Sept 1st, 2020WELCOME BACK, MHS! Hopefully you’re rested and ready for the bike leg of this Iron Man! We are so excited to see you–even if it’s mostly through a screen. So many staff have been working incredibly hard this summer to plan for this unique start to the school year. I am beyond grateful for each and every one of you. Over the course of the summer my anxiety has slowly been replaced by a profound sense of hope and purpose. (Sorry for the passive voice, English teachers.) The truth is, I just got tired of feeling …well … tired. I was reminded by the great Brene Brown that the foundation of emotional intelligence (of maturity, if you will) is being able to regulate your own emotions. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel things. It simply means that we have agency over what we do with those feelings. What we are embarking on is certainly difficult, but it is also incredibly important. And, it is impossible to do if we are in a constant state of dysregulation. Not only is our mission too important, but we are too important to let the uncertainty dictate our well-being. So, all that being said, I’m asking you to choose hope this year. Hope, after all, is not a feeling. It is a behavioral process–a habit of mind–that is born from struggle… from knowing that we can overcome adversity and even that adversity is a necessary precursor to growth. If we are brave enough and strong enough to choose hope, imagine how we will rise to our worth and be the example our students desperately need this year. We’ve got this, MHS.
Sept 7th, 2020
I don’t know if the change in format to the Grizzly News this year is annoying or best practice or both, but my guess is that this is a fine line we will be straddling for most of the year. Take last week for instance. The paradox of two seemingly contradictory sentiments, “THIS IS INFORMATION WE DESPERATELY NEED. WHY DON’T WE HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS YET?!” and “OMG. STOP THE MADNESS. I CANNOT TAKE IN ANYMORE INFORMATION!!!” was almost humorous.
And in the midst of all the madness and nervous giggling through tears another paradoxical realization suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. While we were all floundering around in our vulnerability and frustration, this crisis is simultaneously also bringing out the best in us. Last year we talked about how there is little that is more unifying than shared struggle. I got to watch this phenomenon first hand last week, and let me tell you, it was so incredibly inspiring. It’s like everyone was the best version of themselves. While our deficits were thrown on the table for all to see, we reached deep down and presented a counter offer–that which is more powerful than the latest tech tool, a synchronous or asynchronous lesson perfectly planned, or the promise of endless bandwidth.
Loyalty. Integrity. Vulnerability. Humor. This is what each of you brought to the table in response. You could have folded your cards. You could have complained. You didn’t. You laughed and tried and gave grace to your colleagues and yourselves. And, isn’t this exactly what we hope our students do too? With educators like you in their charge, I have no doubt they will. I am so proud to be a Grizzly. Below is an email from Greg McAnally that illustrates being at our best when we are feeling at our worst. Thank you for bringing the humor (and for your permission to share with staff). Have a great week, Grizzlies!
Can you guys please help me. I have been up since 4:00 this morning trying to figure this out. I am trying to send an Edpuzzle via Parent Square to my Grizzly Nation students, integrating Peardeck and then posting it into my google classroom and into my zoom breakout meetings all at the same time. Making sure it is translated in Spanish for my EL kids and making sure it has accommodations and modifications from my IEP students. I would also like parent square to send this to my College Credit mentor teacher at Chemeketa at the same time as well. I have also integrated several Madeline Hunter (ITIP) instructional theory into practice teaching methods into my Edpuzzle . It’s really important that I don’t lose this because I am trying to reach my professional growth goal of being recognized as Rotary Teacher of the year this Spring. Just remember one thing. If you love your job you will never work a day of your life…
Sept 11th, 2020
As we approach the “end” of the work week, I want to acknowledge the stress and overwhelm many of us (all of us?) are feeling right now. Your feelings are absolutely appropriate as you want to be prepared and you want students to have a great experience. Your stress is an indicator of your greatness. You want to do everything you can for our students and each other. Even typing that last sentence I felt myself get a lump in my throat. If I could take all of the stress away, I would. I want you to know how incredibly humbled, appreciative, and proud I am right now. If, on Monday (Tuesday, Wed, …), giving all you’ve got to give means logging into a Zoom with your students, introducing yourself, your class/content, and getting to know your students, THAT IS ENOUGH. What they need is a teacher who is well more than a teacher who has mastered every tech and instructional tool in the book. We will get there eventually. I promise. In the meantime, please, please, please, give yourselves the same grace you would give your students.
