Reflections After the Hardest Year

Reflections After the Hardest Year

Colleagues,

Do you feel like this year has been your toughest year in education? If you do, then you are not alone. I have too many days to count this year wondering what has made this year even harder than the last.

As this school year is quickly coming to an end, I have been reflecting on my career, the educational system as a whole, and where children are academically, socially, and emotionally. Each of these components to my work weigh heavily on my heart. In my role as an Assistant Principal, I make decisions that will drive my career forward as a life long learner, make decisions that have the potential to impact thousands of students, and have interactions with dozens of students a week where I see where they are in all areas of learning and growing as young adults. Some days, the job can feel overwhelming due to our current climate, so here are my takeaways as I begin planning for the next school year.

Passion Drives Progress

I recently spoke with a fellow educator and he asked me what is something about me that he would not find on a piece of paper? I thought about this for a minute, all of my accomplishments or ideas you can easily find on documents that I have worked on in the last 10 years. What I decided to share was my passion for education. It is hard to put into words when you are truly passionate about something. When that passion is what you think about first thing in the morning, gets you through the tough days, and occasionally keeps you up at night thinking about how you can do better.

This is how I feel about education. It is my driving passion. I obviously love my children and my husband and they are also a huge reason I do what I do. But outside of my family, what personally motivates me is my passion for education. This includes wanting to find the best ways to nurture the developing minds of children, creating a positive and healthy work environment, and brining in innovative ways to further teaching in the 21st century. I spend my days reading and day dreaming about what more can we do for education in America. Although some days I feel discouraged, more often than not, I feel inspired and ready to face another day.

Trusting Work Places

My husband started his first year in education and I have to be honest, there have been many nights that I have had a smug look on my face when he comes home utterly exhausted and has nothing else to give for that day. I may have said a time or two “Glad you know what I have been talking about for the last 10 years… teaching is exhausting!” We always say that when you come to work you have to leave your baggage at the door and be ready with a smile on your face for your students and coworkers.

This is very emotionally and physically draining and that it is essential that you have a trusting work place, one that has coworkers who are there for you when you are having a rough day to help lift you up. A trusting place that when you need a minute to talk through the hard things, that you can leave knowing you have spoken in confidence. A trusting place that you know that the people around you are there to support you and help you grow as an educator.

There are plenty of negative comments circulating in the news and on social media about teachers and education. Education is under a microscope right now — what books are in the library, what standards are being taught, what curriculum is being used, what is the districts stand on these hot topics… I am hopeful that things will be easier next year, but this job is hard enough. We must support one another and create a safe and trusting environment so that educators have the mental and physical energy to give students their absolute best.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I knew Maslow was on to something with his hierarchy of needs, but it has become abundantly clear in the last two years that without basic needs, safety, and belonging being met for not only students but teachers, then personal growth and learning cannot take place. Teacher burnout and student discipline are both at an all time high, instead of putting more on teachers and students plates, we need to start with the basics.

What I have seen these past two years is that schools had to pivot within the matter of days from in person teaching to remote teaching. This was unavoidable and a part of being in a global pandemic. What schools would have implemented slowly over the course of years was implemented in days. Since then, we have been adding more and more to teachers with blended learning and constantly changing policies and procedures.

I keep hearing “we have to go back to how things were before COVID” but this is just not a realistic statement. The pandemic changed how we do education, so instead of trying to go back we need to start with the basics in this new style of education— are basic needs being met, are there structures in place that ensure safety and security for all, and does everyone have a sense of belonging and know their role and how to perform it on a day to day basis? Once we can answer those questions, then we can move forward with growth and learning.

Change Takes Time

Ultimately, things are changing in education. Some for the better and some for the worst. I have heard podcast and read blogs saying that education in America is going to have to crash and burn before it gets better. I really hope that is not the case, because there is an entire generation that may not be able to recover if that happens, including my children. Give the process time and continue to push for what is best for students. You can never go wrong if you view your work through the lens of “Is this best for my students?”

Failure- It’s a Good Thing?

Failure- It’s a Good Thing?

I recently reflected and blogged on my first few weeks as an administrator and one of my key points was the fact that I will make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but each person has the choice to let the mistake/failure define who they are or to learn and grow from the experience.

I had the opportunity to participate in a breakout session at the AAEA summer conference and Dr. Gotcher asked the audience to share what failure meant to them. One person shared “Failure is only the next opportunity to succeed.”

