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10 Belief Statements About Student Discipline

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CC Image from Charlie Baker https://flic.kr/p/aTHCev

As I continue my journey in the first 4 months at James Hill elementary, I wanted to share my beliefs around student discipline with the staff.  Although my views continue to evolve and grow through formal and informal learning and school/home experiences, I want to be transparent about the lens I look through around student discipline.  At a recent staff meeting, I took the time to share these brief belief statements with staff:

  1. “Kids do well if they can…. if they could do well, they would do well.” (Dr. Ross Greene)  Behaviour is a skill. When a child struggles with reading, we provide interventions and differentiation to support and teach. When a student struggles with behaviour, we also need to support and teach… and then we teach some more.  Many students do not do well living in a grey world so, as with all learning, students need clear models and criteria (ex. criteria) of what effective behaviour looks like.  By focusing on skills, I am not saying that we do not use consequences;  however, when we use consequences, they must be logical and not punitive. We must be investigators of the skills that students lack to be successful and then work to teach those skills.  (See video below from Greene.) Create the conditions for student success.
  2. Start with strengths.  We must create the conditions for students to see and feel real success. We cannot wait until a student is on a long string of setbacks before we talk about what the students strengths and interests are… include these in their learning from the start!  These strengths should be embraced and never used as a carrot to be dangled or taken away.  If a child’s strength is working with younger students, put it in their schedule.  This will help build confidence and give them a sense of purpose and positive identity at school.
  3. Students need to belong.  We ALL need to belong.  If a student is consistently being sent out of class or moved from school to school, how can we expect a sense of belonging?  I realize that there are some students whose behaviours can pose a safety concern and we must look at and balance each student’s needs… but we must maintain the goal of creating a sense of belonging in the classroom.
  4. Students need to know they matter.  Take the time to connect with kids.  Find out their strengths and interests.  Find out who they are.  Take the time to show the students that you do care about their life beyond the classroom.  Differentiation is not just about teaching at a child’s level, it is also about including their strengths and interests.
  5. Focus on self-regulation and self-control skills.  If a student cannot sit still, they are telling us they need to move.  Yes, sitting still is a skill but it is also developed more easily for some.  If a student has meltdown, there are likely many opportunities to intervene (that occur prior that point) to help teach the student the skills needed to self-regulate his/her emotions.  We also need to reflect on if our classroom environments help or hinder a child lacking self-regulation skills.  Do our classrooms have a calming sense (as Shanker asks… have we removed some of the “visual clutter” in our classrooms?)?  Do we provide opportunities for students to move as needed?
  6. We cannot motivate students.  We can only create the conditions for students to motivate themselves. (adapted from Ed Deci and Richard Ryan)  The use of carrots and sticks will help students to become good at… getting carrots and avoiding sticks.  Students should learn to do the right thing… just because it is the right thing to do.  Carrots and sticks are effective in the short term but ineffective in the long term.  Teaching the needed skills and creating the conditions for students to motivate themselves takes a lot of time but it is worth it in the end.
  7. Students make mistakes… and they need to make things right.  Every student will make a poor choice, an error in judgment, or react inappropriately at some point. When this occurs, it is important that we look to restitution to help make things right (ex. doing something meaningful for the person that was hurt – see the work of Diane Gossen). Some view this as “letting him/her off the hook to do something positive” when what it is really doing is helping a child FEEL what it is like to do something positive and then creating a moment to reflect on the difference between what it FELT to do something negative.
  8. We need to move from MY students to OUR students.  We need to tap into the many relationships and resources in our school.  If there is an education assistant or former teacher that has a positive relationship and can help, embrace this. If the teacher across the hall can offer a quiet area when needed (for self-regulation), explore this idea.
  9. “How we teach becomes what we teach.” (Larry Cuban)  If we want to see it… model it.  If we want children that our caring, kind, empathetic, inclusive, etc, we need to model this at all times.  We are not perfect and we make mistakes but it is how we respond to these mistakes that teaches our students how to respond to theirs.  Whenever we have that opportunity to discipline and “teach the child a lesson”, we need to be reflective on what that lesson is.  Even at the most challenging times, we must do our best to remain respectful as our actions teach so much.  Being respectful, kind and caring does not mean we need to be permissive.  A teacher once told me that when we are working with students with challenging behaviours, we need to be kind and firm.
  10. “The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.” (unknown)  We must seek to understand.  We often hear that we should “send kids home” when they misbehave.  There are many problems with this but the main one is that for many (not all) students who struggle,  life outside of school is not filled with love and care. Sending a child home to a stressful, uncaring situation can make matters worse.  In addition, if the goal is to teach a child to behave at school and in life, when we send him/her home we are crossing our fingers and hopeing for change… which rarely (never) happens when he/she returns to school.  As stated, kids need to feel they belong and they are cared for… sending a child home can escalate behaviours  in the long term.

Kids need us.  For students who struggle with behaviour challenges, it is never a simple solution.  Teaching 30 students (with a variety of academic, social and emotional needs) for an entire day can be completely exhausting.  When discussing solutions, though, we need to ask the question: who is this about – the teachers/admin? or the student?   It likely falls somewhere in the middle but it is important to keep in mind the needs of everyone.  In the end, it is our job as admin, teachers, and staff to create the conditions for student success.  Meet students where they are and teach the needed skills from there.

I share these statements here not to state that my views are correct but to share with others for understanding as well as provide an opportunity for feedback to help me grow.  Please add your thoughts (support AND challenge) in the comments.  Are there key areas that I have missed or need to be changed?

