Positive Notes Home

We’re in the home stretch, three weeks until summer break, wow!  I keep thinking about our school culture and I’ve been reading even more about it as people share amazing articles, links, and books with me (thank you!)  I will keep it short this week because I think it would be really valuable if you went to this link and read a great blog post that was shared with me.  I’ve written about ideas for improving school culture the last two weeks and the theme hasn’t died down in my mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not going anywhere!  

Last week I brought up the idea of positive notes home.  The author of the post I shared above makes a great case for dipping your toe into the waters, it’s not a huge time commitment but the power of those notes IS huge!!  As an example, one of our colleagues came to me this week to show me an email he received.  He wasn’t trying to brag about his child but rather was sharing it with me to help confirm my theory.  It was a glowing email about his child’s performance in class and the way it made him feel, as a parent, was exactly the kind of feeling I believe we need to start fostering in this community.  He was proud of his child and happy about the growth shown academically but along with those feelings he was thankful toward the teacher for sharing.  This is what I’m after, that parental feeling of positivity and thankfulness for us (the teachers!)

We need to bring parents to the table.  They need to be more a part of the school community than they are now (as a generalization).  By communicating regularly, and not just for “negative” reasons, we will begin to forge a connection that we can draw upon to help get them more involved in their child’s education as well as the school community.

As I said, I’ll keep it short this week.  PLEASE give it a try, send a few positive notes home and see what comes back!!

A Parting 2 Cents

It seems like a long time ago that I started writing my 2 Cents!  For the last SCIS version of my 2 Cents I’m going to be a bit more long winded than usual.  However, 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 four things.

Personally, for my summer, I’ll be working on organizing a visa to Ecuador, spending time with family and friends in America, getting back to working out and eating healthy, and acting as the Officiant in my sister’s wedding just days before Amy and I take off for Quito.  During all of that time I’ve also committed to reading two professional books (one for an online book chat and the other to review for Middleweb) and attending a 1-day “Ed Camp” in Chicago.  I’m excited for these professional opportunities which have all come via my professional learning community (PLC).

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.  Take care of yourself.

Remember that New Year’s Resolution…yeah, I know the feeling…I was too stressed and too cold in the winter to really get anything productive going.  It’s too dark in the mornings and dreary at night, who wants to work out?  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 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!

3.  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 Game of Thrones book 5 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 middle 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!

4.  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 SCIS 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!

It’s Who We “Be”, Not What We “Do”

Talking with our students often brings my mind back to things that are important but for one reason or another I’ve lost focus of.  The other day I was reminded that if we aren’t living up to the standards expected of us we won’t be tolerated and the same goes for our students.  However, and here’s the really challenging part of all of this, we have to do it ALL the time!  It was that conversation with a student the other day that opened my eyes to something that I think is really important…it’s not who we “be” in the good times but who we “be” in the face of adversity.  Can we “be” the person we want to “be” when faced with people we don’t respect, like, or have patience for?

Our best can only be measured by our worst.

I had a great conversation with one student in particular the other day.  He is a ‘frequent flyer’ in my office and we were speaking about why he was there on this particular day.  He started off with “I didn’t DO anything!”  Which is how our kids think 99% of the time  – they think about what they “do”.  I, however, didn’t want to hear about what he did or didn’t do.  Rather, I wanted to know who he was “being” instead of what he was “doing”.  It took him a minute to go along with my questions but eventually he explained that “when he is my age” he wanted to “be nice, respectful and kind”.  He acknowledged that he was not “being” any of those things during class that day.  I asked him if he thought he’d just wake up one day and “be nice, respectful and kind” which really made him stop and think.  As we continued to talk he mentioned that he was very upset with a few classmates because they weren’t “being” very nice and this is why he was “being” mean and rude.

This is it, this is the point where we need to meet our kids beliefs head on and help them grow.  They need to understand that who we “be” isn’t something that we flip on and off and find excuses to “be nice, respectful and kind” sometimes and “be” a jerk other times.  We can’t “be” the person that we strive to “be” only in good times and resort to some lesser version of ourselves when we encounter people we don’t respect.  In fact, it’s for these people that we need to “be” even better, to rise up instead of come down to their level.  If we don’t change that in ourselves first and then guide our kids to this understanding through modeling, conversations, and consistent reflections, then we can’t expect to see them become the kind of adults who we and they want to “be”.

