Why is it so hard?

June3

Why is it always so hard?
It feels like we are always struggling with the new stuff and with each other. Like there’s always something new and different. Like there’s always something changing. Big philosophical changes. Changes in cultures. New rules. New forms. New people. New procedures. New curriculum. It makes us all very uncomfortable and scared and angry. Why does it have to be so hard? Why can’t things just stay the same?

Here’s the thing.

We all want things to be better for our kids. I know you want that because I do too for my own child and for each child in our school and in our community.

Every educator i know wants that.

Every parent I know wants that.

We also, as human beings, want the comfort of sameness. We know how to deal with what we are familiar with even if it’s not what’s best. “Better the devil you know” goes the saying.

Maintaining the status quo at school is not what’s best. It’s not what I was hired to do. There is so much research – proof of what can be better. We have a much better idea of what matters in learning.

It’s hard because that means recognizing we need to change. That means we have to take time to understand these findings as parents and teachers. It’s much easier to feel angry – believe me, I know. I fall into that trap as well.

This work we need to do – to seek understanding – it’s good work. Rewarding and exciting, but it’s hard. There are misunderstandings and misconceptions and hurt feelings.

No one is saying that the ways we have been familiar with are all bad. However, we need to think about the why. Why have we always done things that way? There are good reasons for some things and we should keep doing those. If our only reason is “because we’ve always done it that way” then we need to stop until we find a better reason.

Theses are our kids. We need to do better than the status quo. We need to be brave enough to ask why and to do better. Why are things changing? The answers are interesting if you’re able to hear them.

Why is it so hard? Because they are our kids and just about everything I know about being a parent and a teacher is hard. Let’s work together on doing the good hard stuff.

I look forward to the hard conversations and coming to a better understanding of each other.

Please call or come in any time.

Stacy

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Making mistakes and lessons learned

May29

I’ve taken a break from blogging for a bit as I’ve had more to do than I’ve had to say lately. I have been watching, learning and doing a lot of reflecting this year. However, I’ve recently read a book that has inspired me to write again. “Mathematical Mindsets” by Jo Boaler.

Relax, this isn’t a blog about math…although that is right up my alley and you should be prepared for one soon.

This book is one of the best professional books I’ve read in a long time – and I read a lot of books about teaching and learning. It is an excellent piece of work discussing our misfortune for having learned math the way we did (yes, all of us) and the urgent need for us to rethink how we are currently teaching math.

This is not about “new math” vs. the rigors of time table memorization. It’s about how we see ourselves as learners of math and as mathematical thinkers based on our experiences in school. I’d better leave it at that for now or this will be a rant and not a blog.

As terrific as this book is at shedding light on why and how we should be teaching math better, it is also a book about mindsets. You’ve all heard me recommend the book “Mindsets” by Carol Dweck. If you haven’t then you need to come borrow a copy from me. I have several in my office.

Here’s the thing…

Our mindset is everything. How we see ourselves in a growth or fixed mindset really determines how we live our lives and how rewarding or miserable our circumstances feel.

Someone with a fixed mindset believes in things like luck or talent to explain success. They see others as “having a math mind” for example or see themselves as “not a reader”. Fixed mindset students struggle terribly in school. They feel that if they don’t get it right away they must be stupid. They feel if others do get it’s because they must be smart. Neither of these beliefs are true by the way.

It was not surprising to read Jo Boaler’s research on children with negative fixed mindsets and how damaging that is in school. (Also not surprising to learn how often we reinforce that mindset with closed, one answer questions in math. Again, that’s another blog.)

The more interesting finding was that high achievers can and do often also have fixed mindsets. In particular kids who excel at computational math (mad minutes and worksheets for example). These kids have never experienced “not getting it”. They believe they are smart because they never get answers incorrect. That is as damaging a mindset as those who believe they are stupid. Seriously.

Learning means you have to “not get” something in order to learn something new. If your child didn’t get a single question wrong at school then we are doing them a disservice. That means they learned nothing new. We need to be presenting your kids with more open ended questions rather than ones requiring memorized answers. One needs to struggle to learn. One needs to have the mindset to persevere through the struggle in order to grow neurons and connect synapses. I equate it with watching work out videos. If I only watch I will never put in the work – which is uncomfortable- that will help grow muscles. Learning is uncomfortable. Most good things require a little discomfort.

In her research Professor Boaler learned that the brain actually learns more from getting answers wrong then from getting them right and, after making a mistake, brain activity is greater for individuals with a growth mindset then for individuals with a fixed mindset.