 

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How Does School Choice Impact Our Neighbourhood Schools?

cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Nicola Jones: http://flickr.com/photos/photomequickbooth/2870985192/

cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Nicola Jones: http://flickr.com/photos/photomequickbooth/2870985192/

As an educator and a parent of three year-olds, I often get asked the question, “where are you going to send your kids to school?”.  This still tends to catch me by surprise and my response is always… “the one down the road”.  This often leads to another series of questions like “you’re NOT sending them to _____?” or “really? you think that is a good school?”.  Recently, I had a conversation with a colleague that lives nearby and when I responded with “the school right near our house”, she was so relieved as she said that, as a parent, she was feeling so much pressure to choose to drive her children to another school outside her neighbourhood and that by “just” having her children attend her neighbourhood school, she was doing them a disservice.

These conversations lead me to ask, “when did we start thinking that schools in our own neighbourhoods were not ‘good enough’?”  When did we think that going to school with kids in our neighbourhood was only an option if you could not (or do not) choose to go to another school?

Choice is a form of power and I completely understand how parents want the power to choose what we feel is best for our children.  I also know that we want our children engaged in school and when a specialized program across town can offer this, it because an enticing option.  I am concerned, though, about our neighbourhood schools.  I am concerned about our communities.  What impact does school choice have on the health of our communities if some or many of the children and youth do not attend school there?  If our children spend the majority of time outside of our communities, will they have as much pride and ownership over our communities?

I don’t like to romanticize the past but I will for a moment.  I grew up in a small town where we had only one option and that was to attend Coquihalla Elementary.  Was it a great school?  Absolutely.  Were there issues there?  Absolutely.  The school was the hub of the neighbourhood.  If there was an event, every kid in the community was involved and people took pride in the community.   There was no statements said to my parents like “wow, you are just going to send him to that school?”.  The best part of it all for me was that all my friends and every kid down the road went to school there.

One thing I have heard people say to me is that “our neighbourhood school has so many troubled families and kids… I want my child to be in a less stressful environment.”  I get that and I can respect that; however, these same troubled families and children are in our communities… they are OUR children too.  At the far end of the spectrum, the impacts of decisions like this can be seen in many neighbourhoods in the US (and some in Canada) in which many people with money and access choose to drive their child to a different school… and the community school becomes a school with mostly families with high financial (and often other) stressors.  This can lead (and has led) to a large inequity of educational programs and opportunities for students (just google the debate on charter schools and vouchers in the US).

I understand there are situations in which a school cannot provide a child with the services he/she needs and the district and families can choose to transport the child to a different school to access more services.  I also know that there are some children for whom the current structures and education system does not work.  I can completely respect that as some students have a very difficult time experiencing success at school without options for extra services and more flexible environments.

School choice and market theory in education seem to be a solution many districts are forced to provide.  If they do not provide this, families can (and do) opt to leave the district and, on a large scale, can a significant impact on the financial well being of the district.   The BC Ministry of Education promotes school options for parents but, to me, this seems like a slippery slope.  In a recent conversation with admin colleagues from different schools, it was stated, “it’s like we have ended up competing with each other… and families seem to be always seeking a ‘better’ school to try.”  To provide what some families want, many districts have created specialized schools and academies to try to attract students (and beat out other schools/districts in the competition for students).  By doing this, neighbourhood schools often lose students and staff with strengths in certain areas.  For example, if we have a school that specialized in music education, they will attract many students and teachers with strengths in music.  How does this impact the music programs in other schools?  How does this impact the music education of the students who cannot access the specialized school?  If we have a school that specializes in trades and it attracts those with interests in trades, how does this impact the trades programs of our neighbourhood schools?  There are some that state that providing school choice is a key strategy to better meet the needs of all learners as they can access more specialized programs and become more engaged as their education will be tied more to their interests.  However, when we look beyond the surface, if not ALL students can be provided with this access, how does this impact our neighbourhood schools?  Do our community schools become schools for those who do not choose other schools or for those who cannot access the programs at other schools? Can we do both? Can we have specialized programs in some schools AND maintain effective options for students within our neighbourhood schools?

I am not blaming school districts for providing school choice as I think they have been forced to try to compete with each other for students and left with having to offer school choice as they try to service the needs of the families within their catchments (I cannot imagine the ongoing dilemmas faced by superintendents and boards of education).  I also recognize that sometimes this competition has led to innovations within the schools and districts (although I would argue that if we spent more time collaborating than competing, innovation could be even higher).   I also do not blame, nor do I have anything against, parents who choose other schools and try to provide the best education for their child.  I do think, however, that we are on a path that is hard to stop and this worries me about the future of our neighbourhood schools.  I realize some parents do a ton of research on schools; there are also some that make choices about schools based on test scores, rankings, neighbourhood incomes, school structures, and reputations without ever having set foot in the schools within our own neighbourhoods.  School choice is everywhere in BC (apart from some rural districts) and North America so I am not trying to challenge every school district in the western world.  My questions and concerns about school choice is a concern not about districts and people but about what long term impact this might have on our schools down the road.  Once we have opened the gates to market theory in education and more and more school choice, academies, and specialized schools, how can we possibly go back?  So if school choice is here to stay, then how do we work to provide effective opportunities in our neighbourhood schools so they are not just the default option?  How do we provide equitable access to choice schools?

Many families (and voters) want the ability to choose the best education for their child.  School districts have a role to listen to their communities. But what long term effect does driving our children outside of their communities have on our neighbourhood schools and our communities as a whole? 

I have stated some of my opinions but I also wonder if I am being a traditionalist here?  Will my views change in the coming years?  Has this school choice bus already left the garage?  Have we already moved beyond the idea of  a “neighbourhood school”?  Am I participating in school choice as I choose to send my kids to the school closest to where we live?  Many of us commute to work and are often more connected to people outside of our communities (through work and social media)… so am I putting too much emphasis on community?

