Positivity

This past week, we had a professional development dedicated to communicating about how we work with students in a positive manner. We reflected on what we notice about our students everyday, what may cause some of the reactions that we see across campus, and how we, as educators, respond to these reactions – whether positive or negative. As I listened to my group and tried to overhear other groups, I noticed one common theme – assume positive intent. This is something that we have gone over in our teams for a few years now, especially when we look at our continuum of team work. However, it is important to recognize that this also applies to our students as well. I am not saying that most of us do not already do this when we are interacting with our students, I am saying that it is an easy thing to forget when we are faced with constant challenges throughout our day.

When we assume positive intent, we work to understand the underlying reasons for a particular behavior. We try to understand what is going on with the learner and respond from a place of empathy instead of frustration. Assuming positive intent means that we realize there may be underlying reasons for certain actions and we work to respond in a way that shows caring and concern.

As I heard my group conversing, the theme of assuming positive intent was overwhelming. Everyone who shared their thoughts brought the idea of assuming positive intent in one way or another. When we are able to assume positive intent, the outcome is much more powerful because the students feel recognized and our interactions are coming from a place of understanding and concern as opposed to sole discipline without recognition or consideration of each individual’s situation.

While it is easy to get caught up in the day to day and fall into the pattern of believing that behaviors happen out of defiance and disrespect, when we work to recognize the deeper reasons, we are showing empathy and respect to our students and modeling how to work through conflict in an effective manner. This modeling, when consistently shown, will become the norm for our students as well. Imagine how much more powerful and effective it would be if, instead of assuming that our students are being defiant because they simply want to be, we work to understand the underlying reasons that cause the misbehavior.


Affective Statements

Using affective statements can help us start to resolve conflict from a place of concern and empathy.

  • I am noticing that _______, which makes me feel _______.
  • I am having a hard time understanding ________.
  • I am concerned about ________.
  • I am ________ about/how/by/to hear _________.
  • I am so impressed ________.
  • When _______, I feel _______. How can we work together to resolve this?

Rephrasing Traditional Responses

Simply rephrasing our words to show more positivity can be effective when we are communicating.

  • From “Don’t talk during class” to “When you talk during class, I feel frustrated that others are being disrupted.”
  • From “Stop doing that” to “I am noticing that when you are _____, I am feeling ______.”
  • From “No talking over other” to “Be an active listener.”

Notice how each rephrasing is also creating a positive redirection and sharing the desired action instead of the misbehavior. When we focus on sharing the desired outcome, it gives more information and more direction than complaining about the undesired behavior.

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*created by the Feaster Charter Positive Behavior Committee in 2016


When we can make positivity a habit, it will have a huge impact on our entire school and the interactions that learners have amongst themselves. Communicating is an essential part of our day. In addition to being aware of how we are communicating, we need to recognize our tone and ensure that we are keeping not only our words but also our tone positive. I encourage you to point this out to your class and, as the week goes by, reflect on how many affective statements you say and how you are working to assume positive intent!

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Second Week – Time to Reflect!

The first week of school has come to an end! Routines and relationships have been and are being built, learned and planned. One of my favorite parts about week two is taking time to reflect on what worked, what did not work, and what changes we can and need to make! The entire class can take time to practice reflection and practice communicating their desire to make goals that will push everyone towards a more successful school year. Of course, this should be done in a respectful way so that the decided upon changes and comments are both possible and sustainable. Notice how I am careful not to put this responsibility solely on the teacher. That is because it is also on the students to take time to reflect and share their own input. By including everyone in the process, relationships are made stronger and routines are more likely to be followed because the responsibility of following through is being held and agreed upon by everyone.

Knowing Your Direction

How powerful would it be if we had a common direction as a class and a school? There is a quote from Simon Sinek that relates to exactly this:

“Directions are instructions given to explain how. Direction is a vision offered to explain why. “

Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek- The Secret Everyone Should Know

As we take time to reflect on how the routines and procedures taught that first week went and how they were perceived by our learners, we should keep in mind that there is a difference between giving directions and having direction.  There is a time and place for both, and our learners could benefit by understanding when each one is appropriate.

For example, when I am introducing a new math concept, I may be giving literal directions that need to followed. When I am requesting students to share their learning, direction is given to guide learners toward a product of their choosing that will showcase their strengths and talents. The first is informative and does not allow for much voice and choice. The second is a vision that can be created and altered to match the interests and values of the student.

