Friday, September 11, 2015

The Power of Being Positive - #KidsDeserveIt

Today's guest post is written by Matt Johnson who is an incredible educator in South Carolina.

A battery has two ends: a positive and a negative. When connected to a device requiring power, the end marked positive which houses a source of electrons will flow and deliver energy causing what once was powerless to become useful.

photo via

You're right. I had to look that up. But the connection to how we are to treat and respond to others especially kids is so vital to how they mature and grow up to be adults. Opponents of positive reinforcement say "That's not how the real-world works." But in order for students to make it to having life in the real-world, they must have good choices modeled for them and given that recognition for doing the right thing. But I get their point. I've never been rewarded for driving the speed limit.

Many young kids are so often told what's wrong with them causing a wealth of negativity to be housed inside their minds. Those kids come to school and don't know what is expected of them causing them to be, let's be honest, difficult to love. These kids are negatively charged in need of a source of electrons to flow and create what is currently powerless to become a powerful and useful source for many. Their bucket is empty in need of being filled. But guess what? This concept works for adults too!

How often do you tell someone you are glad to see them? No reason. Just glad they're here today!

Who was the last person you gave a handwritten note to tell them you're so proud of them?

When was the last time you played with kids at recess or sat down and had a conversation with them at lunch instead of talking to other adults?

What was the last word you spoke to your students at the end of the day? Did you tell them you can't wait to see them tomorrow?

What positive charge are you supplying to students and others you see each day?

So if you're like me having had to answer each of these questions, you may realize you 

have a to-do list starting tomorrow. But understand this, one day of positivity to those so full 

of negativity and expecting change tomorrow is like hooking a double A battery up to a 

pickup truck. It will provide it some energy but that Hemi isn't going anywhere! So my words 

for all of us are this: Be consistent, be persistent, but don't forget the power you have in 

positive, yet voiceless actions such as smiles, hugs, fist bumps, and high-fives. So tonight 

eat your spinach or if you're Mario, a spotted mushroom because it's time to Power Up! Our 

kids need it. They deserve it!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Slow Down - Take Your Time #KidsDeserveIt

Adam read this article about a town in Italy named Cremona and sent it to Todd right away. The town is famous for making violins, especially the Stradivarius. Reading the article fascinated us and we saw so many ideas that could easily relate to education.

Think about the time it takes to handcraft a violin, the process, the pain, the challenge, the journey, the experience from this, how can we create this for our kids?  How can we teach them the importance of slowing down sometimes in our fast paced world.  What’s the value in slowing down?

Our lives as educators moves at a breakneck speed.  We have deadlines, forms to complete, grading to do, phone calls to make, and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes it feels like we just run from one thing to another in a school day.

And in the midst of all that busyness sometimes we get lost.  We get so caught up in some things, that we forget to slow down and find the small moments too.  Those moments that can be easily lost in the shuffle of life’s fast pace.

Moments like stopping to eat lunch with your students. Just taking those few minutes to sit down, have a conversation on their level about what they want to talk about, and spend time getting to know them.  

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Moments like playing at recess.  You shouldn’t ever be afraid to jump into a game of kickball, or slide down the “big kid” slide, or play a game of tag.

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Moments in class when a student asks a really great, thought provoking question, and it stops the entire lesson so that everyone can discuss and figure out the answer.

Moments when we just need to pick up a picture book and read it and laugh together.

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Sometimes we must slow down our speed a little and really develop things.  Develop those relationships, develop those thinking moments, develop those experiences and memories.

If you’re anything like us, slowing down can sometimes be very hard to do.  It doesn’t really fit either of our personalities.  But both of us make a conscious effort to find the small moments in the day to stop, take a look around, and notice and take part in things we were missing.  Because sometimes you must slow down to create something truly great.  And when you take the time to readjust and slow down, it can make all the difference.

Friday, September 4, 2015

We Need to Take Care of Our Teachers #KidsDeserveIt

Today's guest post is written by Brandon Blom who is an amazing educator and Principal at Stoneridge Elementary School in California.

At the start of every school year I seem to read a lot of articles about why there is a teacher shortage or why the teacher pipeline is drying up.  If you have been following the news lately you have seen a string of stories about teacher shortages in states like Kansas, Oklahoma, and California, just to name a few.  I also have read articles about how in the public’s view respect for teachers has gone down over the years. All of these articles make me think one thing: Kids deserve teachers who are respected and appreciated.