There is no easy or painless way to grow. And wow are all us educators feeling these growing pains right now. As we go into this weekend, I want to challenge you to do whatever you can to focus on being well, not being perfect. I know that’s easier said than done, but it’s what our students need and it’s what we need in each other. I want to leave you with this quote on optimism as I think it portrays where many of us are right now: optimistic misery. Just think of who and where we will be when we get to the other side of all this crazy. We’ve got this, Grizzlies.
“Optimism is usually defined as a belief that things will go well. But that’s incomplete. Sensible optimism is a belief that the odds are in your favor, and over time things will balance out to a good outcome even if what happens in between is filled with misery. And in fact you know it will be filled with misery. You can be optimistic that the long-term growth trajectory is up and to the right, but equally sure that the road between now and then is filled with landmines, and always will be. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.” – Morgan Housel
Love you all more than you know.
Sept 13th, 2020
Happy first week of school, Grizzlies! I know in the midst of crisis, it can be challenging to see the forest for the trees (especially when they are literally on fire and deserve our attention), so I just want to remind you what an awesome feat it is to reach out to EVERY SINGLE FAMILY prior to school starting. These empathy calls represent everything that is right in education and in the priorities of our MHS staff.
We cannot forget how incredibly impactful they are to a student who has felt disenfranchised for the last few months, for a parent who is feeling overwhelmed about how to navigate it all, or for a family who may have bought into the narrative that we do not care about their unique needs and struggles. The positive response from MHS families is unparalleled by any other effort (other than GrizzFest maybe) that we’ve enacted to engage students and their parents/guardians. What we didn’t anticipate, though, is the positive impact the calls would have on us. They say the best thing we can do to ignite our own feelings of hope and purpose when we’re stressed, depressed, or anxious is actually to help someone else. I was honestly stressed about making my own calls given the time it would take and all the other things on my to-do list. However, when I finally picked up the phone and made my first call, I felt instantly more grounded in my purpose. All the tasks on my to-do list were suddenly framed by the crystal clear understanding that showing families we are there for them is absolutely the most important thing we can be doing with our limited time.
By now you’ve received the email about school being postponed until Tuesday for students in order to allow us to adapt to the constraints posed by the fires/air quality in our area. Given that many staff were not able to get a hold of all their families on Thursday and Friday for empathy calls, please use this extra day (in addition to planning) to reach out to anyone you weren’t able to connect with. Families have been told to expect these calls, so please remember that even if you’ve sent out communication via email or Parent Square, calls should be made in addition. (The main purpose, afterall, is to understand families’ needs, hopes, and concerns, not just to provide them with information about CDL.) Also, in response to the delay, Lesson One of Grizzly Nation will start on Tuesday as well. Thank you again for your continuing to choose hope this year. Thank you for prioritizing our students’ and their families’ wellbeing. I’m so inspired by each of you.
Sept 21st, 2020
Congratulations all on a successful week one! Just so we don’t ever forget this crazy beginning of the school year, I’ve included some of your stories below:
Zoom dies on me 2 minutes in class.
I frantically try to figure out the problem, while getting at least 15 messages from parent square & emails about students unable to log in.
I restart zoom after restarting my computer.
Within 2 minutes 28 out of 30 students join
They rate the class at the end on a scale of 0-5 as 4 & 5
I was so happy to be logged into my GN zoom session early and have all of my tabs pulled up for the shared screen portion. A student and I were having a nice chat as the minutes ticked away and we were not joined by anyone. We were in the wrong zoom session! The rest of our class and co-teacher were waiting patiently for me to figure things out. Thankful for their grace! And for good measure why not repeat this for 1st period – I did it again!!!!! Third time was the charm and I was logged in to the correct zoom and in that class over half of the students chose to have their videos on. I counted that as a victory in a very hectic and fast paced day!