I don’t know the answer to these questions and I do not have children currently in the school system but I do know that, in a few years, I will proudly send my kids to the same school as our neighbour’s kids attended… the school down the road.

What are your thoughts?

Note: in my Master’s of Educational Leadership program at the University of British Columbia, we were always challenged and encouraged to reflect upon current trends in western education; market theory/school choice was one topic that was continually critiqued and discussed. For a more academic post I wrote  in 2011 on school choice, click here

@chriswejr

 

 

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Looking Forward With Excitement; Looking Back With Pride

Walking on, looking back with pride.

Walking on, looking back with pride.

Pardon the delay of this post. It was originally written a week ago but the flu hit our family and it never got posted.

As I begin the next exciting journey of my career with the honour of being the principal of James Hill Elementary in the Langley School District, I have had many moments of excitement as well as many that have caused me to pause and reflect on my time at Kent.  Prior to the final week at Kent, I found myself looking back with a critical eye – looking for all the things I could have or should have done differently.  Maybe this was because I was handing my “stuff” over to the next principal, maybe it was because I was struggling with leaving a school and community I love, or maybe it was just me reflecting on how I need to continue to grow as an educator… but I think this caused a bit of a shadow over the many truly wonderful things I was privileged to be a part of at Kent.  After talking to a great friend and teacher at Kent, Stacey Garrioch, my sadness, nervousness, and minor regrets began to turn into happiness and pride.

I then made a list of the positive (major) moments, ideas, and changes that occurred during my time at Kent.  I have written about many of these in my blog before (linked below) but as I add closure to my journey at Kent, I wanted to describe the proud moments and changes that stick out to me and pay tribute to the efforts of the staff, students, and community of Kent Elementary and the Fraser-Cascade School District.  Please note that these changes were not my doing; these changes often arose from an individual or group on staff or in the community and I just helped to make the change a reality.

