Camp Kuri Kucho

I am once again blogging my reflection of my Discover Ecuador week.  I want to model for our students as well as share my experiences and learnings.  Two amazing weeks gave me much more to think about than I could write but here are some of my thoughts as well as photo “evidence”.  

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For the second week in a row I was away with students for Discover Ecuador trips, it was another great experience.  Working with the 7th grade class at Camp Kuri Kucho (thanks to Gabo Cadenas for the above photo) was an absolute joy!  The community, San Pablo Urku, welcomed us with open arms and we felt totally at home as we worked to support the projects of this small community.  My experience with the 7th graders was just as amazing as my trip to the Amazon the week before but different in many ways, most obvious of which was the weather!

Accomplishments

The biggest outcome of this week for me was the impressive and inspiring work achieved by the 7th grade group.  In the week prior to our visit the 9th grade class had been in this community starting and working on some projects.  The 7th grade continued their work in many areas and started a few of their own projects.

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The first five rows of a 15 row water tank.  Each plastic bottle is filled with dirt to create a “brick”.  Foundation laid by 9th grade last week.

Over the course of the week we were able to see the fruits of our labor as the projects progressed.  Our students felt tremendously proud of the work they accomplished.

 

The main focus of our work was centered around the local school.  In this community they have a school of about 90 students from elementary school up through 10th grade.  The students in this school are from the surrounding villages and could be seen walking great distances to get to and from school each day.  The AC students were able to connect with these students as they joined the 45 minute school break each morning.  Playing soccer, basketball and joining conversations with the local students, our kids got to know the community members better.  The connections they established gave even more meaning to the work we were completing on their behalf.

One of the highlights was the opportunity for our students to take part in a lesson with some local students.  The topic was about the use of pesticides and the harmful impact they can have on the agriculture and the environment.

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Classroom “theory” time before doing the “practical” in the garden.

After the lesson our students worked side by side in the garden with the local students to begin planting either potatoes or fava beans (habas).  Since this school is a rural school they’ve worked to establish a sizable organic garden for their students to learn the process and importance of farming.  Much of our service work involved this garden.  It was a unique experience and opportunity for our students to work in a meaningful and real context with the local students.

 

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Ernesto teaching us how to milk a cow and other fun facts about cows and their milk production.

Aside from the wonderful service work completed by our kids we had a lot of other learning opportunities throughout the week.  Afternoon activities allowed the kids to learn to make tortillas from scratch, learn to milk a cow, and upcycle a plastic bottle into a “maceta” (a pot for plants).

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Maceta creation station led by our fantastic project leader, Karen.

Each student participated in all of these activities and had the chance to come home with their maceta and a plant.  Other opportunities included learning to conserve water (a very valuable resource in this community) by taking a “bucket shower”,

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Buckets getting filled for our “showers”.  Hot water boils on the other side of that wall, each person gets about half a bucket of hot water and fills the rest with colder water.

working as a team to wash their own dishes and silverware, and sharing a bunk space with over 15 other classmates.  All in all, our 7th grade group had the opportunity for a lot of amazing takeaways from the week.

 

What I Learned at Kuri Kucho

While this was a tremendous learning experience for our students there were also some great takeaways for me too.  We worked hard during the day and enjoyed the afternoon and evening team building experiences.  The students learned countless lessons this week.  I too learned a few lessons of my own through this experience and also a few good reminders!

Last week I talked about how much I learned about my tolerance for rain.  This week, I learned just how valuable rain (and water in general) can be for a community.  San Pablo Urku lies in a very dry area and is currently in the midst of the dry season.  We were constantly reminded of this fact since they only have running water a couple days of the week.  Students (and teachers) had to deal with toilets that didn’t flush with the push of a button, an absence of traditional showers (they waste a lot of water), and dust and dirt all over everything.  While we were there we experienced a day of rain and could see first hand just how valuable that water was to the community.  Water collection tanks filled, plants and crops received much needed hydration, and the whole community smiled as we sheltered from the rain (they knew how important that water was!)  Water, the essence of life, is constantly on the minds of this community…something we take for granted everyday was put into a very different perspective at Camp Kuri Kucho.