Obi flippin not only made it to his GN class at 9:13am, he figured out how to log into Plato, he did breakout Zoom meetings with Juan & Raynie. Then, when he couldnt get into his 7th period Business class I FaceTimed him while I joined Sarah’s Zoom class. Seriously, Obi Facetimed into a Zoom class…he was so resilient!!!
3rd period – sharing slides and trying to pump up astronomy…. meanwhile students couldn’t hear a word I was saying. They kept trying to get my attention in the chat but I didn’t notice because I was really on a roll (at least I thought). When I finished and asked for questions my bubble popped! They were nice enough to help me figure out why I sounded like a robot instead of a hillbilly haha. It turns out that using my smart tv as an additional screen causes streaming issues. Very Nice class, though. I hope I didn’t scare them away and they come back tomorrow. Maybe I should do my dance version of a robot… that would really scare them away haha
I get on and kids are waiting. My armpits get damp. Me and tech do not jive.
I look for the one student I know and give her a hello.
More kids turn on their cameras. So far so good. Then, once I get nearly all of them -26- I begin. I talk and talk and talk and talk and talk.
I look over at the chat room and the kids are talking to each other. No one can hear me, but no one wants to tell me. My favorite message “Brah, can someone tell her to unmute?”
Someone else = LOL not it
Someone else = kinda funny to watch without sound
Someone else – Is she going to repeat what she said?
10 minutes in…
The student I know voices in…'”Gerber, you’re muted. Click the button. The one at the bottom. Don’t worry; we know you are old and have trouble with technology.”
All the muted heads start to nod in agreement 🙂 love our kids.
The high from today: almost every student in my GN has a pet cat so we had cat intros with student intros!
One of my most disengaged students from last year not only logged into our Grizzly Nation meeting, but called another student who is also in the class but didn’t have sound on his computer. This student literally dictated everything I said to his classmate so he wouldn’t get behind. I got an email from him later today telling me he’s totally excited about Grizzly Nation and having a place to be where there is no pressure! Shocked but thrilled this student is jazzed about GN! Due to a major breakfast mishap this morning, I had to teach with sticky, crusty egg yolk in my hair all day! Not the way I envisioned my first day w/ students. So, I started each of my classes with the anecdote and used it as an opportunity to share with kids how attitude is really everything. While we don’t have control of the messy world around us, we do have control of how we respond to that mess. Laughter was the only way I could embrace this eggy catastrophe and get on with my day! And I think my students appreciated seeing the real, albeit flawed, me
What I saw… Smiles. Lots of smiles from faces I haven’t seen in far too long. Just being able to see the faces of our students was a reminder of why I chose to do this. I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work for these students and this staff. It was really something to see students and staff working together to make sure everyone was getting what they needed today. I saw and heard students reaching out trying to make sure everyone was in the google classrooms and in the proper meetings. It was so refreshing to see so many people helping one another.
Patience. I didn’t hear a single complaint. Even when logins and passwords weren’t working our students showed patience and calm as we helped them get where they needed to be. Again, a reminder of just how special our students, staff, and school really are.
Hope. Things are not normal right now. The times are testing our resilience and our resolve. I saw students glad to be back at school because we are a beacon of normal in a world of uncertainty. We are strong together not in spite of our differences, but because of our differences. Seeing our students, hearing their voices again after so long gave me an overwhelming sense of hope.
Grizzly Nation. We are Grizzly Nation, all of us together and we are beautiful.
One of my Algebra 2 students played his guitar when I said I needed to figure out how to get music on Zoom. He played in the quiet times. Lovely! (My story: For the first time in two weeks, I felt competent and in my zone. Kids is what we do best! I love them so much.)
