Sunday, August 26, 2012

Moving Beyond the Surface

            I had to smile when I saw this cartoon that George Couros (@gcouros) tweeted recently. It also got me thinking about making sure I listen with greater intent when students share a rationale with me as to why an assignment was not completed. I think I have been guilty of dismissing the response before it was even fully shared with me and as I reflect on that, I think I missed an opportunity for a deeper connection and deeper understanding of why kids don’t always get their work done.
            I was working with a high school in the Los Angeles area and the topic of homework came up. We were having the usual conversation about the value and intent of homework when one of the teachers shared a story from a student that brought a new viewpoint. After reminding the student again about the lack of homework completion, she was surprised when the student asked if he could talk privately with her. He proceeded to share with her that it was the “home” part of “homework” that was a problem since he and his family were homeless. He didn’t have a place to sit down and do the work nor did he have access to resources. Another powerful reminder that asking the next layer of questions (beyond was the homework completed) yields valuable information that allows us to plan appropriate next steps
            As the school year gets underway, we should all commit to asking the next layer of questions in an effort to get to the real challenges that impede a student’s ability to complete all that is asked of them. Sometimes bravado is much easier to demonstrate (and more face-saving in front of their peers) than confusion. Looking beyond that moment may be the start of a stronger relationship developing.

She told Mr. Jones some of her story. Not as an excuse, 
and not looking for sympathy, but to let him 
know how much she truly did care. Sometimes, 
life just got in the way. “Don’t look at me as I am and 
determine I can’t get there. Look at me as I could be 
and help me to achieve that goal,” she said. *

            While, “the dog ate my homework”, may be a stretch to consistently believe as a rationale, perhaps it should not be as easy to dismiss offhand as I once believed.  The cartoon is a subtle reminder that there is much more than the surface story and in digging deeper we may find something that turns students on rather than off.

* (Excerpt from the book “I Am the Future” by Tom and David Hierck)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Going Forward Looking Back

            My journey as an educator has taken me through different roles and to many different places. Currently I travel extensively across Canada and the United States while living in Gibsons, British Columbia. That’s what makes the trip to our home in Nelson, BC so special. The recent visit was no exception and was enhanced by encounters with many former colleagues, students, and parents from my eighteen years as an educator in the district.
            While I try to avoid drifting into “nostalnesia” (the recounting of only the good from the good old days), I did appreciate the chance to swap recollections of days gone past. What also happened for me was the recall of other aspects of the people I met that spoke more to their character and our relationship than a specific event. That’s what I’d like to share as it reminds me once again that we are in a relationship-driven enterprise and to ignore that fact is akin to raking leaves in a high wind – the real work never truly gets done. We just go through the motions.
            Aldo was telling me about turning 80 recently and how he doesn’t move as quickly as he used to. Aldo was an amazing custodian and not just because of the quality of his work. More importantly it was the quality of his personality. He engaged our students and became an integral part of their school experience. He held them accountable for cleaning up and was part of their growing up. Fran was the best secretary I ever worked with. She was very much old school and always aware of each account and every aspect that ensured smooth operation of the office. She had a knack for asking me questions in a manner that clearly indicated I should go back and re-think my suggestion or planned action. She was also fiercely loyal and a wonderful sounding board. I encountered former teachers I hired and left feeling even more positive about some of the hunches I had about their capacity and ability to engage students. Tim has grown from being a quality teacher to now supporting teachers in his role as a Vice-Principal and he has the same desire to learn and improve his craft. His stories were based on student interactions and their growth. I met many parents of former students and heard so many stories of success that they would fill pages of posts. Laurie gave me a quick update and then followed up with a message after reading some blog posts. She was thankful for the environment that allowed her kids to grow up to be who they are. I connected with former students who were eager to share with me their current lives and introduced me to spouses and children and I felt so honored that they valued our relationships enough to do so. One of these chats was with Sean who I not only taught but also coached. Winning a provincial championship together means we will always be connected and I still treasure how fortunate I was to work with such an outstanding collection of young men. What touched me was when he shared that he was coaching in his children’s school as a way of saying thanks to me for the time I spent with him. He hoped others would also “pay it forward”.
            With a new school year looming large, I hope we all can go forward with a sense of optimism about the unique opportunities another year brings us. I also hope we can go forward with the notion that we’re not just creating moments for today but also moments that will help to define our future.