Power of Positivity

Last week Tuesday I offered our staff a challenge, to send students to me with positive office referrals, and I couldn’t have been more grateful for the way that they stepped up!!  I was swamped with positive office referrals all week. If anyone saw me at all it was probably when I was dropping a student off in their classroom after calling home with them, it was a busy week but it was awesome!!!  In just four days our staff wrote positive office referrals for more than 10% of the school! WOW!

Take a second and think about the impact that this had on our community over the last four days.  10% of our students had a positive call home, their families got to celebrate them, teachers got to celebrate them, and their classmates got to celebrate them.  The power of positivity is a real thing, you could feel the positive energy flowing through the hallways by the end of the week.

With just a day and a half left with students before a much needed break I know energy levels are low and patience is wearing thin.  However, I’m going to ask our staff to stay focused on the positive and keep those positive office referrals coming!  

Short week, short post, but if you’re interested in learning about the impact of thinking positively then give this TED Talk a try, great stuff!


Look, Find, Enjoy…Smile

At the risk of sounding too much like Martin Luther King Jr., I had a dream this week.  That’s not in and of itself too amazing but I don’t normally remember my dreams.  This one, however, I HAD to remember.  In fact, I woke up in the middle of the night and made a very concerted effort to remember what had happened in my dream:

I was walking around in a crowded area, where everyone was visibly down and depressed.  They were all telling “their story” but each and every story was a lamentation of all the hard and tough things in their life.  It was a sad place to be, no one was happy and I can remember having a feeling of being “sucked into” the sadness.  

But then…I’m not sure where he came from, but a man arrived.  He was playing music, basically a one man band.  I can’t visualize the details of what he looked like any more but I distinctly recall comparing him to Bert (Dick Van Dyke’s character in Mary Poppins).  Anyway, this man came into the crowded area and began to offer storytelling services to people.  When he started telling these people’s stories for them, however, the mood immediately began to change.  They weren’t sad stories any longer but rather positive, uplifting versions of “their story” that focused on the happy times instead of the sad.  People were happy and the overall mood of the crowd did a complete 180, it was now festive and positive.

And then I woke up.  It was the middle of the night but I forced myself to lay there and contemplate this dream for a while.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not much of a dream analyst, but this dream hit me hard for some reason.  As I lay there trying to remember this dream and figure out what it all might have meant, it struck me just how inspirational this man was.  He looked not at the sadness and despair but rather at the good and positive inside of people.  The same lives went from sad to happy just by changing the focus.

I don’t know where this dream came from and I can promise you I haven’t seen Mary Poppins in a very long time (although I think I need to go back and watch it now, classic!) so I don’t think this dream came from a subconscious desire to watch a movie from 1964.  

I do know this though, it’s been a very long first semester and we’ve certainly experienced some major ups and downs.  For many of us it is easier to focus on the negative, especially when we are tired and worn down.  I’ve got a feeling that something deep inside my mind was trying to remind me that focusing on the positive is the key to happiness and success.  

As our students hit a high stress period of deadlines, exams, and overall fatigue we need to remember that, not only for ourselves but for them too, positivity is powerful.  If you haven’t watched the video from the link above I recommend doing so now.  While you’re at it, if you have the time, perhaps the best part of the movie:  Step in Time. (A great reminder that ANYONE can have fun, even at their job!!)

Bring the positivity, look for it if it isn’t there, I promise in a room full of teenagers there is at least a little bit lying around…and when in doubt, smile 🙂

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!!

Pushing Forward with School Culture

Last week I wrote about school culture and how it is, perhaps, the single most important piece to achieving the academic success that we strive for in education.  I’ve continued thinking about the importance of shaping a school’s culture and have had a lot of conversations and feedback based on last week’s post (thank you to everyone for your thoughts!)  As a result of all these conversations I decided to start trying (and modeling) a few strategies that I thought could be beneficial to further engage our student and parent populations.  I’ve found a high level of success at the initial level and I’m excited about some of the feedback I’ve received from parents and students alike.

In the past I’ve written about the importance of feedback and how giving and receiving feedback are things that people need to practice.  Similarly, I read Thanks For the Feedback a while back, upon Dan’s recommendation, and have been thinking a lot about the concept of learning to receive feedback.  There are a lot of factors at play when receiving feedback, which is what we’re asking our students and parents to do as part of the process of further engaging with academics.  One of the most impactful ideas is that people need to be in the right mindset when receiving feedback, otherwise it may fall on deaf ears and be ignored.  