Another good reminder of things that we take for granted was the importance of certain types of food.  I can walk out my front door and within two minutes be at a pizza place, a sushi joint, a noodles restaurant, or cevicheria.  In San Pablo Urku the staples are potatoes and fava beans.  Every meal includes one of these very filling foods that also provide an amount of protein to their diets.  Meat is rare and when included it is a treat.  Cuy (guinea pig) are raised by almost all members of the community, as well as chickens.  Cows provide milk,

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There were lots of sheep around San Pablo Urku.

sheep provide wool, but both exist as a rare delicacy as far as their meat is concerned.  The last night hamburgers and french fries on the menu, it struck me as to how foreign this menu must be for the local community…something so normal to me is completely foreign two hours down the road.

Wonderful Experience

Waking up each morning to the sight of Cayambe looming over head was an absolute joy.  I didn’t let a chance to appreciate this beautiful sight ever pass me by.

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A hike with an amazing view as a reward, beautiful!

We had clear mornings each day and I even woke up one night at about 4:30 to see a full moon hovering just over the volcano…awesome!  Beyond the amazing scenery was the chance to take in a completely new experience with our students.  Visiting this community and working alongside the maestros to improve their garden and water tank was inspiring.  Community service is important for the people we help but perhaps even more important for the inspiration we can take away from the experience.  I feel very thankful to have enjoyed this trip with the 7th grade students.

 

Camp Amazonia

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Last week I was lucky enough to join the 10th grade class on their trip to Camp Amazonia near the communities of Rio Blanco and San Alberto in the Amazon Jungle.  It was my tenth school trip in as many years and each has been unique in its own way.  This was my first time taking high school students on a trip and I can now say I’ve traveled for a week with every grade from 3-10 except 9th grade.  This trip included lots of hard work to help the local Kichwa communities, team building, cultural activities, and a trip to the Jumandi Caves.  At the end of the week everyone was exhausted but there was also an overwhelming sense of achievement!  

Awesomeness

Every time I take one of these trips there are wonderful examples of how amazing young adults can be when they are pushed out of their comfort zones.  This past week certainly did that, kids and adults alike were challenged in situations that went well beyond our everyday routines.  Right from the start we got right down to business with some hard work in the morning and then again after lunch.  We started the day in the rain and ended in fierce heat and sun.  Not only were we pushing ourselves hard to help these communities but the weather was pushing us as well.  However, by the end of the night everyone made it to dinner with a smile on their face and a sense of satisfaction in their hearts.  

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Working hard to create a botanical fence line.

The sense of community that develops over the course of a week like this is impressive to say the least.  Students who are struggling for one reason or another are picked up by their classmates without any teacher intervention.  Classmates who hadn’t really engaged with each other in the past can be seen walking, working, eating, and hanging out together.  New friendships are formed and old bonds are strengthened.  As important as community can be in international schools, trips like this are crucial!  

I’m not sure there are words to express how impressed I was with the efforts of the 10th grade group over the course of the week.  Through torrential rains, back breaking work, spiders and other critters, these kids stepped up in a huge way.  The work they did this

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Heading out to plant trees, helping to reforest a recently devastated area.

past week will benefit those communities for years to come.  Our students may never return to this area but their mark has been made, their efforts were not in vain.

What I Learned About Myself

While this was a tremendous learning experience for our students there were also some great takeaways for me too.  This trip was, by far, the most physically challenging of the school trips I’ve enjoyed.  I’m not shy about some hard work and I enjoyed every second of getting my hands dirty this week.  However, I learned a few lessons of my own through this experience.  

First off, I used to think that I would do pretty much anything to be out of the rain.  I HATE rain, or at least I used to think I did.  I mean, I’ve always loved a good thunderstorm but that’s conditional on me not being caught in the down pour.  In the Amazon, when it rains, it pours.  When it pours in the jungle there’s just no way to avoid it, no way to stay dry, get dry, or even remember what dry feels like!  However, it’s warm outside which makes being wet much more tolerable than I had ever realized.  In fact, by the time we got to Thursday and got stuck in yet another torrential downpour I was so used to the rain that I soaked it up and enjoyed every last drop.  I learned that I could manage being wet, even soaked with boots full of water!  

Another great reminder for me this week had to do with being prepared.  While I was prepared with all of the right materials and supplies, some of the kids weren’t.  Usually I pack extra and plan for this situation but for some reason I didn’t this week.  I gave up my gloves and came home with some blisters as trophies.  Not all of our kids had the proper footwear but thankfully Camps International had extra boots.  Finally, when it comes to being prepared in the jungle…bug spray is your best friend, I got lazy at the end of the week and my legs got eaten up!  Pack heavy and take extra gear, especially if you’re staying in cabins and not carrying it around all week.

