Thursday, April 18, 2019

Live Your Excellence

What are you good at?  What do you feel confident doing?  Maybe it’s something you’re naturally good at, maybe it’s something you’ve put in hours of practice learning how to do and now it’s something other people come to you for your expertise on, or maybe it’s something you never thought you were good at, but thanks to the encouragement from others you’ve pursued it and has now become a strength of yours.  Teachers are humble people, but for just ten seconds pause and reflect on you.  What is your IT?

My seven year old son, Coen, is awesome.  He teaches me so much more than I can even begin to tell you.  I recently asked him if he could tell me what he’s good at.  He smiled and proceeded to tell me all about the things he’s good at: baseball, riding his bike, writing stories, drawing pictures, and being a brother.  He then told me he was going to practice baseball every day so he could be the best on his team.  Coen knows his strengths and he knows what he has to do to get better at them.  He knows that with practice and hard work, he’ll become a better baseball player just like I know that by practicing teaching writing, I’ll become a better writing teacher.  Last week I had the opportunity to read in his classroom.  On the board were notes from students to each other.  One of Coen’s friends wrote a note to him that said, “I like how you are so focused at the carpet.”  FIRST GRADERS are taking the time to notice their classmates and are giving each other shout outs.  His teacher, Mrs. Fleck, gets it.  She is intentional on creating a class culture that focuses on student strengths.  She is setting up a system for students to notice their peers and allowing them to positively showcase them for all to see.

"I like how focused you are at the carpet."
Compliments to classmates on display in Mrs. Fleck's 1st grade classroom. 
We are surrounded by family members, co-workers, and friends each day that each bring their own set of unique strengths to various situations each and every day.  Do we highlight the strengths of those around us and allow them to shine?  What if we took ten seconds each day to let someone know that you’ve noticed them?  Let’s get ourselves in the habit of using our own strengths, but let’s also help cultivate the strengths of others.  My son knows his strengths and with encouragement from myself, his dad, his grandparents, his teachers, his coaches...he’ll grow into an even better him.  We want that for all kids, right?  I’d go even further to say that we also want it for each other as well.

Jimmy Casas believes in being a champion for students-it’s one of his core beliefs.  In his book Culturize he offers a couple culture-building ideas that you can implement in your classroom or your building right away that will make a difference for your students or your staff:
  1. Recognize What’s Going Well-take a minute or two to reflect on the work you do and how it cultivates a positive culture in their classroom or school.  Share WHY IT MATTERS!
  2. Change Student Behavior by Changing Adult Behavior-I can’t even tell you how many times I wrote down “We get what we model” in my notes from listening to Mr. Casas speak at our March Staff Development Day!  He says, “If you want to improve student behavior in your school, you must change the way the adults in your school interact with students and with each other.”  If we model appreciating each other’s strengths, it will become habit. 
  3. Reach Out and Call Someone-If it’s not a phone call or text, trying emailing or leaving a sticky note of encouragement on someone’s classroom door.  
What if you don’t know what is a strength of yours?  Tap into those who are closest to you!  Ask your friends, family, spouse, best friend, a teaching partner.  Chances are, if you asked them, they would be able to list a plethora of strengths they notice in you!  We’re all busy and we all have a million reasons excuses not to live our excellence.  Find an accountability partner (an accountabilibuddy!) to encourage and hold accountable when the busy sneaks in.  So...let’s start living our excellence RIGHT NOW.  If we model a life of living our excellence and encourage others to do the same, we will have develop a CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE!  

Speaking of strengths...I couldn’t have wrote this blog post by myself.  A HUGE shout-out to these AWESOMIZERS:
  • Mr. Brady Gudgel, music teacher at Sunrise, created the graphic at the top.  Mr. G is crazy talented and aside from being a champion for kids, he is fantastic at graphic design.  
  • Mrs. Kelsi Fleck, first grade teacher at Lincoln, you are a champion of relationships.  Thank you for sharing pictures of your students work.  We are lucky to know you. 
  •  Missy Hurt, Instructional Coach at Murphy, is a champion for teachers.  Without you, this piece would have had many, MANY more commas and misspelled words I’m sure.
  • Sarah Morrow, third grade teacher at Sunrise, is queen of calm.  Thank you for reminding me to take each day “Bird by Bird.” 
Twitter Tuesday Questions:
Q1: How are you living your excellence each day?
Q2: How are you encouraging others to live their excellence each day? Or how can you start?
Q3: What are you doing in your classroom or in your building to cultivate a culture of excellence?  
Q4: How are you making the most of each day and opportunity you have for the remainder of this school year?

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Relationships First, Everything Else Second

“We may not get to decide which kids to serve, but we do get to decide the kind of climate in which we want to serve them” - Jimmy Casas

Each fall, educators spend the first 30 days of each school year getting to know their new students. Team building activities, interest surveys, and partner learning are fun and help us better understand the lives of our mini humans. Beyond those first 30 days, as we all know, life in a school gets busy and we tend to focus more on curriculum and content than on enhancing the relationships we have started with our students.
I have always been interested in promoting a strong culture and positive interactions with the kids in my classroom. I have wondered how we could bring the excitement and happiness of the first 30 days of school every day. How could that mindset affect the relationships I have with my students, they have with one another, and their interactions with others in the school?
One way that I have incorporated consistent relationship building into my classroom starts at 8:30 am each morning. Soft starts are nothing new. Harvey “Smokey” Daniels dedicates a chapter to them in his wonderful book, The Curious Classroom. A calming music playlist greets the children at our door and so do I - greeting everyone by name and with our “secret handshake” that we developed at our open house in August. They come in ready to stretch their brain or prepare it for a day of learning.
Once our morning jobs and procedures are complete, my kids have some voice and choice in how they spend the first 10-15 minutes of their school day. These choice activities give us time to connect with friends, share stories, get work help from a friend, settle in, expand our creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills and get ready for the day! We work together to change many choices monthly (but not the procedures of our morning choices) to keep interest high.
The best part? After MY morning procedures are complete (So the office does not need to *gently* remind me to take attendance!), I get to join in! While kids are coloring together or completing a puzzle or writing a story, I can work on an activity while we have conversations about our busy and important lives.

Creating relationships involves “creating an environment where the students get to know one another. Only by intentionally taking time to invest in activities that allow students to regularly interact with one another can we ever achieve the classroom culture of excellence we all aspire to attain: An atmosphere where all students understand, appreciate, respect, and empathize with one another.”      - Jimmy Casas

When my students are able to spend the start of their morning collaborating with their friends and teacher, our other interactions throughout the day are more positive and focused. There is genuine care and concern when “our class is not complete” (in 3rd grade words...that means someone is away from school that day). Their attention is sincere when their friends share stories later at Morning Meeting. If someone needs help, they know they can confidently ask 21 people for guidance. If we need help being assertive with a situation (because we are all human and things happen…), we feel secure in knowing our friends will listen to our words and respect our needs better moving forward.
In his book, Culturize, Jimmy Casas repeatedly shares how important it is for people to model and focus on what you want more of. If I want our classroom to be a welcoming and caring and safe place to be, then I need to make time in our day to model and focus on welcoming and caring interaction opportunities with my students. Then it is the kids’ turn to model and engage in welcoming and caring interactions with the many other people they interact with during their day. And it all begins again the next day...

Q1: What is the morning routine like in your classroom or school?
Q2: How do you encourage and maintain positive relationships with students throughout the year?
Q3: How does your classroom or school promote a positive culture in the first 30 days? Throughout the school year?
Q4: What are fun and unique ways that you or your school encourage positive (adult to adult - adult to student - student to student) interactions?