Monday, February 8, 2016

Tempting fate!

The students in Novi are restless. This picture says it all.

That's the view out of my office. It's February. It's winter. It's Michigan. And there is no snow!

Every classroom that I visit, every student that I see asks me when we will have a snow day. They seem to think I have magical power!

I don't.

But my students NEED a snow day!

I tend to believe that they just WANT a snow day but maybe I a not seeing things from their perspective.

I am.

Snow days are magical because they are unexpected. Snow days interrupt the normal flow of life and present us with a wonderful surprise.

Who doesn't like surprises?

So in an effort to show my students that I care I am writing about the lack of snow. Surely this will cause those who control the weather to look down upon Novi and say, "Those students NEED a snow day!"

But it probably won't. As I said, I don't have magical powers!

Friday, January 29, 2016

You have to believe it to see it

It's the middle of winter. Skies are grey. Snow comes and goes. Walking outside is always an adventure. It's easy to get caught up and find one's self slogging through each day. The goal - get home, curl up, and wait for the next day to come.

I read a book recently that changed my perspective. Circus Mirandus is not a book on greatness or vision. It's definitely not a self-help book. It's not a book on leadership or motivation.

Technically, Circus Mirandus is a book written for students in grades 4-6. It's a book about Micah Tuttle and his grandfather Ephraim and a magical but real circus - Circus Mirandus.

The only way to see Circus Mirandus is to believe in it. The only way to find this wonderfully entertaining and magical place is to believe. Those that don't believe - well, it just isn't there.

As I read this book it made me think about what I believe in and, correspondingly, what I see. It also made me think of how I let what I see influence what I believe.

With one set of eyes I can see the world as difficult, challenging, hard. I can see that people will disappoint and annoy and bother me. When I let myself see with those eyes I begin to believe that the world is always like that and there is nothing that I can do to make it better.

But Circus Mirandus helped me remember that "you have to believe it to see it." When I start with what I believe then that is what I begin to see.

I believe that people are good. I believe that there is joy and happiness in the world. I believe that people can figure out solutions to problems. I believe that we can find ways to work together. I believe that people can and will improve. I believe that there is always a reason to smile.

When I remember what I believe, then I begin to see it.

That's not to say that I don't believe that there will be problems and challenges and heartache. I know that is part of the world that I live in.

But I believe that there are answers to questions and solutions to problems and ways to overcome our challenges. I believe heartache can be healed - it may take time and it may be hard but it can be done.

And because I believe that I can see it.

I would encourage you to find a copy of Circus Mirandus and read it.

Remember - you have to believe it to see it!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Slow Down, Trust Others

One month ago I had my hip replaced. I was thrilled!

It was, once again, an interesting experience. I've done it before - three other times in fact. 

I've heard it said that sometimes we go through the same experience until we learn the lesson that we need to learn. This is the 4th time I've had my hip replaced. Hopefully I've finally learned my lesson.

What's the lesson: 

Slow down, trust others. 

My professional life revolves around meeting expectations, managing chaos, ensuring success. Students. Parents. Staff. The Board of Education. Our community.  

Everyday there is something to worry about. 

Some profound:
  • Will our students be engaged at school?
  • Are we communicating effectively with parents?
  • Are we preparing students with the skills they need to be successful?
  • Are we helping staff find professional success?
Some more mundane but still important:
  • Will the buses be on time?
  • Do we serve food that students want to eat?
  • Are classrooms clean?
Everyday there is something to worry about.

Until you can't or at least you shouldn't.

After my hip was replaced I could continue to worry about all that I typically worry about or I could worry about other important things. Like lifting my leg. Like figuring out how to walk with a walker. Like making sure I didn't bend over or cross my legs.

I couldn't put on my own socks. I couldn't tie my shoes. 

Instead of being the one who did things I had to adjust to letting others do for me. I could try and manage from a distance or I could rely on my team. I could worry and fret or I could have confidence in others. 

Slow down, trust others.

Some learn more slowly than others. I clearly fit into that category. My recovery has taught me that I am not responsible for the world, even my small world. I have a part to play. I need to play it well. But in the end I need to understand that to go fast I need to go slow. My recovery has taught me to slow down, trust others.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Why do we do this to students?

Recently, via twitter @stevenstrogatz, I stumbled across this tweet.

