Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Commencement Address, June 2018


Good morning/afternoon/evening parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, distinguished guests, and most importantly, Class of 2018!  I’m honored to share in this special day of celebration and accomplishment with you.

You have taken the exams, passed the classes, and conquered the SOL tests.  In fact, you have succeeded in achieving every key academic challenge over the last thirteen years of your public education that has led you to this important moment.

Thirteen years.  That is a significant portion of your life spent in pursuit of one goal—a goal that you will reach very shortly.  I wonder, though, if you’ve ever stopped and thought, “What now?”  No, I don’t mean the more obvious responses, such as college, military, career, or even beach week.  I mean the question in a much larger sense, as in: “What does it all mean?”

Robert Fulghum wrote a book of short essays entitled, All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.  From the title, you might surmise that he is suggesting you have wasted the last twelve years of your life, and we could have held a similar ceremony when you were only five or six years old.  Although his message transcends this notion, Fulghum does, in fact, make a compelling case.  For instance, in one essay, he lists a variety of essential life skills that we learn.  The first ten go like this:

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don't hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. Clean up your own mess.
6. Don't take things that aren't yours.
7. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

It’s hard to argue with any of this advice.  Will it be all that you need in order to be successful for the rest of your life?  Probably not.  I think that Fulghum’s larger point, though, is that the lessons we learned in our most formative years are applicable for a lifetime.  For many of us, we made some of the best memories of our lives while viewing the world through the lens of a child.  In the same book, Fulghum writes, I want to be 5 years old again for an hour. I want to laugh a lot and cry a lot. I want to be picked up or rocked to sleep in someone’s arms, and carried up to bed just one more time.”

Obviously, for him, those days were perhaps among his very best.  I, too, believe that we should strive to extend the innocence of childhood as long as possible, but I also feel that we can make incredible memories at any point during our lives.  When we were children, though, a wide range of emotions seemed more vivid and occurred with more frequency.  Perhaps, those who seek to reclaim their childhood, to be the Ponce de Leon in search of the fountain of youth, are really trying to recapture the vibrancy of life that is often experienced at a younger age.  What if we could do just that, though?  That is, experience life to its fullest every day.

The following setting is in stark contrast to an author reflecting on his childhood.  It was 1993 and Jim Valvano, former basketball coach at North Carolina State University, was accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the inaugural ESPYs.  He was also giving the final speech of his life that he knew was quickly coming to an end because of cancer.  The message he delivered that evening is among the most memorable of the last quarter century, and among the most impactful, as it launched his V Foundation for Cancer Research.  In several ways, it was reminiscent of Robert Fulghum’s desire to embrace the memories and simple lessons of his youth.  Coach Valvano said, “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.”

Facing the end of his life, Valvano was trying to live every day to its fullest.  One might say, he appreciated it as a child might.  During the same speech, he joked about the fact that he was being given a cue to wrap it up so that the TV network could cut to the scheduled commercial break and get on with the show.  He continued speaking anyway, noting that those types of worries were no longer concerns for him.  It put things in perspective for all of those privileged enough to hear him, whether in person or on television, and, frankly, no one wanted him to stop.

Robert Fulghum was on to something in his book.  Kindergarten was a simpler time, with fewer cares and new experiences every day.  However, as important as that first year was, we do not learn everything we need to know in kindergarten.  So, what does it all mean?  It means that the 12 years that followed your initial year of schooling has molded you into the person you are today.  The lessons you have learned, the knowledge you have gained, and the experiences you have had can help you to approach life in a more meaningful way than when you were younger…if you will allow it to happen.

Now, as you prepare for the next chapter in your lives and begin to take on the mounting responsibilities of adulthood, I challenge you to take stock of what might appear important at the time versus those things that actually are important as Coach Valvano demonstrated.  Perhaps then, we can slow down enough to laugh, to cry, to think, and to experience many more of those “full days” that he was describing.  I also have to believe that some of those things that are truly important are the same timeless truths that Robert Fulghum described.  So, as you take your next steps, I also challenge you to play fair, say you're sorry when you hurt somebody, and take the time to enjoy some warm cookies and cold milk. 

