Embracing Summer

It seems like a long time ago that I started writing this blog, five years and 146 posts ago.  Thinking about that makes me start thinking back to all that has happened over those five years.  Two different schools, traveling to all sorts of countries, lots of professional and personal experiences that have changed me (mostly for the better), and throughout all of that a constant reflective process that I’ve learned and practiced through the writing of this blog.  I’ve written before about why this blog is important to me and why I think others should try, if I haven’t convinced you yet…maybe now is the time!  Perhaps over the summer you’ll sit down and give it a shot.

Hopefully everyone managed to stay alive (literally and figuratively) and we’re now about to embark on a wonderful summer!  For each of us that will look a little differently.  Normally my summers are a time for me to reflect, read, write, and attend a PD or two but this summer will be different.  For Amy and I it will be a short and busy time.  After leaving Ecuador we’ve got just three weeks until our wedding (YAY!) and then only four more days until we head off toward Indonesia!  There’ll be lots of planning, visiting with family, and racing around getting everything ready for a wedding and relocation.  Then it’ll be the new school year before we know it!  

Even though my summer will be crazy (and I’m sure many of yours will be too), I want to offer a few summer time options for those who haven’t already ironed out every single minute of their holiday.  I’m not advocating for any one idea over another but I think any successful summer will include at least one of these five things.

My recommendations for the summer:

1. Hit the beach, mountains, trails, parks, ocean, lake, or whatever you can find outdoors!

Get outside and enjoy the fresh air (I’m hoping you can get away from a polluted city for this one).  Spend a few days camping next to a river with no wifi or mobile phone access, unplug and enjoy Mother Nature at her finest.  Give yourself some time to just enjoy all that nature has to offer without the hustle and bustle of the ‘outside world’.  If camping isn’t your thing then take a walk, go for a bike ride, or just sit and enjoy a park…but do it often.  Take a road trip, see a new place, and get out of the city-life for a while.  All of these things will help rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit!

2.  Establish a PLN: If you haven’t done this already, now is your time.  Don’t be afraid to start small.  Right around the same time I started this blog, about 5 years ago, I started on Twitter and slowly began to see the value of building an online/digital Professional Learning Network.  Some of you have experienced my PLN first hand, connecting across the globe to celebrate awesome activities, meet new colleagues, or even just find a new idea.  Start out by having a look at a past blog post I wrote about building a PLN (it’s short) and then create a Twitter account.  Once you have one (or if you already do) send me a tweet (@The1sWhoDo) and ask who you should follow…I’m happy to start recommending people immediately.  From there…follow along and get a feel for Twitter, summer is a perfect time to do so!  

3.  Take care of yourself.

Remember that New Year’s Resolution…yeah, I know the feeling…I was too stressed and too cold in the rainy season to really get anything productive going.  It’s too cold and wet to get out of the house and do anything!  I wanted a nice warm meal full of comfort food and some wine on the couch at the end of those days, not an exercise class and salad!!  However, now the sun is shining and we can sleep past 6AM!  So track down your trainers and get moving…10,000 steps (the standard FitBit goal) a day is a lot easier to manage in the summer when there are no papers to grade or meetings to attend.  Cook some homemade meals for your friends and family who still have to work through the summer, enjoy a nice dinner together and help them relieve some stress too.  The summer is your time to take care of yourself and feel great!

4. Read, read, read!

If you’re like me you might feel like summer is the perfect time to squeeze in some of that professional reading you’ve promised yourself you’d do.  That’s fine but don’t skip the reading for pleasure too!!  (I’ve got five books on my Kindle just waiting for me)  Whether you’ve got a book waiting or not, you might also consider reading some of the books that are hot with our kids right now.  This article is a great one and lists five young adult books that adults would also enjoy.  I’ve read a few on this list (Book Thief is awesome!) and agree that knowing what our kids are into is a great way to connect and relate to our school age kids.  If you’re thinking that professional reading might be in the works for the beach then have a look at this article, some great tips there too.  The old saying of “don’t mix work with pleasure” goes out the door here…when it comes to summer reading, mix away!