This change can’t happen over night but as I’ve written before it starts with us and who we “be” for our kids, as their role-models we have a HUGE responsibility to always “be” awesome!!

The Middle School Balance

A couple weeks ago we sent out applications for the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) to all of the students who qualified academically.  We sent out just over 90 letters in the Middle School congratulating those students on their academic efforts.  Along with that letter went an application to share all of their awesomeness with the NJHS Faculty Committee who would be voting on this year’s NJHS class.  What we got back was inspiring to say the least!

56 students returned applications for the National Junior Honor Society which focuses on the five pillars of: Scholarship, Leadership, Service, Citizenship, and Character.  We are all well aware of the academic capabilities of the students.  It was downright impressive, however, to see the amount of opportunities our students have to get involved (in our school AND community) on display via these applications.  These are opportunities that wouldn’t happen without you, your time, and your efforts!  Our students are flat out lucky to have such amazing people working at their school; people who are willing to get involved to make the community a better place for the kids.

Being away on China Trips last week and hearing all of the positive comments from kids about how much fun they were having as well as seeing them push their limits and learn new things was a very positive experience.  Then to follow it up this week by looking at all of these amazing student applications and all of the wonderful stuff they’ve gotten involved with really strengthens my belief that we’ve created a well rounded and balanced program for our Middle School students.

When we look at how we live our own lives we can appreciate the importance of balance.  Whether it’s finding time to workout, read, enjoy the city around us or try new things we all find ways to manage our lives in a healthy way that doesn’t allow work to take over completely.  This important part of living a successful life is what we’ve used as the foundational belief for how our Middle School functions.  Creating a program that guides students toward living balanced lives is at the core of our Middle School.  As our students move to high school this balanced approach to life becomes even more important as they learn to tackle the rigors of independence.  Looking past high school we can all attest to the need for balance in our lives as college students and beyond, into the “Real World”.

Thanks to your willingness to offer amazing opportunities for our kids to get involved with leadership, service, and other amazing after school activities we’ve put our Middle School kids on the path to successful, balanced lives!  All of your efforts, both inside and outside of the classroom, are what make SCIS an amazing place for our students to learn and grow through their middle school years!!

What Are You (Not) Saying to Your Students?

By now we are all well aware of the essential role that feedback plays in education.  We create tremendous opportunities for our students to both give and receive feedback which allows them to improve their learning and drive them toward success.  The feedback we give our students is extremely valuable in their development as middle school students and budding academics.  However, this is formal academic feedback I’m talking about.  What about the informal feedback your students are receiving from you throughout the day?

Our students are receiving feedback from you whether you intend it or not.  Maybe you laughed at their joke as they walked into class…feedback (my teacher finds me funny).  Perhaps you compliment their new shoes or haircut…feedback (my teacher notices me AND thinks I have style, yay!)  Consider the other side of the coin.  Feedback (my teacher thinks I’m stupid)…the teacher only calls on a couple kids for the ‘hard’ questions.  Feedback (my teacher doesn’t notice me)…the teacher focuses on the “loud” kids.

What feedback are you sending without even thinking about it?

As I’ve been moving around the school this last week I’ve tried to think about the potential feedback that our students are receiving from the (un)intentional messages we are sending.  Some are AMAZING, some leave room for growth.

Some of the positive feedback kids are receiving that may or may not be intentional includes:

  • My teacher really likes this class and group of kids.
  • My teacher has high expectations for all students.
  • My teacher knows me and cares about who I am outside of school.
  • My teacher values SSR and enjoys reading!
  • My teacher enjoys working at SCIS.
  • My teacher is happy 🙂

All of these things are impressions that can be implied from the way that we engage with their students.  I’d like you to think about how a teacher may be sending the above messages.

Take a few minutes to think about the feedback your students are receiving from you.  What are the positive messages?  Is it possible that you are unintentionally sending any negative feedback?

I think you’re all amazing educators and wonderful people.  We all work very hard and as I’ve mentioned before, we’re all at least 90% awesome 🙂  I believe strongly in looking in the mirror and working to grow each and every day.  Thank you for all that you do for our students and our community.  We have an amazing middle school and we get better each day!!