  1. Ending awards  This conversation began prior to my arrival at Kent but I was honoured to be part of the final decision to move away from student of the month and year-end awards. Rather than award a select few students for strengths in which we chose to be the most important, we decided to honour each child at one point during the year for the strengths and interests they brought to our school. Our year end ceremony moved from an awards ceremony, in which often only parents of award winners attended, to a grade 6 honouring ceremony in which our gym was packed as each child had family members there to support him/her.  Death of An Awards Ceremony and Rethinking Awards.
  2. Moving away from rewards and punishment  This is another conversation that was initiated prior to my arrival but I was proud to be part of its evolution.  We moved away from sticker charts and behaviour prizes to instead place emphasis on students doing the right thing… just because it is the right thing to do.  When negative behaviours arose we placed the focus on determining the lagging skills, putting supports in place to teach/coach the lagging skills, providing opportunities for restitution, and working to ensure their is a positive sense of belonging. In the past few months, the school has also created a team to implement self-regulation strategies into a few classrooms. My Issue With Rewards, Creating the Conditions: Student DisciplineThey Need Teaching – Not Punishment, and Movement Is Not A Reward.
  3. Focusing on student interests, strengths and passions  Too often we place all the emphasis on the deficits of our students and staff.  The previous principal of Kent, Roxanne Watson, helped to show me the powerful shift that occurs when we start with strengths.  One of the successful initiatives that we have had at Kent for the past 6 years is the Choices Program that provides the opportunity for teachers to teach in an area of their passion and for students to choose to learn in an area of interest or passion.  Kent has a tradition of strong athletics, music, Aboriginal culture with dedicated staff that support this each year. Honouring A Student’s Strength: The Story of Daniel and Giving Students Choices
  4. Putting a focus on outdoor play   It started with a group of teachers working together to create a beautiful garden in the back field.  Parents then built a sandbox.  We then built a hill!  All of these provide the students with so many more opportunities to be inquisitive and active in the outdoors. The Power of Outdoor Play: We Built A Hill.
  5. Making the school library (and the teacher-librarian) a priority  Kent School has shown me the impact a passionate teacher-librarian and well-designed library can have on literacy (not just skill but, more importantly, a love of stories and reading).  In addition to literacy as is traditionally defined, a teacher-librarian can be a leader in the areas of research, education technology, inquiry and professional learning.  The staff at Kent have also shown me that we do not need pizza parties, prizes, nor points to encourage kids to read. Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading.
  6. Fostering a partnership with our First Nation Communities  Although Kent School has a effective relationships with a number of the First Nation communities, the working relationship with Seabird Island is one that should be a model for others to follow. The Seabird Education committee consists of band leaders who are passionate about creating positive change and working to ensure all children get the best education possible.  The admin and (passionate) FN Support Worker met with the education committee four times a year (in addition to other less formal meetings) in which we discussed evidence and actions that could help the students.   The education committee supported and challenged Kent School in ways that created change that benefited not only First Nation students, but also all the students.  This was REAL collaboration with REAL trust in which there was a dynamic tension that allowed for intellectual collisions to help move us forward.  We have a long way to go to ensure more success of our Aboriginal students in BC but Seabird Island and Fraser-Cascade have made significant gains in this area.  Seabird Education Committee: Learning Together
  7. Increasing parent communication with technology  A key belief of mine is that in order to best communicate with families, we need to meet them where they are.  At Kent, we moved beyond the paper newsletter to include more frequent information (that can initiate 2-way dialogue) sent out in our blogs, Facebook Page, Twitter feed, Remind101 (SMS), Flickr, YouTube, etc to create a variety of ways to share the wonderful things that happen at the school. Using Tech To Meet Parents Where They Are, Parent Communication: To vs WITH, and Your School Needs a Facebook Page
  8. Shifting the focus away from grades  This is not as significant of a jump at an elementary school as it is at a high school; however, a focus for our school has been to put less emphasis on the grade and much more emphasis on growth minsdset with descriptive feedback, success criteria, and clear learning intentions. This has helped to create better evidence of learning, decrease anxiety, and increase confidence. 6 Big Ideas of Assessment Practices
  9. Continuing to make inclusion a priority  This was nothing new for Kent School as we just continued down the path that was set in motion long before I arrived.  I was always proud to see all students fully included with support throughout the day; not only does this help the child with special needs but it also has a huge impact on all students as they learn communication skills, empathy, care, and (most importantly) friendship. Modeling and Teaching Our Kids to Reach Out and Include
  10. Creating time within the day for teachers to meet and tinker with ideas  We often say that collaboration is important and that we want innovative practices in schools yet we often fail to provide the structures to make these a priority.  In the past, I have tried some extra preps for innovation (“FedEx Preps”) but this year, we placed time in the schedule for innovation and collaboration. FedEx Prep: Time For Innovation, FedEx Prep: A Reflection, and Creating Time for Teachers To Tinker With Ideas
  11. Providing opportunities for student leaders  Student leadership is part of the culture at Kent School.  Whether it is through buddies, supervision, help with decisions, or running activities to improve the culture of the school, the students worked hard to lead. I recall someone asking what our “leadership program” was and, although I am sure there are some great programs out there, I responded with “we had dedicated teachers that model and encourage it… they create the conditions for students to lead.”  When we moved to a “Play First Lunch”, our staff, along with the grade 6 students, made sure that the younger students were supported in the transition.
  12. Increasing opportunities for students and staff to connect with others  Encouraging and supporting the use of technology and social media to connect and learn from others had a significant impact on our school.  Although we did provide release time for staff to visit other schools, the technology provided the opportunity for staff to connect with and learn from other passionate educators around the world.  I am proud of the many ideas that were ‘stolen’ from others to benefit students at Kent. :-) How Social Media is Changing Education
  13. Continuing to foster community partnerships  Being in a small town in which relationships are key, the school has a lengthy tradition of community partnerships.  Here are just a few examples:  twice a week before school, retired community members come in and read aloud to children (one-on-one) in the packed library;  students regularly work with the Fraser Valley Regional Librarian to help support stories and literacy; the choir regularly travels to community halls and care homes and performs for others; the grade 6s reach out to the care homes to play games, read, and do crafts with elders; the Kent athletes participate in tournaments and playdays with nearby First Nation communities of Seabird and Sts’ailes; students also attend celebrations such as Sto:lo New Year at Seabird each year; the high school leadership students are regular helpers at a variety of events we host; students and staff from the Agassiz Centre for Education buddy up with Kent students and also partner in a number of “Senior-Teen Luncheons” at the Legion Hall to promote generational relationships and understanding; then at Christmas, the school invites the community supporters in for a huge turkey dinner in our gym.  One of the most memorable (and heart-wrenching) moments was when our community embraced Lilee-Jean and her family as we welcomed this beautiful 2 year old in to spend her first and only day at school.  These community partnerships help the students learn far beyond the school walls. The Most Beautiful Morning Spent Dancing in the Rain
  14. Embedding Aboriginal ways and culture  Some key staff members have worked hard to make sure that Aboriginal education and knowledge of First Nation language and culture moves beyond being a “field trip”; culture, language, history, and story-telling all occur across the curriculum and throughout the day.  The idea of honouring a child for the gifts he/she brings to us is just part of what is done at Kent.
  15. Showing pride in who we are  We worked hard to honour children for who they are. We challenged and supported students to grow and excel and also remember the strengths and interests in their lives that help to create their identity.  One of the most memorable activities I have been a part of was Identity Day in which each child in the school did a project on themselves.  The conversations and learning that resulted from Identity Day spilled over into days and months following the event and helped to create better understanding and more confident learners in the school. I will always remember a luncheon/honouring ceremony when a cousin (a young adult) of one of the students nervously and emotionally spoke up; she said, “I went to Kent 8 years earlier… and struggled… and I am so proud to see my cousin go through Kent school and be PROUD of who she is”. Identity Day: Pride in Who We Are

I am so thankful for all the opportunities that were offered to me during my time at Kent School and the Fraser-Cascade School District.  Writing this post has shown me the awesome power of having a blog as I was able to look back and read about the learning moments that occurred during my journey.

As I finish the chapter that is my journey at Kent, I look back at powerful learning, close relationships and wonderful memories.  As I start my new chapter at James Hill, I look forward with excitement for the opportunity to create new learning, new relationships, and new memories. I have only been at James Hill a few times now and I am already learning so much from the staff. One of the greatest aspects of education is that, although we may have similar goals, things are done differently with a variety of perspectives in different communities and contexts.   Each school community has its own ‘ecosystem’ and these new perspectives and relationships inspire me and help me grow that much more.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of this community and write a completely new chapter of my life full of moments that will make me proud to be a principal and educator at James Hill.  Hopefully I can add a few small pieces to the already strong cultures and traditions at our school.

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My girls and I “looking forward” with excitement!

Thank you so much to the communities of Kent and James Hill along with the districts of Fraser-Cascade and Langley.

If you are interested, here is the video I created for the community of Kent School that was shown on the last day of school.

 

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The Importance of Modeling Positive Use of Social Media

Used with permission from the Magnussen family.