5. Reconnect at your own risk!

It goes without saying that living overseas requires a long time away from friends and family who are back ‘home’ or elsewhere.  However, if you’re like me it only takes a week or so at ‘home’ before you feel like it’s time for a break!  There are a lot of family and friends who want to spend as much time with you as possible and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the attention.  In a sense it’s almost like teaching…there’s only one of you but there’s a seemingly endless number of people who want/need your time and energy.  Be sure to take some “Me Time” this summer and don’t let yourself get run down while trying to connect with everyone.  I often joke at the end of summer that “I need to get back to work so I can relax!”  It’s easy to feel that way, especially if you’re bouncing from couch to guest room all summer.  Enjoy the time with family and friends but be sure to enjoy some time alone as well.

 

Enjoy the last week with our kids, it’s going to be a wildly emotional ride for many of them (and us!!)  Hang in there and enjoy the laughs and memories and embrace the inevitable tears.  Everyone has made a lot of strong connections here in the AC community and it will be tough to part ways, no matter how long you’ve been here.  Say what you need to say to those you’ve grown close with, trade contact info, and be confident that you’ll connect again soon!

 

Seeing the Invisible

Sometimes we can’t see diversity.

Often times we consider diversity to be something that we see or hear on the outside…skin color, languages spoken, or other “physical” traits.  

During our Senior Roll Call, as each of our seniors was welcomed by the song of their choosing, what I’m calling “invisible diversity” was on display.  From Metallica, to David Bowie, to Drake, to Elvis and everything in between.  We had K-Pop, traditional Chinese songs, and Ecuadorean ballads.  Our students were each able to choose their own song which goes to show the wide range of interests that our students hold.  This example of “invisible diversity” is, perhaps, the number one reason that we need to get to know our students on a personal level!  

As educators it’s easy to group our students and place them into a category.  The “artists”, the “athletes”, the “academics”, the “musicians”…but who are these people beyond what we think we see?  Many of our students (or people in general) don’t fit neatly into any one group in particular.  Some of our best athletes are also strong musicians, artists, academics, and much more.  On the other hand, some of the kids who aren’t our top academics have talents and interests outside of school.  But how would we know if we don’t take the chance to get to know our kids on a personal level?  

I’ve mentioned this before, don’t be afraid to take some class time to set the content aside and learn (and share) some personal information about these young people that you work with 210 minutes (sometimes more) each week. Teaching is more than disseminating content, it’s about knowing our students and building connections.  

I know it’s the end of the year, this may be more relevant at the beginning of the school, but it’s worth considering at any time.  Since it was the Senior Roll Call music that inspired my thinking about “invisible diversity” I thought I would share the songs from the whole playlist…enjoy 🙂

* A word of caution…while our students selected a 1 minute and 15 section of these songs with all “clean” words, some of the full songs include “explicit lyrics”.

In order of appearance…

Build Me Up Buttercup – The Foundations

Let’s Go – Khalid

마에스트로 (Maestro) – 창모 (Changmo)

Strange Charm:  A Song About Quarks – Hank Green

The Fratellis – Chelsea Dagger

Anillos De Saturno – Danny Fornaris Feat. Jani Sanchez

Daddy – Psy

Modern Love – David Bowie

Me Llamas – Piso 21

Jump in the Fire – Metallica

Headlines – Drake

All My Love – Led Zeppelin

Empire Ants – Gorillaz Feat. Little Dragon

Everyday Superhero – Smash Mouth

‘에라 모르겠다(FXXK IT)’ M/V – BIGBANG

Walking on a Dream – Empire of the Sun

Yo Naci Aqui – Juan Fernando Velasco

1901 – Phoenix

Come On Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners & Kevin Rowland

醉赤壁 Zui Chi Bi – 林俊杰 JJ Lin Jun Jie

Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen

Fire – Gavin DeGraw

La Dueña De Tu Amor – Marala Feat. Zion & Lennox

Il Mio Cammino – Phil Collins

Tu Mejor Error – AU-D

La Isla Del Amor – Demarco Flamenco

Eres Mi Sueño – Fonseca

Mi Testimonio aka El Edificio – Bacilos

Burning Love – Elvis Presley

Someday – The Strokes

Sugar – Maroon 5

Lo Mejor De Mi Vida Eres Tu – Ricky Martin Feat. Natalia Jimenez

Oh My God – A Tribe Called Quest

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

Chasing the G.O.A.T. to be Better Educators

Very soon (or possibly already, depending when you read this) LeBron James will become the all-time scoring leader in NBA playoffs history (basketball).  The talking heads on TV and the sports columnists will write articles questioning whether he is the greatest player of all time, or if perhaps the man he passed on the scoring list (a guy you may have heard of, named Michael Jordan) is still deserving of that title.  My personal opinion is that MJ is still the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All-Time) but I also acknowledge that LeBron is still playing and could overtake him some day.