Reflecting on Three Quarters of Awesomeness

I recently participated in a Twitter chat about reflective practice.  The questions started out asking about the importance of reflecting and whether or not is was a necessary part of being a teacher.  In my mind, there is no doubt that this is an essential part of teaching and as Kat C said as we chatted this morning, “Is that even a question?  How do you exist as a teacher without reflecting?”

The third quarter is now over and we’re moving into the home stretch.  There was never a better time of year than now to try some new things and take a risk in your classroom.  If you were here last year you may recall that I asked this very same thing of you about a year ago.

With 75% of the school year behind you, take a minute to think back on what has gone well and what hasn’t.  Think about something you’ve wanted to try but, for whatever reason, haven’t yet tried.  Whether you’re staying here or moving on next year here is a perfect opportunity to improve your educational practice.

What will you do to be a better educator over the next few months?  Where can you grow?  How can you help our students be successful in this fourth quarter?

Enjoy your holiday break and come back refreshed, it’s going to be a down hill run to June 🙂

What a Great Community!!

Recently I’ve been struck by just how much of a community our school truly has become for our students.  I know ‘Community’ is part of the name of our school and we most certainly do a lot of ‘big ticket’ community things.  Our PAFA events from the International Food Fair, to the back to school picnic, to market days all bring our community together.  However, I’ve noticed a lot of things that are much more subtle indicators of the community we’ve become.

It’s obvious that our school is from all over the map, literally!  We have students from over 50 countries speaking well over a dozen different languages.  Yet that mix of students doesn’t result in clashes or arguments relating to culture, language, or other misunderstandings.  Our kids get along, they’re friends with everyone and they’re open to new experiences.  This may be something that we think is obvious and perhaps it should be.  It’s not unusual to find students who’ve grouped themselves together by home culture.  However, as an example of how kids are building community, I frequently find one of our newest sixth grade boys (who is Korean) on the field playing with a group of almost all non-Koreans.  It’s awesome to see kids out of their comfort zones and taking risks.  Culture is not a barrier to community at SCIS.

Each morning as I wait for the kids to come off the buses I get to observe a whole variety of what I’ll call “proof of community”.  The other day I asked a high school student if the little second grade girl she walks and talks with every morning was her sister.  I was shocked when she said, “No, she’s just a girl that rides my bus.”  This very social high schooler walks in chatting away with a tiny little second grade student as though they’re best friends…and she’s not the only one, this happens quite frequently between students of all ages at our school.  I can’t imagine the confidence and feelings of safety that our younger students must feel because of these relationships.  Age is not a barrier to community at SCIS.

The culture we’ve created at SCIS fosters these community bonds.  Activities and events create relationships between students who would otherwise not engage each other.  House games in the Middle School bring our kids together across grade levels for friendly competitions.  The swim team brings kids from all grades together to train, compete, and grow together.  The bonds I’ve witnessed between high school and middle school swimmers created because of the team are very positive bonds and fortunately they happen frequently.  As the Upper School production comes to production night (go see Midsummer Night’s Dream tonight or tomorrow!!!) it’s wonderful to see the bonds and relationships that have grown between high school and middle school students, kids who normally would have no reason to interact with each other.  We build community at SCIS.

Shanghai COMMUNITY International School truly is a community.  Our students are happy when they come to school.  They feel safe, confident, and they feel welcome.  The community that we’ve become is thanks to all that you give back to our students.  Without your efforts our students get on the bus and go home but thanks to you we have a bustling after school activities program and our kids are engaged.  We are a community at SCIS!

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!!

All week we have been celebrating the outstanding teachers we have here at school and it has been a very positive atmosphere everywhere around campus.  It was great to see so many of you sitting outside enjoying your food and a little sunshine at lunch today.  There were smiles, laughter, and good feelings all around…a great way to finish off a terrific week 🙂

Right across from my office is a HUGE thank you note from all of the Middle School students to you for being so awesome.  The notes and messages on that big yellow paper are inspiring.  For all of those days that your students come and go without a word of thanks, it only seems to take that one bit of appreciation to strengthen the fire.  This week of celebration and thanks couldn’t have come at a better time.