Cyberbullying. Stalking. Pedophilia. Narcissism. Screen time. These are the headlines that grab the most attention around the topic of students using social media.  These articles and reports strike fear into parents and schools to the point that has resulted in the banning of social media.  By banning, we put our heads in the sand and cross our fingers that somehow, in some way, students will avoid using social media or somehow miraculously figure out how to use it in a positive manner.  When we do this, what actually ends up happening is we get students sneaking around using social media tools and teaching themselves what is and what is not appropriate.  Gordon Neufeld, author of Hold on to Your Kids,  speaks of the problems with this on a broader level as peers then attach to each other without adults (teacher, family) and teach themselves which behaviours are acceptable.  In order for adults to guide and be the teachers of any skill, we need to be aware and we need to be involved.

As adults, we need to be the teachers.  We need to be the models.  Much like with other skills and behaviours. We need to focus on the relationships we have with our students/children and model and teach digital citizenship.

At our school we have students up to the age of 12.  In a very informal survey I did last year, I found that almost 75% of our students in grade 5 and 6 were using some form of social media (predominantly Instagram and Facebook) and many of them were using it with very limited support from adults.  This is not a criticism of parents nor is it a criticism of schools and teachers; we are all taking this new journey together and as we grow with the tools, we start to see the issues that arise.  Because of this, I have taught mini-units of social media with our 5′s and 6′s with the focus on digital footprint and online communication (as well as what to do when a child experiences negative behaviour online).  We speak of BOTH the negatives (ex. the importance of knowing how to take a screenshot on any device as well as the impact of this) and the positives (ex. the positive impact a child can have on others through supporting and sharing online).  My goal with these sessions is not to tell students to connect online but rather to teach the impact of posting online as well as the skills of how to communicate and interact online. In addition to these sessions, as more students and classes begin blogging and connecting for educational purposes, it also provides us with key opportunities to teach digital citizenship.

One thing that I have been thinking about lately is the idea that my friend, George Couros, recently mentioned to me: Digital Leadership.  Much like leadership offline, students and adults can LEAD others in how they interact and treat each other online.  When we put our heads in the sand and ban social media, we miss a huge opportunity to showcase and tap intp digital leadership and model a positive online presence.

In a recent session I did with the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils on schools using social media to enhance parent engagement, a question was asked about the fear around using Facebook in schools (click here to access the archive of the session).  My response was that although I understand the fears involved with posting online, I believe that it is our job as adults in 2013 to MODEL appropriate and positive use of social media.  For example, like other schools in BC, we have fairly strict protection of privacy laws (FIPPA) so we need to have specific consent of parents in order to share photos (especially when stored online outside of Canada).  This consent is often beyond that of a 12 year old’s understanding… so in addition to the consent that is required by an adult, I ask the students before a post a photo of them.  I want them to learn that it is not appropriate to post any photos of friends or peers without them knowing.  Another area that I also am trying to model with students is how and when to put the devices away and self-regulate in a world in which there is always someone online that wants to engage.  Students know I use social media and they also see me using technology in a very purposeful manner (see Why I Took Facebook and Twitter Off My Phone).  By sharing the ways we use social media and including students in this discussion, we schools can be digital leaders and open the doors to some deeper learning experience on how to better navigate this new(ish) world of social media together.

Not only is it important for schools to model digital leadership and citizenship. it is aslo important to share the stories of other digital leaders (particularly youth) who are using social media to make a positive difference to others.  Many of you know the relationship that I had with the family of  a young girl, Lilee-Jean Putt, whom we lost recently to cancer at the age of two. Because of my online connection to LJ’s mother and father, I came across the Facebook page of a 17 year old girl, Angel Magnussen, who has made it her life purpose to help sick children in a variety of ways. Angel is not your typical 17 year old.  She is a 17 year old who is #proudtohaveDownsSyndrome (from her Twitter bio) and a passionate girl who has started her own non-profit business “Hugginz By Angel”.  This business raises money for BC Children’s Hospital in a variety of ways but most importantly, by selling (well, mostly raising money and donating) beautiful blankets Angel makes to wrap around as many sick children in need an “Angel Hug”.  From her Facebook page:

I have just started up my own Non Profit Fundraising Business “Hugginz By Angel”. I make and sell specially designed cute cuddly hospital pajamas for kids and teens and blankets young children and babies. I knit Love Hats for sick kids too. I want to make sure that every sick child is wrapped up in a warm hug. Sales of Hugginz benefit Variety the children’s charity. Please check out my Hugginz By Angel photo album to see the photos and get the ordering and sponsorship information. You can help me to reach my fundraising goals for these charities by sharing my website www.hugginzbyangel.com and spreading the word about my latest fundraising efforts.

Not only is this impressive, but it is also inspiring to see how she is using her blog, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share the stories of so many others that are fighting battles and need our support.  Because of all the work she is doing, the mainstream media has started to take notice and, in addition to the numerous honours she has received, she has been recently featured at WeDay as well as on CTV.  Although I have never met Angel (but hope to one day), please take a moment to like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter – you will read stories of empathy and unbelievable care that is having an impact on so many families needing support.

Negative issues like cyberbullying are important to discuss with our students and children; however, because of these issues it makes it that much more important for adults to model and be digital leaders for our youth.  Angel did not learn to use social media in a positive way one evening; she has the support of her mother to help tap into the power of social media and enhance her message and purpose.  As schools, we no longer can stick our heads in the sand and hope this goes away.  We need to be digital leaders and find ways to become part of the conversation, share powerful stories like Angel, and model the positive use of social media to our students.

 

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Modeling and Teaching Our Kids to Reach Out and INCLUDE

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Erickson Ocampo: http://flickr.com/photos/coolbite1/3596619861/

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Erickson Ocampo: http://flickr.com/photos/coolbite1/3596619861/

Every year, as a principal, I hear the heart-breaking stories from parents and kids about not having friends, not being invited to play after school and never being invited to a birthday party.  Although we are only a few students and children in communities, these stories are far too common and are not only devastating to the children but also the families.

