I Cried

I have been moved to tears this week.  Ok, ok, ya, I’m emotional.  I cry about stuff sometimes.  But this week was different.

On Sunday at about 7pm, I realized that I forgot my power cord to my laptop at school.  When I went to pick it up, the first thing I saw was our new principal, Archie Lillico, on his knees in his work clothes, resealing our school sign while his daughter power-sanded it.  When I got closer, I realized his wife was also there and she was planting flowers in the pots around our school that have remained empty for the last couple of years.

I went to my class and got my power cord and then I got back in my car and drove away.  And I cried.

I cried because it has been a long time since someone has shown that kind of caring for Stony Plain Central School.  I cried because I finally saw the outside of our building as a newcomer might see it, and it wasn’t impressive.  I cried because not only was he doing something wonderful for SPC, but he was also showing me who he is as a parent, a husband, and a community member, and it WAS impressive.  I cried because I felt relief, and happiness and “the winds of change”.

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No More “Molasses Classes”

I had seen Ron Clark on The Oprah Winfrey Show but other than that, I didn’t know much about him or the Ron Clark Academy (@ronclarkacademy) before I started building my PLN on Twitter.  Soon, many of the people I was following were tweeting about #molassesclasses.  I decided to buy it and see what all the hype was about.  Here are my few thoughts on the book and how it will impact my classroom in the 2011-2012 school year.

“When you show people that you appreciate their hard work and that you are aware of their efforts, the job they are doing tends to improve”(pg. 20)

Teachers don’t do the things they do so that they can be recognized, but we all have a desire to be appreciated.  This quote from the book impacted me immediately. Especially the word show.  Being told we are appreciated and being shown it are two entirely different things.   One thing I want to focus more on this year is gratitude.  Showing gratitude to my colleagues, administrators, students, parents, custodians, secretaries and anyone else who impacts our school positively through my actions will be focus this school year.  Once people know you are watching and noticing their contributions, they don’t want to disappoint.  They will continue to do a good job, or even do a better job than what they have been.

“Even if they don’t understand and comprehend the effort I am putting into them now, they will appreciate it later” (pg. 32)

I am sad to admit that I have said to my volleyball team when their effort levels were less than top-notch “I am sacrificing time with my family to be here helping you”.  Guilting them isn’t a tactic I want to use.  The students will understand at some point that the time that I spent with them was valuable. 

“We are just kids and we don’t know how to put it all together and express ourselves the right way” – Jai Springs (pg. 34)

Wow.  How many times have I disciplined a student for acting out when actually they were just embarrassed or upset because they felt they disappointed an adult?  Probably lots.  As teachers of middle years students, we often see them as “almost” adults, having a grasp on their emotions and how to communicate them.  Well, considering that I am still figuring out how I am feeling and how to appropriately express myself, that is a pretty unrealistic expectation for a 13-year-old.  This year I will look a little harder, ask a few more questions and try to help my students “put it all together and express themselves the right way”.

“If you are taking the time to make an excuse, you are wasting time that could be spent on finding a solution” (pg.43)

“Make it happen.”  This might just be my new motto/mantra for the year. “We can’t do this because we don’t have the money.”  “That won’t work, we’ve tried it before.”  “I don’t have the time.”  I have heard or used these excuses and many others in my career.  Ron Clark’s attitude that anything can be done if you are persistent and creative inspired me.  I think I will put the words “MAKE IT HAPPEN” at the front of my classroom this year and pass that on to the students as well.

“Use music to excite, motivate and inspire” (pg. 71)

I have been thinking for years about how cool it would be for our staff to do a song and dance routine at the end of year assembly.  We would take a current Top 40 hit and change the lyrics to fit our school year.  This is where the excuses come in.  Every year I think about it, then I think about the reasons it won’t work.  When I read about the RCA kids doing this exact thing and the impact it has had far beyond their own school, I knew that I had to include this in my plans for the coming year.  I love music.  I love dancing.  Why haven’t I done this before?  Stay tuned for future blog posts on this topic.

“…we need to remember that they will strive to become the individual that we see in each of them.” (pg.156)

This made me think of the line at the end of the movie The Breakfast Club: “You see us as you want to see us…in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.  But what we found out is that each of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess and a criminal.”  Screw convenience.  Putting kids in their perfect little slot is a huge mistake that we as teachers make.  I know I have.  Seeing our students as multi-faceted individuals will help them to see themselves that way.  No more slots for my students.

“…we expect children to sit for hours, staring at a board and then, in many cases, eat an unhealthy lunch, only to go back to staring for three more hours.  It’s torture, it’s unfair, and it’s not smart.” (pg. 204)

It’s funny how we have “stations” in kindergarten where the kids can move around and be active and make choices as to what they will do, but we take that away the older they get.  We have to do less sitting around in desks and more moving around engaging.   I have been thinking a lot about my class and how differently I am going to set up the desks and chairs.  Actually, I am going to try to find some comfortable seating for the classroom and make sure that all students get a chance to sit in it.  Going back to kindergarten and setting up stations is another idea that I am going to “make happen”.

Truthfully, there were a lot of other things in the book that resonated with me because I am already doing them.  Things like lending a hand and being a part of a team, teaching them and helping them to be confident, loving what my students love, and getting to know them in non-academic setting.

I enjoyed 95% of the book immensely.  The repeated mention of test scores, grades and rewards put me off a bit.  After two years of discussion and professional development on moving away from grades, percentages and award ceremonies, my worldview on assessment has changed. Then, I read Ron Clark’s book and see that this highly successful school thrives on rewards and report card marks.  I had to think about that for quite a long time.  I’m still not too sure how I feel about it.  I need more time to process and experiment with assessment in my classes.

I am getting more and more excited (and a bit anxious, too) about the upcoming school year.  So many new tools and ideas to use.