Congratulations, Class of 2018.  May each of you enjoy many more full days, and may you impact others so that they may do the same.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zone: Caroline Bare, Hanover High School



“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” ~Albert Einstein

The month of May is always bittersweet for teachers.  Over the last eight months, we built lasting bonds with students, developed engaging activities in the classroom, and collaborated with our peers.  By May, we are sprinting to the finish line (and waiting to hear that final bell).  As I near the end of my own race, May is the month I fear due to SOL and IB exams.  I know my students are prepared, but that doesn’t stop the second-guessing in my head on what I can improve for next year.  In moments of stress, I gravitate towards podcasts. After listening to the TED Radio Hour episode, “Comfort Zone,” I realized part of this end-of-the-year fear is beneficial because reflection leads to growth.  This podcast spoke about how we tend to linger in a “constant practice” zone, which is especially true for teachers.  Constant practice refers to the idea people find comfort in repeating the same routines (or in terms of teaching, the same learning strategies or assessments).  Our lives as teachers are busy and when we find something that works, why should we keep changing?  Our teacher’s toolbox might be differentiated, but is it evolving?  As we reflect these final few weeks before summer break, think about where you are today and where you want to be in a year.  How do we avoid the epidemic of plateau teaching, where we get comfortable with our “constant practice” and end up in a repeat/rinse cycle for years on end?
           
            In 2013, I fell into this trap.  I finished my tenth year of teaching and felt stuck, both personally and professionally.  I taught the same subjects for a few years and my days became routine.  Then one day I received an email about an opportunity to study in South Korea with a group of history teachers.  I immediately ran across the hall to a colleague and proceeded to go through all of the reasons why I shouldn’t apply.  Her response: “Do it.”  Every little alarm bell went off in my brain.  I was scared that my introvert self would have a hard time making new friends.  I was nervous about traveling to a country where I didn’t know their language or culture.  This fear made me realize how my students must feel sometimes. What are they going through each year walking into eight brand new classes?  After putting myself in my students’ shoes, I remembered how I’ve taken other leaps of faith in my life and ended up surviving.  I was such a risk-taker when I was younger, but as I’ve fallen into habits and routines as an adult, I forgot what it felt like to take a leap into the unknown. The two weeks I spent in Korea changed my life.  I discovered that even though you might feel uncomfortable from time to time, stepping out of your comfort zone is necessary and provides opportunities for growth.   On our only free day, I tackled the Seoul subway on my own (Google the map, it makes the NYC metro look like a breeze).  I was nervous but eventually made it outside of the city to witness life in a suburb, similar to where I live.  When I returned that night to the hotel and told the teachers what I did, I felt more confident to take leaps despite the risks.  Even in the midst of all this newness, I found myself drawn to my familiar haunts like Starbucks and Subway while in Seoul.  Sometimes all we need to do is set one new, challenging goal.  As we begin to reflect on our past school year (and daydream about not setting any more alarms for a few months), it’s time to explore opportunities to step out of our comfort zone.  Start small.  Kelly Pace said it best in her convocation speech with: “Try to do 1% better each day.”

Use the summer to try something new or explore a personal passion.  If you get a day to yourself, maybe even try and conquer a fear or weakness.  Think about a subject you struggled with during the school year and find a way to learn more through listening to a podcast, enrolling in a free online course, taking a road trip, or visiting a local museum.  Another opportunity for us to jump out of our comfort zone is through various professional development sessions centered around Hanover’s instructional goals for 2017-2018.  For the first time, innovation in teaching will be on display in our county’s #HCPSInspire Conference on August 14 with workshops led by creative and inspiring teachers.  If you are looking for more ways to support equity in the classroom, Allison Sampson-Jackson will be presenting “Trauma and Resilience Basics” on August 9.  We can all do more to provide more relevant experiences for our students.  This summer build your teaching toolkit with sessions on YouTube video curation, Infographics, Flipgrid, and many more.  Want to make connections with your colleagues while learning?  Take a field trip to the National Portrait Gallery, International Spy Museum, VMFA, or James River.  

