The Power of Believing in Students

A couple of weeks ago, all of our elementary schools in our district had an incredible day to celebrate our year of pro-kindness efforts with our K-4 students. During this morning, a student from each campus spoke and explained how his/her school has changed and the positive impacts it has had, and here is where I want to begin my story.

About two weeks prior to this event, my school held an essay contest for grades 3 and 4. After reading the instructions and explaining how the process would work, several students eagerly raised their hands as ones who wanted to participate. I passed the notices out to them, but was surprised that the one student I had “pegged” as one who would volunteer didn’t raise her hand. I approached her asking if she wanted to enter the contest and she declined quickly.

As the next day of school approached, I was stilled boggled by the fact that this girl didn’t choose to participate. Of all the students in my class she is the most outgoing, always chatting, has a big personality, and is a go-getter. I pulled her aside at recess time and questioned why she didn’t want to participate in the contest. She replied, much to my surprise, that she was terribly scared to speak in front of people, something I never would have imagined by her sparky personality. I encouraged her and explained to her that I thought she would be fantastic at it, and after much persuasion she finally agreed to at least write the essay.

She made it to the top 5 for our school and had to do her speech in front of the school, as an audition for the real thing. She was brilliant, and had incredible intonation and expression for a nine year old. She spoke even better than I could have imagined her to, and never led on to the fact that she was nervous.

In the long run, she won the competition for our school and presented her speech in front of over 1000 people, never leading on that stomach was in knots, and making me as proud as her own mother was.

I think sometimes as teachers and in our busy work lives it can be hard to remember and recognize the greatness in all kids. Each one has something unique and amazing to offer to the world. Although this girl can sometimes drive me crazy with her persistent loud voice, I realized that this was a tool that she could use. We need to help our students discover their gifts and encourage them to share them.

Since then, not only has she become more confident in herself, but our relationship has grown. It’s amazing what a little encouragement and believing in someone can do. We’ve all had those teachers who believed in us, so now it’s our time to pass on the gift and show our students how amazing each of them are!

What’s Your Summer Learning Plan?

It’s hard to think of summer when I awoke to large, fluffy snow flakes accumulating quickly on the ground this morning. And yes, it is May 3. Whether you’re staying in town, going on a traveling expedition, or spending time with your family and friends, it seems as educators we always find ways to integrate some kind of learning into our lives. Although summer is consider a break or holiday, teachers still find the time to do what they do best: learn!

Continuing with my own learning, I joined the vibrant twitter #satchatwc chat this morning focusing on summer goals and learning plans. Below I’ve summarized our discussion:

Question #1: Summer provides a great opportunity for us to focus on our own new learning. What’s on top of your list to learn this summer?

Question #2: What learning opportunities are you making available for staff this summer? Share topics and any innovative practices.

Question #3: Share your recommendations – What book and/or blogger do you think is a “must read” for the rest of us? Why?

Question #4: How about for our students? What are you doing or what do recommend to keep students engaged in learning this summer?

Question #5: What would an ideal day of learning look like for you this summer?

The last question asked about non-educational plans for the summer and of course many answers consisted of spending time with family members. The great ideas in this chat made me think about what my summer plan is. What do I want to learn this summer and how do I want to grow? This will be the first summer in years, that I won’t be traveling to an exotic place, and as much as that aches me, instead I am embarking on a new journey of starting my masters. Continuing and expanding my learning is something I’ve always wanted to do, but hadn’t the time. Having to be in town for my sister’s wedding and family visits seemed like the perfect opportunity. A great balance of educational and fun!

Regardless of if you have plans, or are trying to build some now, I challenge you to do something for yourself. Take control of your own learning and follow the path you desire. You may be surprised with where it leads you.

Are You an Enlightened Leader?

Leaders exist all around us; administrators, teachers, students, parents. They are able to create sparks, challenge thinking, and support others in their passions and fears. But what makes a leader great? Is it the way in which they deal with difficulties? Their ability to persevere in challenging times? The strong bonds and relationships they form with others?

I recently came across an article by Sam LeDeaux that highlights the differences between leaders and managers. It’s clear that leaders are ones who inspire, trust, empower, and reflect. They take on responsibilities, do what’s right, and create a climate of safety and care. All of these things may sound simple to achieve, but are they?

Today, I participated in #satchatwc on twitter, whose focus was on leadership. It was an excellent chat filled with ideas and opinions about what enlightened leadership looks like, and the qualities that a leader has in our modern day. Here’s a brief summary of the ideas shared with my PLN:

Question #1: How have the requirements for leadership changed in our current times? What has changed…what stays the same?

Question #2: Enlightened leaders aren’t afraid to take risks. What motivates them to do so?

Question #3: What qualities are necessary for leading in our modern times?

Question #4: How do enlightened leaders motivate other to do new and innovative work?

Question #5: What actions are leaders taking to motivate creativity and innovations at all levels, from technology to risk taking?

Question #6: All leaders face challenges. How do enlightened leaders respond to them? What makes their responses different/unique?

Clearly, the definition and role of an enlightened leader are something to uphold to. In order to be this kind of leader, you need to possess a variety of skills, which help to create an environment of caring and encouraging within your school. Although to some they may sound unattainable, these kinds of leaders exist all around us. They help us to recognize our skills and passions, embrace risks and failures, and provide positive feedback and learning opportunities. They build strong, trusting relationships with their colleagues, and encourage collaboration. They are all around us. Are you one of them?

What Does Character Education Mean to You?

If you haven’t participated in a twitter chat, it’s a must! I have done two this week and am starting to admit that I am becoming addicted. It is great to connect to other educators and hear about the amazing things that are happening in schools all around the world.