I’ve got some friends who would say that Michael Jordan is, was, and always will be the G.O.A.T.  However, I can’t take such a hard line view because of my beliefs about growth mindset and the ability for everyone to work hard and achieve.  If we said right now that MJ was the best that will ever live then what goals do young basketball players have to work toward, second place?!?  That’s rough!  To allow for the conversation, and suggest that LeBron or someone else may be the best of all-time means that every basketball player and everyone else for that matter can still strive to be the best, to surpass the amazing achievements of those who’ve come before them…there is no limit to what we can achieve!

Okay, this isn’t a diatribe on LeBron vs MJ or who is the G.O.A.T.  What I’m working toward is the growth process for all of us.  Whether we are teachers, students, basketball players, doctors, or plumbers, we should all be working to be better at what we do.  Every morning when we wake up we should aim to be better than we were the day before, imagine a life where that was actually the case…success!!  Sometimes we will be better at our jobs, other days we will be better at interpersonal relationships, or perhaps better drivers, cooks, or parents.  Everyday we’re working to be better, that is the real goal…growth.

Even “the best” never stop striving for improvement or growth.  Michael Jordan didn’t stop practicing after he won 5 championships, he got in the gym and shot more and tried to get even better (he won a 6th before retiring).

We have a lot of amazing teachers at our school and I’m constantly impressed with the teaching practices employed to help our students reach success.  As the school year comes to a close I’ve had a lot of goals reflection conversations.  There is not one teacher at this school who doesn’t want to improve their practice and become even better for their kids.  The passion and drive to become the best teachers that they can possibly become constantly impresses me.  They don’t care if they’re being evaluated on the Marzano, Marshall, or Bozo rubric, they want to improve!  We may not have the greatest teacher of all time walking the halls of our school (we might though!) but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a school full of teachers who are working toward it.  Growth isn’t just our students’ goal, it’s ours too!

As educational leaders we have to live our message.  If we want kids to work hard and grow, then that needs to be our active pursuit as well.  Working everyday to become better educators and better overall humans is what it’s all about.  How are you growing?  How are you becoming better today?

Passion Wins

Passion, it drives us in everything we do (especially the things we do well!)  Over the years educators have worked hard to figure out how to engage students in the classroom.  I don’t want to take the credit away from all the educators over the years who’ve worked so hard but it might just be the case that the business world deserves some of the credit for finding the best solution.  Way back in 1948, Spencer Silver at 3M, a major American corporation, came up with the idea of “15 percent time”.  This was paid time given over to employees “to chase rainbows and hatch their own ideas.”  For years “15 percent time” was little known, until a man named Art Fry took his idea for an adhesive bookmark and created the product we all know and love today, the “Post-It Note”.  Talk about a success story!  

As time went on, other corporations took up the idea and began to implement similar programs to give their employees a chance to follow their passions and pursue creative projects.  Google implemented “20 Time”, upping the ante from 3M’s “15 percent time”.  Gmail is perhaps the most famous product created from Google’s “20 Time” but many other creations have made an impact as well:  Google News, AdSense, Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Talk just to name a few that you may have heard of before.  The opportunity to take paid time to work on something you’re passionate about sounds like a pretty awesome concept and, in fact, it has proven to be a very helpful recruiting tool for companies who’ve implemented such plans.

These are awesome ideas for corporations but what about schools?  Many teachers are still working hard to engage their kids in creative ways and it’s working!  Conversely, there are many teachers who continue to work at engaging their classes with little success.  Then there’s a group of teachers (and even whole schools) who’ve taken the concept of “20 Time” and found a way to apply it to the student experience.  Here at AC our Elementary School (grades 3-5) completely revamped the “homework policy” from lots of worksheets and stressful tasks to one of no “homework” with the option for kids to pursue “Inspiration Projects” at home.  These kids have had the regular (3-4 times already this year) opportunity to show off their Inspiration Projects at a showcase day, the final showcase happens June 9th…come check it out!!  There is no question that when our kids dive into these projects they are 100% engaged and committed to their work, they are not only inspired but they are passionate!