Including Everyone

Trust circles are a powerful time to build community! They can also be powerful for influencing our daily routines and lessons because we are hearing the perspectives of the students. Hear them out, but be prepared to discuss and guide everyone towards an realistic and sustainable goal.

Tony Robbins talks about this when he discusses the idea of S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and (in a) time frame) goals in a blog post called How Can I Create a Compelling Future? When we reflect and include everyone, we should also be connecting the changes that we choose to make to a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and (in a) time frame.

When our goals are S.M.A.R.T and they are continuously reflected, they are much more likely to beneficial to our group as a whole.

Daily Reflection

I read this blog post, 4 Reflection Questions for the End of the School Year, at the end of the 2017/2018 school year from George Couros, the Keynote speaker who opened up the CVESD leadership event for the 2018/2019 school year.

” We move forward not by only looking to the future, but learning from the past.”

George Couros

The Principal of Change Blog

Moving forward is an important concept that we should all be working on! The questions that George Couros poses could be as easily applied to daily and weekly reflections as they are to the end of the school year! Why wait until we are about to get a new group of kids to start reflecting and thinking about what we can do to better reach every single learner? How powerful would it be if we used real time reflections and comments to continue our growth and the growth of our learners?

Investing in the Community

Would it be possible to support our learners if we do not first build a connection? Our learners are much more likely to be receptive to learning, creating, and communicating if they are part of the classroom and school community. We can start that this community building right away, even before they walk into our classrooms by making sure we have set up a successful and welcoming environment, that we give opportunities to build a classroom community and foster relationships, and that we encourage positive rapport and communication to provide a welcoming atmosphere!

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Classroom & School Environment

To me, this goes beyond what is on your walls and where your students are seated. While these are important, the environment is about the emotion that is felt when our learners walk onto our campus, across the blacktop, and eventually to their classroom. How many positive interactions are held in these moments when we are just walking across campus? Or, worse, are our learners bombarded with “NO” statements and ignored good mornings? We are all part of this school community, so we can all make it a positive one.

How powerful would it be if students saw other teachers outside, welcoming them, saying good morning, waving hello, sharing positive comments, and starting their morning off with a sense of belonging? What difference would that make when our students finally get across campus to our classrooms?

The YouTube Video, Every Opportunity,  shows this exact difference – how does it feel to be ignored and how does it feel to be welcomed. I am thinking that it may even be powerful to let your students see this YouTube video and have them own our school environment and culture as well. They are the biggest part of our community because they are why we are all here together! Bring them in by including them and discussing ways to make every moment on campus safe and positive.

Questions for Class Discussion:

  • How do you feel welcomed?
  • What does it mean to feel valued?
  • What makes you feel valued?

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Community Building & Relationships

How powerful would it be if the students actually saw how much we care and how passionate we are about their education and their character development? This is what the first week is all about, building those relationships. When I say that, I do not mean just building relationships with your students, but I mean building a community relationship. Learners in our classrooms should feel as connected to each other as they do to us. They should feel that we would all do anything to make sure they feel supported and successful as would the students next to them.

In my first years of teaching, I was too focused on building a relationship as the leader of the classroom and I did not effectively focus on building the community within the classroom. This caused an over-reliance on me as the teacher and when conflicts occurred, I was the only who seen as the problem solver. After reflecting on this, I realized that I had created a community where I was at the center. Instead, what we can do is work on building a community relationship where everyone feels as connected with each other as they do with the teacher.

Questions for Class Discussion: 

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Rapport & Atmosphere

When I think of this, I think of the “vibe” that I feel as soon as I enter a classroom. Over the summer, I spent time in a few other classrooms and got to experience that “vibe.” It was that instant feeling of belonging and support and confidence. It was like I knew this was a place I could be successful and empowered. How powerful would it be if our students felt that each time they walked into our classroom? When you step back from your class and just notice what is going on, what do you see? I would recommend taking time the first week to do this. When you are setting up routines and procedures, take a moment to notice and reflect on how the students are interacting, how they are walking during transitions, what does their posture say about their emotions? Taking time to reflect on verbal and non-verbal interactions and behaviors can help us learn how to better support our students.

Questions for Class Discussion:

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This first week back is exciting because it is what influences the rest of your school year! Take time to build those relationships, reflect on what worked, get input from your students, help them OWN your routines and procedures and communicate on what makes them most successful. You can do this by making sure they are part of the process!

