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Get Some Perspective, Dude!

I recently completed my first lesson of the year.  Most of this consisted of Guidance info, school info, graduation requirements, academy information and opportunities, etc.  But I also wanted to add a little something for students to think about throughout the year.  Classroom instruction is definitely not my strongest point to begin with, but I also realized last year that I went the whole year without explaining the grading scale to my students.  In some school systems this may not be necessary, but in mine, where students in 5th grade go by standard-based grading (Developing Proficiency, Proficient, etc) to performance based grading (A, B, C, D, etc), it was total dud move!  I had spent all year chasing those kids around wondering why they were so easily accepting Cs!  I felt like when I accuse one of my kids for losing something of mine and I make them look all over for it…only to find it was in some hidden place I had put it. Except for there was no way to secretly drop this information somewhere and act like it had been there all along to cover myself (not that I do that at home…). 

So, I knew I needed a message.  I was also excited that I would have the same group as the one last year- my first experiencing looping with my kids.  I had introduced this group of kids to some mindfulness stuff last year, and I decided to keep going with it.  Who knew middle school kids would love breathing so much?!  I start with basic 4×4 breathing, and then through the year added some simple stretching.  I am not sure what direction I will go in this year, but I decided to add this slide to start things off-

Then, I landed what turned out to be a really great message!  I love it when that happens…because believe me when I say I have had some flatter than flat lessons in my day.  I wanted them to think about perspective in a new way.  I figured that concept could be easily tied to something they were way knowledgeable about- selfies.  I used some selfies from my family that my own kids had taken.

I asked them to tell me what they noticed about the pictures- what was something they had in common.  After a few guesses, they came to describe how they all looked like something was happening that was not.  At this point, realizing it was working, I could have drooled on myself I was so excited.  But I played it cool, as per usual.  

I asked them how the pictures would look different if they were taken from different angles, distances, with different subjects, etc.  Once they said that the photos would look completely different, I knew I was on my way and I switched to the plan.  I told them we were going to try it out.

I put myself at the front of the room, and the teacher directly across from me in the back.  Then I asked someone from class to stand with each of us, and had two more students on each side of the room opposite of each other.  Next I stood next to the student by me, and had them move my fingers to where if I made a pinching motion, it looked like I was pinching the head of the teacher.  Giggles ensued and we did it a couple of more times.  I had the student with me describe what it looked like, then I asked the other students standing and sitting (they all said it looked like I was pinching the air, and a couple said I just looked crazy- both of which were and are accurate).  I told them that the student with me would get candy, but no one else did because they were wrong.  The rest is pure magic and goes something like this: 

Them- What?! That’s not fair!

Me- Why not?! He/she was the only one that got it right.  He/she described what I saw!

Them- But! But! That’s not our fault, they were standing there with your perspective!

And I just stood there, with a somewhat sinister surprised happy face.  The “ooooooohhhhhs…” came without me even having to say it.  I was almost on the floor I could not contain myself.  Still cool though.

For the second one, I whispered in the student’s ear that was by me “Mrs./Mr. So-and-so is the best teacher ever!” But I made a snippy, grossed out face.  I asked the kids if they thought what I said was positive or negative and they all said negative.  When I told them what I’d said, I asked why they thought that, and they all said that it was because they could only see my face. Again with the “oooohhhsss”.  Middle school educators, I know you know exactly where my inspiration would come from for this…because now when I hear “he/she is always talking trash about me” I start to twitch.  I finished the discussion with this-

I asked the students to keep this lesson in mind throughout the year as they battle relationships, situations, developments, and decisions. I told them to think about the perspectives of others and really try and consider this.  To think about how there own perspectives might look different from a different angle.  To be willing to discuss the difference in perspectives in situations where people are to seeing eye to eye.  And for added measure, I asked them to keep in mind the perspective of the teachers; who get up in front of the class every day.  I asked them what they might think if they are in front of 30 people and two of them are snickering or talking- what would they think if it were them out there.  And when the kids respond, “if that were me, I would think they were talking about me” I drop the mic and walk out.