Thankful

At the end of the week I feel extremely thankful that I was able to join this experience with our 10th graders.  We made a difference in that community, we learned about the Amazon, and we grew closer as a group.  Working alongside this inspirational group of young adults made me a better person and a better educator.  The best news is that I get one more week, this time with 7th grade…I can’t wait!!

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Hiking in the jungle, we stopped next to a 300 year old tree to learn how to create our own headwear.

Using What You’ve Learned

This morning at #L4LAASSA we were lucky enough to welcome Ewan McIntosh.  He helped us disrupt our thinking in a major way.  Have a look at the 10 takeaways from Ewan’s presentation:

  1. Provoke
  2. Curate wonder
  3. Ask the right questions
  4. Create a War Room (project nest)
  5. Capture the thinking
  6. Design discussion
  7. Drive towards problem-finding
  8. Take risks
  9. Build, build, build
  10. Know why

One of MY major takeaways/reminders from this session is that this this isn’t a one day workshop or keynote.  This HAS to be an ongoing thought process.  I think this is quite obvious to everyone involved, however dedicating the time to continue the journey after returning home is always the challenge.  In fact, it’s the same for any long term change project…the hard part is keeping the momentum going.

While sitting in front of Ewan McIntosh it’s very easy to get excited and brainstorm ideas.  But come Monday morning the “real world” comes crashing back down and there are proverbial fires that need to be tended.  So how do you take a great idea and keep it alive?

Whether it’s something taken away from a conference or even the idea to start a diet, how do you follow through successfully?  To me the concept is easy, it’s the implementation that’s tough.

Set Aside Specific Time:  

Setting aside specific time in your schedule is very easy, holding yourself to that time is the hard part.  What happens when “something comes up”?  Do you scrap the time you had allotted for your continued professional growth?  Usually, and unfortunately, the answer is ‘yes’.  This time must be sacrosanct, don’t waiver in that belief.

Find an Accountability Partner:  

This can take multiple forms.  First off, and maybe easiest, is to find someone who has the same goal/focus as you and work together.  Meet together once a week, set appointments and hold each other to them.  If you’re working with a partner there is an extra motivation to hold yourself to this time, you don’t want to let that person down!  A second option, if you’d rather work alone or on a different project, is to partner up with someone who has a goal, any goal.  Even though the goal isn’t the same you can check-in on progress and support each other throughout the process.  Most of us work better as a team, we’re collaborative beings by nature…go with it!

Reflect Publicly:  

Of course this requires more time…maybe.  See, reflection is one of the most important parts of the equation.  Without this you’re not going to move very far down the path toward success.  So, when you reflect (which you should be doing anyway), do it in a way that you can share publicly.  Perhaps you make audio notes while you’re in the taxi, maybe it’s a group chat on Voxer, or maybe you just take a picture of your War Room, white board, or notebook and share it to a blog.  Sharing publicly creates two things: another level of accountability and an opportunity to receive feedback.  Put yourself out there and see what comes back!

If you can put these three pieces in place when you’re working on a long term goal there is no doubt that you will see success.  A little bit of time up front will pay big dividends on the backside.  Don’t be afraid to invest a little time in yourself!!

 

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 🙂

Trying it Myself: Doing what we ask the students to do

Last weekend I read a great blog post written by Grant Wiggins, who is a leader in the field of educational reform and is perhaps most well known for co-authoring Understanding by Design.  This blog post wasn’t about UbD though, it was actually Wiggins sharing a story of a teacher turned Learning Coach.  This Coach had done what many school leaders have been recommended to do but never find the time to try; she followed the schedule of a student for the whole day.  She experienced school from the student’s perspective, doing the work, taking the tests, and participating in class.  So I was motivated to try it myself…

This Coach made three key observations, disturbing observations in fact, about how kids were experiencing school.  Now, to be fair, she did this with High School students so it’s not exactly aligned to the Middle School context but I was a little scared just the same…I mean, her “Key Takeaways” were frightening.  So what did I find while I was a Middle School student for a day???

Let’s use her three takeaways to guide the discussion:

1.  “Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.”

First off, I won’t argue the point that sitting is exhausting.  It’s boring, your body starts to fall asleep, and your brain doesn’t get as much oxygen (think about how bad your kids, and maybe you, want to move – bouncing legs, rocking chairs, fidgeting and all!)  However, in my day as a Middle School student I most certainly didn’t sit all day!  In one class, I have to admit, we didn’t do much moving but I was still engaged in the lesson and didn’t feel too exhausted by the sitting.  In my other three classes I was moving a majority of the time.  I had a group project to work on with my four table mates which allowed me to get up and move around the room for about half the class.  I had a Science lab that had me moving around for almost the entire period and I had a music lesson that had me playing for almost the whole class period.  Honestly I was a bit tired, but not from sitting!