Last Week of School

IMG_4169.jpgWith the last week of school quickly approaching, we have so many exciting activities planned! This is one of my favorite times of the year because we are able to explore new activities and see what may be beneficial for our students next year. We can also get that continuous feedback from our students about what they will remember most from this school year.

Below are some activities that you can use to integrate the learning your students have attained throughout this school year.

STEM

  • Genius Hour: students choose something they are passionate about to research and explore
  • STEM Challenge: have students reflect on a problem that is connected to something they have learned about, challenge them to create a solution where they use the engineering and design process to build their solution

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Reflect on the activities that you will see during the STEM Expo this year!

VAPA

  • Music: challenge students to create a song that summarizes their experiences in your class
  • Theater: students create a short skit about their learning experiences
  • Dance: give students a change to create a collaborative dance where each kid makes a movement and they work together to put the moves into a dance

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Have students create a VAPA presentation based on their reading

Character Strengths

  • Minute to Win It: students compete in various challenges and learn the necessary character strengths that are needed to be successful when facing something challenging
  • Notes: have students write anonymous notes to each other that are focused on the character strengths that each student represents
  • Letters to the Future: give students some time to write a letter to your next year’s class. They can share some of the exciting things they have learned and some of the great experiences they will have while in your class

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Students create a project based on their favorite SEL book


Now is the chance to try out anything new! Explore with your group now and let them know that they can have a huge impact on what and how your next class learns as well!

Self Care Professional Development

During a recent PDs, we discussed the topic of self care. Cythina, one of our school social workers, shared some excellent resources with us that can be found at the end of this blog post! As we come to the end of the year, it is easy to get overwhelmed with everything going on in life and to maintain that work life balance.

Take Time to Reflect

I recognize there are time constraints and I understand that sometimes, taking time to reflect can cause added stress, especially when you are already pressured for time. However, this can easily be done while you are doing something else – waiting at the copy machine, walking across campus, connecting with another teacher. One of my favorite ways to reflect is with an after school run with another teacher. This way, we can talk together, my thoughts get put out there and I am getting added advice from someone I trust and respect.

This blog post from George Couros also really helped me put things into perspective:

“Negatives last as long as you don’t learn from them. From every situation, good and bad, there are things that we can learn from, but if we let the negative linger, it will loom over you.”

George Couros

https://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/8248

The quote above helps me remember that even when things are getting stressful and seemingly negative, they can become positives when we learn from them. When we take the time to reflect on the events of our day, whether it is with a parent, a student, or something more personal, we can make a well informed plan to move forward and hopefully find that we are a stronger at the end of the journey.

Identifying Happiness 

In the Science of Happiness Podcast, each episode has a “Happiness Guinea Pig.” They challenge their Happiness Guinea Pig to list three things a day that made them happy. This could be written, blogged, or just thought about. How powerful would it be have an ongoing list of what made you happy each day? This could just be something to look back at and reflect on.

Another strategy that the podcast shared was about thinking ahead to the future with an activity called “the best possible self” (the quote below is taken straight from the podcast transcript):

“So the best possible self—the activity is you’re supposed to for two weeks you’re supposed to take 15 minutes out of your day and write about your future. Think about things that are really important to you. So your—your relationships, your work your health. And you know the more specific the better and you know, just go for it, just write whatever you can. And then one of the things that I think it was like the first point was like ‘you might find yourself—I’m paraphrasing here but—you might find yourself like bogged down in the details of what’s happening with your life now which certainly happened to me but you know it was like basically like but just keep writing. Just do it.

And the idea is to write out all of the things that you want and to do it without casting judgment on yourself and so just to really, really stretch yourself to think about what are the things that I want if there are no obstacles and if there are you know there are no barriers, and if I could just have this. And then hopefully the idea is that you can be on your way to achieving that just by writing it down and knowing that the possibility is out there.”

Adizah Eghan

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/podcasts/item/best_possible_self

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the present, take the suggested 15 minutes and think ahead to the future. This just might help keep the present in perspective!

Identify Your Triggers

Is there a particular part of your day when you feel anxious or especially stressed? For me, it was the end of the day when I was trying to get a ton of things done before going to workout or before getting to the grocery store or before just going home to be home! When I was really, struggling, I brought this up with my team. They shared some strategies that they use – staying later only one day a week to catch up on everything, getting to work 15 minutes early a few days to complete the burdensome tasks that keep us all late, or connecting with parents and relying on them for help. Talking it out and getting advice really helped me grow professionally and manage my tasks.

