Byron's Babbles

A Scholar’s Book Of Life

Yesterday, we used pumpkins in our leadership development workshop in Georgia. Participants carved out an image of their leadership mantra on one side and their leadership legacy on the other. I always love seeing these and hearing the explanations. They were all very meaningful and inspiring, but one really caused me to pause as an educator and leader. The participant had carved a book into the pumpkin (the featured picture of this post).

The teacher leader then went on to explain that the book represented each students’ book of life and she wanted her legacy to be entered in the book as having taught the student something and having positively influenced her or his life in some way. I thought this book was a pretty great metaphor.

In some professional development at another school this week we discussed how every teacher needs to own every scholar in the school regardless if she or he is in your class or not. The pumpkin carving reminded us that we are impacting students even when we don’t know it. Here’s the best part: to make it in a student’s book of life, teachers don’t have to be perfect.

Students remember teachers for all kinds of reasons. Students might be inspired by teachers who were kind, funny, brilliant, or passionate. The kids we serve remember the teachers who really cared about them. Our scholars remember teachers who were supportive or encouraging or saw something in them no one else did and then challenged them and made them think. Finally, our students also remember teachers who were maybe just a little quirky. Thank goodness!

Every staff member in the school represents the next entry or chapter of our scholar’s stories. Let’s fill up the pages of those books!

Seventh Graders Know!

I spent this past week coaching teachers during their first days of school. It was so great to be in classrooms all day and then spend time leading reflection discussions after school. It has always been interesting to me how I can walk into a class and immediately know whether the teacher has the entire class engaged and the overall culture of the classroom. I think it is because I always focus on what the students are doing. I walked into a seventh grade class this past Wednesday and saw a teacher and group of students knocking it out of the park. It was one of those moments where I wanted to be back in seventh grade and a part of her class.

At an appropriate transition I asked the teacher and class if I could interrupt with a question. They all said yes and I asked if they all thought their teacher was doing a great job. It was a loud and resounding “YES!” I then asked a followup, “Why?” I also asked the teacher to write down what the seventh graders told us. By the way, a student pointed out I had asked two questions and not just the one I had gotten permission for – gotta live seventh graders! The list is the featured pictured of this post. What they said was:

  • Our teacher inspired us.
  • She can relate to us.
  • She makes it exciting and engages us.
  • She had a lot of energy (literally, this teacher was running from student to student).
  • She helps them make everything shiny and pretty.
  • She talks to us really well.
  • She gives us actual attention.
  • She makes learning funner (I know funner is not a word, but it should be and I told the student I would allow it).

This teacher was clearly “withit” and was building relationships with her students. Our students deserve those eight items that these seventh graders outlined. It really doesn’t matter what age group a person is facilitating, all these items apply. Our seventh graders know!

Leading Like A Hinge

I spent this week coaching teachers as the school year got started for many of the schools I work with. One of the teachers I coach told his students that he loved it when I was in the school because I was like the hinges on a door. “Without hinges the door is useless. You can have fancy doorknobs and windows, but the hinges make the door functional. Hinges attach a door to its frame, and are the pivot point for opening and closing the door.” I do hope I am helping teachers connect with their students and am serving as a hinge for the door to open for them to become highly effective facilitators of learning for their students.

Upon further reflection I was reminded of something retired Admiral James Stavridis, author of Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character, said: “Leadership is how we influence others. It is like a big door that swings. But that big door of leadership swings on the small hinge of character.” I hope that I bring a great degree of character to my leadership and that I inspire others to do the same.

I want to provide those I coach with the tools, guidance, support, and feedback they need to thrive in their teaching career. I want to be the hinge that opens the door to their success.

I Was Needed!

I love that a lot of what I do is helping teachers get better at their craft. Teaching is such a beautiful cross of science and art. Leonardo da Vinci would be having great fun if he were around helping us improve our teaching for learning today. He believed science and art were very tightly connected. This week I have had the honor and pleasure of facilitating professional development for teachers at Nashville Collegiate Prep and Knowledge Academies in Nashville, Tennessee. I have truly been inspired by this group of professionals. Every day I am excited to get the day of learning with them started.

“Change the audience, change the meaning.”

Leonardo da Vinci

On Wednesday I did a session entitled “Engagement Strategies: Teachers As Facilitators, Knowledge Navigators, and Co-Learners. At the beginning of this session I do an activity that begins with the prompt question, “What do you want students to say at the
end of the week about your facilitation?” The groups got five minutes to write everything that came to mind on Post-it® notes. This is part of a larger activity and participants get to share out after each part. I love walking around and looking as they are writing. There were literally hundreds of sticky notes being made, and I was inspired by all of them. But, one caught my eye and required my attention (the featured photo of this post).

On one of the Post-it® notes of Jamie Martineau, Kindergarten teacher at Nashville Collegiate Prep she had written four bullet points:

  • I was part of something
  • I was important or needed
  • I am a part of this class
  • We did it

I was blown away by the thought of every student feeling this way. After getting to know Jamie this week, I have no doubt that her students will feel that way. Going through school is where many of students begin learning to be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s during this time in our classes that we can help make our students feel valued as individuals. The developing personalities of our students need a strong and secure environment in order to flourish in academia. Let’s face it; our students learn more and behave better when they receive high levels of understanding, caring and genuineness.

We cannot underestimate the importance of cultivating a classroom culture in which students feel valued, respected, heard, and an important part of something. One way we can build this solid foundation for learning is to listen to our students. Fostering conversations about real world and relevant issues, topics, and problems ensures that our classrooms become places of academic inquiry and collaboration founded on a sense of fairness and mutual respect.

If a student considers their teacher to be caring and accepting, they’re more likely to adopt the academic and social values of their teacher. This, in turn, influences how students feel about their school work and how much (or how little) they value it. Here are some tips on how to make sure our students belong and are part of something:

  • prioritising high-quality teacher-student relationships
  • creating a supportive and caring learning environment
  • showing interest in students
  • trying to understand students’ point of view
  • respectful and fair treatment
  • fostering positive peer relationships and mutual respect among classmates to establish a sense of community
  • positive classroom management
  • Giving students a voice

We all want to belong. ALL of our students deserve to be an important and needed part of our school communities. We can do it!