            Most importantly, enjoy these last few weeks of school!  Sometimes we are so eager to reach the finish line that we fail to acknowledge the process of reaching that point.  We might have stumbled out of the starting gate, worried about how to juggle new preps or different personalities.  Mid-way through the race we might’ve hoped for a pause (or a small snow storm).  As we are rounding that corner towards the finish line, be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Remember though, another race lurks around the corner.  Who will you be when that starting gun sounds?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Follow Your Yellow Brick Road: Alicia Broughton, Laurel Meadow ES


As a small town girl from Upstate New York, there were a many traditions from my childhood that I still cherish today. As a family, we picked apples in the fall, watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade while we cooked Thanksgiving dinner, opened one gift on Christmas Eve, spent our summers in Alexandria Bay, and watched The Wizard Of Oz each time it came on television.  

As we were cleaning out our playroom recently, I came across our VHS copy of the movie and began reminiscing. There was something magical about waiting for it to air. Once a year, I watched Dorothy wonder if there was something new and better waiting for her. As she opened the door to a mysterious new land, she was mesmerized by a colorful world that would eventually challenge her to persevere despite setbacks and distractions. I immediately recognized a parallel between my favorite childhood film and the students in my classroom. Isn’t that exactly what we want for them? To be curious? To wonder? To to see things in different ways while challenging their existing thinking? To have experiences rich with color, depth, and complexity?

About a month ago, my own educational philosophy was challenged in the form of an article from Google. Based on their research (which shook me like a Kansas Twister), they asserted that STEM skills may not necessarily be as relevant to team success as the “soft skills” like cooperation and trust. How could this be? I had spent the past four years focused on transforming my classroom into a STEM space for our school to use. I had shared my experiences, hurdles, and resources across the division and at the state level, asserting we were preparing our kids for the future. Last summer I worked closely with my colleague and friend, Cammie Gemmill, and the STREAM Team at South Anna to help them define STEM and innovative teaching practices for their Innovation Studio. The Google article had me questioning whether or not what I had been doing was best for my students. Had I gotten it all wrong?

I spent some time soul searching and reflecting about my practice, and I came to a resounding and honest answer - no. I believe that the pedagogy behind STEM learning is still relevant because I’m not necessarily teaching my students about design and engineering so they can grow up and become engineers. If a student leaves my classroom wanting to be an engineer, that is a bonus! Like you, I am passionate about giving students relevant learning experiences. I want them solving problems, being flexible enough to adjust their ideas, working cooperatively in teams, and having grit and perseverance when things don’t go as planned. STEM lessons are just one route along the yellow brick road to my Emerald City - a harmonious classroom environment where innovative teaching and learning takes place.

Where does STEM, Technology Integration, Relevance, Soft Skills, the 5C’s, Servant Leadership, Growth Mindset, SCRUM, Mindfulness, etc. fit into our day to day classroom routines and grade level curriculums? The answer is everywhere, because that’s what innovation is truly about. Innovation is not “instead of,” or in “addition to” what we’re already doing each day. George Couros, from The Innovator's Mindset, said it best - “Innovation is not in lieu of best practice. The two should be connected.”  As educators, we should “be comfortable with not-knowing, but also have an urgency and sense of wanting to find out.” Similar to Dorothy leaving the safety, peace, comfort of her home - and like the characters from my childhood, I want to continue to find adventure with my students. By keeping an open mind and a sense of hope, we can focus not on the HOW, but the WHY of every lesson. Are we teaching students soft skills like resilience, self confidence, trustworthiness and social grace to be successful later in life? Are we providing opportunities for creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking? If you're doing this each day, then how they get there is completely up to you.

Do I get it right all the time? Absolutely not. Dorothy trusted her new found friends to get her to the Emerald City, the same way I lean on trust my knowledgeable colleagues, my Gifted Resource Team, and my PLN on Twitter and Instagram almost daily for inspiration, lesson ideas, and encouragement. Like the Cowardly Lion, we can be brave despite our fears about innovative teaching practices, even when we don’t know the exact outcome of a new idea. We are fortunate to work in a school division that values innovation and trusts us to let go of traditional classroom norms in order to provide students with a relevant, equitable experiences. They understand that just like the Scarecrow had a brain all along, the students do as well; they just need the opportunity to problem solve, think at higher levels, and to be creative.