I would love to see our teachers better taken care of at the federal, state and even district levels.  As a principal I am not in a position to change all of these issues, but I do feel as educational leaders there are things we can do to help show our teachers in a positive light, give them the respect they deserve, invest in them, and start changing the culture around education.

Our Stoneridge Elementary School teachers the day before school started.

Here are some things we do at my school to help create a culture that shows teachers we care:

-Give them time.  Sounds simple but giving teachers time to plan and collaborate is so important.

- Give them the resources they need.  I know budgets are tight but do whatever you can to give them the resources they need.  If that means going to your PTC and asking for more money for their classrooms, helping write grants, helping them get started with DonorsChoose or other charity sites, do you best to get them what they need.

- Make Professional Development a priority in your budget.  Once again I know budgets are tight but teachers should not have to pay for their own PD.  Our teachers know we do not have an unlimited budget so we do our best to spend money wisely.  At the same time I make sure investing in them is a priority at our school.

- Provide them with good PD yourself.  If we are talking about respecting teachers, we need to make sure that when we have staff meetings or PD days, their time is respected.  We need to show them that we are learning together and providing them with PD that is meaningful.  They need to leave the meetings more enthusiastic about teaching than before they came.

- Respect their time.  If you say your staff meeting is an hour, then end on time whether you are finished or not.  Also if a meeting is unnecessary, cancel it! Don’t have it just to have it.  

- Always end meetings with celebrations! It’s a chance to recognize each other for the great things going on around campus and in their personal lives.

- One of the fun things I do is buy each staff member their favorite Starbuck’s drink and deliver it to their classroom.  Teachers love getting their drink and it gives me an opportunity to thank them for their work in front of their students.

- Get together outside of school.  We try to always go out as a staff after Back to School Night or Open House or just get together for a Happy Hour every once in awhile so we can connect outside of school.

- Provide food at staff meetings. We provide food at every meeting. It might just be bags of popcorn and some grapes (and usually something sweet) but teachers appreciate being fed after a day of teaching.

- Give them a card or personalized message before the school year starts thanking them for what they do.  This year all of my teachers are on Voxer with me so I sent each of them a message just letting them know I appreciate what they do and I am looking forward to the school year with them.

- Meet with them one on one end of the year to check in and see how the year went.  The first question I always ask is how is your family so they know what is truly most important before we start talking business.

- Be available.  I am constantly walking around campus to see how I can help.  I also go by every grade level during Professional Learning Community time to ask what they need from me.

- Have fun and dance!  We do a staff dance at the talent show every year.  It is a great team building activity for the staff, and students and parents love it! At first you might have some teachers resist but if you lead the way, enough will follow that it will be worth it.  Here is our dance from two years ago:

-Tell them to go home.  Our teachers work really hard and want to do what is best for students but sometimes when they are there late, they need someone to remind them to go home and be with their family.

-Bring passion, energy and new ideas all the time.  Teachers want someone who loves their job as much as they do.

- Know your students.  Teachers care deeply about their students.  Teachers love when we know our students.  In the past I have given a prize of me teaching their class for different activities like which class donated the most money or which teacher won a certain competition.  This year I am trying something new:  I am going to sub each class for at least an hour.  That way I can see what the students are like in the classroom, give the teachers a tiny break, and also remember just how challenging and rewarding it is to be a teacher.

I have listed a lot of ways principals can take care of their teachers to show they respect and appreciate them.  I am a positive person and obviously do my best to take care of our teachers but there a few things that taking care of teachers does not mean:

- It does not mean saying good job or praising all the time.  There is a lot of research and articles against praising students by saying good job and the same goes for teachers.  This was an adjustment for some of my teachers as they wanted to hear me say good job all the time.  Instead, I praise their hard work and I am specific about feedback.

- It does not mean agreeing on everything.  Like many staffs we disagree on items, and that is a good thing since a lot of time disagreement leads to better solutions for our school and students.  As long as it stays respectful we understand we are not always going to agree.

-It does not mean to holdback feedback if it is needed.  If there is something that you see that will help a child learn, say something.  Teachers need to hear how they can get better.

- It does not mean everything is great all the time.  We have to constantly look at what we are doing and how we can improve.

Teaching is not easy and the teacher’s role seems to expand every year.  I would love to hear how other educational leaders are doing their part to take care of our teachers.  I know there are ways I can still improve and take care of them even more.  If we take time to appreciate our teachers it will go a long way to making sure our school culture is awesome for our students.  Kids deserve a positive place where both students and adults are happy to come and learn.