Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Grinning Streak

A long time ago I noticed something when I looked in the mirror.  Devoid of any effort to smile, I looked unhappy, concerned, troubled, and a person to avoid. Hard to accept when you consider yourself a “people person” and you expound on the value of relationships and connecting with others. In that moment I realized I needed to change how people could perceive me with something that was readily in my control – a smile. It takes practice if that’s not your normal state. No one wants to see a forced smile through gritted teeth, or a maniacal grin. But here’s what else I noticed. When my mouth smiled, so did my eyes (stop reading here and go try it with your mirror). I instantly became more approachable.

In our profession as educators, we encounter many situations where we can reduce tension or fear by simply having a warm, inviting smile. As author William Arthur Ward reminds us, “a warm smile is the universal language of kindness.” I’d like to propose that we all practice this important skill and remember to do it every day, and especially when we’re in the company of our students. Go ahead get on a grinning streak. It will improve your face value and generate benefits well beyond that.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Homework – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Okay, so there is this challenge that is making the rounds via Twitter. I completed this courtesy of Cale Birk (see here: http://umakeadiff.blogspot.ca/2013/12/thanks-cale-chain-blogging-into-2014.html ) and was, so I thought, done with that and could enjoy the responses of others in my PLN. Then I received the challenge again. This time it was from a former student and current teacher Heidi James. It would have been acceptable to simply let Heidi know I had done this already but then I recalled that, long before my enlightened phase, I probably gave Heidi a homework assignment or two. If ever there was a reckoning of the old adage “what goes around, comes around” this was it. So I am resigned to doing this activity once more. However, I will employ a strategy I know many students use when completing homework – I’ll copy the answers to some of the questions. But it’s okay because I’ll copy them from me! I need to identify 11 "facts" about myself (they will look familiar because I’m kinda dull and tapped out at 11 interesting facts about myself), respond to Heidi's 11 questions, then pose 11 new questions to 11 others. For those about to read this, I am now officially done with the activity but do look forward to reading yours.

My 11 Random Facts
1.     I am the sixth of eight siblings.
2.     I was born in Montreal, Quebec and am a diehard Montreal Canadiens fan as a result.
3.     I am a marathoner and have completed 45 of the 26.2 mile (42.2 kilometer) races.
4.     I like wearing socks with attitude.
5.     I am thrilled to be Grandpa to Isabella, Leah, Liam, and Kaiden.
6.     I watch "It's a Wonderful Life" every year and still well up.
7.     I won the teen version of a popular TV game show in British Columbia.
8.     I once ran in a parking lot with Ozzy Osbourne.
9.     I played in the NBA (Nelson Basketball Association).
10. I once had a cigarette kicked out of my mouth by the World Tae Kwon Do champion.
11. I led members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra through a song.

Heidi’s 11 Questions:

1.     What are you most proud of? The quality people my children have become, and how they are inspiring their children to be just like that.
2.     Who or what is the biggest source of inspiration in your life? My wife who both inspires and challenges me.
3.     What do you do for fun? What brings you joy and makes you laugh out loud? I love being around friends and sharing anecdotes. I really enjoy hearing how people view things with a humorous twist.
4.     Why did you become an educator? I felt I had something to offer and a role to play in connecting people with their passion.
5.     What is the biggest life lesson you have learned? If you haven’t made a mistake, you haven’t pushed yourself hard enough.
6.     Where is your favourite place? Why is it your favourite place? Hawaii because I can just relax and let go of everything.
7.     What foods bring you the most comfort? With all of the travel I do any home cooked meal is a real treat.
8.     What Disney character would most people compare you to? Tigger because I’m always in motion.
9.     What are you reading right now? The Multiplier Effect by Liz Wiseman.
10. What is the riskiest thing you have ever done? How did it turn out? Left a continuing contract teaching position to head to Nelson without a job and two kids for my wife and I to look after. It turned out incredibly well and was one of the earliest reminders that it’s important to follow your heart as well as your head.
11. Describe your perfect day. Get up and go for a run, meet my wife after her canoe paddle for coffee, get home and soak in the hot tub, take a walk on the beach with my grandkids, hang out with my kids and their spouses, get dinner cooked on the barbeque, and hang out in the yard enjoying some nice wine on a summer evening.

My questions
1.     What is your favourite TV show?
2.     What cartoon character do you most identify with?
3.     What ability would you like to have that you don't currently possess?
4.     What would you pick as your last meal?
5.     What is your favourite song?
6.     If you could spend one hour talking with one person (living or dead) who would it be?
7.     What’s the best time of the year?
8.     What's the best sport to watch live?
9.     What’s one thing stuck in your head that you wish wasn’t?
10. What has been your favourite age and why?
11. What is the best book you ever read?

My 11 Recipients of this HW

Gerry Varty (you didn’t respond the first time!)
Chris Weber
Angela Pilcher
Paul Bishop
Regina Leeberg
Stacey Meyer
Darren Skog
Ryan Harding
Leeann Bartee
Jen Turner
Suzette Johnson

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Returning (Thoughtfully and Carefully) to School

I sincerely hope that anyone reading this had a wonderful and relaxing break over the Christmas season filled with special moments with family and friends. I’ve come to realize that is not likely the reality for many of our kids and I know, that as we return to school, it will be very important to keep a broader view as we ponder the first minutes, hours, days, and weeks of the January return.

Sometimes, it’s an innocent comment meant to explore with students what happened while they were away. For those who did not experience warm and tender moments, who may not have had the moments of receiving gifts, or who may have had limited familial connections, this may re-open some hurt that was pushed aside with each passing day after Christmas. I’m not suggesting that no attention be given to kids who come from stable, blessed environments. I believe that the quality of the relationship established by this time will let the teacher get feedback and hear the excitement that some are returning with.

More importantly, as you start back with your students, it’s important to review all of the expectations from the start of the school year that you have successfully built in to your classes and schools. Remember, students have been operating for two weeks in environments with a wide degree of allowable behaviors and some of those will need to be moderated so the positive learning environment can be quickly re-established. Don’t expect that all of the great things you did in the first four or five months will automatically and instantly return to your students when they enter today. Take the time to reemphasize relationships with and between students. Recall some of the best moments of the opening months as reminders of what is needed going forward. Be with your kids during the non-structured times of recess and lunch during the first few days as you may notice some things that can be rectified before they grow. If there are specific expectations for specific locations or routines, review those in context with your students – if you can predict it, you can prevent it. 

Mostly though, let your kids know how much you missed them – all of them – and how the break also gave you a chance to relax and re-charge your batteries. This next stretch of the school year is often a challenging time. Knowing this, and taking the proactive steps to change the potential outcomes, will serve both you and your students very well. Welcome back!