I encourage you to follow the yellow brick road that leads to student success in your classroom. Whether you tackle new strategies, try a STEM lesson, learn a new instructional technology, or focus on building soft skills, take lessons from the Scarecrow, Tin Man, or Cowardly Lion. Successful teaching and learning takes place when we have brains, passionate hearts, and the courage to step outside our comfort zone. Just like Dorothy, we have the “power all along” to make a difference in the lives of our students - even amongst the flying monkeys and fields of poppies. I have a new perspective on teaching and learning because of my journey and remaining true to what I know and believe as an educator. Is there a rainbow for each of us out there? Of course there is - because at the end of the day, we do what’s right for our students.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Reflections on Shadow A Student Day


On February 23rd, several school and division administrators participated in the Shadow a Student Challenge.  This nationwide program is designed to encourage administrators to immerse themselves in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms to truly see “school” through the eyes of students.  I spent my day at Stonewall Jackson Middle School shadowing an 8th-grade student.  Being around 8th-grade students was certainly not a new experience for me.  I taught 8th graders for many years, and my son is presently an 8th grader, so having 13 and 14 year-olds in our home is commonplace.  Yet, prior to this experience, I can’t honestly say that I had ever put myself in the shoes of a student for a full day since I was a student many years ago.  I found the experience to be fascinating, as well as a good reminder that being a student can be stressful.

I saw some truly fantastic students, educators, and staff, and I enjoyed my time immensely.  The memories of trying to get to a locker before the bell rang, getting through the lunch line, and even getting “out” in a kickball game came back to me quickly.  It was more than that though.  Hearing student conversations, understanding what responsibilities they had at home, learning about the pressure of multiple assessments, and simply staying fully engaged for 7 ½ hours (even with rich instruction) helped me to see them more authentically.  After the day was over, all administrators who participated gathered at the School Board Office to debrief and share our experiences.  A new appreciation for our students and teachers alike was the predominant theme.

This activity served to augment the various and deliberate ways that we solicit input directly from our students.  We have expanded student advisory group meetings.  We have purposely added students to division committees when studying a new concept or possible policy changes.  Additionally, professional development opportunities include stressing student “voice and choice.”  What I have learned through all of this is that our students have a lot to say, and their advice is often wise beyond their years.

I have learned that our students crave hands-on experiences.  They crave knowing how new skills can be transferable and used in multiple settings.  They crave being asked their opinion on matters as opposed to only being told about someone else’s opinion.  They crave having input into how they learn, how they are assessed, and how they can demonstrate mastery.  They may not use this exact terminology all of the time, but I have also been surprised to learn that many times they do.

As I reflect, I often think of my days as an 8th-grade teacher.  I ask myself, “How many times did I ask a student how they learned best as opposed to how I am most comfortable teaching?”  I ask, “How many times did I give students a choice in how they demonstrated mastery?”  And, finally, “How many times did I ask for candid feedback on how I was doing with imparting the information that they needed to be successful?”

The honest answer to all of these questions is—not enough!  The inconvenient truth is that sometimes the way that students best learn and the techniques that may lead to more engagement may be at odds with the methods that make us (as adults and educators) the most comfortable.  Further complicating things is the fact that no single teaching style works best for all students.  As with any new endeavor though, it is possible to start small. 
 
For instance, using a learning styles inventory at the beginning of the year, offering multiple options for a class project that allow for more choice, or simply becoming more attuned to how many questions we ask versus how many questions we allow students to ask.  These are just a few simple ways to begin the journey into increased voice and choice for students.  As with anything new, letting go of the reigns a bit and changing direction may be difficult at first.  However, this shift becomes increasingly more comfortable with repetition and often results in students who appreciate the academic freedom extended to them.  Accordingly, this yields increased engagement, learning, and retention. 