This really hit home for me. As we go through this school year, trying to navigate COVID-19, I know there will be moments of failure. I want to choose to view each of those moments as just creating opportunities for success.

Now, saying that you will take your failures and turn them into opportunities is easier said that done. At least that is my personal experience. For this school year I am going to do these follow steps to try and make failures opportunities for success.

Community

Going at this career alone is never a good idea. Find your person that you can process through hard times and help keep perspective on the bigger picture.

Student Focused Vision

When you experience a failure, determine if what you were trying to do would be best for students. If it failed because it ultimately wasn’t what was best for students then walk away. If you still believe it is what is best for students then keep trying and reach out to those around you that can support your vision. As long as we keep our focus on what is best for students we can always turn opportunities into success.

Grace

I have to be willing to give myself grace. I have heard over and over the phrase “Grace before Grades”, but I think we can just say “Grace first”. Everyone will be going through a challenging time whether it is a student juggling school, with remote learning with siblings, while working a full time job to support their family; or parents who are staying up late at night after working all day to try and help their students with homework because their child is having a hard time adjusting to school again; or teachers who are so excited to see and love on their students but are also scared about their health and the health of their families. Grace must come into play for all parts of education this year.

I believe if I filter all of my experiences and reflections through these three steps then I will be able to take my failures and turn them into successes.


Three Promises I Make to My Children

Three Promises I Make to My Children

Parenting is tough, like really tough. I had no idea what I was signing up for 12 years ago when my son came into this world. I have made more mistakes than I care to share, but I have also experienced more joy than I thought possible. As time has gone on, I have been able to define my personal goals as a parent.

I tell my children regularly that their are three things that I must do. Every decision that I make can be traced back to these three jobs or promises that I have made to them.

As I look at my role as an educator I can apply these same promises to my students no matter the capacity to which I serve them.

For the sake of clarification- throughout the rest of this blog when I say “my children” or “children” I mean both my biological and students at school.

1. My promise to LOVE and show you love.

Keep in mind, these three promises are in no particular order, they are all equally important.

This first promise is to make sure my children grow up to know what love is, feeling loved, and learn how to appropriately love others.

Choose Love is a popular Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum that is being used around the country. The title says it all, choose love. I want to model this with my children that in all situations you have a choice and I hope they choose love. There will be times when we mess up and that is okay. It does not mean you are a bad person, but you need to own it, learn from it, and do better by choosing love the next time.

2. My promise to PROTECT you.

My daughter is a little dare devil. Throughout her life I cannot tell you how many times I have told her she cannot do something. The conversations goes like this;

“Why not mom? I want to.”

“I know you want to, but you cannot. It’s not safe because…”

As children get older the conversations will change from “you can’t run with scissors, its not safe” to “let’s talk about why you should not vape and how dangerous it is for you.”

Protecting children in a school setting can look different. It can be protecting students physically, such as having crisis plans in place to ensure the safety of all students. But protecting a child is no only from physical harm, but emotional, social, and mental harm as well. Just a few examples are cyber bullying, dealing with struggles of life in and outside of school, and equipping students with the skills needed to survive and thrive after school.

Letting children learn from mistakes is a part of growing up; therefore, make sure you can clearly identify what you are protecting them from and why this is not a good learning opportunity. If you cannot identify those, then you may actually be keeping a child from growing.

Continually reflect.

3. My promise to TEACH you how to be a GOOD HUMAN.

My husband and I say this often to our children- just be a good human. Be kind, be accepting, be generous, be selfless… the list go on.

If you notice, none of those attributes are political. I do not have to impose my beliefs on children to communicate how to be good. If anyone disagrees and thinks that being a good human needs to be addressed cautiously in the classroom, please feel free to write to me so we can start a dialogue.

Every day when I leave for work I tell my children at home “be a good human today.” I have said the same thing to my children at school as well. I hope when children see me they are able learn from my example of what it means to be a good human.

I also recognize that leading by example is not enough. The promise is not “to SHOW you how to be a good human.” It is to “TEACH how to be a good human.” Teaching how to be a good human must be intertwined with the daily learning at school.

Imagine an entire school where every person lived by that phrase- be a good human.


Yes, people make mistakes, but that is the beauty of school. Children get to learn and have loving adults in their lives to help guide them.