One challenge that exists when sharing feedback with students and parents is that all too often we only make time to share the “negative” feedback, the stuff intended to help our students improve and grow.  This is essential information and must be shared with students and parents, but it’s not the only piece.  Balance is an important part of life, in all aspects, and when it comes to feedback there is no difference.  In order to reach a level of balance in student/parent communication that will act to further engage these stakeholders we have to ensure that we aren’t solely focused on the “negative.”  If we only contact parents about “negative” issues or approach students with “negative” feedback they will begin to block us out and our feedback will be completely lost.  

Which brings me to my idea, one of a few I’ve been trying out lately…and seeing incredible results!  Positive messages home.  I’m not making things up just to have an excuse to contact parents and celebrate their kids.  Rather, I’m looking for the positive and taking the time to share the celebration with students and parents.  Meanwhile, I continue to make my usual parent contacts for less desirable reasons (detentions, missing work, etc.)  What I’ve noticed is that when I copy (CC) parents on these messages to the students (I always do this), I’m receiving a response from the parents 85% of the time when I share a positive message, compared to an approximate 20% response rate for “negative” messages.  One of my (many) theories is that as we engage more parents with positive messages that our response rate on “negative” messages will increase.  It’s only natural, that as parents begin to see that we’re in this together, that they’ll begin to engage further with their students academic pursuits.  When I have kids come up and thank me for sharing a positive message with their parents I know that they’ve had a conversation around this topic.  My hope is that we can find a way to help parents open the lines of communication by starting with the positive, then when the “negative” arises they’ve already established a path for having these conversations.

It takes a village to raise a child and we’re all in this together.  After a few conversations around this topic, some teachers have already jumped on the bandwagon and have begun to share more frequent (both positive and “negative”) messages home, with wonderful results.  If you’re keen to help continue this surge toward a more positive school culture I encourage you to give this a try.  Let me know if you’re thinking about it and I can give you some time-saving tips to help prevent spinning your wheels unnecessarily.  There’s no better time than the present to celebrate the wonderful students we are fortunate enough to work with every day, you never know when that one positive note home is going to change something for a student or parent!  

What 6th Graders Know, That We (Adults) Have Forgotten

This past week I spent four days with the 6th graders on their “Week Without Walls” trip.  Being outdoors, in the fresh air and away from the day-to-day rhythm that life naturally falls into gave me a great chance to step back and think about a lot of things.  While most of my time was occupied by 30 11-year olds, I also had the chance to be inspired on a number of occasions by these dynamic pre-teens.

Believe it or not, one of the most inspiring moments of the trip came thanks to some good old fashioned 6th grade dramatics.  In brief, a couple kids were “in a fight”, there was a misunderstanding that had blown out of proportion because each side felt they were right.  After a long mediation session each of these young adults was able to see the other’s perspective.  They resolved, for the future, to better communicate and seek to find a resolution before reaching such elevated levels of conflict.  At the end of the day this interaction could’ve been any two 6th graders, anywhere in the world…there was nothing particularly special about the interaction.  However, it seemed special at the time and it got me thinking…

Why is it so easy for our students (the younger ones in particular) to forgive and forget?  How do they so easily move on from such interactions?  After thinking about this and watching with a more focused eye, I think I saw some hints as to what might be the real secret – it comes down to their relationships and their flexibility.

One fact is simple, they’re malleable.  These young minds are fully aware that they, in fact, don’t know everything.  They can step back and admit that they were wrong or that they could’ve handled a situation better and they grow from it, they truly are reflective creatures (even if that doesn’t always seem to be the case!)  I often wonder, as we go along the road to adulthood, does this skill fade…do we become the “old dog” who can’t “learn new tricks”?  Or does our Mindset change as we age and, supposedly, grow wiser?

They’re empathetic as well.  It’s one thing to be malleable, but if you can’t see the other side then how can you grow?  It hit me like a ton of bricks how empathy just oozes out of these kids.  As adults I expect that many of these kids will brush off such “childish” issues in the future, but right now they have a superhuman ability to truly feel the emotions of their friends (and even sometimes their combatants).  This can prove difficult when ten kids are reacting to one friend’s pain/heartache/perceived injustice, but when it comes to conflict resolution this empathy is a true superpower!