The Shadow a Student Challenge was truly an eye-opening experience for me.  I was reminded of how quickly we can forget what it is like to be a modern day student.  I learned that similar to adults, students want to be heard, respected, and have some degree of input into the direction of their day and lives.  They also appear to want adults to take the time to appreciate the many challenges in their lives that may look very different than when we attended school.  By doing this and seeing the world through their eyes, we can strengthen relationships and achieve greater academic growth. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Veteran Advice from a New Teacher: Amanda Williams, Oak Knoll Middle School

As a beginning teacher, I would like to offer advice for other new teachers and for veteran teachers alike. The past year and a half has been a rollercoaster for me and I have learned quite a bit through my challenges. I have narrowed my thoughts down to five statements that I hope can help soon to be teachers and remind current teachers of what they learned in their first year.
#1 Accept the joyful moments as they arrive. The teaching profession can have many challenges, but the opportunity to laugh and smile presents itself many times throughout the day, especially while teaching 6th grade. Make sure you don’t miss those opportunities. It is very easy to become distracted by the stressors and miss an opportunity to just enjoy the moment. This has been a challenge for me. I often have to remind myself of what is truly important and try not to let challenges affect my classroom demeanor. A good laugh is often all you need to turn your own day around. Seldom do we realize that it is exactly what our students need as well. They need to see that we are happy, we are passionate about what we teach, and we are human. Do not be afraid to laugh and make your students laugh. Be receptive of your students’ jokes and joyful moments. Your students will love you for it.
#2 You are going to need help; ask for it! As a first year teacher, I knew that I would be working with a team of 6th grade teachers, a mentor, the administrators, and the support staff. What I did not expect is how much support they would provide throughout the school year. I feared that I would be "on my own" to face my challenges my first year of teaching, but that was not the case. It took time for me to become comfortable enough to seek out help, but upon doing so I learned that I work with an amazing group of people who love to help. I never expected that I would like having visitors in my classroom, but I do. Last year, I had three students with autism in one of my classes. This was something I did not feel prepared for, but our autism coordinator came into my room almost every day to check on the students and ask me if there was anything she could do to help. During my first year, I was nervous about having a collaborative partner. I feared that I was not going to be good enough or that we would not work well together. I now love my collaborative partner. I love that we have are able to co-teach and that she can help add things to lessons in order to best support our students. As a beginning teacher in Hanover County, you are assigned a mentor that helps you throughout the school year. Our math specialist was my mentor for my first year and I cannot thank her enough for the amount of support she provided and still provides. She often came in and helped me teach lessons. She understood and supported me whenever I decided to edit my lessons 30 minutes before class started. My family has also been extremely supportive. No one complained when I asked my dad and brother to help me cut out laminated cards during my brother’s birthday dinner. My husband reads out grades so I can quickly record them in my grade book and he helps me sort through the piles of papers I constantly bring home. I never expected that I would receive so much advice, reassurance, and support from my personal family and my work family. When teaching in Hanover County, you are definitely never alone. There will be a community of people supporting you whenever you need it; you just have to ask.
#3 You’ll create to-do lists and probably never finish them… and that is okay. Oddly enough, this was one of the things I frequently struggled with as a new teacher. For the first time in my life I was creating a new to-do list before completing the previous one. In teaching, you are never done with all of your work. Your lessons and materials are constantly changing because there is always room for improvement. There are always emails that need to be sent, papers that need to be graded, and lessons that need to be revised. As soon as you complete one task there will be three more added to your plate. Over the past year I have had to learn to accept that I will never be “done” and I have had to learn to prioritize items. My recommendation is to create to-do lists that include some items that you have already done, just so you can cross them off.
#4 Make time for yourself and friends. In teaching, you are never alone.   There are always students around; even when you are out in the community outside the school building. Most of our time is spent with our students, which is why it is important to remember to connect with other teachers. Being new to a school and the teaching profession is especially intimidating. Over the past year and a half, I have been fortunate to be surrounded with the best support system I could have ever asked for. The teachers I work with are some of the funniest and most real people I have ever encountered. It is often difficult to find time to connect with other teachers, but it is extremely worth it when you do. In addition to connecting with other teachers, make sure you make time for yourself. Whether it be yoga, reading, or Netflix; you must remember to do something that you love. Find something that allows your mind to escape from all your worries.
#5 Be patient with your students and yourself. Show your students how much you care by being patient with them when they are having a rough day. You never know what your students may be experiencing outside of the classroom. A seemingly trivial item to you may mean the world to them. Listen to their stories and allow for them to share their sorrows. This is vital for building a positive relationship with students. Building a good report with students will allow for other aspects of teaching, such as classroom management, to go more smoothly. Be patient with your students and they will, hopefully, be patient with you. Being patient with myself is something I have struggled with as a new teacher. Naturally, I want everything to be perfect and I am often too hard on myself when things do not go as planned. I am learning to accept the things that are out of my control and focus on the things that I can control or improve. My colleagues remind me that I am doing the best I can. We all are.
            As a new or veteran teacher you face many challenges. I have learned as much from actually teaching my students as I learned in school to be a teacher. Try to approach every obstacle with an open mind and you will continue to learn and improve as you go. Constantly improving and changing assures that we are inspired to do the best for our students.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Most Important Thing I Learned This Year: Cammie Gemmill, South Anna Elementary

