Posts tagged Teaching
Posts tagged Teaching
The television series Cheers had a theme song that started out, “Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.” It’s tough to find your way in this challenging world. It’s tough for adults who have more freedoms and more opportunities and resources. It’s even more difficult to be a student who has to find his/her way.
All of us have talents. I like to write. I like to read. I like to interact with others. I am not the best at fixing things. No. Let’s take that a step further. I am very poor at fixing things. I am not mechanical. I don’t see things spacially. I just can’t thrive with a screwdriver in my hand. Thank goodness there are people who can. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the men and ladies at the auto dealership who can keep my car going forward. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the individual who can take an idea, some boards of wood, some power tools, and create an amazing piece of furniture. Heck, I have the utmost respect and admiration for someone who can put together a bookcase without having to take it apart three times because the back is screwed into the front. Or the top is on the bottom. That’s my life.
I want you all to meet Tyler. Tyler is a fifth grader and Tyler has a special gift. He can build things. He likes to stay in at recess with the permission of his teachers and tinker with his remote-controlled cars. He likes to build rollercoasters from a pile of Kinex and then take it apart and build a different design. He likes to help the custodian put the bleachers up after an assembly or set up the amplification system for a program. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are challenging for Tyler. He can do them and he can do them well. But his comfort zone is not there. His comfort zone is with his tools, with moving parts, and with pieces that need to be put together in a systematic way. Tyler, in many ways, is wired completely opposite from me.
Tyler has to find his way in the challenging world of school. He still has to do reading. He still has to do math. He still has to do writing. But he also can bring to the table other talents. I am grateful to his teachers last year who gave him rope and allowed him to spend time with his remote controlled cars. I am grateful to his teacher this year who has offered him a chance to be a helping hand when needed. I am grateful to his counselor for including Tyler and his talents when needed. Let me tell you, if I had to pick teams for Survivor, Tyler and another couple of students are first and foremost on my team. They could build anything with a motor, some baling wire, and a screwdriver.
Tyler has been helping recently with a project before school and at recess. We are moving some bookshelves and books from one location in our school to several others in anticipation for some classroom reassignments next year. Tyler is like the turtle in the story “The Turtle and the Hare” - slow and steady. He works methodically but well. He gets the contents of the shelves moved and then he and I form the “Tyler Moving and Storage Company” - moving bookshelves down the hallway to their new destination. Then Tyler goes to work - adjusting shelves, arranging the contents for the teacher, and making things whole again.
Tyler recently was given a toolbox for his efforts. It contains Phillips and Standard screwdrivers, pliers, a hammer, a level, and a pencil. It contains a tape measure and even a hole punch. You see, a handy man needs his toolbox to do the job and Tyler does it so well. He carries this box with amazing pride. He should. He is talented with his hands and has a lot to offer in his future.
I am proud of Tyler. But I am also proud of my staff. Because they continue to see the possibilities in students and promote these. Tyler is most happy working on his own or in a small group - with his hands. He is the type of person who will never like large crowds and will shy away from the spotlight. But he also lets his work stand for itself when he gets out his tools. Tyler will find his way in school. He will do the reading and the math and the writing. It is not always a welcome task, but persistent teachers find their way. But Tyler has a lot more to offer in this world as well. He can create magic with his hands. So if you see a young man with a big smile and a toolbox come walking down the hallway during noon recess, ask him what project he is working on now. Because it is one that carries worth and it is one that will be done right. And without the caring capacity of his teachers, it is a talent that would not have been cultivated at all and that smile would not be something so readily available on his face.
There are many stories that are untold in schools that should be told. There are a lot of stories told about bullying in schools and about all that is wrong about student-student, teacher-student, and even parent-teacher interactions. For each of these stories, I would contend that there are at least two positive stories that don’t get told. I am pleased to share one such story about a fourth grade girl, a fifth grade boy, two magnets and one big smile.
Meet Chloe and Elijah. Chloe came to school earlier this week with a pair of Sizzlers - those magnets one throws into the air which clang together making a buzzing, cicada-like sound. They are fun. I had a pair of them on my desk that students would play with when they were in line to sign the Principal’s Book of Excellence. They disappeared over the summer. Elijah was fascinated by them then and he was very fascinated by the pair Chloe brought in as well.
