pause. breathe. love.

It’s no secret. This is a crazy world we are living in. We can so easily get caught up in the noise around us that we are left impatient with change, personalities, and even those we love the most. Well, here comes KP to the rescue with his list of How to Disagree with People:

We watched this in 7th grade leadership and discussed how important some of these steps are to keeping civility and humanity in our community. We are politically divided, like many communities, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose our sense of compassion and empathy. Frankly, it means we have to dig deeper into our character to keep our community unified and strong.

For me, the most important element from his list is: Pause. Breathe. Love. As this applies to our current national turmoil, it also applies to so many of our human interactions. (And, if you’re a dog-mama to a high energy mutt like me, to our canine ones, as well.) We need to take MORE time to pause, breathe, and love and less time to react, judge, and discard. We simply must listen openly to other points of view even if they are diametrically oppositional to our own. For this is our greatest gift as humans, the ability to listen–to empathize–to love.

Be of good courage friends. The work we do is sacred and matters not only in the short term for for generations to come. Press on.

 

celebrate & enjoy

I went to a fabulous dance party this morning. The 6th grade has finished their first piece of long writing in their Writing Workshop and they had a celebration, complete with dancing and hats. They also had to use alternatives to awesome and amazing to share their feelings of completing this six week long process. They included: accomplished, joyful, proud, relieved, excited, and happy, among others. I am so pleased their teacher invited me to join them for their dance party. file-oct-13-9-36-46-am

(Party Hat aka Principal’s Unicorn)

This comes during our annual Homecoming Spirit Week where we break out of our starchy uniforms, relax, and act a little crazy in the spirit of community. Friday, we will have our first annual “Middle School Capture the Flag Game”, the pep rally & parade, grade level breakfasts, and general hype as we move towards our Homecoming game and Alumni weekend. I love times like this at school because it allows us to have fun as a community.

I’m a middle school leader-teacher because I love kids this age. I believe we have a unique opportunity to celebrate and enjoy life with our students on a regular basis. Yes, they make us crazy sometimes. Yes, we challenge them and sometimes they don’t love everything we do. Yes, this is hard work. Yes, it takes a special sort of human to enjoy early adolescents with passion, energy, and love. AND, this work is holy and important.

We may not be doing all the reading, writing, history, science, or math this week-but we are building community and celebrating time and life together. And this is just as important in building a well rounded life.

Have you celebrated time with your students and teachers, lately? If not, don that party hat and go have a dance party. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Book Review: Helping Children Succeed

*Many thanks to SAIS for allowing me to, again, review a best seller.*

“It is a responsibility we are failing to meet.” It is with this sentence that Paul Tough begins the follow-up to his 2012 best-seller, How Children Succeed, in his new data-filled book, Helping Children Succeed. We, as a nation, are failing to meet the needs of children from disadvantaged backgrounds in American schools. He proceeds to offer extensive data in 23 areas that identify the challenges in meeting these needs and providing support to meet these challenges.

It all comes down to the earliest of childhood development. While How Children Succeed, focused on the non-cognitive (soft, character) skills required for success in academia and adulthood, his newest book focuses on the ways that these skills are often stunted in communities of poverty. Beyond the access to books and responsive parenting, he discusses the way that childhood trauma, neglect, and chronic stress, found in childhood adversity can have irreparable impact on physical and mental health as well as academic and social readiness.

He points to the key Building Blocks (ch. 12) necessary for children to develop strong executive function skills. It is within the early childhood (birth to 5 years) where children “deepen and evolve into a more complex collection of habits, mindsets, and characters strengths” that will be required of them to be successful when they enter formal academia in pre-K or Kindergarten. These executive function skills are established through “calm, consistent, responsive interactions in infancy with parents and other caregivers [to] create neural connections that lay the foundation for a healthy array of attention and concentration skills.” (p. 49) Without these foundations, children are more apt to struggle on a wide array of situations, including academic development, motivation, and behavior – all three areas which are crucial to school and learning success.

