Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Raising the Bar

As I write this I am sitting in grade 4 classroom during writing time, watching our students write opinion pieces on a topic of their choice. Some are writing why science is important in a person's life while others are writing about why we should eat broccoli. Being truly inspired by our student writers, I am going to do some writing of my own and show our students that adult writers can, like them, find inspiration and share their writing with the world.

We talk in schools about having higher expectations for students, but we rarely discuss what that actually means. To me, having high expectations of students is more about the beliefs we have for students and what they can do. Assumptions play an important role. Assumptions can limit our ability to take risks and push the boundaries of what we think is possible. It happens all the time and is completely normal, and often time we don't even realize we are doing it. But, if we are not mindful about our own preconceived notions or assumptions, we may be subconsciously limiting ourselves and others.

My last blog was about my "Word for 2016" and my plan to have the students and staff of Dexter Park choose a word. I must admit that I caught myself asking questions like "can our students choose one?" and "will they take it seriously?". Deciding to just go for it, our students far exceeded what I expected. Below is a word cloud with all our student responses. The bigger the word the more it was used by students:
Even better than the words were the conversations with students about why they chose their word. One student told me they chose "underestimate" be cause they don't want to underestimate themselves this year. Another chose "fearless"- how powerful is that?

I am not writing this because I feel that this is a deficit in our building but as I reflect on the "Word of 2016", it became clear to me that we all make assumptions each and every day. I then wonder, what would happen in all schools if:

-we were able to erase all assumptions we make about ourselves and our students?
-we give students the opportunity to have a voice and make responsible choices for themselves, such as the 4th graders choosing their own writing topic or letting them make decisions about where they sit in a classroom?
-we talked about and harnessed student strengths every day?
-we (staff, parents, etc.) took risks daily and allowed our students to take risks?
-we openly celebrate one another for taking risks and even failing?

To do this every minute of every day may be unreasonable but if we make a conscious effort in what we do, we would be amazed at the level of engaged students, the innovation that results and most importantly, the fine human beings we would be nurturing.

Thanks for reading :)

P.S. I changed my blog title...again! If you are wondering, "My View from the Balcony" didn't sit well with me, as it seems I am sitting above and watching. Spending 3 days a week in classrooms, working with students and staff on the ground, I thought my new title seems more fitting. You feedback is certainly welcome.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

One Word for 2016

The last time I blogged was right before the start of the school year as I began a new year in a new building with new students. I have been admittedly been remiss in my writing up until now, so with the start of the new year comes a perfect time to reflect and make goals for 2016. One of my goals for 2016 is to prioritize my time in my role as principal. My roles and responsibilities are quite diverse; I can get pulled in a variety of directions on a given day. In the new year I am going to make a point to spend more time where it matters: with students. Since there is nothing more important in a school than student learning, my plan is to spend a significant part of my week in classrooms and around the school campus, supporting our students and staff who make Dexter Park such a special place to learn.

The start of the new year also brings about a wonderful opportunity to reflect with students and set goals for the coming year. At the start of the school year, I asked all Dexter Park students and staff to set Hopes and Dreams for the coming year. They are currently posted in the hallway of the school outside the office:

Monday, we will reflect on our Hopes and Dreams to check-in on our progress and make any adjustments. I am also going to ask all students to choose their One Word for 2016. We will not make resolutions; resolutions seldom work because they are based on the type of person we’re tired of being. Plus, resolutions can be “broken,” leaving no room for the process of growth. What if our hopes for the year ahead centered instead on who we want to become, and the transformation process? It’s okay to want to be a better you, and the New Year is a natural time to start. The question is, how? My One Word replaces broken promises with a vision for real change. When you choose a single word, you have a clarity and focus. You are moving toward the future rather than swearing off the past.

My One Word for 2016 is:

Every day I have a view of Dexter Park that no one else has (hence the title of the blog). I walk through classrooms every day and watch talented educators make learning happen for students. What I have realized is that I need to find ways to share this view with our staff, students, and families. Expect me in the coming year to be more visible on campus, connecting and supporting our students and staff. You can also expect me to be sharing my view every day so you can get a small glimpse of the tremendous work that Dexter Park's students and staff do. Be sure to connect with Dexter Park and myself through any of the following platforms:
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Dexter Park School
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I hope that you connect with Dexter Park this year and perhaps decide for yourself what your One Word for 2016 will be. Happy New Year!