As a classroom teacher, I never really understood the difficult balance principals and other administrators maintain on a daily basis. I wanted to teach my subject, and I would lose track of the fact that I teach students, not English. Yes, I have an English degree and teaching certification, but every day students came into my room and I needed to make sure I taught each of them and gave them what they needed. Sometimes that included English; other times, I provided an ear to listen to advise for their future. What I know now, that I probably didn’t know then, was that students will remember those times that I valued them as a human being far more than those times I corrected their grammar.
In the last month or so, my focus on Speaking up for every child has been seriously challenged. We have a student in crisis, and she is literally screaming at us for help. Her behaviors have ramped up so severely that when she said something beyond horrible to a female staff member this week, I had a brief lapse when I can honestly, regrettably say that I did not want to focus on the child’s trauma or the message she was trying to deliver. My staff member was hurting and wanted to know what we were going to do – I did not have an immediate answer. I fell back to what I knew as a teacher and forgot, briefly, that we teach children – all children – not subjects.
There’s a lot I cannot and will not share about this situation, but we work daily to try to support this child and help them overcome terrible circumstances at home. While driving to an edcamp this morning, my friend Melissa Emler reminded me that no how horrible the message the child delivered, she didn’t really mean it and in a very imperfect way she wanted us to know how much she is hurting and wants out help.
So now I have to figure out how to support and encourage that teacher while also helping her see that that child needs her love and care more than even before. I cannot blame the teacher if she takes some time to come around – what that child said would be viewed by many as unforgiveable – but we teach students, not subjects. And, this child is exactly why we say speaking up for every child.” She is the reason we need the word “every.”
Even more so, I have to steel my resolve to help this child. We will ramp up our collaboration with county services and supports. We will try to let that child know that she will be OK.
When I put this topic in the blog queue, I really though this post would go in another direction. Instead, I am left hoping that our work with the Wisconsin School Mental Health Project leads us to resources that may make a difference for this student. I need to communicate clearly with our county social services division that empty promises are unacceptable and will not get this child the supports she needs.
And…I have to find a way to help that teacher see why she needs to forgive that child.
But first, I have to forgive that child. Because I feel like I am letting down both the student and my staff member.
What are your thoughts? When have you had to weigh the best interests of the child when they make it so difficult to remember that focus? How do you always remember to speak for every child? I’d love to hear your ideas.
In my last post, I began a series focused on My One Word: Connected. I used the National PTA Standards for Family School Partnerships as a framework. Today, I continue the discussion, looking more closely at communicating effectively.
At one time, when we thought of “communicating effectively” with parents, that meant sending out a beginning of the year letter, greeting parents at parent teacher conferences, and sending out a monthly newsletter. To be sure, all of these efforts have merit, but if we truly have in interested in becoming connected to our families and communities, we have to do different and we have to do more.
Different can mean simply changing the format for communication. My friend Jay Posick introduced me to the mobile newsletter Smore, and it has fundamentally changed the way we can reach out to our families. Smore allows schools to create a mobile newsletter that constituents can view on phone, tablets, and computers.
For those parents without the ability to access the newsletter, we can print it our for them. Those parents who can access our Smore can watch videos of student performances, “peek” into the school by viewing pictures and reading write-ups about activities and field trips. Smore also gives school leaders metrics so they can analyze the reach of their communication and see which newsletters had the most impact with parents and the community.
Facebook has emerged as important aspect of our communication efforts. I wrote about the “rebirth” of our Facebook page back in February of 2015; at the time, we had few people who even knew CMS had a Facebook page. As of today, we have 351 “Likes,” and parents and extended families look to Facebook as the best option to follow their children and know what is happening at the middle school.
Once again, metrics allow us to know from where our readers hail, and we can even tell which posts have the most reach, engagement, and impact [Hint: If you want to see a spike in engagement, post video of your students doing AWESOME in the classroom]. I truly believe this is a case of “If you build it, they will come.”