My real inspiration for writing this week was not the Lower School but rather the work of our High School English department and their students.  On Monday night we had a beautiful night of presentations as students from 10th, 11th, and 12th grades presented their year-long efforts on their “20 Time” projects.  All year long our English teachers have turned over the time from one out of every six class periods for kids to work on their “20 Time” projects.  This project was guided and not just a free-for-all for our students, maybe some day 🙂  This year, students had to follow a six step process including these steps:  Topic proposal, research, mentorship (they needed to find a mentor to guide them), elevator pitch (selling their idea in 60 seconds or less), implement the project and reflect, and finally present.  For many kids it was a long journey but for all kids it was enlightening and rewarding.

As this was the first year that our High School students participated in a “20 Time” project there was bound to be a mixed bag of results.  There were failures, which were great!  Students may have learned more from their mis-steps and errors than from anything.  There were also some tremendous successes, which also came with their fair share of hiccups and bumps in the road.  Overall the process and journey were the real rewards for most of these kids.  Be that as it may, I wanted to share some of the final products.  I’ve included below the final products from a selection of our students, including their “blurb” from the presentation program as well as links to their final products.  I chose these specific kids for two reasons:  First, they had an actual digital product I could share.  Secondly, they were the kids who granted me permission to share with the whole wide world (most were very excited and proud to share!)  As I’ve alluded to, these projects were totally inspired and clearly showed the passion these students had for the topics they chose.  There is a wide range here in both topics as well as quality.  I’ll let you be the judge of the results but no matter what you think of the final product, remember that the journey was the true learning experience for these kids!!

Enjoy…

Rosie – Music in Pieces:

From songwriting to the recording process, Rosie wanted to create music and understand what it takes to make a finished song.  Growing up with music as a major influence in her life, Rosie taught herself both piano and guitar and figured it was only a matter of time before her own songs came to life.  Her passion for music and the lessons she learned along the way, as well as where the project will keep going, are what she takes from this experience.  And, of course, a finished song!

Paula – Cooking with Paula!:

In her 20Time Project, Paula decided to explore the world of professional baking.  With the help of a family friend who owns a bakery, Paula created her own pastries to be sold in the store, and got to experience the gratification of seeing her work generate a profit.  Her experience was documented on her website.

**Note:  Paula’s website is overall very impressive, she has a better profile than most adults I’ve seen!

Cole – Your Advocate for Religious Understanding:

Many people have heard false misconceptions on world religions given by society, such as “Muslims are terrorists” and that “Jews are rich and greedy.”  Cole, as a Mormon, has faced many misconceptions about his own religion and has seen other people have to live in a world of religious intolerance.  In his 20Time project, he set out to fix this problem on a small scale by creating a blog that shares the truth about these faiths.  You can view his blog and see how he writes about the truth behind the Mormon church and its misconceptions and features other world religions to help bring the world to be more religiously understanding, the key to tolerance.

Saleem and Luis – Feel the Music:

In relation to the flourishing industry that EDM/House music has become in the last lustrum, Saleem and Luis with their 20Time Project set out to explore this vast and exciting world of electronic music.  They created their own mixes in hope of shining a light onto this growing industry and the high involvement it has with our upcoming generation.

Suzy – Cooking Healthy Food

For her 20Time Project, Suzy chose to dedicate herself to the challenge of creating simple, healthy meals for one person, in an attempt to reduce individual food waste.  For this, she created a website to help provide the nutritional value of the meals she was cooking, as well as posted videos to teach you how to make them.

Nour – Khamisetas:

Ever since she could hold a pencil, Nour was in love with creating art.  Now, at the age of sixteen, she believes it is time to share her art with the world.  Throughout this experience she has explored the world of online merchandising and other ways to implement her art into products (such as t-shirts).  In Nour’s 20Time presentation, she will reveal the struggles and achievements encountered in her artistic journey.  Visit Nour’s Red Bubble page her to see the merchandise available.

Junilly and Valeria – It’s Time to Cook!:

Bringing exquisite platters from the most famous regions in Brazil and savory dishes from the heart of Venezuela, Junilly and Valeria are going to put it all on the table and display their culture and passion for cooking – and eating – on their own Instagram account dedicated for these recipes.  In their 20Time Project, these dedicated girls posted the recipes, in their native languages and in English, of their favorite dishes.