He was so focused on these that he insisted his mother stop at Walmart to pick up a pair (They don’t sell them there for the record). But Elijah persisted and Mom had to make a second trip to the store to scout these out just in case. Elijah and I spoke about these magnets. I told him I believed I had gotten my pair from a museum gift shop and that maybe when the second grade goes later in the spring, they could pick one up. But Elijah persisted. I had a conversation with Elijah’s mom about the magnets when she was visiting school and she was being unsuccessful in her search for them: She’s a good mom. So later that day I went down to his classroom right when the students were heading outside to recess and said, “Let’s go to my office and try to find some on the Internet.”
“Chloe gave me a pair,” was his response.
“What? Chloe gave you her magnets?” I asked.
“No, she had a second pair that haven’t been opened and she brought them in for me,” he replied.
Matter of fact. Calm. Happy. A simple gesture on Chloe’s part, but one that she didn’t have to do. But she did. She said, “I have a second pair at home. I like Elijah and I wanted him to have them.”
Elijah’s teacher had him call his mother with the news that the magnet dilemma had been resolved. Chloe got to talk to his mother as well. I had a chance to talk to Chloe’s mother as well the next day. (If you are looking for some, check out the Family Dollar) I am just super proud of Chloe. Because she was unselfish. She was giving. And she noticed there was something she had to offer that she could and was willing to offer that could calm a nerve, help a friend, and make the world a little bit better.
I see examples like this all over the place in my school. I would contend most principals and teachers could fill volumes of journals and multiple blog posts as well. There is no metric to measure the level of bullying or negative interaction in a school. But there is also no metric to measure the caring capacity of others and how people work together to get along and to help others to thrive. As a principal, our school’s mission is to promote student learning. But the mission also extends to the cultivation of productive citizens. Chloe took a giant step from being a little girl to a young lady with this simple gesture. If all of us can take a lead from Chloe and look around us and ask, “What do I have to offer?” I think the world will be a better place. Great job, Chloe!
This is the speech that I gave today at a school-wide assembly honoroing our third grade students who scored 100% on the latest IREAD3 test. This is an example ofeveryoneworking together and believing in students and their achievement possibilities.
WE. Flip ME over and you get WE. WE are here today to celebrate quite an accomplishment. This accomplishment is not the efforts of one individual, but the concerted efforts of many. WE are here to celebrate our third graders. I just received the IREAD-3 Test results and 100% of our third graders passed! Congratulations! Let’s hear it for the third graders! This is the second year in a row for this accomplishment! Our theme this year as a staff is “Let’s Play Ball”. I think these third graders, not only played ball, but they hit a homerun!
WE. WE did this together. Third graders – great job! You showed amazing EFFORT and look – it paid off. Third grade teachers – great accomplishment – what a ton of pressure and stress to give these tests. But you prepared the students for this year’s test. Grades K, 1, and 2 teachers: You have prepared as well. Grade 4 and 5 teachers: You share in this success too. When it was time to give the test – It was All Hands On Deck. You gave up your computers from your classroom so that we could gain the maximum amount of peak student engagement time. Everyone adjusted schedules. Everyone moved around parent-teacher conferences. Everyone knew that this test was a public indicator of our worth and our efforts and WE were all in it. WE. Every single person on this staff from the classroom teachers, to the custodians, to the instructional assistants, to the school psychologist and specialist, to the SLP and resource teacher, to the school Tech, to the cooks, to the secretaries, to the nurse, to the instructional coaches, to the bus drivers, to the specials teachers, to the parents and to the community – you all have a hand in this success and I applaud you. Parents, you adjusted your child’s doctor and dental schedules to make sure students were here for the test. I also applaud the efforts of our central office who have worked to provide opportunities for us to disseminate through the mountains of mandates and the miles of procedures and protocols. And finally, a huge shout-out to the Technology Department for prepping the computers and troubleshooting the many errors that came our way. WE. Once again, third graders – I am so proud of you! You all did it! WE speak a lot about EFFORT and we will be learning soon about a new word: GRIT. You gave tremendous EFFORT and you showed outstanding GRIT. You did a great job!