We also use tools like the mobile app we built using the awesome como.com, and School Messenger. Lately, though, we have started to work even more closely with families to shape our communication avenues.
Many of our families lack a computer, and many also do not have internet or wifi at home, but they do have smart phones with data plans. We have had parents communicate to us that they would prefer text messages to phone calls or emails, so we have begun developing PD to help our staff utilize Remind as another way to connect with parents. It would be difficult to say we communicate effectively if we did not provide communication in the format they request.
I have a final thought about communicating effectively. While all of these tech tools provide excellent options to communicate with parents, families, and the community, they cannot replace good old fashioned face-to-face conversations in many cases. In creating an app or establishing a social presence, our goal remains to have parents and the community view Clintonville Middle School as “their” school. Ultimately, we hope these different ways of connecting with our parents and families welcomes them into the building and deepens our conversations about how we can best serve them and meet the needs of their child. I know that many who know me might find it strange that I would advocate for non-techy communication, but sometimes it is the best way to form real partnerships with the families we serve.
What forms of communication do you use with your school community? How effective are are the tools, traditional or otherwise, that you use to communicate? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
As a teacher, I thought I knew the value of good relationships with parents. In truth, though, I focused on relationships with students; if possible, I tried to make sure parents understood I had their child’s best interests in mind.
As a principal, I have learned the true value of family engagement. When I interviewed for my position, I talked a lot about the importance of bringing in families and helping them see the school as their school. I held that as a core value, but in reality, I never had to put it into practice.
- Welcoming all families into the school community
- Communicating effectively
- Speaking up for every child
- Sharing power
Over the last year and a half, I have learned what those standards look like in practice. In August of 2014, Clintonville Middle School had a negative image reflective of its toxic culture. From day one, we worked to make the middle school a place that welcomes all families into the school community. We worked with staff and a fledgling PTO to spread the word that the middle school was safe for students, and families started to ask about enrolling their students at CMS. Before we knew it, private school students started walking through our doors on a regular basis – and many of them stayed.
Welcoming all families also included working with students and families who had not had positive experiences at the middle school. Some of that negative experience stemmed from the fact that the middle school originally served as the high school, and some of that negative happened inside that walls of the middle school.
My principal, Scott Werfal, and I greet families at the door and always want to know “How can we help you?” It seems simple, but an office design focused not on the adults in the office but on customer service for students and parents has made a world of difference. The change seems subtle, but parents now have room when we ask them to wait, and the new flow in the office allows us to have a friendly face greet all comers. Students, parents, subs, and community members have all commented on how friendly the school and particularly the office feel. We are proud that people don’t automatically look at the building or the office with distaste and disdain.
I strongly recommend that educators read Beyond the Bake Sale. You will start to see the importance of trying to form true school-community and school-home partnerships. Joining Twitter chats will also afford you the opportunity to collaborate with people who have already made inroads to become more connected with families. You may even develop your own cohort who will go through the process with you.
What do you think? What experience have you had with trying to cultivate positive connectedness with home?
I cannot even remember my One Word from 2015. I know I shared it with my Varsity PTCamp Voxer group, but it says a lot about my commitment to my word that I cannot even recall what I chose.
I want to commit this year. I want to go beyond “dabbling,” so instead of just uttering my word to my PLN, I created a graphic and chose to write a post.
When most people hear the word “connected” coming from a principal, they probably think about Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall’s The Connected Educator. And certainly, educators using Twitter and other social media tools to reach out to the broader world has much merit. I try to get my staff connected all of the time.
But if our definition of “connected” stops at the internet wall, we do not give enough credit to the power of being “connected.”
In the summer of 2014, I met a group of people who have become some of my nearest and dearest friends. While I have only met one of the face-to-face, I talk to all of them nearly every day. We began our journey together reading Beyond The Bake Sale, and we talked about ways to improve our efforts at Family and Community Engagement. Once we all realized how diverse, yet common, our experiences were, our conversations quickly moved beyond just how to improve family engagement.