On Monday, I participated in the #cdnedchat which focused this week on character education, one of my passions! We started with defining character education, offered opinions on what it means to us and what it looks like in our school, and shared resources. Here is some of the chat, and the great things that are happening across the country:

I think the major points that I valued from this conversation were:
1) Character education MUST be woven into everything you do. Although some concepts should be explicitly taught, issues constantly come up that allow for discussion to happen. Embrace those times, don’t ignore them.
2) Teachers need to model what character education looks like. It’s one thing to preach it, but if you aren’t acting on it, then what’s the point? Children are more observant then you would know.
3) Develop a school community where all members are involved and can continue to help and develop character within your students. This includes teachers, administrators, board members, parents, and families. Everyone should be a part of the process.

This year, our school has been working with the program, Rachel’s Challenge. Instead of focusing on anti-bullying it embraces pro-kindness. Student’s journal, set goals, and reflect upon the acts of kindness that they observe. It takes the focus away from themselves, and instead gets them to look at the world around them. When they see someone performing a kind act, they write it on a link, and then give it to that person. We been attaching our links together, within our classroom and school, to show that one small act of kindness can create a chain reaction. It has been incredible to observe the differences in our students and school atmosphere.

Here are some of our kindness links attached and displayed in the halls.

Here are some of our kindness links attached and displayed in the halls.

Here are some other great things that I learned educators from around our country are participating in:
Project Thank You
Bucket Fillers
Turning Points – Literacy Program
Me to We, and We Day
Roots of Empathy
WITS
Classroom Meetings/Character Circles
Family Game Nights
Digital Citizenship

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite character quotes, and always think about this: How do you want to be remembered?

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Are You a Leader?

Lying in bed on a Saturday morning, attempting to sleep in but annoyed with my automatic body clock, I resorted to my phone and checked out what was happening on twitter. Before I knew it, I was immersed into a chat, nothing of which I had planned, and let me tell you, on an iphone is not ideal. The chat however, was excellent! Full of questions, ideas, answers, and opinions about what educational leadership looks like in today’s schools. Here is a mini storify of some of the comments that had the discussion going:

All of these questions and thoughts had me wondering, what is a leader? What defines one? I think often we look to our admin as ways to lead to our school, but being a teacher, we are leaders as well. We are role models to our students, which is an important role. So where do we learn to become a leader? Who attributes to your leadership skills?

The dictionary defines a leaders as “someone who leads.” Someone who shows the way down a path. Clearly, this definition is vague, and after this #satchatwc it became clear to me as to what most educators define a leader as. A leader is someone who:
– takes risks
– is fearless
– steps outside their comfort zone
– has a willingness to learn
– communicates and praises others
– models excellence
– develops a strong PLN
– listens
– shows empathy and understanding

These are the characteristics that we would want in our admin, and what we should strive to be as teachers. Maybe we all need to reevaluate and ask ourselves, “Am I a leader?”

You’re More Than Just a Teacher

Teacher and elementary student walking down school hallway

Heading out on supervision at lunch recess today, a young girl in my class approached me and asked if she could walk with me. Our conversation went something like this:

“Ms.Petley, do you mind if I walk with you today?”
“Sure!”
“Ok, so what do you want to talk about?”
Pondering for a few seconds, I responded, “How about how great life is?”
Looking puzzled she answered, “But my life isn’t great right now.”

Those words broke my heart, and of course, I had to delve deeper into the situation. I asked her what was making her life not great and she talked a lot about home and how her family is always busy and never has time to spend with her. How they are always yelling at the younger kids, especially her cousin, who never listens and is always rummaging through her room. She also was having issues with wearing her glasses, about how initially she loved them but now would rather not wear them.

Although to some these could seem like minor things it reinforced to me how there are numerous outside factors going on in children’s lives that they have no control over. Who knows if while writing her math test, she was thinking about what would happen tonight with her cousin? In many cases, we do not even know these things are going on. I was lucky enough to have this student approach me.

In October of 2012, I attended the Character Education Partnership conference in Washington, DC. There was an excellent speaker there by the name of Hal Urban who really spoke to me. His words about developing relationships with students is crucial for any teaching professional. In his book, Lessons From the Classroom, he said the following:

“Good teachers start teaching at the door. It was the most important thing I ever did as a teacher. It was also the simplest, least time-consuming, most enjoyable, and most energizing thing I ever did as a teacher.”

Building a strong relationship with students can be challenging. Start simple. Start by keeping a checklist of each student and say something positive to them each day. Start by saying hello and asking each student how his/her day is going. Let them share their news. Be available for them. Be present. Something so small could make all the difference in their lives. They need that connection. They need to know you care.

“The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important.”
~John Dewey

Can Teachers Connect Through a Tweet?

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Recently, my district has become actively involved in using twitter. We are encouraging our staff to use it for professional development and as a way to connect with other educators all over the world. On Friday, I was asked to give a little introduction about twitter to the teachers at my school and provide any tips to get them started with using it.

As I began to think about what I would say and how I would encourage teachers to use twitter, the thing that stuck in my mind was how you can connect to others and the ways you can post and receive answer to questions with a click of a button. As a means to prove my point I tweeted out and asked the twitter world for tips for a new tweeter, and here are some of the answers I received:

I was blown away by the responses that I received, the tips people offered, and the resources and links they shared, and I thought I should pass along this information to others as well. Thank you everyone!

It does not matter how you plan on using twitter, the frequency, or the dedication to it, but the best advice I can give is to try it out, actively use it, be yourself, and enjoy the many people you will be able to connect with! It’s a great opportunity if you jump into it.

(If you want to see more responses check out #ffcaedu)