Brennan ran across the playground to catch me. Breathless, he said, “Teamwork. Don’t forget about teamwork.”  Our students are functioning as engaged, confident, and empowered learners who are willing to chase me down in order to express themselves.  As I prepared to write about the changes we have implemented, I turned to the experts, my students.  I wondered what they would say about instruction this year. I simply engaged in individual conversations on the playground and offered a fill in the blank sentence.  “The most important thing I have learned this year is...”  Their answers have framed my thinking about innovation and the importance of prioritizing project based learning to teach content. I was expecting maybe to hear about multiplying fractions, organizing writing, or light and sound.  Yet, almost all of them added “to be.”  Of course, they had been learning all the facts, procedures, and tools they needed to be academically successful but when asked the most important thing they learned, they responded I have learned “to be...”  The changes we have incorporated into our instruction were increasing integration of content, engaging and motivating students, but the most important thing that they learned this year was “to be.”   

So today, I write about becoming. Our teachers seek “to be” new and better instructionally.  Our students are becoming innovators as we create relevant experiences that engage them in conversation and teamwork. Each of these short stories focus on one of the words that the students shared with me that day on the playground.

The most important thing I have learned this year is…

To Be a Team Player - We began this process as a team. The Classroom of the Future Grant was written by the STREAM Team, sixteen teachers who shared their ideas, opinions, and research. Through discussions with county specialists, local university representatives, and the invaluable feedback and inspiration from my Gifted Resource Team we were able to create a clear vision for our dream classroom. Alicia Broughton (LMES) helped us define a common language for our efforts and evaluate resources. Amy Faires (SJMS), Susan Mudd (OKMS), and Cindy Burns (CMS) shared their expertise about SCRUM through countywide professional development. SCRUM has played an integral part of our success in the Innovation Studio.  Using SCRUM in the classroom here is a result of collaboration with educators in Goochland County and their incredible work. Teachers are setting goals, sharing ideas, and helping one another as they implement innovative lessons using the resources in our new studio.  We emphasize to students how important it is to reach out and appreciate each other’s strengths as we are all learners in this process.

To Have a Growth Mindset - Aprons for every student were an important addition to the Innovation Studio.  This physical cue sets the stage for each lesson.  Every time they put on the aprons we ask, “Why are you wearing aprons today?”  Their response is, “We wear these aprons to show that we are ready to have a growth mindset as we try to tackle new challenges.”  Teachers also wear aprons to signify their commitment to innovative instruction. It is almost like a pledge and its repetition helps us emphasize the importance of a shift in our thinking.

To Be a Risk Taker - I have taken to announcing my concerns about new projects as I introduce them to the students. Our conversation usually begins with, “I have never done this before, but I want to try something new and I will need your help.” Our students feel free to share feedback throughout projects so that we can make changes and improvements as we go.  We model risk taking, reflection, and implementing immediate changes in our process when necessary.  