Martin – Quito Documentary:

In his 20Time Project, Martin, being a Quiteño citizen, wanted to illuminate people about his city and all of the people and sceneries that are present within it  For his project, he set out to film in this beautiful city and make a short documentary about it.  He prepared for the execution of his movie by practicing in school and investigating about movie making.  Martin finalized his project by creating a stunning movie with Quito’s most beautiful views and scenery.  He didn’t want to tell a story, or inform people about the city, but capture the essence of the city.

Perseverance Pays

This past week we saw an amazing performance of Peter Pan here at Academia Cotopaxi.  This play was put on by a mixed cast of Middle School students, Elementary School students, and staff members of both AC and the One Institute (we even had a local home-schooled student participate.)  One of the most amazing parts about this show was not the success it achieved but how they (the cast, directors, and everyone who helped) got there.  It was a long and winding road but by persevering through countless obstacles the cast and crew of Peter Pan were able to stand tall and rejoice after their successful performances.  

Perseverance:  steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

Our cast and crew of Peter Pan demonstrated some amazing perseverance from the first day of tryouts until show time.  Cast members dropping out, main characters being replaced with only weeks to go, cast members missing rehearsals, forgotten lines and scene changes – the struggles continued right up until show time.  However, if you attended the full dress rehearsal on Thursday like I did, you wouldn’t have known that any of these issues had existed.  It was a brilliant performance, the energy in the auditorium was at an all time high, and the cast and crew nailed it!

When faced with obstacles many people tend to shy away and often times they give up completely.  Following through, overcoming obstacles, and achieving the final goal in the face of adversity are not feelings that many people experience.  Why do we give up though?  Why is perseverance so difficult?  I wish the answer was simple enough for me to understand, I could make a lot of money!  However, what it comes down to is practice and patience.  There is no switch or magic pill, perseverance isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight.  We do know, however, that those who practice perseverance become stronger in the long run.

Grit:  Passion plus perseverance over the very long term.

As we grow and practice perseverance we begin to build our gritiness.  We become better at handling short term struggles for the long term gain.  It’s a skill/character strength that has been studied in recent years by Angela Duckworth.  Her work is more than fascinating and has tremendous amounts of application for educational settings.  

Whether you persevere, show grit, or just work really hard to achieve your goals, the successful result and feelings of pride that come with it are enough to keep you driving forward toward your next goal.  Commit, work hard, fight through the obstacles and succeed.

If you’ve never heard of Nick Vujicic…watch this!

Once you’ve watched that, you’ll want to see this one…his TED talk. He is inspiring!

And, finally, a few famous people who persevered to reach great heights.

5 Ways to Stay Alive Until Summer

We’re almost there, summer.  You can see it on the calendar, you’ve started making travel arrangements, and your classes are nearing the end of the syllabus!  Also, if you’re anything like most of us, you’re tired right now and hanging on the edge.  We all understand and totally get it, summer is coming and it will be gloriously refreshing and help us all recharge.  However, we’ve still got a few weeks left – how do we find the energy to get to the end?  

I read a couple great blog posts the other day that inspired my post this week, I like some of the ideas and will share those here along with a few of my own.