Most importantly, however, these 6th graders know each other and they know each other well.  They’ve built relationships consistently for a long time (some of them for years).  Some are better friends and have more positive relationships than others but there is a certain level of understanding that exists amongst all of these kids.  They know each other’s secrets and they know each other’s buttons (and how to push them!)  As 6th graders, these kids are in the beginning stages of learning to interact successfully with their peers provided all of these new-found interpersonal insights.  For some it has opened doors, they’ve built their friend circle and are enjoying the fruits of such understandings.  The relationships they’ve built can withstand misunderstandings and “fights”.  These kids can fully engage in a disagreement, resolve the issues and go back to being best friends within minutes…it truly is a superpower.

As educators, and people in general, I believe that we have a lot to learn from these young minds.  While watching and learning from these mini-adults I realized I needed to work harder myself.  It dawned on me that I didn’t know these kids as well as some groups of kids I’ve worked with in the past.  I was forced to consider how this could impact my interactions with them.  Had I built up enough of a positive relationship with each of these kids?  Enough to withstand a difficult conversation and still come away with a mutual level of respect?  Since so many of my student interactions tend to be related to behavior or academic discipline I grew concerned.  Luckily I’ve been down this road and I feel confident in my ability to build relationships…I jumped right in and began connecting with students – it turned out to be the best part of my week!

How have you worked to connect with your students?  Have you built the level of relationship that is strong enough to withstand those difficult moments and come out the other side strong?

Take a step back and think about the relationships you’ve built…could they be strengthened?  I know I’ll be working hard to (re)connect with students over the coming weeks, especially those with whom my connections are weakest.  Building the positive couldn’t be more important and it’s never too late to jump in!

Fiestas de Quito

I thought about going against the obvious this week and NOT writing about Fiestas de Quito but after experiencing such amazing performances by our Middle School and High School students I just couldn’t resist celebrating the awesomeness!!

In the weeks leading up to Fiestas de Quito there has been a lot of time and energy put into this celebration of the founding of Quito.  Our Spanish Department deserves a lot of recognition for the time, effort, and crazy amounts of energy they’ve put into helping our students plan such beautiful performances.  Being new to Quito I couldn’t quite fathom the scale to which this celebration would go, it was mind-blowing!  ¡Muchas gracias!

Our students held nothing back and demonstrated an amazing amount of pride, not only in Quito, but in themselves and the work they put in preparing for these performances.  To watch our students push themselves out of their comfort zones while on stage in front of a standing-room only crowd was absolutely inspiring.  I’m impressed more and more everyday with the level to which our students are willing to be risk takers.  However, Fiestas de Quito took that to a whole new level, providing them with a context in which they were engaged and excited to share their efforts and talents with our community.

As educators this is what we strive for, creating an atmosphere for our students that allows them to take risks, learn, and grow in a manner that is comfortable for them.  As I walk around Academia Cotopaxi I see this happening everyday.  Our students are comfortable in their classes and feel safe in their learning environment.  Students see their teachers and the other adults at school as people who care about them, people they can go to if they need help.  The positive relationships we build with our students here at AC create an atmosphere filled with daily opportunities to learn and grow.

Fiestas de Quito is a wonderful opportunity for our community to come together and celebrate the amazing city we are privileged to call home.  As you enjoy the festivities and revelry take a second to stop and think about how you are working to build the positive.  Have a look at this very brief post by best-selling author Jon Gordon.  He talks about the power of positive interactions and the ratio of positive to negative that his research shows to be the tipping point for effectiveness.  It’s very interesting and has applications to life in general (and certainly has implications for the classroom).  Very interesting stuff 🙂

Enjoy the music and parades everyone!  

¡Viva Quito!

Positive School Culture: The Importance of School Spirit

There is an exciting week ahead at AC!  Saturday is the PTO Family Fun Run and all of next week is a school-wide Spirit Week sponsored by the High School Student Council.  Personally, I couldn’t be more excited to dig through my closet and come up with some spirit-wear for the week…it’s going to be awesome!!  

