It’s a brand new day – make it the best one yet

This post begins with a deep breath.

The world we live in seems to be in a free fall – from the flames of racial injustice to the deepening curve of a pandemic, there are so many in turmoil. People have expressed agony over the excrutiating and arduous task of navigating such difficult conversations in the midst of social distancing and mask-wearing. Most certainly, a return to “normal” does not seem very likely.

And thank goodnes, because I don’t want to go back to the way things were.

I want every voice to be heard and respected. I want every student with whom I engage to believe in herself and cheer on their classmates and teachers. I want kids to learn from inspirational and charismatic adults that I am responsible for encouraging and motivating so that they may have confidence to empower young people to speak their minds, to listen to the words of others, and to agree that different opinions matter and are vital to the development of a rich society filled with trust and empathy.

If you attempt to implement reforms but fail to engage in the culture of school, nothing will change

Seymour Sarason

That effort starts with me. Let’s start with engaging school culture. The culture in the school which I work is filled with joy and determination. When the COVID-19 quarantine occurred mid-March, we didn’t falter…we built anew. My boss, the head of school for my institution, defined our effort as building a boat while trying to sail it. While we had to leave the shore, we had a hope and a prayer that the vessel was shipshape. And we thrived – not as good as in-person learning, but most certainly in a way that was maximized by our well-developed relationships with students. The relationship is the key (which is our biggest fear of the coming school year without those great relationships developed). So we have to consider ways to build empathetic relationships, and build them quickly.

A few parents have reached out to me this summer, sharing their concerns regarding the start of school. Health and safety are paramount, but I am humbled by their desire to have in-person school to propel the positive culture of my school forward. They want confirmation that we will have that enriched environment like they depend on to help develop their own children into the best versions of themselves. I have responded with a similar template that applies to each child. I’ve posted it below:

Your concern about factors that we can and cannot control in determining an in-person return to school are completely warranted. Please know that we are doing everything we can to ensure a safe, in-person experience can happen for everyone. For your family’s safety and that of our faculty, our goal for this summer remains in the plan to have both an in-person learning plan and a remote option for learning. They need to exist simultaneously. They need to be excellent. And they need to be available on day one.

Up until this week, the plan was all but certain to be in-person from day one. Like you, I now worry that the spread of coronavirus has taken our ability to execute that plan out of our hands. We cannot supersede the restrictions of our government officials, and we will not compromise the safety of our students. I pray that people in the city consider ways to be careful and focus on the general state of health in the city. All this being said, we have not changed our planning tactics, though we will create various scenarios which adjust the delicate balance of in-person and remote class time to ensure that learning can continue to flow with gusto. From advancing our middle school scheduling to considering better assessment practices, we are going to be ready.

I am grateful for your hopes and prayers that this virus takes a turn for the better. I appreciate the sense of urgency your inquiry offers to ensure that a plan is in place for your student. I will continue to work tirelessly to achieve a plan that promotes maximum effort, enthusiasm, and opportunity for every person in (and out) of our building.

My Team – Gratitude

I wish I had a better grasp on some earth-shaking information that would give you a way to improve your craft beyond measure.  Alas, my well runs dry at this time of year, and I guess it’s lucky, too. You don’t need another “challenge to be great” or royal decree regarding what classrooms should look like, nor a step-by-step guide on how to build better relationships with your students.  As I read through our middle school narrative comments this week, I know for certain that my team already understands these things. When the intent of their efforts to inspire learning shines as bright as it does when each of them is present in the Middle School, this place truly becomes the most magnificent school I have ever known.

When people ask me why I enjoy working at Presbyterian School, I say that I am surrounded by the smartest, most hard-working people I know who have invested time into something in which we believe is worth every late night, every missing assignment, and every tough conversation.  I work with teachers who understand that great learning stems from the trusting relationship built with his or her students. Truly great classroom leaders understand that the learning process is a partnership in which no single person owns, but relies on the skill sets offered by all those involved.