Intrigued, I went to the link and found a math dissertation. I typically don't read math dissertations - for obvious reasons. But I started reading the prologue. The first paragraph starts thusly:

Respected research math is dominated by men of a certain attitude. Even allowing for individual variation, there is still a tendency towards an oppressive atmosphere . . .

The second paragraph starts with this sentence:

I’m unwilling to pretend that all manner of ways of thinking are equally encouraged, or that there aren’t very real issues of lack of diversity.

Clearly this is a bright student. She is, after all, submitting her dissertation at Princeton University in the Department of Mathematics. Yet, in her prologue to her dissertation she voices emotions that those of us in education should find unacceptable. 

Schools, places where we send our children and where we welcome the children of our friends and neighbors, should not be "oppressive" or places where thinking differently is not encouraged.

As I read the prologue I began to wonder what the students in my school district would say about the classrooms in my district. Are my students welcomed? Are my students encouraged to think differently? Do we embrace diversity in people, in thought, in action?

Today I was in an elementary building and I visited five first grade classrooms. In each classroom a math lesson was in progress. In each classroom I saw teachers who encouraged students to explain their thinking, to discuss various approaches to solving problems, and to listen and learn from each other. 

I saw classrooms that made a positive difference.

Those of us who work in schools, who lead schools, who want they best for our children and every child, should take responsibility and ensure that we build the schools that we know our children need.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Recognizing excellence

Today was a big day at Novi Woods Elementary School. Today Novi Woods publicly celebrated their National Blue Ribbon Award. There are over 98,800 public schools in the United States. This year just over 300 were recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools.

The National Blue Ribbon process is rigorous. The Michigan Department of Education nominated deserving schools. The schools then had to complete a lengthy application, highlighting a variety of criteria including information on class size and demographics and staff development and school improvement plans.

After months of keeping things quiet, today was the day to celebrate. Choirs sang. Classrooms were highlighted. Novi's Mayor brought his congratulatory message. Retired staff returned to join in the festivities. It was a fun morning!

But the best part of the day, for me, happened in Mr. Kenrick's second grade class during read-to-self time. There were people all over the building. People were coming and going, in and out of every classroom. Yet teachers - like Mr. Kenrick - continued to steal any moment they could to teach.

What makes a school a Blue Ribbon School?

It's the people. People make the school. The teachers, the cooks, the secretaries, the parapros, the principal, the students, the parents.

A National Blue Ribbon School is made up of people who are committed to ensuring that students learn and that students know they are cared for.

And that happens every day! It happens at Novi Woods. But it also happens in every other Novi school.

This picture symbolizes for me what goes on in Novi Woods and across our district every day. Students learn. Teachers teach. Students connect in powerful ways to caring and committed adults.

Novi Woods staff and students would agree - it is nice to be recognized. But what is even better is that students in Novi will be taught and cared for tomorrow and the next day and the day after that in equally powerful ways.

It happens at Novi Woods. But it also happens in every other Novi school as well. I have seen it. I have experienced it. It happens because we have great people in every building in our district. 

That's true excellence! That's being a Blue Ribbon School!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Finishing first!

Anyone who's ever played a sport wants to win the final game of the season. If you do it means you're the champion.

Last year Novi High School varsity volleyball lost their final game. They finished second. A great accomplishment, but still heart wrenching.

They learned lessons through losing. They learned about commitment, pressure, bouncing back, tenacity, grit, perseverance, and teamwork. But it still hurt.

Today was a different day. 

Novi High School varsity volleyball is the state champion. 

It is not often a team reaches the state championship two years in a row. It's also not often that a team gets to face the team that beat them the year before. But today Novi faced down that very same team. In winning today Novi showed they learned their lessons well.

Commitment, pressure, bouncing back, tenacity, grit, perseverance, and teamwork. The Wildcats learned their lessons well.

And today they are state champions!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Teachers care - for a very good reason

I visit schools. A lot!

When I visit I see things like this:

and this:

and this:

and this:
Teachers taking time to listen, model, encourage, and teach their students. Teachers taking time to invest in relationships with their students.


"No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship," said James Comer. Teachers understand that learning increases as they invest time with their students.

But it is not just time. Teachers need to communicate clearly to their students that the students matter. When students know and sense that they are important to their teachers the students invest more in their academic life.

It's hard work. It's messy work. It's fun work.

It's the work that the teachers in my district do every day!