  1. Stay planned and organized:  The end of the school year is always crazy because there are a million things happening around school.  If you have kids of your own you’re juggling their end of year schedules too!  Similarly, if you’re moving away there are countless numbers of things that need to get done before the end of the year.  How do you do it all without the stress wearing you down?  Get organized.  Not only does this help relieve stress but the feeling of achievement as you cross things off your to-do list will give you the much needed boost of dopamine.  You’ll feel better and in turn be more motivated to keep moving forward 🙂
  2. Take some time to reflect:  The school year has been wild and crazy, and busy!  And if you’re struggling with staying organized (see #1) you probably haven’t taken much time to do this yet this school year.  I know you’re busy but hear me out – taking time to reflect on your successes this school year can help you relive the positive experiences and boost your serotonin.  Serotonin is a natural antidepressant and a chemical in our body produced to help us feel good and positive!  On a similar note, if you’d rather help make someone else’s day, write them a note to show your gratitude…it will make both of you feel better!
  3. Take a chance to breathe and find work/life balance:  This might be the hardest thing to do as we try to squeeze in every last bit this school year.  However, it may be the most important thing we can do for ourselves.  Taking a walk, going for a run, doing some yoga, seeing a movie, or reading a book are all possible ways you might step away from the craziness of everyday life.  Whether it’s 30 minutes before or after work, or an afternoon on a Saturday, take some time for yourself to unwind and relax.  I just looked back and realized that I wrote about this very same idea almost exactly one year ago – it’s that time of year!  
  4. The First Five:  It’s okay to stop and give a few minutes of your class time over to talking with your students about non-academic stuff (gasp!)  Yes, it is, really…give it a try!  I’ve written about the importance of positive relationships with our students and that doesn’t stop.  Keep the lines of communication open with your students by showing that you still care about them, even with the craziness of the end of the year upon you.  Not only will your students feel better but so will you, the connection helps everyone feel like there is more than just content, content, content.  
  5. Face the FOMO:  It’s the end of the year.  There will be parties, gatherings, group outings, and all sorts of social events.  Just like I tell new teachers at the beginning of the year – you don’t have to do everything, in fact skipping some things is healthy!  FOMO or “fear of missing out” is real…no one wants to be the only person to miss the party and they certainly don’t want to be sitting at home thinking that everyone else if having fun without them!  However, sometimes that’s okay, in fact it’s more than okay.  Taking a night off and missing a social event is a healthy choice, especially when you know there are a million things getting squeezed into the last few days of the school year.  We’ll never be able to do everything and we have to be okay with that, knowing that our lives are full of wonderful experiences and missing this one won’t ruin our lives!  

The school year is winding down quickly and so is my time here at AC and in Ecuador.  In fact, I just counted and there are only 43 days left.  I’ve got four trips planned, a hike up Pichincha, International Festival, my birthday, 29 school days, countless parties, and waaaay too many things on my to-do list.  Perhaps I wrote this post more for myself than anyone!!  It’s that time of year, be good to yourself and be good for each other!!

Lessons From the Basketball Court

I’m totally fired up today and I can’t calm myself down.  See, the JV girls basketball team that I’m coaching got their first win of the year this morning!!  We played a team we’ve lost to 3 times already (most recently, last night!) and we played an outstanding game.  However, the biggest reason I’m so excited and pumped up isn’t even the win, it’s the amazing amount of growth these girls have shown since the beginning of the season (only 2 months ago).  With very limited practice time (we only had 8 practices of about 35-40 minutes each) these girls have gone from clueless to starting to understand some serious basketball concepts, it’s been awesome to watch!

As I’ve watched their growth I’ve thought a lot about all the connections to the classroom and teaching and learning.  I want to share a few of the things that I’ve slowly come to understand in more depth as I’ve grown as a coach and educator.  

