The Reflection Pool

How Do You Want Families to Feel on the First Day of School?

With thanks to Pernille Ripp for title inspiration.

My nieces and and nephew just started at new schools in Washington, D.C. after a move across the country. They were excited and nervous, as you would expect. And so were my brother and sister-in-law. They didn’t know exactly what to expect either and wanted their kids to have a great first day. As educators, we often forget how parents may feel approaching a new school year.

Photo Credit: baggyjumper via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: baggyjumper via Compfight cc

I’ve recently read some excellent back-to-school posts by amazing educators Jose Vilson, Pernille Ripp and Stephen Hurley about caring for students, planning for the emotional side of the classroom, and co-creating a classroom with students. This stuff is really important!

And yet… we also need to think about families. We might be able to come up with a list of words to describe how we would like them to feel, like welcome, happy, included, or confident. How do our actions actually achieve these?

I was not always the most welcoming teacher or principal. In fact, when I look back over some of the things I did, I cringe. I acted like I knew what was best for students and their families. But I didn’t, a fact that it took me a few years and experiences and the modeling of some really great teacher and principal mentors to realize.

Have you ever done this exercise after a learning session?  “I used to think…. but now I think…” It’s a great way to give yourself permission to leave behind old ways of doing things that were not the best and commit to making a change. So I’ll go: “I used to think that parents should leave me alone and let me do my job, but now I think that if they know how much I value their child and their input, we can do a great job together.”

So what does that mean for the first day of school and welcoming families? How about a big fat smile that stretches your face and no curt or frustrated words? How about having parents bring students to classrooms for the first day (or maybe a first week?) How about free coffee or tea on the playground for adults as they arrive? Expand on these to fit your school and your context.

I’ll let Maya Angelou have the last word with a quote I always need to keep in mind:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


#HWDSBaccelerate – Adele Stanfield

Here in HWDSB, we’ve been talking about how to transform relationships, environments and learning opportunities. The driver is pedagogy, but the accelerator is technology. Asking students to do this is one thing – but what about the educators? I’m asking connected educators around our district how they use technology to accelerate their learning. 
Adele Stanfield is a funny, thoughtful teacher in our district who believes passionately in doing what is best for kids and in the power of professional learning. I was so glad that she agreed to share her experiences with all of us.Adele 2
What is your role in HWDSB?
IT teacher with a focus on promoting authentic use of technology and inquiry.
What led you into education?
This is a second career for me. I was a counsellor with Young Offenders and Children’s Aid clients, ended up supporting my clients in school. From there it was an easy leap into teaching.
What are your go-to pieces of tech?
Since Queen Victoria has 1 to 1 iPads, that is definitely my go-to when I’m teaching. I rarely use the interactive technology of the SmartBoard, preferring the ease of use of the Apple TV. My iPhone is my personal go-to. And to complete the Apple Trifecta, I’m usually carrying my Macbook Pro because I like to type on a laptop.
Twitter or something else?
Depends what my needs are. For PLN (Professional Learning Network), Twitter is a must, although I appreciate HWDSB’s jump into Yammer. Having a PLN without borders (Twitter) is exceptional, but sometimes you want that local interaction (Yammer). My favourite PD is joining in on Twitter chats, and I find even when I’m in a hurry, I can throw out a question to the Twittersphere and get quick responses. I appreciate a good educational podcast too, although it’s one-sided, so doesn’t allow room for conversation.
How has technology shifted the way you learn?
I have often said that I don’t think I could teach without technology now that I’ve been immersed in it for a few years. I can do things–my students can do things–that weren’t possible 5 years ago. Tech allows me to connect with others, to learn with/from others, to problem-solve, to find innovative things to do with students. There are no limits! I can learn how to do almost anything by watching simple videos, listening to a podcast, or reading a blog post. And the beauty in all of this: it’s virtually free!
What’s your best piece of advice for those wondering how to use tech to accelerate their learning?
I attended a workshop a few years back that had the best title: “It’s okay to be where you are, it’s just not okay to stay there.” So, my advice? Just move forward. As educators, we need to model lifelong curiosity so our students see that learning doesn’t stop when they leave school. Seek out a PLN that can help you improve your practice, that can take you a bit outside of your comfort zone, where really good learning takes place. Set small goals (join Twitter, join a Yammer group, practice using an app, start blogging) so you don’t get overwhelmed. And don’t worry about failure. I find I learn way more from my mistakes than from my successes.

(This series inspired by Royan Lee and the #workflow series on his Spicy Learning Blog. Thanks, Royan!)

Do people do well if they want to, or if they can?

The phrase, people do well if they can, has been echoing in my head for the past few weeks. It’s a new way of thinking about others.

My upbringing included the “work hard and don’t complain” belief.  One of its underlying messages was that people do well if they want to.  That meant if you didn’t do well, there was something wrong with you. You were lazy. You didn’t try hard enough. You didn’t want to. You chose not to do well.

I suspect that I’m not alone in this.  I can see it clearly in how our society deals with people in our homes, in our workplaces and on the streets.

What if we switched the script? 

Dr. Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child and Lost at School, has done just that.  He believes that people do well if they can. Under the leadership of Shelley Woon, our district is beginning to try to change the script as well. Educators are using Greene’s ideas with children in classrooms to create environments where they can do well. We start with this idea that students want to be successful, to be happy, and to do well. If they aren’t, we try to figure out what is missing for them and what we can do to help. It’s not about children choosing to behave well or trying harder.

But it’s not just about our kids.  It’s about all the people we serve.

I’m thinking about the employee whose attendance is very irregular. Or the dad who comes in to the office yelling about a situation. Or anyone else whose actions seem problematic to you. Understanding what is behind someone’s behaviour is an important part of working with them. It doesn’t mean that we accept the behaviour or want them to shirk their responsibility, simply that there has to be more to it than someone who doesn’t feel like doing well.

If I believe that people do well if they can, what part can I play in creating an environment for them to do so?