One of these promises alone will not do. I have to live by all three when I am parenting at home and as educator at school. If one fails, the overall well-being of the child is at risk.

The Power of a Positive Phone Call

The Power of a Positive Phone Call

March 16, 2020 is a day that I will always remember in my educational career. This day would be the first day of remote learning across the state of Arkansas which would last the entire 4th quarter. 9 weeks later, I am wrapping up the school year and taking a minute to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly.

As I try to identify the positives that I will carry with me one comes to mind first; the power of a positive phone call. As an educator I have had to make my fair share of phone calls, but I have not always made the time to start each year with a positive one for every student.

During this global pandemic I decided that I would not contact a single one of my ESL families about school work until I had a chance to just visit with them and see how they were doing. I wanted them to know I was here first and foremost for the well-being of their child. We could worry about academics after I knew the child was doing well. I have never had such positive reaction and strong parental involvement as I have had this quarter.

Now, I understand that parents had to be involved as their child was now doing school from home, but these phone calls really set the tone for the last 9 weeks. Each family understood I was there to come alongside them to help and not to just let them know all the areas they were lacking.

After this year I will make it a priority to always make that positive contact first. I recently accepted a job as an assistant principal and I believe I can continue this in my new role and hopefully encourage my team to join me in this quest!

Check out this graphic on tips for making positive phone calls.


Educator’s Lifesaving Tip 1: Checklists

Educator’s Lifesaving Tip 1: Checklists

I will never forget the day I got to shadow my favorite administrator. He had all sorts of tricks up his sleeve to build positive and lasting relationships with all students. You can read about my day in Shadowing an Administrator. One thing I wrote about is the checklist that Mr. Smith made first thing each morning. This checklist is what structured his entire day. Since then I have done the same thing and I cannot tell you enough how much it has saved my sanity!

I am now a firm believer in checklists for EVERYTHING, just ask my family. I have a checklist on my bathroom mirror for my morning routine, a checklist on the refrigerator of all the things I need to take to work with me for the day, my children have their morning routine checklist in their bedrooms… I think you get my point. Let me tell you specifically why checklists have saved my life.

Prioritizing My Day

When I create a checklist it begins as me jotting down all of the things I can think of. At work I do this as soon as I walk into my office. I gather all of my sticky notes from the day before, look at my emails, and check my Google Calendar. From there I begin to sort everything into priority. Most days I look at the absolutely overwhelming list and I know there is no way I will get them all finished. So I draw my line. I find where in my list I must get those things done the day. The rest of the list are things I would like to get done, but they can also wait for tomorrow. Making that decision first thing in the morning has taken so much pressure off of me. Trust me, I am always trying to get everything done, but at the end of the day as long as I have made it to that line, I am okay. By simply prioritizing my day I have allowed myself to fully focus on the task at hand and not worry about the rest of my day.

Fluidity

I am an ESL Coordinator for two schools. This means I travel back and forth regularly and have a lot going on. I cannot remember the last time that a day started where I thought it would and every class period went as planned. I am constantly getting emails from teachers asking for help or receiving a new student to complete testing and a LPAC for or a student comes running up because they have homework that is due in an hour and they need help right now! Just because I have a checklist does not mean I cannot add things in as they come. This is why I prefer a checklist to a planner. With a planner, you have specific times allotted for each task. This will not do for my role, whereas a checklist is more fluid and works within my schedule.

Documentation

As I said before, my role is a bit unique. I do not teach a set number of classes a day. Instead I have a list of tasks that need to be completed. I have found that creating and keeping checklists each day has helped me document exactly what I am doing with my time. I have never been asked to share how I am using my time, but I would certainly like to have the capability if I ever needed to. Keeping a checklist allows me to document and reflect back on my day easily without the frustration of trying to remember everything I did all on my own.

Give it a Try!

So give creating checklist a try! Begin with creating one that does not change each day, such as your morning routine and see if it helps you get ready a little more quickly. If your children struggle each morning and you are having to constantly holler at them to hurry up, give them a checklist. My daughter writes hers out on the bathroom mirror with an expo marker. You can even create a checklist that you keep on your board in the classroom, a list of things your students do everyday when they walk into the classroom. If you decide that checklists are as great as I think you will, try creating one for work each day. Don’t forget to prioritize your list!


Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today I turn 31, and all of my students know it. Which is against everything I learned in college; keep your work and personal life completely separate.