Mr. Tough offers examples of early intervention programs from throughout the U.S. that are typically on a small or pilot level to increase the responsive caregiving of young children. He makes the case that these are needed on a greater scale within disadvantaged communities. However, he does not draw correlations between any of these studies and communities of privilege. More often than not, independent school students are not subject to early childhood trauma as defined by Mr. Tough’s research. While there are certainly avenues in which children of privilege experience stress and trauma in early childhood, this particular body of work does not address these issues.

However, independent school educators can draw learning from the chapters on motivation, mindsets, relationships, pedagogy, challenge, and deeper learning. In his section on motivation, Tough points to the work of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, the originators of self-determination theory,

a theory that is frequently cited as the key to intrinsic motivation. Our students are motivated by their needs for competence, relatedness (connection), and autonomy. Growth mindset (based on the work of Stanford’s Carol Dweck) coupled with positive, pro-failure messages also stimulate non-cognitive factors of success. We are reminded that positive classroom climate, appropriate levels of challenge, and building strong relationships are all necessary factors for student success.

Mr. Tough ends his book with a call to action for public education in America: “…if there are children suffering in your community – or your nation – there is something you can do to help.” (p.114) This can serve as a strong conversation starter for public-private partnerships in order to strengthen our communities. How are we, as independent schools, working to solve the complex problems facing our surrounding communities? Do we, as independent schools, believe it is our purpose to be an integral part of our communities outside of the campus? I think Mr. Tough would offer a resounding “yes.”

Like many of our fellow independent schools across the Southeast, students at The Montgomery Academy participate in programs to build cultural competency and serve disadvantaged communities through organizations like Bridge Builders of Alabama and Mary Ellen’s Hearth as well as tutoring at a local public schools. While our students may have different early childhood experiences than those described in this book, we have a unique opportunity to serve as advocates for justice and equality in education by guiding our leaders and scholars to a greater understand of the world around them.

Jail and the moral imperative. 

I took someone to jail last Friday night. I also watched tickets be written, domestic violence situations diffused, and watched the unique relationship between police and fire departments when a fire engine blew a turn and hit a pole. But observing the process of crime scene investigation resulting in at least a night in jail for one citizen was quite profound. I received a 360 view of the policing process from first arrival on-scene to final signature to place someone in jail.

These were all a part of my ride along with the Montgomery Police Department as part of the Leadership Montgomery program. I spent eight hours patrolling District 12 of West Montgomery from 10pm-6am. I specifically chose a district out of my comfort zone, out of my daily drive. I specifically chose the third shift to challenge my own sense of time and to get an impression of what happens when I am sweetly sleeping in my safe Garden District home.

While I still have unanswered questions, one thing is for certain for me as a leader. I have a moral imperative to develop character in my students. Yes, encourage them to take tough math classes and become avid readers. Yes, cheer for them at games and applaud for them at concerts. Yes, encourage more water and less sugar. AND, more than anything else, encourage them to become good people, who build strong, healthy relationships, have open minds, and on a regular basis make good choices. In my privileged life it would never occur to me to be out after 11:30pm at a party with an infant child (without a baby seat.) It would never occur to me get behind the wheel after massively intoxicated to the point that I drive my car off a cliff. It would never occur to me to flat-out lie to a police officer. Perhaps these elements are based on privilege but in my gut, they are more about education. They are about the fact that I have been educated, not just for my occupation, but also for my character.

I also have the moral imperative to help my students break out of their bubble. We live in a small city, 200,000ish residents. But I wonder how many of my own students know of the abject poverty in this town? How many of them know about the deplorable conditions in which children are being raised? How many of them know that living in poverty should not be a crime? I don’t know how many of them know these things, but in order to be leaders who serve their community well, they must know. They must have an understanding of the whole world around them to be truly educated.

This goes beyond standards and objectives, tests and essays and digs to the heart of what we do. I wonder if the man I put in jail ever had the opportunity to learn? I wonder if he will ever appreciate the fact that he is still alive (the crash was horrible) and move forward? I wonder if someone had reached him at age eleven if his life would have been different? My current prayer for him is that he uses this as a learning opportunity and starts anew. As for my students, I hope they have a chance to see the whole view of their city and work diligently to improve it. It is time to break the cycle here and I truly believe it is our job to build the leaders to do it.