  1. Rule Number One:  Ask any of my JV girls to tell you about “Rule Number One” for our team and there will be no hesitation, “Have fun!”  Even though they are choosing to participate on the basketball team, I have to make sure that the experience is positive for them.  As a measure of whether I’ve achieved that or not, I consider the fact that I started the year with 15 girls and finished the year with 15.  No one has quit, for any reason and despite being 0-8 before today (it’s not easy losing all the time!).  Applying the concept of “Rule Number One” to a classroom, imagine that your kids aren’t always choosing your class and therefore may not be super excited about showing up every day.  Essentially the opposite situation I faced this season AND they may not be very good at your subject.  So, what do you do?  How do you ensure that those students who may not want to be there and/or aren’t very “good” at your subject still have a positive experience in your class?  In my mind, which might be obvious based on “Rule Number One”, creating a positive experience for your students is easily the most important thing you can do as an educator.  
  2. You might have to “change the message”:  Many years ago, when I was just starting to help my father coach my sister’s basketball team I had my very first coaching epiphany.  My dad was yelling some direction or another at the girls but it wasn’t getting through, they weren’t doing what he wanted.  He turned to me and said, “Why don’t they do to what I’m telling them to do?”  Immediately, and completely out of nowhere, I answered, “Maybe you have to change your message.”  I remember it like it was yesterday, he stopped and looked at me considering what I had said.  The light when on in his head and I realized I might have hit on something.  See, the problem wasn’t that the girls weren’t listening, they just didn’t understand what he was asking them to do.  From that day on, both my father and I began to simplify our basketball vocabulary/jargon to better fit our audience.  The same thing happens in all of our classes, especially with the vast ELL population we face each day.  Are your students struggling with a task, directions, or other verbal feedback?  Perhaps you need to step back and “change the message”.  My basketball vocabulary this year was very, very basic BUT my girls learned a ton because they could understand it and I didn’t have to keep repeating things.  What about in your classroom?
  3. Focus on the growth, not the result:  Look, up until this morning we were (as we say) “oh-for”…meaning we hadn’t won, we were 0-8.  However, as I touched on above, my girls were engaged and came ready to work hard every time they could.  Why?  I believe that the answer is in the growth, they could see it and who isn’t excited when they can see themselves improving?!?  Demonstrating growth isn’t always easy, I totally get that, and some of my girls didn’t grow nearly as quickly as the others, but that’s okay.  What is important is that they can see growth and feel success, even if the scoreboard (or test) doesn’t show it at the end.  After each game I make sure to bring the team together and highlight our growth and success, celebrating even after a loss 🙂  Maybe we played better defense today, or we scored more than our average.  Perhaps we executed (even once) on a play we had learned the day before.  Even today, after we won, I brought them together to celebrate the positive things we accomplished (other than the obvious one point victory!)  How do your students see, feel, or demonstrate growth in your classroom?  And how do you (and them) stop and celebrate that growth?  When we feel like we’re accomplishing something (growth) we are more likely to engage even deeper.  Growing is fun, it helps Rule Number One!  
  4. Baby steps work, perfection doesn’t:  My practices this year were very limited, as I mentioned earlier.  There was no way in the world that I was going to “fix” every “problem” that I saw on the court.  In fact, there wasn’t even a realistic chance that I would get to many of these “problems” at all.  For this group, it was about basics…and I mean basics!  One of the best parts about having so many beginner basketball players was that we had a lot to work on, never a dull moment.  However, I had to be careful, I couldn’t over do it with the coaching.  Our minds (especially those of our students) can’t handle too much input at once.  If I tried to coach every aspect of basketball that these girls needed to improve they would’ve overloaded and shut down in minutes.  So, we needed to grow with baby steps and couldn’t worry about perfection.  Mistakes were okay, they were celebrated and learned from.  If we aimed for perfection the perspective of growth would’ve been lost and frustration would’ve quickly set in.  The same is true in your classroom as well.  Perhaps you have one or two students who can realistically strive toward perfection but for the vast majority, growth and even slow growth, should be the focus and celebration.  This is a mindset though, the teacher needs to live this mindset and make sure the kids buy in.  
  5. Passion is essential, positive passion changes the game:  This one is simple.  If you asked my girls if I was living Rule Number One or if I was passionate about basketball, I think (actually I know) that there would be no doubt about the answer.  I tell the girls all the time how much fun I’m having and I’m not lying.  They can see it in my face, they can hear it in my voice but most importantly I tell them.  Sometimes we assume too much, we think our kids are getting a message when we aren’t explicitly stating it.  Tell them.  Say it out loud and let them know how much you care about your subject or why it’s important.  Passion is contagious and when you have a positive classroom (discussed above) your students will feed off the energy and buy-in to your passion.  

So, we’re 1-8 now.  We got a win.  It feels great and we’ll ride that emotion into the next game and the last two after that.  We may not win any of these last three games but it won’t matter.  If we end up 1-11 these girls won’t care and neither will I.  It’s not the final result, it’s the journey.  We’ve celebrated growth, we’ve focused on improving our skills (but not too many at a time), and, most importantly, we’ve had fun!  I’m confident that these girls will all be excited to play basketball next season, some of them on the varsity.  They’ll have a positive attitude about working hard and growing.  Best of all, I’m confident that they’ll do all of this without me there to coach/encourage them.  After all, it’s not about me, it’s about the lasting memories and positive attitude that these girls will walk away from this season cherishing.

Note:  As I was writing this, one of my players came in and said “I’m going to draw, I need to get my creative energy out” and I realized how writing this post had calmed and focused me too.  I’m ready for game two of the tournament and a great long weekend when we’re finished, I hope you all have/had a fantastic weekend yourselves…only a few more weeks left, enjoy it while it lasts 🙂