As I grow with my kids, one of my goals is to always reach out and invite a child who, for whatever reason, needs a friend.  I have seen parents do this in our school as they taught and modeled to our children the importance of including others in their circles.

When I was in elementary school, I remember new students moving to our town and struggling to make friends.  On a couple of occasions (probably more), my parents asked me to choose a child that was new or struggled to have friends and invite them to come to a Canucks game with my dad and I (back when the Canucks games were mostly losses but very affordable). These events grew into friendships and modeled to me the empathy and care that is needed to truly understand and appreciate the value of friendships and inclusion of others.

As we move into another school year, my challenge to parents (including me) is for us to reach out and include students beyond our children’s typical friendship circles.  If it is a new student in the class, set up an after school activity for a day.  For birthdays, start by reaching out to one child that needs a friend… and if our children disagree, this gives us the perfect opportunity to embrace a teachable moment about empathy and care.  If it is a student that struggles with some behaviours or disabilities that require support, invite the child to come over with the parent so you can truly understand the challenges that both the child and the family face.  Raising a child with a disability and/or a child that requires significant behaviour support can also be very difficult for the parents. They, too, can be left feeling alone and negatively judged as “bad parents” when it is often a condition that is not about parenting and more about extra support, empathy, and understanding.

A series of these small efforts can have a life-changing impact on children, families and society as a whole.  I invite you to join me, and many families whom I learn from, in reaching out and teaching our children to include others.

@chriswejr

 

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What Message Are We Sending In Our First Contact With Parents?

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Peter Gerdes: http://flickr.com/photos/petergerdes/2905280530/

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Peter Gerdes: http://flickr.com/photos/petergerdes/2905280530/

As we start a new school year, one of the key aspects to consider is our relationships with the parents and families of our students.

In the past year, not only have I had reflective conversations with parents and educators about moving to a focus on communication WITH parents (rather than communication TO parents), but I have also discussed preschool and kindergarten beginnings with close friends as well as people in my family.  I have heard personal stories of parents being told by the school that their child is “not ready for school” or is “a constant problem”.  I have also heard of wonderful school:family relationships being built from the first moment they meet – teachers that have made that effort to focus on the positives, empathize, and truly listen to families as they share stories about their child.  The experiences of those that have been there and those that are nervous about getting there all say the same thing: the first contact that is made from teachers and the school to the families is crucial to developing a positive relationship.

These conversations lead me to reflect on the question, “What message are we sending in our first contact with parents?”

Are we:

  • sending a list of forms to be signed and rules to be followed?
  • calling to tell them about a negative incident with their child?
  • meeting them to do a formal assessment on their child (ie. kindergarten or preschool assessment)?
  • meeting to discuss the deficits their child has?
  • telling families how to parent?

OR

Are we:

  • sharing who we are and opening up a conversation about us and their child?
  • calling to share something positive or just talk about the child?
  • meeting them to just get to know the child and the family?
  • calling to share some noticed strengths and interests of the child?
  • developing a relationship in which there is open communication between the school and the family?
  • determining the best way to meet parents where they are for communication?
  • listening to families about their thoughts and feedback?
  • working to build trust?

I realize that in elementary school classrooms, in which students often have only one teacher, it is much easier to develop relationships with families.  This does not mean, however, that because I am a principal or a high school teacher and have more students that I do not try to develop positive relationships with our families at the start of the year. Each contact we make with our families is an opportunity to foster an important relationship.

For me, I will continue to learn from families and staff at Kent on how important this first contact is in forming relationships.  I will work hard to be visible and present with students and families and initiate positive dialogue around our students.  Many of our families come to school nervously “giving their baby” to us… and sometimes, for a variety of reasons, there is a lack of trust. We must work hard to build this trust through listening and engaging in positive, open conversations with our families.

I recall a parent whom I had a very positive relationship with say to me, “I remember the first time you walked up to me… I got nervous and thought – what did my kid do?”  She went on to state that when she went to school, it was NEVER a good thing when the principal called or approached.  Other parents chimed in saying how nervous they get when they see the school’s number on the call display.  This feedback from parents shows how we have to work to overcome the perception that a contact with the school is a result of a problem; we must have a balanced authentic communication of celebrations, sharing of information, and concerns.  This balanced communication all starts with the effort to create a positive first contact with parents.

As my friend Heidi Hass Gable reminds us, “although educators have often taught and worked with parents, students, and curricula for a number of years… we have to remember, that parents are new each year.  This year is often the first time they will have gone through this grade or subject.”  She encourages educators to be patient, empathetic and understanding to parents (she understands this can be challenging and also encourages parents to do the same for school staff).  So if we approach parents as new to us this year, what will be their first impression of our class/school? How will they feel after our first contact?

Although ongoing communication WITH parents/families helps the school, the students, and the families… it is also important that at this time of year, we work hard to lay the foundation and make that first communication with families a positive one. It is also a great opportunity to share our story of who we are as teachers and to find out who our students are as children. Let’s share our stories and listen to the stories of our families.  Let’s work together as parents and educators to make that first meeting or phone call a positive, effective one.

As this is an area that many of us continue to work on, if you have ideas to share, I would love to learn from you – please take a moment comment and share.

Related Posts:

Power of Positivity: The Friday 5 Positive Phone Calls

Building Trust With Parents

Parent Communication: TO vs WITH

Thank you to my wonderful sister, my friends, and staff for sharing their experiences with me and helping me grow as an educator and parent.

