Where Everyone Knows Your Name

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Way back near the beginning of my teaching career, I worked at a middle school with a teacher who was in his last few years of education.  He called every girl in his classes “Susie”, and every boy, “George”. Yup. True story. (There were some exceptions for those students who stood out, either for good or bad reasons.)Hand Names

At the time, I laughed a little about it, but I also couldn’t get over how disrespectful it was. That was not a teacher who knew his students.

Fortunately, that is not true for the vast majority of teachers out there. They learn every student’s name by the end of the first week of school. When I talk with educators, not only can I see how much they care about their students, but also how much they know about them.  Educators carry a tremendous amount of information about their students in their head. They glean it from classroom and hallway observations, conversations and student work. As a teacher, I learned to take my class lists and go through each name one by one, reflecting on what I knew about them. If I came to a name that stumped me a little, I made a mental note to talk with that student, to spend time in class with them, and to really examine their work to find out their strengths and needs. It was a great strategy that I have transferred to my current role.

Our district‘s Strategic Directions use Knowing Our Students, Knowing Our Staff and Knowing Our Parents/Community as foundational pieces for the work we do. We can only teach better, learn better and serve better when we know more about them.

It’s really important for me to know the principals and vice principals I work with. As Steven Katz would say, they are my “class”. First, if I see someone at a meeting who I don’t recognize, I like to go right up and introduce myself. It’s bold, but also a wonderful way to learn names. I also start from an asset not a deficit lens and try to listen carefully to what they say, noting both verbal and nonverbal messages. I reflect on my school visits and conversations with them. I want to celebrate their successes and support them with challenges. This is definitely a work in progress since I always have room for improvement.

How do you get to to know your students, your staff or your parents/community better? Let’s share strategies!

First Day = Best Day

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The first day of school is the best day of the year. Every September holds the promise of hopes and dreams of students, families and staff. Students arrive ready to learn, probably more than any other day. It’s the day to connect with them, have fun, and help kids feel successful so they look forward to the second day. Let’s face it, while the syllabus and notebooks are important, they are not the most scintillating topics for the first day. They can wait.  happy-first-day-of-school-1

Sam Barringer, a student in our district, spoke eloquently at our opening breakfast event about the need for connections between students and teachers to engender motivation and engagement (he calls it e = mc2).  The first day is the best day for making those connections and jump starting the process for really knowing your students’ hope and dreams.

I have a great suggestion for first day = best day activities.  The maker movement in education is sweeping North America. The premise is that students use lots of 21st century skills when they make, including creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. To be honest, it reminds me of being a kid and having my mom teach me how to knit or cook. Or planting a garden with my dad. Or making scrapbook pages with a friend. Nowadays, these things are still great. But we have even more options that can happen in school. A low tech option is the Marshmallow Challenge.  Videos are within the reach of every student with fun apps like VideoStar and iMovie. You can go even further with 3D printing. Tinkering, inventing and making stuff can be powerful learning and super fun.

Last week, I noticed tweets from Pam Moran, a superintendent in Virginia. She was tweeting photos of first day activities at Monticello High School in her district. That led me to the principal, Dr. Jesse Turner who was proudly showing off a duct tape bow tie made for him by students.

These photos show that this isn’t hard. And look at the expressions on student faces. I know every educator wants to create those smiles every single student who walks through your doors.

What can you do to make sure the first day of school really is the best day? Please share your stories!

3 Reasons I Go to Edcamp

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I attended Edcamp Leadership this week: my fifth time at an Edcamp and a great day! Let me tell you why.

Credit to www.edcampleadership.org

Credit to www.edcampleadership.org

1) The Unconference Model:  Educators want choice and autonomy when it comes to their professional learning. They want to decide what they need to learn to meet student and staff needs better. They want to find out about great resources and ideas. Educators also want to hear about what others are doing in their classrooms, schools and districts. They want to listen, talk and reflect with colleagues.

Unconferences, of which Edcamp is a variant, offer all these to participants. There’s no keynote. There are no vendors. The success of the day is up to you! Participants build the schedule. No one edits or crosses off. If you want to engage others in an issue or topic, put it up on the session board at the beginning of the day. Choose whatever sessions you want to attend. Offer your ideas, opinions and experiences in person, on Twitter, or take notes for your next blog post. If one session doesn’t meet your needs, leave and head somewhere else. Go hang out in the lobby and chat with a new friend. Oh, and it’s free. Yes, free.

2) Connections:  There’s a strong link between Edcamp and Twitter.  Many people who see the value of social media connections also attend these unconferences. I use Twitter to connect to educators around the world, but especially in Canada and the United States. One of my favourite things to do on Twitter is participate in chats like #satchat, #iaedchat, #ptchat or #cdnedchat. It’s a chance to have a real time conversation about interesting and timely topics in education. The 140 character limit forces me to distill my thoughts to the essentials.

It was super to meet many “tweeps” face to face at Edcamp Leadership and especially those I’ve met through Twitter chats. I even got to participate in a live #satchat with Brad Currie (NJ), Scott Rocco (NJ) and Tom Whitby (NY) – what a privilege!!

I have to give shout outs to Vicki Day (NY), Tony Sinanis (NY), Jimmy Casas (IA), Ben Gilpin (MI), Reed Gillespie (VA), Joe Mazza (PA), Tom Whitford (WI), Sue Bruyns (ON) David Fife (ON), Anne Marie Luce (ON). These wonderful educators are worth following through their blogs and Twitter feeds. Each one is making a huge difference to their students and to the improvement of education.

I also met a number of interesting and committed teachers, vice principals and principals in sessions and break time.  I find the atmosphere at Edcamp open and friendly, much more than at a traditional conference. Folks are more than willing to meet and engage.

3) Learning:  I love to learn through conversations. Edcamps offer the chance to engage in deep thinking. When you arrive, you hang out in the main room and watch the schedule being built by participants. It’s a time to chat with people and listen to their realities, successes and struggles. You really can have a conversation about all of that in a few minutes!  Then it’s time to choose your sessions, where the “law of two feet” applies.

My thinking was challenged and stretched by sessions on leadership and struggle and how to put cultural competency in action. These discussions were so rich that I am drafting blog posts to address both.

What’s next? How about Edcamp Toronto, Barrie or London?

You should go.

 (I also blogged about Edcamp here. That post included links to Open Space and unconferences.)