2.  “High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their day.”

Now, as I mentioned, this woman was a High School Coach, but I think the worry is still the same for us – we don’t want our kids sitting passively all day long.  So how was my day?  Well, as you saw in the first takeaway, I was active for a good portion of the day.  AND, even when I was sitting I wasn’t passive and listening the whole time.  In one class we were sitting in our seats but having a lively discussion about the Daily Question which engaged us in the day’s topic and got us off to a great start.  Overall I would say that I spent about 25% of my class time that day sitting passively and listening, a far cry from 90% and if spread out through the day in different classes then most certainly a tolerable amount.

3.  “You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.”

I’ll explain this a little bit first.  What she meant is that students are constantly being told “to be quiet and pay attention.”  She also talked about hearing a lot of “sarcasm and snark directed at students”.  These things are most definitely things to watch for and look to eliminate from your classroom.  However, during my day as a Middle School student I have to say that I didn’t feel like a nuisance at all.  This was actually an area that I was focusing on a lot; I was waiting to be told to be quiet but it didn’t happen once!  That is not to say that my classes were totally silent and obedient the entire time but the teachers all had good communication skills and were able to bring their class back to focus without making the kids feel like a nuisance.  I can honestly say, despite the fact that I was really looking hard at this point, I never once felt like the teacher was annoyed or found students to be a nuisance – it was a warm and welcoming environment all day long, something I know our kids appreciate!

So what does all this mean for you?  Obviously this is a very small sample size (I hope to continue this practice).  However, when you think about these three “Key Takeaways” and then think about your typical classroom, what do you realize?  Are your kids exhausted, are they sitting passively, or do they feel like a nuisance?  I strongly recommend that you take a look at this blog post and see some of the recommendations she makes to avoid these things from happening in your class.  It is an inspirational piece in that regard, it makes you question your classroom and what you’re doing to help the students’ learning environment.

http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/teachers-shadowing-students/

How Do You Define Success?

We’ve had a very successful start to the school year and that is what I want to encourage you to think about today, success.  Take a second to stop and ask yourself one question, “what is my definition of success?”  Seriously, stop and think about that for a minute or two…

Okay, now that you’ve taken a second to think about your definition I want you to consider all the other potential definitions of success that are out there.  Think about what a successful school year would look like for the students in your classroom.  I am confident that for all of you there is already a pretty clear vision of what a successful year in your class will look like for your students.  After all, you’ve planned collaboratively, considered what’s most important, created unit plans, designed labs, and done all sorts of other work to make sure that your students will have a successful year with you.

However, as seems to be more and more of a common theme for me, I want you to consider yourself.  What would a successful year look like for you as a teacher?  It’s important to reflect on your teaching practices and your professional experiences.  Think about areas where YOUR growth could lead to even more opportunity for success with your students.

This past summer I took a course through the Principal’s Training Center (PTC) called “Instructional Supervision and Evaluation” because, as I’ve shared with everyone already, this is my main focus for growth as a professional this school year.  It was an amazing opportunity to learn and collaborate with some of the international leaders in this area and I couldn’t have asked for more.  On top of that we have Kim Marshall coming in to work with the Leadership Team and I couldn’t be more excited to have such an amazing opportunity to grow and learn in this area.

As you continue on the path of excellence that you are all heading down already, what could help you grow as a teacher?  For some of you this process of self-reflection is old hat but for others this will be a new opportunity.  Embrace the chance to grow and improve every single day.  Think big and think small, set goals for the year and make every day better than the last!

A reminder of some of the PD resources available to you in this area:

·      EARCOS Weekend Workshops

·      ACAMIS

·      Sanguine Consulting

·      Chapters International

·      Scholastic U

·      Dragonfly Training

·      Knowledge Source Institute

·      Association of Middle Level Education

A good video to make you think about your definition of success:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulShj4keKNw (VPN needed)

A Wonderful Start to the Year

Over the last seven days with students I can’t begin to describe the overwhelming feeling of positivity around here!! Everyone from teachers to students, and even parents, are just brimming with positive vibes and attitudes.  The beginning of the school year is a busy and stressful time but I can honestly say that this has been the best overall start to a school year that I’ve experienced in a long time.  With as many new faces as we have amongst our colleagues and students it’s always a bit of a scramble.  However, every single person here has put their heart into this community and it shows on the faces of our students.

