. And finally, I came to love blogging. This is not my last blog post ever, I have plenty more passions to write about. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ask the Tough Questions

One of the hardest things to do is to ask for help. Equally as challenging is to ask for someones opinion. The kind of opinion that is genuine, truthful and doesn't come with fears of repercussions. When asking for help, we are often afraid of the backlash. Scared that we will be judged or thought less of.

Yet, that is exactly what we are doing as we wrap up this school year.

The school in which I lead will once again open themselves up to these very ideas. We are asking the tough (and some not so tough) questions of our students, our staff and our school community. I have often heard the following expression: "one year does not make a trend". Therefore, let's collect the data. Let's discover some trends, let's find what is working, and as equally as important, let's find what is not working. With this information we will be ready for the school year that lies ahead. As with any school district or school itself, our goal is simple - we strive to be at our best. To be the best for our students, our community and for our fellow colleagues,

As we work with students in the classrooms in which we teach, we remind them that the answers to their questions are within reach. Therefore, here is how we ask our stakeholders for their take on our work:

- We give our 7th and 8th graders the Student Experience Survey through Battelle for Kids. This specific survey speaks to Engagement, Hope, Belonging and Classroom Management. Giving this survey in both the fall and spring gives teachers feedback to what they need to know to reflect on how students perceive their environment and helps them understand their students.

- As students exit our school building next week, we will also be giving them a survey specific to their experiences at our middle school in relation to activities, the learning process, their teachers and their likes and dislikes. Many of the questions will be multiple choice but their will be some questions that ask for more information. This is a very transparent exercise that shows our willingness to reflect and improve and/or maintain.

- We also ask our teachers for their feedback and their opinion of their year, throughout the year. We ask what's worked or not worked. And we ask where have we hit (or missed) the mark with our leadership. They are encouraged to be as honest as possible. And, after giving this survey for the past few years, they are. And thanks to them, we are better at what we do.

- Through the relationship with our Parent-Teacher Organization, we have cast our net that much further when it comes to embracing our work and the expectations they have as a group of invested parents. We know the community plays a significant role in the education we deliver and the experiences our students have. Whether classroom interactions or extra-curricular activities, our community gives a perspective that assists us in improving our services. As we wrap up our year with them, they too are given a survey of sorts in which they can help us grow as a system.

Students, staff and community, the three pillars of education. We have to be able to ask the tough questions and be open to hearing the raw responses. It is imperative to seek out feedback that will enhance the climate, the learning and the student experience in our schools.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"June, July and August"

If playing the game Jeopardy, a question by the non-teaching community might be: "What is the best part of being a teacher?" Their answer, "June, July and August".

The reality is, as we educators know, that this is the farthest from the truth. In fact, if you are like me, you have over 180 days worth of examples of why you became a teacher and a list of reasons of why the summer months can be counter-productive to what we are trying to accomplish during the school year.

Regardless, those three months are a part of our profession. And yes, we do not have students in front of us during those days. However, for many educators like myself, the learning continues all twelve months of the year. The seasons change and the days may look different but the learning continues.

While children are out and enjoying these months, I will continue my passion for teaching and learning without skipping a beat. Why? Well, that is what I, and many of you, do.

In June of this summer, a colleague of mine (@JackiPrati) and I are going to offer support to teachers wanting to learn more about the power of Twitter, chats on Twitter and how blogging can support their work and assist with reflection of their teaching. We will do this during our school districts month-long of Professional Development through Summer Academy. Yes, you read that correct, our district offers teachers weeks of learning by offering courses presented by educators for educators almost the entire month of June.

Also during the month of June I will gather with middle-level educators from across the state of Ohio as we have our summer retreat for the members of the Board for the Ohio Middle Level Association. OMLA provides professional development throughout the year and it is highlighted by our state conference. This year Ohio hosts the Association of Middle Level Educators (AMLE) conference right in downtown Columbus.

In July I take my learning on the road. I have already selected a few great reads to enjoy as I travel to see family and friends. I am going to continue reading the work of Jon Gordon and his take on life. And while I am at it, a book or two on being effective leader. I practice what I preach, there is always room for growth. The month of July will be my personalized Professional Development.

In August, I hit the ground running. A three-day conference, the Innovative Learning Conference on August 5-7th, is right in my own backyard. We welcome in Kevin Carroll and Dave Burgess. Talk about a kick-start to the school year. (And, all are welcome.) That week wraps up with EdCampILECbus hosted by myself and Jacki. To plan and deliver an event such as this is quite the professional charge. Once again, please join us!

With students returning later that month, the first few weeks of August will be invigorating. Setting the tone for the year ahead. Welcoming in a new Assistant Principal, preparing for a new group of students and their parents and working with our returning students to develop leaders right out of the gate is an awesome time of the year. Not to mention handing out over 850 iPads to each student.

As I think ahead to the summer that awaits, I am already charged up for the great things that await me.

Think about it. "June, July and August". What are you going to do with your "time-off" this summer? My guess, if you are anything like most of the educators I know, you will continue your learning from beginning to end.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

They Did it Again

It's late in the school year. Content to cover is nearing its end, lessons are winding down.

Celebrations of a successful school year are being planned. End-of-the-year parties are taking form. Students are eager for summer. Teachers are not far behind.

And then, without missing a beat, my teachers, well, they did it again.

Just when I thought that every amazing moment had been captured for this school year, I stepped into classrooms throughout this week and witnessed ongoing opportunities for kids to extend their learning through a teachers passion of instruction. There it was. The affirmation that is never out of arms reach and always welcomed at every turn. The learning is powerful.

The reality is, the learning never stops. Teaching never takes a break. The school year may be winding down but our teachers are not.

This week I have witnessed teachers giving of themselves as if it were the first weeks of school and not the last. The countdown has not begun. There is too much to accomplish.

Just this week, Teacher Appreciation Week, I observed math lessons that encourage students to collaborate and be creative in their method of learning probability. There were the in-depth conversations within Language Arts classes that dissected literature and allow for authentic feedback. Science classes are beginning their exploration of gravity, inertia and energy through hands-on building of contraptions. And, just last evening after a month of preparation, over 50 of our students put together a Variety Show full of singing, dancing, skits of comedy and interactive performances.

Teaching is a gift. Watching my teachers this school year deliver the types of lessons they are is invigorating and inspiring. The passion they bring is contagious. My teachers, hopefully like yours, are giving of themselves every moment of every day until the last day.

I am taking the extra time this week to give them additional thanks for all that they do for our students and our community. I never take your talents for granted and am grateful I am allowed to work with you each day.