As the weather begins to turn and we come off of such a great week, enjoy your weekend!  We’ve got two weeks left and then we are on Spring Break…before you know it we’ll be on China Trips and shortly after that we’ll watch our students leave us for the summer.  If there is one message I could give to our kids at this point in the year it would be to cherish these last few months with your friends and teachers.  For many of them, and us, there will be tears and hugs at the end of the year as they go in separate directions.  Enjoy your time with your students and colleagues, they’re all wonderful people (even that kid, you know, the one who you just thought about…the one who might drive you up the wall most days…even them, they’re pretty cool too when you stop to think about it!)

I’m a big sports person, I grew up playing all sorts of sports and enjoyed coaching even more…I LOVE sports!  One of the all-time greatest coaches (at least in basketball) was John Wooden.  He coached at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) where he helped them win 10 national championships in 12 years, including 7 in a row.  At one point his team won 88 straight games.  No doubt he had some of the best players in the nation BUT he was still renowned as one of the greatest teachers of the game ever.  Anyway, I want to leave you with a quote from Coach Wooden, he understood just how important all of you are to our students and the future.  He nailed it when he said:

“I think the teaching profession contributes more to the future of our society than any other single profession.” – John Wooden

Thank you all for being so awesome for our students, no one can say it enough…you’re all incredible and you change the lives of our students every single day!!

Do you have a PLN? You should!

I often share relevant articles or videos when I come across them and in response I have frequently heard something to the effect of, “Where do you find all this great stuff?”  There are so many good things out there for educators that it’s also irresponsible of us not to be accessing such great tools and resources.  So how can you do it without spending hours and hours sorting through nonsense?

The power of the Personal Learning Network (PLN) is something that I’ve discovered during this process of searching for online resources.  I feel as though I’m late getting in the game on PLNs but I’m going to go ahead and blame China and the Great Fire Wall for that 🙂  However, over the last couple years I’ve been working hard to establish more of an online presence and build my PLN.

Anyway, let’s cut to the chase – All educators should have a Twitter account and be building a strong PLN.  This doesn’t mean you have to be some crazy Twitter maniac who is constantly sending out Tweets.  Rather, it means you begin to slowly build a network of connections and resources around the world whom you know you can rely on for relevant educational information.  Then, from this point you grow and learn with the technology and the resources you gain from your network.  Your network essentially does the research and collecting of awesome resources for you.  All you do is sit back and reap the benefits, occasionally sending some great info back out into the mix.  It’s brilliant!

Check out this info graphic that shows Seven Degrees of Connectedness and think about where you fall.  If you’re not yet at Stage 1 then I’d like to strongly urge you to come and begin the journey of getting connected.  If you’re already connected but want to join the conversation you’re absolutely invited as well!

What Makes a Great Teacher?

This week I saw an awesome article from the Washington Post that made me think of all the awesome teachers we have here at school.  It was about Ellie Herman and some lessons she has learned.  Ellie worked for 20 years as an American television writer. She worked on some small shows you may have heard of:  Doogie Howser, M.D., Melrose Place, and Desperate Housewives among others.  However, in 2007 she decided to become an English teacher and took a job working in a very different school environment than ours, one where 96% of the students are living below the poverty line in South Los Angeles, California.  In 2013, Ellie stopped teaching and started observing other teachers to try and learn from them.  She also started writing about what she was observing and learning; it is phenomenal stuff.

Ellie is a fantastic writer (as one could assume) and easy to read.  I want to say this as clearly as possible:  If you have never bothered to read something I’ve shared, let this be your first…it’s great.

Once you’ve read that post go ahead and explore some more…start with the front page or this article about why “love is the answer”.

If you need convincing, here are five practices Ellie observed in great teachers (she explains these in her post):

1.  Great teachers listen to their students.

2.  Great teachers have an authentic vision for their students.

3.  Great teachers have an unequivocal belief in all students’ potential.

4.  Great teachers are calm, persistent pushers.

5.  Great teachers practice non-attachment to short-term results.

These aren’t new ideas, they’re not even ground-breaking.  They are good reminders though and the way Ellie describes these traits is very energizing.  I’m most emotionally attached to numbers three and four as you may have guessed, I love to keep pushing (sometimes pulling/dragging) those kids who need the extra support because I very strongly believe in all students’ potential.  I also can’t help but notice how this all keeps coming back to the Mindset conversation 🙂