..the kid who literally jumped out of his window in the middle of class. Don’t worry, he came back, but it caused a stir
I told my husband last night how scared I was that the kiddos wouldn’t know who the real Frau was because I am so animated and 3D in class and how I thought teaching over zoom the kiddos wouldn’t get to know me as well… Well, my sweet husband BROKE INTO MY LOCKED office door and busted in with lots of smiles and excitement telling the kiddos how they might not know it, but they had an awesome teacher…. super sweet hubby! I also was worried about keeping the traditions and class the same (ie: yelling 0-10 in German for the whole building to hear) and I just decided to keep doing it…. and to my complete surprise the KIDDOS YELLED FROM HOME WITH ME!!!! In fact there was not one bad interaction today… and I had SO MANY! Parents were texting/calling/emailing me when links didn’t work and they were all so understanding and just happy their kiddos could learn…
We ended up having a pet parade during 5th period. Lots of cute dogs and one cat.
I started crying when I saw my AVID kiddos, which in turn freaked out all my new AVID kiddos, and immediately all over the Zoom call were kids saying, “She’s fine, really! She does this a lot! She cries for every emotion – this looks like her happy cry!”
Sept 27th, 2020
Today’s video in the “Teacher TV” section of the Grizzly News is a short snippet of AP Lit. (Thanks for letting me share it, Matt!) I believe it was Vangi in Friday’s “Shouts” who said that she was blown away by the virtual classrooms she’s been in so far this year. I echo her sentiment. While of course we all wish we were able to be in “normal” school right now, there was something pretty special and powerful about the virtual classrooms I’ve sat in these past few weeks.
What I realized is that there is something pretty moving about the collective vulnerability of virtual learning. As I sat there in my own home while zoomed into these seniors’ bedrooms at 10 in the morning while they talked about love and literature, I realized that their learning was as real as it is in person. In fact, in moments it might have been even more powerful and raw because they all brought an extra piece of themselves to the classroom … whether it was the Beatles poster hanging on their bedroom wall, the bedhead they unapologetically owned, or the bravery they exhibited in the chat because they could do so somewhat invisibly.
While this moment in history isn’t ideal, there is still magic that exists if we pay close enough attention. Thank you all for bringing that magic. Here’s to week three.
Oct 5th, 2020
I’m typing this as the sound of the Seahawks/Dolphins pre-game shapes my Sunday morning mood. I’ve always liked football and, growing up in Washington, have always been a loyal Seahawks fan. But if I’m being honest, my favorite part of Sunday morning football isn’t the games themselves. It’s the sound of the announcer’s voice. The whistles blowing intermittently. The hum of the crowd. It’s the smell of chili cooking on the stove and the feel of all things familiar, expected, and certain.
Last week was supposed to be homecoming week at the high school. Many of us posted videos of years past and publicly longed for a return to these traditions. However, as much as I miss the buzz and energy of homecoming week, like Sunday morning football, what I’m missing the most right now are not the big events and traditions but all the moments in between–the moments in the background of the work … the ones that are rarely celebrated or even acknowledged but that ultimately are the threads that hold the fabric of our culture together. Without the multitude of those seemingly tiny, insignificant threads, there is no quilt, just a bunch of separate squares existing in isolation and not fulfilling their purpose of telling their stories or keeping someone warm. (I know nothing about quilting or even if this metaphor works, but it’s how I’m making sense of my feelings at the moment.)
Like many of you, when I’m working from school I’m feeling guilty that my children are having to navigate distance learning alone. When I’m working from home, I’m feeling disconnected from my colleagues and guilty that I’m not on campus to be physically present with those who are. This tug and pull has left me in a perpetual state of “not-enough-ness,” and what I realize I desperately need is all the moments in-between: the hallway conversations, the knowing smiles, the funny stories, the radio banter. Similar to the hum of the crowd that becomes the soundtrack of content Sundays, I miss the hum of the halls that becomes the soundtrack of joy in our work. So, can we create a similar “hum” in distance learning? It surely won’t be the same, and will certainly take an effort, but I think we can.
This article below articulates the importance of those moments in between that we all miss so much and what we can do to replicate the “weak ties” that actually matter so much in holding together the fabric of our culture at MHS.