To Be a Servant Leader - We began discussing the concept of servant leadership when we introduced SCRUM as a framework for productivity and collaboration.  We model servant leadership by asking, “How can I help?”  Students anticipate opportunities for servant leadership during our stand up meetings that occur periodically throughout work sessions. That one simple question has changed the way that they interact when working to overcome challenges.

To Be Kind - SCRUM groups are created based on student strengths.  Recognizing and appreciating strengths in others allows for building positive relationships and interactions.  As part of our group work, students evaluate their own level of effort, flexible thinking, perseverance in problem solving, communication, and collaboration then, provide feedback to the others in their group.  Our goal is to celebrate our strengths as we support growth in our weak areas.

To Be a Communicator - The “pass it on” approach has become an invaluable tool to help introduce new technologies to as many students as possible.  In order to teach others about how to use a technology the “student instructors” were not able to touch the technology.  They were required to communicate clearly and concisely to help break down each step for the students that were learning the new technology.  It works with entire classes partnering with other classes or small groups within a classroom and sharing with each other.

To Be Respectful - Visitors have been coming frequently and sometimes in large numbers; Business Owners, Principals, Teachers, and college students.  As we prepared for these visits, we stopped to provide direct instruction about speaking to others about their learning process.  We practiced shaking hands, making eye contact, and speaking loudly and clearly, and engaging in meaningful conversation by asking and listening to questions, as well as sharing responses. The ma’ams, sirs, and thank yous have become habit.  These choices show respect to others and display respect for the learning process.

To Have Grit - Integrating new technologies presents challenges for both teachers and students.  On a recent project that required students to program Spheros to travel across varied terrains, it took many groups over 50 attempts to find success.  Students returned during recess and primetime to continue to persevere.  Tears of joy followed the eventual success and they moved to the next terrain to tackle that challenge.

To FLeRD -   (Fail Fast, Learn, Renew, Do) Epic fails have become a celebrated occurrence. Break Out Boxes have offered many opportunities for failure and resilience. Teachers and students alike are learning from failure.  Recently, one of the most effective teachers I have had the pleasure of working with decided to try a new lesson in the Innovation Studio.  I came by to check in because I knew she was excited about it.  As I walked in, chaos ensued.  Students were in the process of cleaning up and the teacher immediately approached me obviously exasperated after the lesson.  But what she said let me know that we were all on the right track.  She said, “I know what I will do differently next time.”  And less than a week later she was back with a new lesson that yielded incredible success.


The most important thing I have learned this year is to be INNOVATIVE. The Classroom of the Future Grant allowed us to dream about what instruction could look like.  Thanks to the Hanover Education Foundation that dream has become a reality.  None of this would be possible without the teachers that are taking the risks, stepping out of their comfort zones, and trying something new. Over the past few months, one particular class of fifth graders have allowed me to grow and learn. They are truly my inspiration and they exceed my very high expectations on a daily basis.  I am also blessed to work with incredible, flexible, and supportive teachers that make every lesson more meaningful with their enthusiasm and suggestions ;).   It is because of all those things that I left that day from the playground with tears of pride for the most important thing the students learned this year was “to be…”

Monday, December 4, 2017

If a Child Doesn't Know How, Guest Blogger: Paula Drumheller, Henry Clay Elementary