Anyone who knows me understands that it is not just a birthday, it’s birthday-month. This was quite a shock for my husband during our first year of marriage. When December 1 rolled around I expected the celebrations to begin! I am –not– so happy report that he has gotten me to just celebrate birthday weekend. Now, for someone who loves birthdays so much it was really hard for me not to share this with my students. So I did exactly what my professors told me not to do and told all 150 students of mine that December 10th was my birthday!

I did not expect anything from my students, I just wanted to them to know how excited I was about my birthday. To my surprise, on my 23rd birthday at Southwest Junior High School I walked into my classroom to find chocolates, Diet Dr. Peppers, and flowers waiting for me on my desk. Throughout the day I had more students bring little treats to celebrate me. I was overcome with how amazing my students are. I never told them about my obsession with Diet Dr. Peppers, they just picked up on it (probably the 5 a day I drink helped them out a bit). The students were so well behaved that day and seemed to genuinely enjoy taking the attention off of themselves and looking to the needs of another.

Reflecting back over the years I think it was good for students to see a working, successful adult enjoy their birthday. It is good for students to see adults having fun in a safe and professional way. Last year I turned 30 and rocked a fun 30th birthday t-shirt to school. The students loved how much joy I had with my birthday, and I hope it serves as a reminder that it is okay to still be a kid from time to time.

From that point on I decided that maybe it was okay to let the students in on a little bit of my life. Maybe I did not have to completely shut them out of what life as Mrs. Haden was like. This new idea was confirmed for me 4 years later when I began having health problems. Instead of explaining to my students a little bit of what was going on I thought I should shelter them from it and keep my poker face on every day at work. That was, until the day I went into AFib during class. I collapsed, got hooked up to a defibrillator, and rushed to the hospital. When I returned to work I explained to the students what was going on and how they could best help me if it ever happens again. Fast forward two years and there I was again, convulsing on the floor and my students stepped up in a big way. They called the nurse, cleared the pathway from the door to where I was, propped my head up on a backpack, and held my hand while we waited for help. They did not leave my side until adults had arrived.

All of this to say, students step up when they are asked to in every way, not just academically. As educators, we do not just teach students the standards of our content, but we also teach students how to be decent humans. My students got to witness me showing up every day with a smile on my face ready for work with a positive attitude. They did not just have a teacher tell them to have perseverance, they got to see it first hand because they knew parts of my story. My students get to take the focus and attention off of themselves to celebrate another person for one day a year (or a month if it were up to me). We talk about this generation of student not being as empathetic, kind, compassionate, or respectful; well lets give them the opportunity to learn those attributes and practice them.

Whether or not you choose to tell your students when your birthday is or that you may be having a hard time is completely up to each person. I have always been an open and real person with my students. That is what works for me. What I am trying to say is it is okay to let students know you are just a normal person who has their ups and downs. But that you show up every day to work because you love them and want them to be as successful as possible.

Building Relationships with the Unlikable Students

Building Relationships with the Unlikable Students

We all have had a student that we would rather be on someone else’s roster. Of course, this child is never absent and shows up 15 minutes before school to come straight to your room. There is something about the connection between you and that child that just does not click. So what can we do as teachers when we are struggling with difficult children in our classroom?

Structure

Having structure and routines in place not only help your classroom flow more smoothly, but also allow for you to set boundaries and expectations for more challenging students. When doing this, make sure you incorporate structures that you can follow through with fidelity. If the student sees you waiver with certain students or in certain situations then it will only continue to hurt your efforts in building that positive relationship.

Student Interest

Try finding one thing that each of your students likes or is passionate about. Once you have taken the time to find that passion, use it to build future lessons and strike up conversations that are non academic with students. This will help engage all students and lets them see you took the time to get to know them and then build the learning around their interests. To go the extra mile, if you discover that this particular difficult is involved in extra curricular activities, try to make the time to go watch that student. Not only are you showing the student how important they are, but you are also building that partnership with the parents.

Respect

This one has baffled me over the last 8 years in my educational career. Growing up I was always taught to respect adults, period. There was nothing more to it. This is not how this next generation is being raised. From the conversations I have had with students their approach is one of “I will give you respect, if you give me respect” and this applies to all ages. I am not saying one approach is better than another, but each are drastically different and teachers need to be aware of the changing viewpoints.