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surprise and yes.

Week before last, I nonchalantly asked my athletic director if we had hired a new Asst. XC Coach as our previous (awesome) one had moved to NC for grad school. He said, “hmmm…” The next day, he came to my office and explained that the new Head Coach needed to resign the team and he was in need of coaches for the season, immediately. I panicked at first and quickly catalogued all the ways my time would be stretched this year–schedule revision, teaching leadership, teaching digital literacy, spending more time in classrooms, engaging in instructional rounds, and participating in Leadership Montgomery, on top of all the regular things I want and need to do with our amazing division.

And, I said, “Yes”, anyway.

This was the sort of surprise that would be able to meet a school goal of all admin serving as teachers-mentors-coaches AND fulfill my own desire to spend more time with students. I love coaching cross country. It allows me to get to know students in a completely different way. It allows them to see me in a completely different way. It will provide an opportunity to use a set of skills that had to lay dormant in the 15-16 school year. My confidence in the choice was assured when a senior, whom I had never met, shook my hand and said, with all genuity, “Thank you for stepping up. I am looking forward to getting to know you because I’ve heard good things about you.” I was blown away by his maturity and grateful for the opportunity to build relationships with students on the grassy fields.

Yes, time will be stretched. Yes, Toby may spend a little more time at daycare. Yes, I will need to remember sunscreen. But, I guarantee that I will get to move the needle on our school mission and live our core values every day with this new group of students and I am simply thrilled.

I am very good at saying No. Comfortable with it, in fact. But sometimes we receive surprises and our YES will take us beyond our imagination in good things. Embracing the yes as teachers and leaders will open doors for us to connect with students. We just have to be willing to embrace the surprise and say the word. #maxcrules

youtube rabbit hole-math edition

mathtree

As I’ve been working on my own math mindset, I decided to watch the newest TED Talk by Jo Boaler on “How You Can Be Good at Math…” and that led me down the rabbit hole of youtube suggested videos, all TED Talks about math. So if anyone wonders what the principal does while eating lunch alone in her office in the summer, here you go:

Math isn’t Hard; it’s a Language (1 third + 1 third = 2 thirds.)

Conquering Math Anxiety (Algebra = restore & rebalance)

The Nature of Mathematics

Thinking Mathishly

Five Principles of Extraordinary Math

Also, Maureen Devlin is doing an awesome series on Teaching Math Well.

Happy Mathing!

 

 

Being Human

I am supposed to be at the #move talks for FUSE 16 right now. Instead, I’m holed up in an Atlanta hotel with a wretched stomach bug that began at the start of deep dive and included a glorious-yet-in-an-outdoor-trash bin, vomit. (Sorry witnesses!) Everyone has been genuinely gracious and kind. Yet, I am so frustrated. I loathe being sick. Like most humans, I can power through the sinusy stuff with a zpack, mucinex, and some whining. But when the amazing human digestive system, and mine is pretty hearty, has other plans, you have to accept the humanity.

As a division leader and a teacher, I encourage teachers and kids to stay home when they are sick; to take the time they need to be at their best. So why don’t I allow that same grace for myself? Guilt? (This is an expensive conference.) Sadness. (This  is an amazing conference.) Frustration! (Of all the days in the summer! I’m supposed to work with Refuge Coffee, darn it!) Some desire to be super-human? 

One of the MA teachers here said, “sometimes you have to accept it and give in.” So I’m sipping the gingerale and hoping the saltines might come next. (Thank you dear Richard, for making the run for your sicko-boss.) I’ll end my pity party here and head to prayer and perhaps, the stages of grief.

Sometimes, we just have to be human.
*here are some pix I took before it got bad.*

My playbook.My super awesome keyboard cleaner.Motto.The new bike my empathy partner made for me complete with a buggy for Toby and an air-conditioned cover for bike commutes in the AL heat.