We should value mistakes more than we value correct answers. Talk about a mindset shift! All of us need to encourage our kids to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes, talk about their strategy to try again, and encourage them to build perseverance and grit as learners. How we think of ourselves as learners really does affect how we approach our whole lives – what job we go for, what partner we choose, how we value ourselves and others.

Valuing mistakes would certainly be a good start in helping all of us to see our potential as learners in every aspect of life.

Talk again soon.

Stacy

 

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Be the change you want to see…

November23

How do you take action?

I found this quote today – It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. It may not be in your power, it may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

This is so true of the effect we have on children, as parents, as educators, as adults.

I have had past students approach me, years after having taught them, to tell me about some way that I impacted their lives. The truly shocking part is that often I don’t even remember the thing they are talking about. It may have been an encouraging word, some extra time one on one, a smile or some small kindness that changed their day. It’s humbling. However, the flip side to that is a little darker. How many times did an incidental action have a negative impact? Did I have a cranky day and was I abrupt with a student? Did I make a sarcastic comment that hurt them? Was I unkind to an already vulnerable child? It would be arrogant to think otherwise. If I can have no clue of the powerful positive impact I have had, you can be sure I am equally unaware of negative impacts as well.

Having said that, I’m more mindful, purposeful, and careful with how I handle people and interactions. That comes with experience and awareness. I still mess up, everyday, but that doesn’t stop me from trying my best to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.

I have a great passion for education. I see the way things have always been and the way things currently are – but I also see how things could be. I believe it’s the action that’s important. I don’t know if I will ever see the fruit of my action, but that’s not what motivates me. What motivates me is the idea that without my efforts, guaranteed there will be no change. I will make an effort, I will take action when it comes to kids and parents and learning. I want things to be better, not because it’s not ok already, but because I am not here to maintain the status quo.

What are you passionate about? How do you take action? What difference will you make – whether you know it or not?

Be the change you want to see in the world (Gandhi again)… because being the change is rewarding enough.

Stacy

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The only constant is change.

October27

Heraclitus the Greek philosopher said, “The only thing that is constant is change”.  In fairness, I heard it first when Bon Jovi said “The more things change the more they stay the same”. However the one place that stays the same and even resists change seems to be school. When I say school I don’t mean education.

Being educated and getting an education has changed. Our needs have changed as learners. Our way of learning has changed. Society’s expectation for learners has changed. Teachers are no longer the holders of all information because kids of every age can Google every fact they want to know. Teachers have needed to reinvent themselves and their role in learning.

On top of all that, this isn’t the information age. It’s the misinformation age. There is a lot of garbage on the internet – that place we can Google our facts. Learners (all of us) need to learn how to first find and then evaluate the desired information. Learners need to critically think and question their world. We all need to learn how to problem solve, work with others, communicate and learn from our mistakes.

I was at a conference this weekend called DisruptEd – coming together to talk about how to do school differently. The keynote speaker, David Helfland from Quest University in Squamish said, “A university education today is excellent preparation for a job in the 19th century”. He also said, “The purpose of teaching is not to transfer content but to teach the habits of the mind.” This university is rethinking what “school” looks like in order to provide the best education for students in the 21 Century.

At this conference many of us presented about pockets of innovation in the province – ways we are doing school differently. However, by and large, school looks the same now as it did 100 years ago. Individual classrooms, filled with students of the same age being presented with the same curriculum. Almost everything else in society has changed in the last 100 years due to technology…except school. Technology really hasn’t changed schools. Smart boards have largely replaced blackboards, and there are computer labs but those tools are mostly used to do the same thing as textbooks and encyclopedias.

One presenter said the reason the school system has not changed is that there is a social contract. Society expects school to look this way and it’s our job to keep our end of the contract. I’m not so sure that is our job.

Here’s the thing…

I think parents are smarter than they are given credit for. For the past 6 years as a teacher I did school differently and the parents of those kids are some of my biggest supporters and advocates. They didn’t necessarily start out as fans, but our social contract included trust and respect. The parents of my students trusted that I have spent a great deal of time researching and thinking about teaching and learning, and I respected them enough to explain my thinking.  I explained the “why” behind the choices I made in my classroom, they were able to understand and even embrace the different way we did things. They could see their children being engaged in and excited about learning. Their kids were also told the reasons behind everything we did in our class and those kids felt empowered. They had choice, they were free to challenge and question and own their learning.