A teacher should always give students respect, no matter what. That means we never yell, we never put a student down, we never humiliate them, and we cannot have favorites. We are the adult and they are the child. We must always be the bigger person, even if we are having an awful day and just do not have the patience for it. We have to dig deep and find a way to treat all children the same. Every child, no matter how unlikable, deserve to know what it feels like to be valued and to feel respected. The school and classroom may be the only place that child can see respect in any form.

Understanding

When I say we need to be understanding it does not mean we have to force a conversation with a student to understand why we do not click. It can be hurtful when a student comes to you and says they learn better with another teacher, but we cannot take this personally. When a teacher tries to force an explanation from a student this can actually make the relationship worse. Make it clear to the student that you are there for them if they choose to talk, but let them have their space. We never want the student to grow resentful if we force them to talk before they are ready.

Listen

When a child is upset and lashing out, just listen. Do not argue back with them. Understand that their words are coming from a place of hurt and frustration, and not necessarily with you. After all, these are children, we must be the bigger person that offers grace and mercy.

What If…

Even if you follow each one of these pieces of advice, you may still have a student that you just do not like very much and that is okay. As long as you treat that child the same as every other child in your classroom and show them respect. The school year will come to an end and you will most likely get another student the following year that is equally as difficult to like. Just know that those students are probably the ones who need us the most.

Feedback: how are we really doing?

Feedback: how are we really doing?

Teacher evaluations can be a stressful topic in schools. Personally, I look forward to walk-throughs from my administrator. It is a time for an outsider to come in and give me a different perspective on my classroom. I anxiously look forward to my feedback as it provides insight on areas I can celebrate and areas I can grow in.  I only wish I got to have continuous feedback throughout the year so I could see and track my progress over time. As an educator, that is exactly what we should be doing with students; proving ample opportunities to receive feedback and to show growth.

So, as educators in all positions, how are we really doing on feedback? Studies have shown that the way a teacher approaches feedback will greatly effect each student’s learning. While attending a Solution Tree RTI at Work conference in New Orleans, Nicole Dimich Vagle spoke on feedback and the huge impact it has on student achievement.

Grading assessments, whether formative or summative, should give the teacher AND student a deeper understanding of the misconceptions that have occurred. This means that assessments should be designed with a specific purpose and end goal in mind. Once the assessment has been designed and the students have taken it, the teacher must then decide how to provide feedback and ways for students to learn from their mistakes.

A study done for Classroom Assessment and Grading that Works by Mazarno shows us these staggering statistics:


Teacher Action: Only tell students number of correct and incorrect.

Impact on Student Achievement: Negative, student achievement decreases.


Teacher Action: Clarify scoring criteria.

Impact on Student Achievement: Increase student achievement by 16%.


Teacher Action: Provide explanations about why responses are correct or incorrect.

Impact on Student Achievement: Increases student achievement by 20%


Teacher Action: Ask students to continue responding to an assessment until they correctly answer the items.

Impact on Student Achievement: Increases student achievement by 20%


Teacher Action: Graph student achievement.

Impact on Student Achievement: Increases student achievement by 26%


Those numbers were shocking to me. I thought about all the times I only gave my students the number of questions they got right and wrong. For summative assessments I have always allowed test corrections, but it has only been in the last year that I have allowed for corrections on other assignments. After I got over the horrible feeling that I had failed all of my students, I started trying to answer the question “how can I do better?”

When I returned from the conference I knew that the way I provided feedback had to change. Not only did it have to change, but I could not wait until the next year to implement new practices; I had to start now. The first thing I have begun with is developing three student learning targets that I provide at the beginning of each unit. Students are asked each week to rate their understanding on those three targets. This is not the same as graphing student achievement, but it is a start.

After I created these learning targets I created three short formative assessments; no more than five questions on them for each unit. These assessments line up with the student learning targets and help provide not only myself, but also feedback to the students on their understanding of each target. These assessments are not put in the grade book; they are purely used for feedback and growth.

Eventually I would like to create rubrics for each of my formative assessments that students can self-grade and look for their own errors. My next goal will be to have students track their growth over the year towards overarching targets for the entire subject. All of this is a process that will take time. One way to tackle this workload is functioning in a PLC school. Working in a Professional Learning Community will divide up the work and actually make providing individual feedback more manageable. Individualizing feedback takes a lot of work, but it is well worth it and is invaluable to student growth.