School spirit doesn’t depend solely on a positive school culture but these two things are most certainly correlated.  We’ve worked hard at Academia Cotopaxi to build a positive school culture.  Whether thinking about the collegial atmosphere in the staff room or the positive student relationships, AC has a great vibe and is a positive place to learn and work.  We’ve introduced the “I See AC” uniform policy this year, in part to increase the sense of school spirit among our students.  I’d love to see the ‘battle’ over uniform become a thing of the past, with our students so proud of their school that a uniform is a badge of honor instead of a nuisance!

This weekend we have the PTO Fun Run happening.  Our parents have worked very hard to create a wonderful community event that will bring together students and families for a wonderful morning of exercise and community building.  The beautiful t-shirts designed by one of our very own high school students have sold out!  The amount of people clamoring to get their hands on these shirts is inspiring, the sense of spirit behind the Fun Run is exactly the kind of feeling we want to be generating here at AC!

All of next week, for what I think is the first time in a very long time, we will have a school-wide Spirit Week.  This event was put together by our High School Student Council.  Their vision was an event that brought the whole community together to celebrate our amazing school.  Each day has been well thought out, with all age levels considered.  The grade level that shows the most spirit throughout the week will even be rewarded with an ice cream party in the future…yum!

The importance of school spirit on the learning environment has been well documented but it’s important role is frequently over-looked.  In fact, some of the people who believe most strongly in the power of school spirit are the students themselves!  An interesting paradox often arises amongst our teenagers as they struggle between ‘fitting-in’, ‘being cool’, and ‘standing out’.  As some of the most important adults in their life, one of the best things we can do is model the behavior we would like to see from them.  To that end, we need to demonstrate school spirit for our students and continue to build the positive atmosphere that will lead to, not only a happier school, but also a more productive learning environment.

So, come on out to the PTO Fun Run and show your spirit.  Join the run (even if you missed the early sign up, you can still run!)  It begins at 8:30 with registration starting at 8:00.  If running isn’t your thing, then be sure to join for the free breakfast beginning at 9:30.  It’s a great way to get your Saturday started and a fantastic way to support our PTO’s efforts to brighten our community!  Finally, start rummaging through your closets and planning your outfits for next week…let’s be the best dressed ‘class’ out there next week 🙂

Monday:  Pajama Day

Tuesday:  Nationality Day

Wednesday:  Fandom Day (Who are you a fan of?  Sports teams, People you admire (Einstein), etc.)

Thursday:  Wacky Day (Crazy hair, clashing clothes, backwards clothes, etc.)

Friday:  Costume Day (Book characters are best, please nothing too scary!)

A 2 Cent Tour

We’re getting ever so close to the end of the semester and it’s incredible how fast we got here!  For some reason I was crazy enough to accept a new family tour today at 2:00 (I don’t usually like Friday tours because things tend to get very busy).  Fortunately, today my tour didn’t show up (a rarity) and it gave me some much needed time to slow down and process things.  I started thinking about everything that I needed to get done for next week and then my mind wandered back to the tour that never showed up…

Basically, I have a love-hate relationship with tours.  I hate them because they take me away from doing things that will impact our students and their learning.  I love them because it gives me a chance to share our school with prospective families.  Nine times out of ten those families are coming to visit us because they’ve been recommended to us by another family or the company they work for, or both.  This is always a pleasure to hear and I think you should know this as well, our families are happy here and they’re recommending us 🙂

Another reason I love tours is because I get to share all of the amazing things that we are doing in our Middle School.  We have a lot to offer, from our academic program, to our after school activities and service program, to our House system and beyond, it’s a great place for students.  I always tell families that I’m not here to ‘sell’ them on our school (I’m not!) but rather I want to give them an honest look at our community.  After all, I don’t want a line of parents outside my door mad at me because I promised them something on the tour that we can’t deliver!  So, I don’t ‘sell’ the school but I really don’t have to!!

I brag about our teachers and the incredible work we do to meet the needs of all learners through our curriculum expectations as well as student support and professional development opportunities.  I can’t say enough about the amazing kids that we have at our school (I usually give them 100% of the credit for why we’re so awesome).  Then it comes time to show the families around campus, and that’s when my job is done.  Students are always engaged in learning as we make our way in and out of classrooms, there are smiles on everyone’s faces, and the overall warm and welcoming atmosphere we’ve created here shines through.

We’ve created something special here and it’s something to be proud of as educators.  As we come together this weekend to celebrate another holiday season we need to keep in mind all the great work we’ve done together at this school.  Enjoy the weekend everyone, and we’ll see you on the boat!