I read recently that in schools today, there is a great emphasis on profits. Profits are those tangible pieces that can be measured. Test scores are a reality and they are a measurable profit. I would argue that a school’s merit is also solidly rooted in other profits that are harder to measure like Life Skills, Community Service, and Engagement. But today, for our purposes on this IREAD Test for our students, passing or not passing is a tangible measure. Summer school, re-taking the test and possible forced retention are the outcomes for failure. But there is a larger measure of failure than these outcomes. There is the horrific thought that a child might pass through school unable to read. These children before you at least have a solid foundation under them. According to research, they have the road a little smoother toward graduation and a future career, with just this basic reading ability. That is something to cheer about.
This is a WE Effort. Every time you stop and give a second grader with their clipboard a chance to read their fluency poem, you are being part of the solution. When upper elementary students partner with lower elementary students and model good reading, you are being part of the solution. Every book you check out of the library or offer a recommendation to another student, you are being part of the solution. When you stop a student with a Book of Excellence or a Leaf for the Growth Tree and celebrate with him/her, you are part of the solution. PTO – when you reach deeply within your shallow coffers and provide computers for our classrooms, Book Fairs, pay for professional development, and provide author visits, you are part of the solution. Parents, when you work with your child’s teacher on areas of deficit and encourage reading at home; you are part of the solution. Grandmas and Grandpas, Moms and Dads – each time you sit down and read to your child you are building their vocabulary and background knowledge and instilling a love of reading, and you are being part of the solution. Teachers, when you meet with instructional coaches and learn new techniques on your own to make yourselves better, you are part of the solution. Teachers again, when you use the data from multiple sources to track student progress and adjust your instruction; you are part of the solution. When the Postmaster in town asks students about school and encourages their community service, she is being part of the solution. When parents and community members volunteer to help in school, you are part of the solution. When legislators use common sense in their legislation of school and student accountability, you are being part of the solution. When bus drivers get students to school on time and out of harm’s way, you are part of the solution. When the Central Office instructional, technology, and maintenance departments work to fix issues and concerns, you are part of the solution. When the workers at the Stockwell Market ask students about school, you are part of the solution. When the church pastors help with donations and also hold a high level of expectation for the community, you are part of the solution. When a maintenance man fixes a furnace that isn’t producing hot air, you are part of the solution. When the cooks provide a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch, you are part of the solution. When recess and lunch supervisors mitigate discipline issues and keep smiling faces in classrooms where they can learn, not in the hallway or in the principal’s office, you are part of the solution. . When teachers work hand-in-hand with the special education teacher to offer students exposure to many facets of instruction and shuffle schedules to meet individual needs, you are part of the solution. When everyone from our law enforcement to our ambulance and fire departments, to our parents work to make sure our students are safe at home and safe at school, learning happens and you are part of the solution. When community members donate to and provide space to pack backpacks for some of our students to help out at home, you are part of the solution. When organizations like Keep Stockwell Beautiful, Community Helping Hands, and Lauramie Summer Rec ask about student progress and put education first as a priority, you are being a great partner to our school and you are being part of the solution. When the Scout leaders – both girl and boy –encourage students to read and to earn badges, to do their best, and to exercise self-discipline, you are being part of the solution. When you offer a hug and a “How are you doing?” statement, not as an isolated incident, but as the norm, you are part of the solution. And when you listen to people like me, your proud principal and believe - believe that students can learn through their hard work and through the concerted efforts and determination of many, you are being part of the solution.
Third graders, you have crossed a milestone. I am so proud. Kindergarten, first, and second grade students, you all have it within you to pass this test in the future. Work at it. Parents, support the school and support your teachers and your children. Visit the Bookmobile that comes around every two weeks. Check out books and track your child’s progress. Attend school functions to learn how to help your child be his/her best. You can do it. Third, fourth, and fifth grade students – you still have several milestones ahead of you to cross in terms of reading. It is my expectation that you all leave fifth grade reading at a sixth grade level. It is also my expectation that you will walk across the floor at your high school graduation and receive a diploma. That is the minimum expectation that I have for you.