I appreciate that change can be scary – I mean these are our children we are talking about. I think not changing is scarier. Change is a universal constant according to Heraclitus and Bon Jovi, so if everything but “school” is changing, where does that leave us? There has never been a more exciting time to be in education. I’m excited about the possibilities.

Stacy

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What is fair?

October20

What is fair? We have a deeply ingrained sense of justice and it often appears as though sameness is the desired outcome. Is it really?

From a young age, kids are aware of how many smarties each person gets, or who gets to sit in the front seat – we all want our fair share. We all want the same. However, what we all need in order to be successful in life is not going to be the same. The goal of being successful – however that looks for each person – is the same. What you need in order to reach that goal will not be the same for any two adults, let alone any two children.

We are diverse and interesting community. I was at a community event today with my daughter and was struck by the variety of people who came to enjoy an afternoon activity with our kids. The people who make this community their home are not homogeneous. There is a wide variety of lifestyles, clothing styles, hair styles, parenting styles, interests and belief systems among us in this little town. Our classrooms and schools are reflections of this. Kids come to us with different background experiences and different learning, social and emotional needs each day. Let’s embrace each other’s wonderful complexity and look for individual and personal ways to meet the needs of those around us… Fair is not everyone getting the same, but everyone getting what they need in order to be successful.

Being truly fair when managing a classroom or school – or your children’s bedtime routines – means taking into account more than just rules. It means considering what each person needs and how to give them what they need in order to be successful. Finding consequences that allow people to have dignity, to learn from their mistake and to move forward allows us to be human and have compassion rather then simply being punitive. Beginning with common expectations is key, but how we deal with individuals who aren’t able to meet those expectations says as much about us as it does about them.

Would you go to a doctor who treated every headache the same way? Of course not. A headache could be cause by anything from allergies to a tumor. Treating all patients the same would be malpractice. What situations can you think of where it’s important to not treat everyone the same in order to be fair? Does your older child have different bed time? When your partner is sick do you do more of the chores? Does the coach differentiate drills in practice in order to encourage new athletes and challenge more experienced ones? Does the teacher give more time and fewer questions to a student with a learning disability?

Being truly fair is harder and requires more work in the short term than just treating everyone the same. In the long run, it saves time and is more effective. And when it comes to treating everyone the same, every child deserves a lot better than that.

Stacy

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How full is your bucket?

October13

There’s this great book about self-esteem and personal power called “How full is your bucket?” by  Tom Rath.

The idea of the book is that we all have a bucket (our sense of self) and when it’s “full”, that means we are feeling good about ourselves, feeling safe, feeling like we belong. Unfortunately our bucket can be emptied by lots of things. Put downs, being left out, being ignored, feeling dumb, feeling scared…the list goes on. When our bucket is empty, we sometimes try to fill it up by emptying someone else’s bucket. We feel like we can get back our power by taking away someone else’s. We have all done this. We have all had it done to us. No one feels better for long. Not really.

The good news is, the easiest way to fill your bucket is to fill someone else’s. Help someone less fortunate. A smile can change someone’s day. Ask a friend to join you on a walk. Let someone know you appreciate them. Do a good job, not for the praise, but because it feels really good to take pride in your work.

Here’s the thing…

Our personal power, child or adult, doesn’t come from controlling, putting down or hurting others. When we see people who are mean or negative or aggressive, it’s important to remember that they aren’t really feeling powerful and their bucket is likely empty. Then it’s important to wonder why that person is feeling so empty. It’s not ok for anyone to try to build themselves up by putting you down. When someone puts us down we have conflict resolution, restorative justice, mediation and a variety of other strategies and structures in place to deal with the conflict. But the empathy we can offer – while holding firm personal boundaries – is a gift.

People who feel good about themselves don’t feel the need to belittle, laugh at or put down others. When someone disagrees with or doesn’t understand another person, the appropriate thing is to share differing opinions, have an open mind, work together to find conflict resolution or agree to disagree.

Today is thanksgiving. I’m really thankful that I have learned that others don’t decide about how I feel about myself – good or bad. If I’m feeling badly about myself it’s because I’m choosing that mindset. I can choose how to get out of that mindset too. We all can. I’m proud that we are teaching the students in our school the same lesson.

I saw a great quote today. Gratitude – the thing that makes what you have – enough. I’m grateful for so much in my life.  This new challenging job, for working with amazing people (staff, students, parents) and for being back in the town I grew up in.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Stacy

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What are you afraid of?