Yesterday was the new parent orientation hosted by PAFA and I had the pleasure of chatting with parents almost all day long.  Every person I talked to couldn’t stop singing the praises of our staff and community.  New parents were nearly tearing up when they talked about how happy their students are at our school.  Stories about kids coming home on day one and glowing with excitement about their teachers makes my heart swell.  We have a wonderful thing going here and everyone can see it.

The most beautiful part of all these happy stories is that we’ve only just begun.  These are the boring days in my mind, going over class expectations, safety, etc.  Just wait until the real learning begins and the kids are engaged in amazing lessons, labs, and performances!!  I truly believe that with each year that has passed the kids at our school have become more engaged and excited about learning.  The curiosity and genuine interest in school is fueled by the passion for education that you, as teachers, bring to the classroom…never before has it been at a higher level than it is today.

I just want to say a huge thank you to all of you for the hard work that you’ve put in to making this start of the year so amazing.  I know it has taken a lot of energy and effort to be this wonderful and it is appreciated by everyone.  I wish you would’ve been able to hear all of the positive comments yesterday from parents, the work you’ve done to welcome these students to our school is outstanding!

Thank you every one, have a great weekend and a much deserved rest!!

Awesome video about the Science of Happiness (VPN needed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4ALRY5LyBM

A great story about the difference we can all make (VPN again)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chjHPSLapv8

Taking Attendance of Ourselves

Throughout the year, at various points, we have struggled with certain students because of their sporadic attendance in class.  It’s hard enough for our kids when they are in class every day and even more difficult for our students to keep up if they aren’t present in the moment.  This challenge is frustrating and leads to inconsistencies, sometimes it leads to kids falling behind and struggling to catch up.  As the end of the year nears, a lot of our kids are looking ahead to summer; it’s so close they can almost touch it.  Some of our students are already mentally on vacation – and it’s frustrating!  As the year comes to an end the schedule gets crazy, the kids go wild, and things heat up as fast as the temperature rises.  This is the time of year when our focus needs to be at it’s highest; we can’t afford to mentally go on vacation early.

To be honest, my inspiration for writing this today isn’t derived from any of our teachers failings, because as far as I’ve seen, everyone still has their nose to the grindstone and are continuing to motivate our students to run hard to the end.  In fact, I’m inspired by the fact that teachers are still coming to me about student concerns even though we have only 5 academic days left with our kids.  It is refreshing to know that just because we’ve booked our summer plans and started to think about fun in the sun, we’re still working hard for our students.  As we close things out during the next couple weeks don’t forget to remain in the present and enjoy your last few weeks.  Many colleagues will be moving on after this school year finishes and the same is true for our students.  Remain in the present, summer will be here soon enough and you’ll be happy to have enjoyed your last days of the school year.  The end of the year can be busy and stressful; take attendance of yourself and make sure you’re present.  Like the sign on my computer today says, “Think happy, be happy!”

Practicing What We Preach

I’ve always been a huge proponent of explicitly teaching character strengths but that takes dedicated and specific time.  In the absence of a specific program for teaching character there are still many ways to ‘teach’ our students how to develop their character strengths.  One of the best ways is by modeling, by living the message.  Currently I am taking a GREAT online course called “Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms” via Relay/GSE and Coursera.com.  It is only a four week class and I’m half way through, it doesn’t take too much time…if you’re interested in giving it a shot follow this link to sign up.

One of the very first lessons requires you to take two sorts of self-assessment.  The first part tasks you with considering 24 character strengths and ranking them in order of importance for student success.  Follow this link to the document from the Relay/GSE that is used for doing this so you can give it a try.  The second part is an online self-assessment that asks you 120 questions (it takes about 10 minutes) and then gives you feedback about the order in which you actually live out the 24 character strengths.  This VIA Survey requires you to sign up but it is free and they don’t send you annoying emails (interestingly enough I signed up 9 years ago and took this test and received nothing from them, it was also really cool to see how I’ve changed over time!)

So, give it a shot.  Go through both parts of this (it will take about 20 minutes) and see what your results look like.  Are you actually practicing what you preach or are there areas where you talk-the-talk more than walk-the-walk?  I’m happy to share my results (from now and 9 years ago!) if you’re keen to see.  Let me know once you’ve completed this, I’d love to hear your two cents!!

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”  – James Baldwin