Whatever is making you feel uneasy, anxious, or negative, try to identify the cause. If you are not able to identify a cause that can lead to a solution, bring others in to see if they can help you out!


I have learned a lot of great information by listening to the podcast called The Science of Happiness (referred to in this blog post under “Identifying Happiness”). This podcast gives stories and strategies that may help you find happiness and a better life balance – if that is what you are searching for.

Below are a few resources that were shared by our counseling department:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/31-tips-boost-your-mental-health

https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Family-Members-and-Caregivers/Taking-Care-of-Yourself

http://up2sd.org/mental-health-month/

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Global Innovation Summit – Reflection

This week, I had the opportunity to attend The Global Innovation Summit as part of our Apple Distinguished School recognition. During this time, we had the opportunity to connect with some of the other innovative schools from around the world. Throughout my time here, I recognized just how much we are doing to provide our students with a quality innovative education. I also came to recognize where else we can go with our integration of STEM and VAPA, how else we can provide opportunities to our learners, who else we can partner with and learn with and what else we can do to offer opportunities to our learners.

Learn, Lead, Innovate

Learn, lead, innovate was the theme of the #AppleDistinguishedSchools conference. Each session and event was strategically planned to demonstrate these themes.

  • Learn: develop a learning community with educators who Apple has deemed as the most innovative schools around the world
  • Lead: find opportunities to be innovative, lead your personal and professional learning to use technology as the tool
  • Innovate: with the support of technology, create opportunities that are not only new but an improvement on existing practices (for more about this definition, see @gcouros blog post on Are You More Focused on the ‘New’ or the ‘Better’?)

We can give a voice to everyone within the right context. Especially whnever we have stakeholders who are struggling with ideas and new practices, we can hear from them and better understand their perspective. When we listen to why people are unhappy, how powerful would that be to use their comments to reflect on our practices and purpose? Would this be beneficial to hear their voice and build a cohesive learning community?

Learning Environments that Evoke a Feeling

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“The technology is not the story, you are the story.”

Randy Nelson

Global Innovation Summit Apple Distinguished Schools 2018

What kind of an impression do our learning environments evoke? Have we become blinded by the appearance of our learning environments? What environmental constraints can we positively impact?

So many of our teachers do an amazing job of offering flexible seating, spaces for brain breaks, aromatherapy, temperature control. All of these things are within our control and when we reflect upon the environment we are creating, we have an impact on the culture and feelings that arise as soon as our learners walk into the classroom. The room environment is the first thing that impacts our learners. How powerful would it be if the first emotion felt is positive?

Innovation and Leadership

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Learning can be transformed when we start to create shifts in our thinking for the better. This cannot happen without a reflection on existing practices.

The modern learner’s newfound capacity to take full control of their learning is the most profound educational shift…ever!

Will Richardson

To help us shift this thinking, we can use a few questions to guide our planning.

  • What opportunities are we giving students to be innovative and collaborative?
  • What opportunities are we providing that allows students to create something that demonstrates their learning?
  • How are they sharing this?

Integrating STEM and VAPA

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We have some amazing specialty programs that are already established! How powerful would it be if we started relying on our students to lead some of the end of the year culminating activities?

During the conference, we met with a team from The Young Women’s Leadership Network (TYWLS)  who coordinated a Digital Dance Project.  This Digital Dance project is an event that incorporates STEM and VAPA concepts while remaining student led and organized with support from teachers who specialize in each area.

  • STEM:
    • Science: connect dance to a scientific concept to create an interpretive dance
    • Technology: choreograph around coded Arduinos or Ozobots
    • Engineering: design and construct moving pieces to be part of the set design
    • Mathematics: I have not figured this one out yet, but I would love to collaborate with others to brainstorm
  • VAPA:
    • Art: set design planned and created by students – collaboration with the engineering department will be crucial, costume design with LED lights and coordinated lighting
    • Dance: students compose a choreographed dance
    • Music: use of GarageBand to compose music for the Digital Dance Project
    • Theater: dance is incorporated into the theatrical play

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What do we want our stakeholders to feel? How do we achieve that, how do we make sure that we are giving opportunities that will help all learners feel those emotions? If we are being purposeful about considering emotions and feelings while designing lessons and planning our units, how will that impact our schools and the learning going on?

This fundamental question, and the power that can be seen if we “Change One Thing.” This will help us craft around our intention. I encourage you to ask yourselves what kind of experience fo you want everyone around you to have?

How do we signal that there is something magical here?