 

 

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Sometimes We Don’t Need to Fix It, We Just Need to Shut Up and Listen

One of the key things I have learned from my wife, as well as some staff members, is that it is often more about listening than it is about problem-solving. Although there are many times when a problem needs to be fixed, there are times when our only job is to listen, sympathize, and/or empathize with what the person is telling us.

I recall a colleague telling me about a time in which he sat and listened to the many things that were wrong with a teacher’s class and how she was frustrated with a lack of support for her students. My colleague told me that after he listened, he worked hard to change a number of schedules to provide more support for this teacher. I am sure, if he is like me, he was proud of his efforts in helping to solve the problem. When he went to the teacher and shared his solutions, she became even more frustrated and said, “I wasn’t looking for changes… I just wanted you to listen!”. He spent the next few hours undoing his solutions.

In a meeting a few years ago, I brought up the topic of staff room dialogue. I said that I felt that the focus of the majority of conversations should be about working toward a solution rather than merely voicing concerns. A colleague responded, “sometimes, we just need to vent and not solve the problems.” At the time I struggled to comprehend this but as I grow, along with the help of a number of conversations with my wife, I am starting to realize that sometimes the most important thing I can do is… shut up and listen.

Check out this short entertaining video that shares this point… #lessonlearned (Thanks to Michal Ruhr for sharing)

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Share Who You Are, Let People In

A family sharing a little bit of who they are… with me.

Sharing who we are and letting people in are so important to building trusting relationships with students, staff, family, and the community.

Yesterday, I was in my office gathering some things together after the bell had gone, when a kindergarten student, “K”, peered into my office and in the smallest,sweetest voice said, “Mr. Wejr, would you like to come and meet my dog?”  My first thought was that this was a child excited about her new dog and wanted to share it with people so I immediately (and excitedly, as I love dogs) said, “Sure!”

When I walked to the front of the school, not only was there a dog there waiting to meet me… but a BULLMASTIFF waiting to meet me!  Two years ago, we lost our beloved Ozzy to cancer.  This was such a challenging time for my wife and I as Ozzy was our life for so many years.  We still miss him every day and whenever I see a bullmastiff, my stomach fills with excitement and my mind fills with great memories of our big bear.

I said to K’s mom, “Oh my… a bullmastiff! My favourite breed in the world! Did you know this?”  She then let me know that she had walked with her dog to school to pick up K and there was a group of parents at the other end of the school.  When they saw the bullmastiff, they told her that she had to take her to meet Mr. Wejr!

When Ozzy was diagnosed with cancer, I was very emotional but I actually mentioned it at an assembly and shared much of his final months/days with people through social media.  As hard as it was, I let people in.  Staff reached out to me.  Students continually asked how Ozzy was doing and always were there for hugs.  When we lost Ozzy, inspired by words from my buddy George, I wrote a blog about losing our “little” guy and celebrating the life of Ozzy.  Staff and families of Kent School, along with many people online whom I have never met, read the post and reached out to me with empathy and care.

I think too often we feel that we should hide our personal stuff from work.  We hear (especially on social media), “keep the personal and professional separate”.   I know that we need not share ALL our personal stuff but what if I had not shared any of the love and struggles we shared with Oz?  What if I kept stories of who I am as a person outside of school completely private?  Would I still get moments like the one that happened yesterday?

I strongly believe that, as educators, we need to share who we are.  Put ourselves out there.  Let people in.  Be more vulnerable.

I don’t meant that we need to do this solely through social media and I don’t mean we need to just share our tough times.  We need to be comfortable with sharing more of our personal side – the moments of joy, sadness, success and challenge.  As a principal, there is nothing I love more that hanging out, playing and chatting with the students every recess and lunch. I get to share a little bit of who I am and I get to see a little more about who they are.  My students check out photos of my family on Instagram and constantly ask how they are doing.  I also really enjoy the informal dialogue with parents and staff at the end of the day.  I love it when a parent or staff member comes to tell me something about an event or topic which they know I can relate (ex. dogs, toddlers, books, sports).  When we do this, we humanize us.  We move from Mr. Wejr: the principal – to Mr. Wejr (or Chris): the person, the teacher, the husband and father, the sports fan… and the guy who would love to meet my dog.

When staff, students, and families see us for who we truly are, the relationships change… the conversations change… and the moments change.  

Thank you to K and her mom for taking some precious moments out of their time together to share a little bit of them in a moment with me… and their dog.

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Moments Like This…

From a non-reader to a buddy reader

This morning I had one of those moments that make me so proud to be part of Kent School.  I have written about the passion and effort our staff put in to developing confidence and a love of reading in the past but the moment I experienced this morning sums this up perfectly.

Sarah (pseudonym) arrived at our school two years ago as a non-reader.  She lacked both the skills and interest (and support) in reading and was a very upset and emotional child at school.  This morning, I walked into our library during our “Early Morning Readers” time (community volunteers and intermediate buddy readers support children who want to come and read before school) and saw Sarah waiting at a table to read with a child.  Our teacher-librarian helped her to get set up and then it happened… she sat down with a primary child and began reading with him.  This moment is what it is all about – a minor moment overall but a huge moment for her.  Sarah had gone from a non-reader with no confidence or interest in reading to a point in which she was choosing to volunteer her time before school to help a younger child read.

This is what happens when staff and students work so hard to develop a Culture of Reading at a school… you get moments like these.  The irony is that she read with a boy that likely could read at her level or beyond but this did not matter.  Sarah had the skill, confidence, and love of reading to make the choice to be a leader in our school and share her joy of reading with a younger child.