October8

What are you afraid of?

We all have fears. Mine? Snakes. Even pictures of them. Heights – not just the falling. Roller coasters and Ferris Wheels are terrifying for me.  I’m no fun at Silverwood.

None of these fears come close to my fear of messing up as a parent. The fear of messing up as a teacher and principal come close because nothing matters more than the affect we leave when we interact with kids. The responsibility is overwhelming sometimes.

I’m a single parent as many of us are, but a parent is a parent. We all do our best. That’s all we can do with each moment, each decision and each word we choose.

Here’s the thing…

There is no manual for parenting, so it was no surprise to learn there is no manual for being a principal either. The decisions I make here are much like my parenting ones. I try to make the right decision at the right time for the right reasons.

I have met hundreds of parents under a variety of circumstances. As you can imagine, I have met people from all walks of life – each with different priorities, interests and points of view. The only common denominator with each of these parents is that they are absolutely doing their best in that moment for their child.

Change is up there with a big fear for all of us. Just when you think you get a handle on one set of circumstances things go and change. You just get used to managing a baby and they start walking. You just get a handle on the toddler years and they start school. Primary school just starts being comfortable and they move to intermediate school. You get used to one teacher or principal and suddenly everything changes. Change is scary, but inevitable so hang in there. Ask questions. Be curious. Share your thinking.

We are all doing our best. I know that every parent I have ever met is doing their best. You are doing a good job! And all without a manual.

Stacy

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What makes a “good” school?

September29

What makes a “good” school?

I suppose your answer will depend on your experiences with schools both as a student and parent, and your opinion of the purpose of school. The one thing I know for sure is everyone will have an opinion.

We all went to school, therefore we feel we have a good sense of what makes a good school. Which would be true, except that the world has changed significantly since many of us were students in elementary school. So shouldn’t our thinking around what makes a good school change to reflect that? Shouldn’t schools also have changed?

According to the BC Ministry of Education, “The purpose of the British Columbia School System is to enable all learners to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.”

The purpose of education in BC hasn’t changed much over the years. The school system has been designed to create contributing citizens. The structures of our system (buildings, bell schedules, classrooms) have not changed in a hundred years – yet are meant to support our system.

So what makes a “good” school?

Here’s the thing…

I have very different expectations of the role of school for my daughter than my parents had for me, or their parents had for them. Our expectations have changed, but has our picture of a “good” school changed?

Who decides what a “good” school is? How can you recognize a good one? What does it look like? What are the students like? How do the teachers teach? What is the principal like? How do you feel when you enter the building? How do your kids feel? There are a lot more questions than answers with this one.

A “good” school is more difficult to define than you might think. As is a “good” teacher and a “good” principal. By the way, as is a “good” parent.

If you’re wondering why things are different at school than they were when you were a kid –just ask. Teachers and principals are much more open and approachable than when we were growing up. We are a team. We are in this together with the best interests of your child at heart.

I’ve given an awful lot of thought to my definition of a “good” school, and I would love to chat with you about yours. My definition is constantly evolving, because it’s my job to strive to create and maintain a “good” school. Whatever that means. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

My door is always open – and my cell phone is always on. Let me know your thoughts.

Stacy

 

 

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Welcome back!

September22

Welcome back to school!!!

I can feel the excitement in the air. Parents are relieved – almost giddy – to be getting the kids back into routines. School staff are bright eyed and cheerfully welcoming each student. Even the most resistant of kid seems to be looking forward to getting back to school if for no other reason than to break the monotony of being at home.

Even with a delayed start, this is a wonderful time of the year. The first day of school is upon us!

There is something cyclical about the start of school. Seasonal. Traditional. It helps us mark the rhythm of the year. The start of school, that crisp bite of the cool morning air as we make our way to school on the first day. Fall is here. Time for schedules and routine again. Time to say good bye to carefree summer days.

And now we turn our minds to the business at hand. This is a place of learning, but in order for learning to occur there are a few things that need to be in place. Our staff and students will be spending the coming days and weeks working on building community in their classrooms and in our school. Before any of us can learn, we need to feel safe, cared about and like we belong. That goes for kids and adults.

So how do we create a culture of caring?

There are only three “rules” I ask kids to keep in mind at school.

  • Take care of yourself.
  • Take care of others.
  • Take care of this place.

Here’s the thing….

If you are doing these three things, you are likely doing your job.