Randy Nelson

Global Innovation Summit Apple Distinguished Schools 2018

Continued Learning

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There are many opportunities to expand on our existing learning. This can go beyond what is done during professional development sessions and with our teams. For more opportunities to develop skills in using technology in class, check out Teacher Tuesdays at Apple and the

 

How would it impact our students if we all continued pushing ourselves as learners and helped our own brains grow in areas we are already passionate about or in areas where we may have shallow depths of knowledge?


Providing opportunities that allow learners to create, lead, and innovate will help empower them and give the time and space to be innovative while integrating the academic requirements of education. How would this shift impact the community within your classroom and within our school?

 

 

Strategies During Testing

The end of the year SBAC assessment can cause a lot of angst for students, parents, and teachers. We can all work together to make sure that we provide as positive of an experience through this process as possible.

Parents

Familiarize Yourself with the Assessment

The SBAC assessment is taken in grade 3-12. All students are expected to complete this assessment in school. The SBAC website has some great resources and videos that will help parents familiarize themselves with the assessment:  http://www.smarterbalanced.org/parents/ 

Help Your Child Feel Confident

Have conversations with your child about what to expect during testing. Remind them that their brain is growing and has grown throughout this school year because of the hard work they have put into their schoolwork. Reflect with your child about what they have learned this year. Think back to the previous year and help your child remember that learning is a process that is continuous, it never stops!

Your Words Have Power

Many teachers encourage parents to write a short letter in their home language. This letter is read by students each morning before they begin the assessment. Your letter can include anything that you feel will help your child feel more confident. Reminding them how proud you are of them and explaining what makes you feel you such pride can be a great place to start your letter!

Support on Testing Days

The days of SBAC testing can be incredibly stressful because the normal routines of our school day are not followed. Students arrive in class, do a classroom specific motivation strategy, then begin testing. The testing can last for hours throughout the day. Therefore, at home, before and after  your child arrives at school, you can:

  • Make sure they are well rested
  • Make sure they have breakfast
  • If your child earned an SBAC medal, make sure they wear it to school
  • Make sure they are on time to school
  • Leave them a note or pack their favorite snack
  • When they come home, ask them how they felt during testing
  • Strategize with your child to discover ways they can feel successful during testing

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Students

Show What You Know

Throughout this entire school year, your brain has grown! You have learned new concepts, strategies, and you have developed new academic skills. The purpose of this assessment is simply to what you have learned. While it is important to do your best, it is also important to realize that some of the questions are meant to challenge you and that is okay! Part of this experience is learning how to handle situations that are stressful and daunting. Stay confident in yourself and show what you know!

Believe in Yourself

It is crucial to believe that you, yourself, can achieve great things! Have confidence that you can demonstrate your knowledge successfully! Don’t forget all the hard work you have put into your learning throughout this year. Help yourself remember how far you have come academically by reflecting on where you were before this school year started.

Feel Confident About What you Have Learned

We all have times when we have not put our best effort into something. Now is the time to reflect and feel proud about all the times you did put your best effort into the task at hand. Think of a time when you felt successful on something related to school. Hold that feeling in your heart and mind. Whenever you are feeling stress or pressure because of an assessment, bring that feeling back to yourself. Give yourself a moment to feel that same pride again.

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Teachers

Test Pep

Test pep is very different form test prep because one is about celebrating successes, the other is about closing knowledge gaps. While both are necessary, test pep can help build the confidence in our learners and remind them that while it is okay to feel stressed, we have strategies to work beyond that and put our best effort into our task.

Inspirational Posters and Reminders

Ms. Gates and her ASB student have done an amazing job of creating posters for students to feel supported during testing. Especially when frustrations run high for both students and teachers, this can be a source of calming in the classroom. The reminder that this is what they have prepared for, the messages that make them feel supported, the thought that it is okay to feel frustrated as long as we have strategies that can help us move forward – all of these messages can help support our learners even when they are feeling frustrated.

In Ms. Miller’s class, I  noticed that she had her students create thinking caps with social-emotional learning connections. These thinking caps will help students feel excited about testing and help them stay motivated by serving as a reminder that they have spent the year helping their brains grow.

Letters

Every year, we ask our parents to write an inspirational letter to their children. Giving time to allow our students to read this letter, holding a conversation about what this letter means to them, and reflecting on the words of their loved ones can help students feel the supported and help them feel proud of how hard they have worked.

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We are looking forward to seeing what our students have learned over the course of the year! We will be reflecting on the results and data to provide an even more effective academic education for each individual learner.