(Really, I don’t.  I promise to do a solid conclusion to bring things in)

Bringing Some Inspiration

Our division director recently recommended the outstanding book, The Other Wes Moore.  I am so glad he did! It has really been the inspiration I needed to hit this year head-on.  This story of Wes Moore is one of resiliency, love (self and family), hard work, barriers, control, and grasping opportunities large and small.  I don’t think I’ve felt this moved by a book since my all-time fav Man’s Search for Meaning (seriously, V. Frankl is my boyfriend and BFF4L).  I want everyone to read it!  I feel compelled to talk about it and share this really incredible story.  People like this are so profound and thoughtful that it feels like they are talking to you, and it accompanies you at work, in ethical dilemmas, and in small choices throughout the day.  Insight of our new educational catch-phrase, it’s the ultimate example of “growth mindset”. (You too, huh? I think we might all be getting the same professional development this year!)

When I found out about the accompanying student version of his book, I was really excited (PS- I am really annoyed with the unlinked ‘k’ but I’ve already spent a ridiculous amount of time on my formatting OCD. Carry on.).  After reading it, I don’t think I could pass it through in Middle School.  Though I believe whole-heartedly in sharing the truth of living and life with students at the middle grades in order to help them make decisions before they are confronted with them, I can also understand the position of our school systems in ensuring we respect the wishes and shelters of their parents.  Sometime it can be hard to do this; to know what could benefit a student, but to have to dial back and be conscious of our roles in their lives as secondary to the people who are responsible for raising these children throughout their life-span.  Man do we get attached, don’t we?

Even so, I have been toying with ways that I can get this book and story into the hearts and minds of the educators and students in my school family.  I’m thinking maybe a Donor’s Choose to purchase a copy for each staff member?  A little gift to remind them how influential we really can be in the lives of our students.  Sometimes the only voice that believes in them.  Sometimes the only portion of their day in which there is peace and stability.  I’m also thinking about applying for a grant to have Wes Moore himself come visit the students.  I just need to share-I’m obsessed!  My poor principal.

It also got me thinking about the characters that are accessible to our students.  Wes Moore’s story will resonate with all students, but it is also inclusive of minority populations that are not typically represented in this exceptional light of success. Not because they are not out there, but because those are most often not the characters that are given recognition and reinforcement.  I’m finding (through reflecting on my own education and the really superb training I get in my division) the need to make these stories available to our students. Young successful black men, strong-willed women, uniformed mentors of all colors- if society will not give our children their exposure, we have to, in education, make it our mission. 

Man, I am really in my feels tonight.  This can only mean I’ve been reconnected with my kiddies and am feeling my profession.  So good, for real.  Read it!

School Start

Dudes! Dudes.  I totally suck.  Since May?! For real?! Hey, it’s part of my process, right? And I’m about to hand in a jip again because I’m just taking a second to stop in and wish everyone a wonderful school year! In all of the students, parent, academics, energy, and craziness (perhaps also a little bureaucracy with a splash of bitterness) let’s have a positive and kind time with everyone and ourselves.  Just like I tell my students before a big test- be patient with the test and with yourself.  Except it would be to be patient with our industry and ourselves…or something like that.  You know what I mean.     Here is my beginning of the year board (I blacked out the school name seals because, let’s face it, I’m still a little fuzzy on what we can post on social media).  I can’t wait to see my kiddies next week!

Gearing Up

Such a busy year!  We have started a new section in our library- so exciting!

We ordered a bunch of books through Free Spirit Publishing with the remainder of our services budget. I’m in love with their books because I think they do a great job of writing in a way that is in touch with all ages of students.  It’s really hard to find books for middle schoolers that aren’t too young or too old in content and verbiage.  Small now, but I love the idea of having a place to bring students to suggest something that might help them.  We have even talked about hiding small notes in the books to brighten the day of the reader.  Adorbs! 

We are also gearing up for the testing season.  This always crazy, hectic, stressed-out time is ripe with counseling opportunities to calm down students and get them in high confidence mode.  As much as we try to seperate the school counseling profession from the dry necessary, political growth mindset centered scored standards, I try to remind myself that it is a reality for students.  School Counselors can really change the overall environment during testing to be positive and productive, easing students’ anxiety and helping them realize their potential.  One of our counselors bring in Pom-poms and cheers for her students as they come in, one of our teachers gets donated fruits so students can have a bite to eat.  These small things make such a huge difference.  I like to go to each classroom in the morning and spread a little cheer by telling students they should smile because it has been shown to increase test performance (I’m pretty sure I read this somewhere, but in all actuality I have no idea). 