Relationships. Sense of belonging. Confidence. Skill development. Leadership. Love of Reading.  Such an honour to experience and share moments like this…

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Kindness and Care: More Than A Single Day Effort

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by forpawsgrooming: http://flickr.com/photos/forpaws/5554199536/

As “anti-bullying day” approaches again this year, I get questions as to what we will be doing as a school for this one day event.  My response has been,

“As a school, we will continue to do what we do every other day: promote a culture of care, empathy and kindness through teaching and modeling.  We will continue to try to nurture the strengths and interests in our students and help them to be more confident and proud of who they are. We will also deal with bullying and conflict (2 very different things but often confused) in a serious but teaching/learning manner so the lacking skills are taught and the focus stays long-term.”

Bullying is something that nobody should have to go through and when it occurs, we need to take this very seriously and deal with it very carefully.  We also need to be proactive in what we do – we need to create the culture in which people are cared for and care for others.  Now, I am not opposed to the intent of Anti-Bullying Day, as I am often blown away by the efforts of students and I believe we need to stand up to bullying, but I do think the focus is on the wrong thing: bullying.  Whenever we focus on something, it grows.  If we seek negatives in our life, we will find them.  If we seek positives, we will find them too.  Maybe we need to shift and focus on the positive qualities we want to see.

It is easy to put on a pink shirt and say that we are fighting bullying on that day… it is much more difficult to model, teach and create a culture in which kindness, care, and empathy is the norm.  We probably would find it difficult to find someone who is NOT “anti-bullying” (or pro-bullying?) but maybe not have a difficult time to find students and adults who struggle to lead a life of care.

I see many examples of students standing up for qualities like care, acceptance, and empathy and then adults naming it “anti-bullying”.  Check out this “acceptance” flash mob at a Vancouver Giants game in which the students use positive qualities (then titled “anti-bullying)”.

My former principal and mentor Roxanne Watson models this change and wrote a recent post that that challenges us to shift our focus:

… It is a complex issue.  Each time I hear of another life lost to bullying I ask myself why we as a community have not been able to address this problem effectively.

Bullying.  Bully-Prevention.  Anti-Bullying.  Stand Up 2 Bullying.  Stop a Bully.  Pink Shirt Day.  There’s no shortage of attention to bullying these days, nor should there be.  As a former child, an educator and part of a large family I have experienced first-hand the effects of bullying.  I certainly read the paper and follow the news and there is no lack of stories which document the terrible impact bullying has, not only in our schools but in our workplaces, in our own families, neighborhoods, churches, teams, clubs and any other place where people come together.  Each time a bullying story hits the news we hear a renewed sense of outrage and are inundated with anti-bullying campaigns.  It seems to me, considering how often we hear of bullying and how many of us have experienced it in our own lives that these campaigns have not been effective over the years.  So, I have a suggestion;  Stop focusing on bullying and start focusing on kindness.

… I’m tired of hearing the word “bullying”.  It has no positive conotations for me.  It’s a negative spin on a negative problem.  It’s time we stopped focusing on reducing bullying and started focusing on promoting kindness.  For every anti-bullying program that’s out there there is  a program that promotes peace/kindness/empathy.  These are all skills our children (and adults) need to learn.  Roots of Empathy is just one.  Tribes TLC is another, Random Acts of Kindness is a program that has been used at Kent Elementary and found to be wonderful in promoting positive interactions without the need for the usual reward that comes with some of these programs. It has long been a goal of mine to switch peoples’ thinking (starting with my own) from reducing the negative to increasing the positive.

…Kent Elementary is a progressive school.  They believe strongly in creating the conditions for children to be successful. (http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/6554) This is the type of approach that will reduce bullying.  In the same way we create a positive culture for reading or healthy living or self-discipline we can create a culture that recognizes, promotes and teaches (coaches) kindness.

…I strongly believe that all people (not just kids) do the best with what they have at the time.  Students who bully lack the basic skills and understandings of kindness.  Perhaps they have not experienced kindness in their own lives.  Do we punish them?  Many believe this is the way.  I do not.  I believe we take them aside, model kindness, provide opportunities for kindness, recognize (not reward, but recognize) kindness and promote kindness. We create the conditions for them to be successful.
As with other successful approaches this will take time.    It takes time to identify those people who truly are bullies (and they aren’t always children).  It takes time to work with that individual, to have them see how people perceive them.

…You see, no “program” works for everyone.  As in reading or math or behavior a multi-faceted approach is likely required.  This takes time. I believe it also requires a shift from a focus that reduces the negative to a focus that increases the positive.  Aren’t our children and our communities worth it?

Will we do anything different on anti-bullying day at our school?  I am sure there will be dialogue around it and there will be Pink Shirts worn; more importantly, however, our bigger challenge is to continue to honour each child for who they are, focus on their strengths and support their challenges, teach rather than reward and punish, and model a life of empathy and care.  I realize we do not have this all figured out and bullying still exists at Kent School… but I will leave with a few comments from parents/families in the past year that show the value of a school culture on a child:

Bullying is less of a concern for my daughter since Identity Day.  Identity Day showed her that she had a strength and other children recognized this.  The conversations at Kent around recognizing the strengths in others and themselves, along with my daughter’s participation in the drama program has given her a sense of identity and confidence. – a parent of an intermediate student

I am so happy that my cousin gets to come to school and be proud of who she is. – a family member at our honouring ceremony/luncheon 

Please take a moment to watch this powerful video/poem by BC poet Shane Koyczan.  I heard his words a few years ago at a conference and his story challenged me to seek the positives in others.  Bullying needs to end… and there is power in voice and seeing the beauty in each child.

Thank you to Roxanne for her continued mentorship.  Please take her challenge and focus on a school culture of kindness.

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