Do you know what your prize is for being able to read? A whole lifetime ahead of wondrous places and fantastic people and stories told and yet untold. I love to read and this spring break I didn’t leave the house much physically. But I read a children’s story about a little girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, traveled back in time to the 1950s to be part of a story about a little girl who was an amazing marble player, read about a giant tree in Reader’s Digest, and followed the happenings of the news each morning with the newspaper. I finished an audio-book about Railroads, Semis, and Tug Boats, and began another about one of baseball’s greatest hitters and ambassadors – Henry Aaron. I read websites, emails, Facebook posts, blogs, and Twitter feeds. I read from books, from magazines, from my Nook, my iPad, and from my computer screen. I read cereal boxes and recipes. I even read part of a book about how to teach reading better. Teachers (and principals) must always keep learning. I read and I read a lot. And you will too. You are all readers, third graders. Fourth and fifth graders – keep working hard to get better at all kinds of reading. Kindergarten students - keep asking me to listen to you read. I love it! First graders - finish those Phonic Chapter books and get going on AR Books! Hey, you get to ride on the tandem bike when you do! Second graders – you are readers too. Keep working on those poems and your fluency. I want you confident as readers. I love you all and want you to have the best in life. If you can read – you can write your ticket.
This is a very exciting day for me and one that fills me with great pride. It is also a day that I hope each and every one of you here today feels the same sense of pride because this is quite an accomplishment. WE did it together and WE will continue to work together in the future.
Now, it is my honor to lead the staff and our visitors as we shake the hands, hug, or high five our third graders. You have made us all very proud. When we are finished, please return to your seats. I am not quite finished.
I have occasion each year to visit the Christmas parade. I love to see the Snow Prince and Princess. I love to see you all in your scout uniforms, cheer outfits, and gymnastic attire. I love to see the floats and I love to see the smiles and the waves. Most years, the fire trucks carry a winning state champion sports team down the center of Main Street. Their sirens blare and letter jackets show proudly on the chests of the athletes. How exciting is that! But I also feel it is a bit misplaced. Where are the fire trucks for the National Merit Scholars? Where are the fire trucks for the students who got a perfect score on their SAT or were Valedictorians in their class? Where are the fire trucks for the schools who teach students to read English even though their first language is another? Where are the fire trucks for the students or the schools that were named 4-Star? Where are the fire trucks for the school that got 100% on their IREAD3? Well, Cole Cub third graders, you are my state champions! The fire trucks are right outside for you all. This community is proud of you and they want to show you that they appreciate your hard work. They appreciate your effort. They appreciate the teachers and staff. And they are so thrilled with this accomplishment. Because it is a big deal and one that I hope inspires each and every one of you. Each teacher. Each Student. Each Parent. And each community member. Go out and set your future. Read. Work hard in school. And set your destination. Let’s all stand for the Cole Cheer Song led by our third graders. Each day I am proud to be the principal of James Cole Elementary School. But today, my chest is stuck out a bit more and I have energy pacing through my veins because WE did it! Great job everyone! Repeat after me, ‘WE are the Cole Cubs!”
My wife and I like to read. Our home is filled with books. We each have our piles of books that are on our ‘To Read’ List. That list never seems to get smaller. It actually seems to grow month-by-month. We recently had a gift card and visited a book store together. She said, “We each get a book on this visit.” The book that caught my eye was “A Secret Gift” by Ted Gup.
This back cover of the books gives a strong summary: “Shortly before Christmas 1933 in Depression-scarred Canton, Ohio, a small newspaper ad offered cash gifts to seventy-five families in distress. Readers were asked to send letters describing their handships to a benefactor calling himself Mr. B. Virdot, who was inspired to help his fellow Cantonians weather the cruelest holiday, most of them would ever endure. Over seventy years later, Ted Gup found the letters in an old suitcase belonging to his grandfather, Sam Stone, inspiring an investigative journey to unveil the lives behind them. What he came away with amounts to a uniquely intimate window of Depression-era America - and a shocking new understanding of the grandfather he thought he knew.”
I loved this book on many fronts and it is inspiring me to write some thoughts of my own. First, I love how the book captures the pure, raw emotion of people struggling to make ends meet. The letters that are published within show humility, gratefulness, and a common thread - I would love for you to help me and my family, but if there is someone more deserving or in greater need - by all means, put them ahead of me in line. It struck me each time I read these lines in the published letters of the many times the schools I have worked in as principal when parents who are in need are more often than not, quick to put someone ahead of themselves for assistance above themselves. Sure there are examples of selfishness and ungratefulness that I can cite, but as a whole, people are humble and appreciative.