My School is a true representation of the value that can be found in hard work, reflection, and active communication.  We put into daily practice what many institutions only hope to achieve at culminating events: the development of confident young people who demonstrate learning with incredible capability and zeal.  And in the brief pockets of time when this goal is not met, we take it upon ourselves to improve our craft and reset the bar to encourage age-appropriate risk and a better understanding of how to navigate the path forward.

Recently, I posted on the Modern Learners community my description of “what school should be.” I am proud to say I’m living in it…but here was my answer:

[I picture school to look and act as] an extremely busy train station with frenetic energy based on the potential of SO MANY destinations. Every single person is granted ALL responsibilities of conductor, passenger, mechanic, server, security, and logistical coordinator. It is a joyful place filled with possibility. Conversations about where a person has visited and what that person has seen and done are commonplace. The sharing of ideas from the aggregate experiences of the participants simply builds new and exciting opportunity to further explore and connect to places unseen. It’s a magical place.

Happy Easter…remember that through forgiveness we have been saved, and through the sacrifice of one precious Man, we have been given everything.  It’s our responsibility to share that meaningful, joyful, and soulful responsibility to each other, now and forever.

Timeless Learning- Reflections (Week 2)

What are you doing every day to help create the world you want to see?

Part of my job as a division leader is vision-casting. It is my responsibility as director of the middle grades to be a person who thinks about where this “cruise ship” should travel, the path to our destination, and the events along the way. Conversations that involve listening to faculty members create and explore new ideas while encouraging these individuals to stretch their thinking is paramount. For instance, should a teacher want to build a new lab study in heat transfer, it is my job to consider how students should be learning and walk through that vision with e educator leading the way. At the same time, I should carve out pockets of the day or week to discuss school vision with the entire faculty team so that they begin to reflect on how their day-to-day aligns with that vision. When the individual activity arrives, such as the heat transfer lab, that educator already has a foundation built that manages expectations and supports new methodology.

Another piece to create a world I want to see is research and exploration. We must do some learning for ourselves to improve the environment present for faculty and students. Exploring new concepts, practices, and current research must remain a consistent part of our professional effort. When something new presents itself, we must then consider how that new idea, program, or practice aligns (or challenges) our current vision. We should model comfort when considering ideas that challenge the status quo. While change is difficult in schools, adjusting to new research or practices starts with leadership – vulnerability (admitting that a better way exists) is a requirement for change.

Imagine a place where students could…

If you could create a brand new school for yourself in September, what would it look like? Mine would be a place of opportunity. I could envision a space where students can engage in various activities, from hands-on experiments to discussion-based centers. Students should be able able to self-direct a large portion of their learning, with adults in the building serving as “inspiration specialists” who have a wealth of knowledge about platforms, applications, communities, and culture. These adults would carry the responsibility of educating students on the various paths to take while refraining from making a choice for them. Students would be in charge of their learning journey, creaky accountable “gates” through whichthey would pass on the road to discovery. I believe this school would support middle-aged students an older. Kids who enroll would have that certain mental wanderlust, eager to search for answers and share their findings.

And the space would never end with the physical walls if the building, but would extend to the great outdoors, fields and courts of competition, and digital pathways for communication with the global village.

Super Heroine Influx

Maybe it’s just me, but I have noticed a significant uptake in Disney’s (and many other realms, for that matter) efforts to enhance their female presence. In highlighting legacy feminine phenoms (Cinderella, Snow White, etc.) and the introduction of today’s leading ladies (Moana, Wonder Woman, to name a couple… yes, I realize that WW is a part of the DC reunion tour), I am THRILLED to see this effort, and not for the young ladies watching today’s shows; but, for the young men. How wonderful is it for our boys to celebrate and worship super heroine archetypes showing that women can be all and more of what previous generations expected from male icons, only.

But my question is this: How do these women display body images that are appropriate for today’s youth? 

What IS appropriate for today’s youth? I appreciate the various “builds”that appear (Moana versus Wonder Woman, for instance) and how ANYONE can be super with determination and grit. But is it enough? I observed a Disney, Jr. commercial showing a laundry list of great heroines… but this all-at-once effort cannot be sustained, can it?

I’d love your thoughts.