I’m not a fan of having a big list of do’s and don’ts with varying degrees of consequences in black and white for each infraction. I don’t know much, but one thing I know for sure is that there are very few black and white decisions in my day. Each situation has a context. Each child is a person with their own set of experiences. Each mistake that’s been made is an opportunity for learning. I make six mistakes before I even leave the house each day. Thankfully I have an understanding daughter! We need to look after each other, like a family. Also like a family, we don’t need to always like each other, but we do need to care about one another.

We will be working in the coming days and weeks – all year really, to make this a cohesive, caring community as I know it already has been. The staff agree that all the kids at our school are ALL OUR KIDS. Each teacher cares about each of our students whether they are in that class or not. We want school to be a place where kids feel cared about and included and welcome. Yes, we will have some conflicts with each other – but we will solve them together.

I believe in the red car syndrome. You buy a red car and suddenly all you see are red cars everywhere. Anyone who has been expecting a child knows that during that time there seems to be pregnant people everywhere. The same goes for looking for negative things. You see what you look for. So I’m going to focus on the caring. We will look for and teach ways to take care of ourselves, each other and this place. When things go sideways, we will help everyone involved to get back on track, because this is a place of learning.

I know you will let us know how we are doing.

Happy first day back!

Stacy

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Here’s the thing…some thoughts on learning without being in school

September11

Many parents are understandably concerned about the continuing job action and schools not being open yet. Parents, many of them friends of mine, have been calling me lately to let me know that they are having their child do math drills and spelling tests in preparation for school starting. Some are doing their own version of book reports and science research. The kids are miserable for the most part. The parents are stressed. And it is creating tension at home. Some of my friends expected me to tell them to keep up the good work. Instead, here’s what I have been telling my friends…

Please stop! Don’t worry. It’s going to be OK.

Real learning is about being curious, passionate, questioning, and thinking critically. You don’t need a certain number of days in a classroom to be a learner. Any facts and figures anyone requires can be Googled. This is an opportunity to ignite your child’s passion for true learning. What do they love? What are they interested in? Take them out into nature. Teach them about something you love. Fly fishing. Quilting. Gardening. Music. Mechanics. Cooking. What is your passion?

Learn something together! I asked my friend if he liked doing “drill and kill” math times tables after a long day of work. He said not really, nor does his child, but he doesn’t want her getting behind.

Here’s the thing…

Math flash cards and times table drills and spelling lists are just exercises in short term memory. Those of us with good short term memories got the gold stars when we were in school. Those of us without good short term memories did not. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be concerned that school is not in session. I’m saying there is little we can do about it, so let’s embrace the opportunity to learn in a different way. Let’s not make our kids hate school before they even get back through the doors.

One of the most powerful things you can do for your child’s education is to model being a lifelong learner. Talk about what interests you. Talk about how you learn new things. LEARN SOMETHING NEW TOGETHER. Learn a few phrases of Italian. Learn to cook a perfect soufflé. Learn to paddle board. Fix your own lawn mower. What can you learn together? What can you learn on your own that genuinely puts you out of your comfort zone, and demonstrates the perseverance and positive attitude that we expect kids to have toward learning? Learning something new is uncomfortable. Every time. You get that knot in your stomach. Your heart rate elevates. You feel frustration. In order to learn something new you have to push through and struggle and get to the “YES!”

Many of my friends say they are tired of their older kids being glued to technology all day while they are at work. So leave your kids with a challenge that must be completed by the time you get home. And let them use technology if they want. Who can build a spaghetti bridge that holds the heaviest weight? Who can create a simple machine that eliminates or reduces the work load for an undesirable chore (raking the lawn, taking out garbage, picking up laundry)? Recognition for a job well done (bragging rights) and the choice of the next days’ challenge are sufficient “prizes” for such challenges. (More to come on my thoughts about rewards and awards another time…) Involve other parents. You come up with one challenge, they come up with the next, etc.

Use this as a chance to connect with and care about your own community, neighbourhood and neighbours. How can your kids contribute? How can they demonstrate caring? Picking up litter? Helping seniors harvest their gardens or prepare for winter? Volunteering at the food bank?

Learning should be fun. (Not kidding) It should be interesting. It needs to be rewarding in and of itself. Take this time to foster your child as a learner. We will cover the curriculum once school is back in session. I promise.

Don’t worry. It’s going to be ok.

Looking forward to meeting you all in person soon.

Stacy

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