My principal shared the Larry Bell testing strategies and they really make sense.  It breaks down the processes of testing very well.  He encouraged us to find ways to make sure the concepts are part of our students’ everyday language- I took that to heart with a bulletin board project meant to trick students into learning about the 12 steps…when in Rome, right?

Weekend crafty therapy

My dad recently moved into a new house, and I have been waiting patiently for an excuse to make one of these to make one of these nail/string art wall-hangy-thingies for him. I finally did it! I made one for Virginia, where we live now, and one for Ohio, where he was raised and visits family often. Feels nice to have some weekend therapy, sure needed it this week…

Dropping Drop-outs!

I have recently started working with the Drop Out Prevention Task Force at my school, and I am finding that I love it! I mean, I don’t like the act of dropping out, but I love looking at data and identifying student needs and concerns. So, for our first meeting, I was inspired by some Personalized Professional Development stuff I had been following on Twitter, so I decided to find something to derive focus before coming. I found this AMAZING video from PBS that I think every person on Earth should watch and discuss. It is really the best description of the role of Middle School in student development that I have heard. I had everyone watch the video before the meeting to come prepared with what direction we would be going to.

Second, I took a page out of my HS bag, and decided that I needed to create a list of heavy-hitters to focus on at the meeting. Sometimes, leaving the concern portion open-ended can become a little witch-hunty or complaint session, which is perfect for SC venting session, but not so productive for a 20 minute meeting. So I used our amazing data people to pull three lists consisting of the three subgroup of risk in the video: Student with 3+ discipline infractions, 15+ absences (verified or unverified), and 2+ classes failed in the previous 9 weeks. Now, we all know that populations vary, so some of these numbers might need to be adjusted- I was looking for our top 20-30 biggies out of all three grade-level. My last list was a cross-reference of these three lists, to identify students who were on more than one of the three lists.

So at this point, committee members have watched the video, and I have created 4 packets of each of the three lists, the compiled list, and a page for intervention notes and “honorable mentions”. I wanted to put members into a group and have them evaluate each list. On the side of all four lists I added a notes column, and I asked teachers to identify anything they knew about the students mentioned- at-risk factors such as mobility and helpful info such as sibling in the school. Here is the order I took:

  • Welcome
    • Video
    • Less than 80% attendance, fails Math or English, unsatisfactory behavior in core course = 75% chance student will drop out
  • Identifying
    • Identifying our students (lists made for each table)
    • 2+ Failure, 15+ Absences, 3+ Discipline
    • Cross-reference list results- 2 Ss on all three lists, 10 Ss on two
    • Explanation of other risk factors- retention, SC, high mobility- increase risk
  • Action
    • In groups, look at lists and write any notes that would be helpful (e.g. SRT held, deceased parent, lives with grandparents, good relationship with mom, stays after for a sport, e-mail regularly with parent, etc.)
    • Add any names that you think are at risk but not on the students that are on 2+ lists
    • Write any ideas for interventions
  • Moving forward
    • Filio to create master list (that’s me!)
    • Team leads to share risk information with content/grade level
    • Administrators and Counselors will evaluate list/actions

My next steps are coming together too, but proving to be more vague. I compiled all of the information for student information (and we definitely learned so much more from having input from teachers and specialists), and will give that to administrators and counselors. At this point, we know who we need to focus on for a targeted program. I am thinking I would also like to have admin and counselors get together to review what interventions have been used, and what interventions we can collaborate on. Then, at the next meeting, I will have an updated list with updated data and students so that we can review what has been done, get suggestions, and celebrate those who have fallen off of the list. It is so exciting- I could do it all day every day! I can’t wait to hear about what other schools are doing too!

The Moment

Quick share today just for the sake of inspiration.  I was participating in a Twitter chat (I know how that sounds, and I’m OK with it), and the final question was “Q5: How can teachers encourage students to become active creators of their own learning?” BAM. Great question. So many answers, so few characters.  My answer was “A5 Make a personal connection, build confidence, allow them to stumble and then help them rebuild.” but the only way to really sum it up is with this:


Isn’t this the best feeling ever?! The whole reason I am in education is to be able to say this to students.  Empowering them and then seeing them succeed is one thing, but to get to say, “SEE??! YOU did this!  YOU made this happen!” is flipping amazing.