“If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.”
“If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.”
“If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.”
“If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.”
“If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we... teach? …punish?”
Why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as we
do the others?
Tom Herner, 1998.           
Like many of you, I have just gotten home after a very tiring but rewarding day at school.  I find myself reflecting on the many issues that we face each day that most of us never thought about or were taught about in our preparation as educators.  In my 21 years as a School Counselor in Hanover County, I have had the opportunity to support our students in a wide range of issues affecting their education.  Like you, I see students coming to school with heavy emotional burdens that affect their academic, emotional and behavioral progress.   As you well know, these students can also impact the learning of others and limit our ability to do what we love - teach.  Therefore, I believe that the need for social and emotional learning is one of today’s major education issues.
An estimated half of all U.S children have experienced some kind of trauma in the form of abuse, neglect, violence or other difficult household circumstances;  and many of those of children have experienced more than one type of traumatic event.  After working in all areas of Hanover County during my many years, I can assure you that trauma impacts our students in each and every one of our corridors, and its impact seems to be increasing.  Because of the effects of trauma, we simply cannot assume that our students are coming to school with the skills necessary to be able to listen, attend, regulate their emotions and problem solve. In fact, many of them are coming with a set of survival skills that are necessary in their home environments but certainly not conducive to school success.  
Furthermore, our children are also facing other types of stressors that nonetheless have the same effect as the traumatic experiences listed above.  A child who is traumatized by the stress of perfection due to high expectations and responsibility or one who is a crumbling under the pressures of peers and social media can look very similar to a child who is traumatized by a fear of going home to an abusive situation.  Therefore, our primary goal is not necessarily to identify children of trauma (unless they are currently living in an unsafe situation) but to instead teach all children the skills necessary to develop social and emotional competence to deal with these stressors. These skills contribute greatly to children’s resilience regardless of their experiences.
        I think that many of us are also beginning to understand that traditional discipline - suspensions and random consequences -  don’t seem to be successful with many of our students. We have to do something different if we want to reach and teach our students.   Ross Green, in his book Lost At School explains that kids do well when they can. Most kids know what we want them to do and they truly want to do it.  If they aren’t, it is often because we are asking them to do something beyond their abilities - beyond what they know how to do. While I understand that some days this can certainly be difficult to believe,  we have to remember that these children are very adept at building walls that are seemingly impossible to break down to keep untrusted adults at bay, lest they learn the truth.  The truth is that many times our students simply “don’t know how”.  Therefore, developing a relationship through which we can begin to understand why a child is challenging is the first and most important step in helping him or her.  THEN WE TEACH.  As educators we teach - we teach reading, we teach math, we teach science and history, we teach art, music, and physical health, we even teach driving; and, yes, we must teach behavior and social emotional skills as well. We are responsible for teaching the whole child so why would we teach all of these other things and not teach emotional health when it is essential to the well being and success of our students?  
 Social and emotional learning enables children to apply the knowledge and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, feel and show empathy to others, set and achieve goals, and develop and maintain positive interpersonal relationships. When children can consistently use these skills within the classroom they are better able to access the educational opportunities that we provide for them.  This increases their resilience and likelihood for success moving into adulthood.   It has been said that social emotional learning is not something extra to be added to a student’s plate - it is the plate. It is the foundation on which all other learning can take place and it ultimately makes our job as educators easier.
However, successful implementation of a social emotional learning curriculum requires changing the mindset of all educators with regards to its importance to academic success.  When school division leaders support this shift in mindset, it increases the opportunities for individual schools to develop this facet of learning.  Schools can then have access to the teacher training, support, and professional development necessary to integrate social and emotional skills into their school-wide curricula.  Division support also enables us to develop purposeful partnerships within our community to help support the social and emotional needs of our students.  This may include partnerships with mental health agencies to provide therapeutic interventions within the school setting, collaboration with other community organizations to support a family’s basic needs or to provide student mentors, and opportunities for both support for and engagement with families.  Schools are but one piece of the puzzle in meeting the social and emotional needs of our students, and community outreach and support is essential.
            As a society we can no longer assume that children come to school with the social and emotional skills necessary for success, but the good news is that these skills can be taught through direct instruction, modeling and practice.  Furthermore, school division support and meaningful community partnerships can provide the wrap around services necessary to meet the diverse needs of our students. I believe it is a great privilege and responsibility to be a part of an educational environment that can help create caring, empathetic and emotionally intelligent people who will be empowered to achieve career and interpersonal success.  We will also be able to finally say “If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we teach.”
Paula's bio:
Paula Drumheller has been spent her entire career as school counselor in Hanover County for 21 years.  Her first position was at Elmont Elementary and she has worked in several elementary schools as both a part-time and full-time school counselor.  She currently works at Henry Clay Elementary with an incredible staff from whom she learns everyday and with children that she loves.  When Paula is not working she enjoys spending time with her friends and family - her husband, Davis, and her two children Caroline and Kate.  Caroline is currently Freshman at Virginia Tech and her daughter, Kate is a Sophomore at Hanover High School.  She enjoys reading and going out to dinner with friends.