Jay Posick, a principal from Merton, WI has not missed a day of running in more than 10,000 days. Back when our group first met, though, Jay was approaching the 10,000 day milestone and Geniene Delahunty, our “cruise director,” planned a special day for Jay. She orchestrated a project where many members of our group “ran” a copy of Beyond The Bake Sale from Australia to Merton, and Geniene delivered it to Jay in a special ceremony that Jay’s school and district kept secret from him. When I tell people about that event, they just stare, unbelieving.
After all, who drives over six hours to deliver a book and a hug to someone they have never met? When you become “connected,” you’ll understand what kind of person does that. Our group connected with more than just digital tools. We care about each other and we want to help each other succeed. We understand the importance of relationships to the personal and professional well-being of everyone. Most of all, we remember what is was like before we connected, and we never want to go back there again.
This year, my “One Word” blog posts will talk about a number of different ways I strive to stay connected. From digital to analog to face-to-face, I hope I find ways to become more connected to my family and friends, my school, my peers, and my PLN. I have committed to these connections, and thanks to a nudge from Don Wettrick, I have committed to writing about this year’s journey.
I hope to become more connected to those of you I see in my Twitter feed. If we have never met in person, I hope to change that.
Here’s hoping that we connect…and stay connected.
On January 30th, I opened an email from Lois Graper, our GT Coordinator at Clintonville Middle School, and the organizer of our Geography Bee:
Please take the geography bee video off of YouTube
Last week, a student in real need brought back memories of a time when I needed real help or my wife and I would not have made it. In a day and age where we have become so focused on standardized test scores, I sometimes hear colleagues say, “I feel bad that students might not have had breakfast, but taking the test is what’s important right now.”
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, Kaitlyn, I received a layoff notice from my employer. At the time, Jenny was finishing classes for her dental hygiene license, and we were just barely able to get by with her working limited hours. Then came the layoff notice, and our life was turned upside down. Thankfully, programs existed that allowed us to eat well, so the baby could grow healthy. My union also stepped up and provided us with additional groceries and a few dollars to help pay for gas and rent. And the Wisconsin Medical Assistance program ensured that well baby visits could continue. Without a helping hand from a variety of sources, I do not know what would have happened, and I cannot guarantee I would have started college that fall. Once at school, I got a job on campus and Jenny started as a full-time hygienist, so we survived the storm and could move forward.
But what about our students who come to school every day having not eaten breakfast? What about those who have had little sleep for a variety of reasons? That they come to school every day amazes me. That many come to school every day and thrive inspires me. That some come to school only some of the time or struggle once here surprises me not one bit.
I know first-hand how difficult not having the bare necessities can make challenges seem insurmountable. And I only had to get through six months of uncertainty. Some of my students have experienced years of turbulence and uncertainty. And so they come every morning to the one place that provides a level of certainty for them. A level of security.
So when we want to “hold schools accountable” and base every measure off of a test score, let’s remember that we cannot measure all variables. I don’t know what device measures the impact of hunger on test scores. I don’t know what device measures the impact of watching your mother suffer abuse at the hands of a boyfriend on test scores. I don’t know what device measures the impact of sleeping in a freezing car on test scores. I don’t know what device measures the impact of __________________________________________ on test scores.
But I do know that children feel safe and secure and loved when we find a way to provide for their essential needs. Where is Maslow’s research in all of the testing gibberish? So, last week, when I had an opportunity to help meet the essential needs of a student at my school, I called out loudly and often. And people near and far responded with compassion, filling a void. To some folks a simple pair of shoes and some clothes might not seem like a big deal or even a necessity. To this student, however, they meant everything.
I saw her in the hallway today, laughing and smiling with friends. I will make sure to keep that memory with me throughout this year and the rest of my life.