Another reason I love this book is that it is a reminder of just how quickly fortunes can change in one’s life. I try each day to look around me and be thankful for what I have and how far I have come. Example upon example of successful and hard-working individuals who were brought to their knees by the Great Depression were cited in this book. These were proud men who were leaders of companies and important members of Canton’s society. The Great Depression brought them to their knees. The book is a good reminder - appreciate what you have.
But the greatest reason I love this book is Mr. B. Virdot’s simple idea. He had a little extra and he shared it. It was an act that brought amazing and happy results to many people. The $5 he gave to each of the 150 letters he chose to reply to made a huge difference for these individuals. It gave the recipients hope and was often followed by a simple and heart-felt “Thank You” note that mentioned how the offer restored some dignitiy. It was a simple thing that Mr. Sam Stone did anonymously (under the pen-name B. Virdot). We learn about Sam Stone as we read the book and learn about his journey and how he arrived in a place where he could and would offer such a gift. That tale is amazing as well.
What is Your Simple Gift? Are you currently doing something for others - not to earn the praise and acclaim - but because it is right? What do you have to offer others that could lighten a load or buoy a soul? Mr. B. Virdot’s generosity and the story told in A Secret Gift by Ted Gup inspires me to look beyond my own nose and do whatever I can to make the world around me a better place.
Last Friday I was handed two notes within the course of about 10 minutes. They came from two kindergarten students and quite honestly they say it all. We are so blessed to be associated with children each day. Just look at the two notes. One says “I love you Mr. Pinto” – you have to speak and read fluent kindergarten to see that. The second one – the one in yellow – is just pure, raw childhood joy. It’s just happy. The two simple notes say it all. Children. That’s why we do what we do and that is why we are in many ways lucky.
It’s easy sometimes when dealing with standardized tests, report cards, discipline issues, and upset parents to stray your thoughts and your focus away from what drew us like a magnet to where we are – children. I am always amazed that during my day simple reminders pop up that bring me back down to earth and re-focus my perspective. That’s a challenge I have for you today. We have heard of the glass half-full compared to half-empty. Today, instead of letting all the pieces that weigh you down with your daily responsibilities burden your back, take a fresh look. Think and look for instead, some of the pieces of your day that are good and right. Because there are many. I was so thrilled to get these two notes last Friday. Because they were heart-felt and were the definition of kindness. But they are tacked to the bulletin board in my office as a reminder because quite honestly, these two simple notes say it all.
Through Twitter Feeds and Email, a picture of me from my second year as a teacher (that would be 1991) has been circulating. It appeared in my email in-box again yesterday. It is from a very nice newspaper article that ran about me on Christmas morning all those years ago. I have the article somewhere. It’s funny that the digital image is now floating around cyber-space. I have it pictured above. Look at me. I am so young. I look like one of the kids. I was skinnier then. I wore skinnier ties. My hair was more spiky. I didn’t have a receding hairline. I didn’t have gray hair. I was younger. It is interesting, but when I look at that picture, I smile: A little because I look so different, but a lot because it truly isn’t one of those pictures that says, “I wish I was that young again.”
I look at that picture and what flashes before my eyes is 21 years. 21 years of experience with children. I taught six more years after that picture was taken. I had many great students and met many great people in those six years. Some of the students in that picture are Facebook Friends of mine now. They are all grown up and are successful. Since that picture was taken, I coached a lot of baseball, had a family, and became a principal. But the one constant if you look at that picture then and you look at that picture now - I am surrounded by children. And that makes me smile. Because that tells me that my gut was right all those years ago about school. I don’t go to work, I go to school. And I love children.
A Picture Isn’t Always Worth A Thousand Words because what this picture doesn’t show, as I look back on it now, are the roads I have traveled. Some have been arduous and life-changing. Most others have been affirming and truly wonderful. Most everyone who is reading these words right now I did not know when that picture was taken. I wouldn’t change my relationship with you for a minute to go back to that spot. I just wouldn’t.
