Leadership- Hey, It Was Ok For Me

For any organization to become successful, employees must let go of thinking that is detrimental to themselves and new employees.  In education, this can be the assumption that if an experience worked for you for many years, it must be good. I call this “the it was okay for me mentality,” and it needs to stop.  Kids deserve much better.  

 

What follows is a list of poor advice shared with me by teachers and administrators during my career.  All of these are bad. Do not believe them when they come your way. And I guarantee that some will definitely come your way.

 

Don’t Smile Until Christmas:  This is a ridiculous statement that lives in schools and is often communicated by veteran staff.  Would any adult want to come to work and be scowled at for half a year? Of course not.  A smile is universal; it works anywhere on our planet.  All students and adults should be greeted every day with a smile.

 

I Taught It, They Didn’t Learn It:  This is an excuse that should never occur in a school.  It is the job of an educator to help students learn.  If an assessment shows students did not learn, then take the professional route and find a new way to help students understand.   

 

Start the Year Hard:  This is sometimes used to scare students about the year ahead, and to allow the teacher to assume a very dominant, controlling position in the class.  This is also silly! Who wants to start a course with failure?  Adults and students always do better when we build on success. Lift others up instead of tearing them down!

 

We All Have a Bad Class:  This is an unfair comment that lumps students together in a negative way.  Successful educators never lump students together and pass group judgment.  Often, the students who give you the hardest time need you the most.

 

Plan Out Each Day of the Year:  Once I was told that I should have each day planned for the entire year before the year started.  This makes zero sense.  Good planning is based on the needs of students, and each day and throughout the year they will be different.

 

Our Demographics Give Us Bad Scores:  This is an excuse and worse yet, a racist comment.  Great educators believe all students can learn, they do not accept the color of skin, where they live, of their families lack of money as reasons to be less than nurturing and supportive.  

 

I am sure you have heard some or all of these.  They may seem funny but they hurt students and have for a long time.  My list could be from the present or from 100 years ago, it is time for these beliefs and slogans to stop.  Collectively, we want to be seen as professionals. When you hear these sayings, remember each one erodes the professionalism of our field and does not support students’ growth and learning.  

Read the options that follow carefully, before choosing. You can remain silent when you hear such comments, but this choice is a slippery slope for handling situations you do not agree with. You can agree and then do the opposite. However, consider the importance of being true to yourself.  This choice will not help such a goal.  The option that I favor and have adopted is to ask the person to not say these words anymore. Make sure you explain why, so the person understands your reasoning.  This may be the most challenging way to respond, but I assure you it will make you feel better about yourself, your professionalism, and your commitment to students.

Check out our new professional development site Robb Communications

Learn more from my book The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook

The Reading Teacher –  Bid Farewell to “I Hate Reading”

 

“Why do you read?” is a question I’ve asked countless students. Responses run the gamut from a third grader writing, “Because I live in the country and books are fun,” to a fifth grader noting, “Because I love to meet people,” to an eighth grader’s honest reply, “Can’t say. I don’t read.”

These student responses represent the range of attitudes toward reading teachers find in a heterogeneous class. When students tell you “I don’t read” or ‘I hate reading” or “No one can make me read.” Ask them why. Even though many will shrug their shoulders and say nothing, keep asking, as they know. Here are some reasons that students have shared with me:

“It takes too long to finish a book.”

“I can’t read a lot of the words.”

“I can’t find a book I like.”

“Boring!”

“I say the words. I don’t get anything.”

“ Never passed a reading test.”

“ Hate the assigned book.”

“No choice.”

“ Do more worksheets than reading.”

        When students are honest, they show us why they have negative feelings toward reading. They also show us what they need to turn negative outlooks into positive ones.  It won’t happen in few weeks. You might not see the change over the year you work with them. One eighth-grade girl, Katy, taught me that changeovers take time. In her junior year of high school, she wrote to me: ”Remember, me. You try to influence me to read, but I hate reading. Now, I read all the time.” Forget about quick payoffs for your work, but believe it will happen.

Help students understand that the jobs available to them in the future require outstanding reading and writing ability. But even more important, help them experience the joy and power of a personal reading life.

Suggestions for Turning Students Into Readers

        The list of tips that follow can draw students into the world of books. In addition, you want to have continual conversations with them to assess their outlook and listen to and make use their comments to plan positive interventions. Avoid lecturing; always praise students for their honesty. Celebrate progress with meaningful comments. Occasionally, write a note to the student pointing out growth and progress.

Seven Tips for Building Students’ Love of Reading

Choice. Let students choose their reading materials. Let them abandon a book if it doesn’t resonate with them. I have a quick conference with students who abandon a book to find out why. The “why” offers insights into what they do and don’t enjoy.

Read aloud every day and introduce students to a wide-range of literary genres. Read those texts you love, as your passion will rub off on students. Reading aloud also builds students’ listening capacity, vocabulary, and their experiences with literary language.

Differentiation. For instructional reading, make sure students are in texts at their instructional reading level.

Independent reading should happen at school for 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week. Doing this shows how much you value reading, but it also offers you opportunities to support reluctant readers. Encourage students to read at home by inviting them to read for 30 minutes each night. They can log the titles and authors of completed books on a simple form.