Why You Miss Those Casual Friends So Much by Gillian Sandstrom and Ashley Whillans April 22, 2020 The iPhone on the table buzzed. Ashley sighed. After three weeks of putting out fires while working through feelings of grief and stress, her first thought was, “Now what’s wrong?” Except, this text message wasn’t from an anxious client or student. Instead, a casual acquaintance had written: “Ashley, how are you? I’ve been thinking about you and your partner in this Covid-19 environment. I hope you are both okay!” Ashley’s eyes welled up. She needed that check-in more than she realized. And, it was a nice surprise to hear from a colleague she hadn’t caught up with for a while. Perhaps there is something to be learned from this out-of-the-blue text message from an acquaintance. Can quick, informal check-ins provide a means to satisfy our need for social connection without turning socializing into a chore during this emotionally exhausting time?
The Surprising Power of Weak Ties
A growing body of research suggests that there are surprisingly powerful benefits to connecting with casual acquaintances — relationships that sociologists call “weak ties.”
Gillian started studying weak ties after realizing how good it felt to be recognized by the owner of the hot dog stand that she passed on her way to campus each day, or to have Barry, the local pet store owner, ask about her cat by name. Her research finds that people are happier on days when they say “hi” to a colleague in the hallway or have a brief conversation with a neighbor at the grocery store. In another of Gillian’s studies, people who were asked to “personalize” a transaction at a coffee shop by smiling, making eye contact, and having a genuine social interaction with their barista, felt about 17% happier and more socially connected than those who were asked to be “efficient.”
To be sure, our friends and family — our strong ties — support us when we’re feeling down and make us feel appreciated. But weak ties can do these things too: It’s not just in the movies that people get social support from their hairdresser. We feel seen when a server smiles upon seeing us and knows what our “usual” is. In fact, our interactions with weak ties tend to go especially smoothly, since we are often on our best behavior with people we don’t know well. Weak-tie relationships give us short, low-cost, informal interactions, which often provide new information and social variety. As a result, we are often pleasantly surprised by these moments.
Weak Ties During Covid-19
In a normal day, people interact with somewhere between 11 and 16 weak ties on the way to work, while running errands, or on a break between meetings at the office.
Due to physical distancing, these once-common interactions have been eradicated, and we no longer have physical reminders that we are part of a wider social network. Forty-five states have issued some variation of a stay-at-home order. When we do venture out for essential supplies or to take a walk, we see faces that are half hidden behind masks, and we most definitely are not allowed to interact. In countries like Italy, you can face jail time for these once innocuous conversations.
Since weak-tie interactions aren’t happening spontaneously, we need to initiate them instead. However, we aren’t used to doing this, so it may feel a little awkward. In fact, even before Covid-19, it was not our natural inclination to reach out to weak ties. This is because we aren’t sure if the other person will be interested, and we worry that these conversations will be uncomfortable. Luckily, these fears are unfounded. When people are assigned to talk to weak ties and strangers, these conversations are more enjoyable and go more smoothly than people predict.
So, how can we overcome our overblown fears and cultivate positive, informal interactions with weak ties? Here are five scientifically based strategies:
1. Use informal modes of communication
Phone calls can feel intrusive, and emails seem impersonal. Instead, try reaching out to a “weak tie” via text message or Facebook. This will allow the other person to respond whenever they can, so you don’t need to worry about reaching out at the wrong time.
2. Don’t expect a reply
Rejection rates when reaching out to a weak tie are extremely low — in one of Gillian’s studies fewer than 12% of people who talked to strangers experienced a rejection. However, during the pandemic, many people are feeling overwhelmed and some may not respond.
If you don’t get a response, don’t take it personally. Remind yourself that the point of reaching out to a weak tie is to let this person know that you are thinking about them. Reframe your expectations: Think about this interaction as smiling at a colleague in the hallway. You’re acknowledging and saying hello to the other person. Perhaps you’ll talk for a few minutes — but if you don’t that’s fine too.
Instead of expecting a reply, enjoy the knowledge that your message is likely to deliver a little hit of happiness, and maybe, like it did for Ashley, could make a real difference in someone’s day.