I think in life we have moments where we look back and see ourselves for who we were at a certain time in our lives. I did that yesterday. It reminded me of the baby-face I once had. It reminded me of the comments I endured my first year as a teacher, “Who is this kid teaching my child?” and the experience and wisdom I have now that I didn’t even begin to have back then. It reminded me of so many joys and wonderful moments along the path to my present. And then I look at today and what is truly wonderful about it is this, “Today will be an adventure.” It always is. But then again, “Tomorrow will be a totally different adventure.” And I guess I find a certain comfort in that.
Four drinks in a drink carrier: two unsweetened teas, one regular Coke, and one black coffee – literally upside down on their lids as I turned the corner in my car the other morning. Of course, I reached over to try to save the situation and my seat belt went taut. I just about cut my throat with it. The worst possible scenario passed through my head – Coke, tea, and coffee – everywhere when I right the ship.
Been there before? Well, I stretched the seat belt, reached over, and turned over the drink carrier. Guess what? No mess. The lids held.
I watch with fascination sometimes how so many people who work with children help them keep their lids when they are literally turned upside down. I see teachers every day do it. I see bus drivers be listening ears and friendly faces. I see parents either lend support or offer a firm set of expectations. I see parent volunteers in Scouts, athletics, and PTO events support and buoy children. I see many situations where students are literally turned upside down – either by circumstances beyond their control or by circumstances of their own doing. And through it all, I am amazed at how a kind word, a selfless deed, a show of support, a push to do something that is a bit challenging – not only keeps the lid on the child, but also avoids a giant mess. So today, tomorrow, next week – when you encounter a child who is upside down on his/her lid – do whatever is in your bag of talents and tricks to right their ship and to keep their lids. Because we all know the feeling of having the drinks upside down in our car. We have all been there before in our own lives. And we all appreciate and remember those that were there to help turn things around and helped us keep our lids.
I walked into the room of a veteran teacher the other day and saw this giant tub of crayons on the desk. I immediately smiled and said, “I need a picture of that!” It struck me on several fronts. First, any teacher who has taught for any length of time has such a tub, bin, or container filled with remnants of crayons gone by. It also struck me because the tub had some age to it and I was confident it had seen many days – some good and some challenging. I was also confident that many hands from the past and several more from the future would be touching it. (On an aside, the teacher opened a cabinet and showed me four similar tubs as well. Teachers are a bit hoarderish like that. It’s a necessity).
Teaching is like a tub of crayons. If you look at this tub of crayons you will see many different colors, sizes, and shapes. Some are broken, some are fresh and new. Still others are torn, worn, and have their outer layer peeled. If I can draw an analogy comparing students to crayons, I think you will see my point. If a teacher looks around her room, she will see quite a collection. Students come in all shapes, sizes, and conditions. Some are well-loved and some are damaged. But they all have worth and just like this tub, educators value and keep all of them. I also like to look at the tub and to see the collection from over the years. Because the one thing that is of true value for educators is the experience and wisdom that comes from time and working with many different children and their families. When I looked at this tub of crayons I had to smile. Teachers every day take their collection of ‘crayons’ and with them they help to make the world a beautiful and better place.
At the dawn of the prohibition, breweries scrambled to find a product they could produce in absence of alcohol. One such brewery in Chicago began producing a lime-flavored soda - with just a hint of lemon: Green River. A Green River is a truly Chicago drink. You either like it or you don’t. I like it. I even have a special spot in Chicago - Hackney’s - where I like to go and have a Green River. They make their own on site.
What I like about a Green River soda is it’s different. I mean a lot of green foods that we eat are good for you, but how many green drinks besides green tea can you think of? I also like the fact that the Green River was made in a time when something had to change. The brewery had bottles. It had the means of production and the labor force. It just needed a product. And some creative thinker came up with the Green-colored, lime-flavored drink. And it stuck.
What is you Green River? We all are faced with challenges that require us to think and to adapt. Change is difficult but if you are creative, have perseverance, and a healthy attitude, good things can happen. The next time you are faced with a challenge, check yourself. Instead of finding excuses for why something won’t work, or can’t be done, ask yourself, “Is this my Green River?” And then go out and amaze the world.