Class libraries. Build class libraries as access to books is key for inspiring students to read and love it!  Organize books by genre—suspense, mystery, realistic fiction, biography, etc.—and include a range of reading levels.

Book talk. When new additions arrive, share them with students by showing them the cover, reading the description on the back cover, or the first page. Doing this shows how much you value books and reading and also provides students with many choices.

All subjects. Every teacher needs a classroom library because students should have access to books in all subjects—even physical education!  When students observe that reading matters, that reading is important in all subjects, they can begin to view reading as an important and meaningful part of their lives.

Remember

Be persistent. Find out why a student hates reading. What they reveal will enable you to plan interventions that can bring them to the reading life.

Check out Teaching Reading in Middle School By Laura Robb- It’s an amazing book!

Leadership: Communication Reflection

 

The summer is an excellent time to reflect on how the prior year has gone and what new ideas can be implemented for the new school year.

In this blog, I am posing some questions for educators to reflect on.  How we communicate and how our communication is interpreted is important.  Certainly, we can all find inspiration from Eric Sheninger’s well-known quote, “ Either you tell your school story or someone else will.”

How you tell your story requires you to be intentional; communication will happen no matter what but without some thought and planning, it might not be the communication you want. So, how is your school telling its story?  What do the current communication methods say about your school?

Reflect on my top 7 questions and decide which you and your team do well and where you could improve.  Pick three new focus areas to be part of your communication plan for the new school year.

  1. When a person comes to the front door of your school does signage say visitors please report to the main office or does it say visitors must report to the main office?  This may seem small but words send messages.
  2. Does your front office staff give a great impression to all who enter the office?  Remember, how they communicate tells people a lot about the principal. Do office staff have training on customer service?
  3. Is there an updated calendar on your school website?  Who updates the calendar and how often?  
  4. If your school is using Google, are staff use Google Sites or Google Classroom?  If yes, have you communicated standards for updating and formatting?  Or, are some staff using this great way to communicate while others are not?  
  5. Does your school have a schedule for parent newsletters?  Do grade levels or teams send parent communications home on a set schedule? What message is sent when schedules are not followed or one group in a school communicates much more than another group?
  6. Consider a school-wide positive communication effort.  I have no doubt that all schools have some staff who make positive calls to parents but imagine the impact if all staff make a commitment to making at least one positive call during the year for each student they teach.
  7. Is your school using social media to effectively connect with families and tell the story of your school?  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all free and can communicate messages the school needs to send.  Do you have a plan for who manages social media in your school along with defined expectations including a minimum number of communications per day?  

I started my list with an easy change the others are more challenging.  Communication is like a garden it needs sunshine, water, and sometimes some weeding. I suggest choosing no more than three focus areas for the year ahead.  It can be tempting to choose more but too much with all a school needs to manage may not allow for successful change. I encourage a purposeful plan to communicate in a coordinated manner.  A well-coordinated plan will communicate your school’s story and also the important message, communication matters to us!

 

Check out my book The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook

Also, the Robb Review Daily

Why Poetry? David L. Harrison

 

 

We posed a question to David Harrison, why poetry?

Ask a poet, “Why poetry?” the response may be a surprised look, the sort you’d expect if you’d asked, “Why do you breathe?” Perhaps it’s better to ask, “Why poets?” Who are these passionately dedicated people who throw themselves into the slow, tedious business of making poems? Good poetry is hard to write, selling poetry is next to impossible, and poets rarely make much money. So why poetry, why poets, and why should you care?
I can’t speak for other poets (although I bet they’d all answer in much the same way), but I love the challenge of beginning with an idea and facing all those decisions that must be made before I wind up with a finished poem. In music, the same notes in different combinations produce jazz, Dixieland, blues, marches, and symphonic works. In poetry, the same words in different combinations produce a marvelous variety of verse. Most days I work twelve hours, much of it writing poetry. I’m a freelance writer. No one is going to pay me if I don’t produce. Few would care or notice if I stopped. I work alone. If I spend hours trying to decide between one rhyme or another, struggling with a stubborn meter, seeking a stronger noun, searching desperately for just the right simile – who cares? Well, first of all, I care. No poet worth his salt is ever going to stop working on a poem until he reads it aloud one more time and loves what he hears.
Ask a teacher who has learned that poetry is one of the best tools in the toolbox for teaching fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and love of language, “Why poetry?” You might hear, “Couldn’t do without it!” At least I hope that’s what you hear! Teachers who routinely use poetry in their classrooms know that the rhymes and cadences of structured language make it easier to remember than prose and more fun to read repeatedly. Teachers who invite their students to write poems of their own know that children’s poetry offers a wonderful opportunity to share the rich diversity of our people.
But someone else cares too. Ask a third grader who has had positive experiences with poetry at home and/or school, “Why poetry?” You might hear, “I like poems. Sometimes they’re funny and they make me laugh.” What that third grader or first grader or fifth grader doesn’t realize is that poetry’s nuances, metaphors, echoing sounds, song-like qualities, rhymes, and cadences are providing much more than entertainment. Young readers have no idea how hard the poet worked to make them laugh or think or see something in a new light or provide them with examples of language used beautifully. Why should they? It’s their right to read good poems.
Why poetry? Ask a poet or a teacher if you want to. I’m going with the third grader.

© David L. Harrison

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