3. Set an expectation for a short and simple conversation.
Your goal is to let the other person know you are thinking about them and open up the opportunity to chat, if they want to. It’s okay to keep the conversation short: In recent data one of us collected, a “just right” conversation with a stranger was about 10 minutes long. If you set the expectation that you only have a few minutes, this lets you both off the hook, and helps you avoid the feeling that socializing is another endless “to-do.”
4. Reach out to people who have affected you in the past.
Expressing gratitude is a powerful way to improve mood. If you had a colleague who inspired you, or a mentor who gave you excellent career advice, let them know you are thinking of them. Or you could reach out to someone you shared fun times but have lost touch with. You’ll both enjoy the nostalgic flashback.
5. Share something personal about yourself.
If you aren’t sure what to write about, share something personal about yourself — like a photo of your pet or child doing something cute and/or funny. Sharing aspects of yourself helps to build positive rapport and encourages the other person to reciprocate.
Draw on Weak-Tie Strategies with Strong Ties Too
Now that our social interactions are often limited to strong ties, and we schedule hour-long calls and board game nights to spend quality time together, we are at risk for becoming burned out. In data that we’ve collected post-Covid-19, we found that the more time that people spent interacting with colleagues and friends online, the more stressed out they felt.
As these data suggest, scheduled social interactions are exhausting. Also, they do not work for everyone. People in different time zones, with bad internet connection, who are juggling demanding care-giving and work responsibilities might not have time for formal means of connection that require advanced scheduling, like family or company-mandated happy hours.
We can repurpose the informality and spontaneity of weak-tie interactions to help us stay connected while reducing the risk of burnout. Right now, the best social interactions are those that tell others you are thinking of them, without an expectation of a return of time, energy, or attention.
If studying weak ties has taught us anything, it is that we need to practice self-compassion. We might not have the energy for 1.5 hour long social calls every day. That is perfectly alright.
The best research shows that even a few minutes of texting is enough to improve your mood and spread joy within your social network — perhaps more than that never-ending game of Pictionary.
We might be missing out on our weak tie interactions right now, but it is in our power to create them. An informal hello with a colleague — or your mother — is only a short text message away.
Oct 12th, 2020
When I was a freshman in high school I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It was a huge relief. Not that I was relieved to have a chronic illness… I was relieved that there was a name for the pain I was feeling in the months leading up to the diagnosis.
I remember it started with a swollen, red lump on my wrist that made it impossible for me to grasp anything without wincing and gritting my teeth. Then a few weeks later I couldn’t bend my knee. I remember awkwardly trying to climb in the shower concentrating intensely as to not accidentally bend it and suffer the consequences. I told my parents I thought I should see a doctor.
But, my family was one of those families that didn’t seek medical help unless you could actually see a bone protruding from the skin or there was bleeding that you couldn’t stop with sufficient pressure. So, my dad just told me, “Amy, when you play sports as hard as you do you’re bound to have a few aches and pains.” I knew what I was experiencing was different from a pulled muscle or a busted knee. But, by the time I’d convinced myself of this, the pain was now in my jaw–making it hard to eat.
Then in my toes.
Then in my hips.
Then I couldn’t put on my own socks.
Then I couldn’t get out of bed.
Then one day I remember waking up in so much pain I had to crawl up the stairs on my elbows dragging my legs behind me limp, tears streaming down my face.
This sounds dramatic. But as I recall it in my head there is no pity, only matter of fact, as strangely the pain had increased slowly and relentlessly, and like a frog in a boiling pot of water, I just seemed to accept it until it nearly ruined me. Over the course of a few months, miserable became my normal. And for some insane reason, since there wasn’t an explanation I just chose to accept the pain rather than give it the metaphorical middle finger. I guess I hadn’t lived enough life to know that I had the right to be pissed about what was happening. I just put on a brave and happy face and went to school. And I felt alone and confused and broken.
It was maybe three or four months after the onset of the first pain in my wrist that I found out my parents had been spying on me. Because the pain hopped around all over my body, when I’d complain about a new issue every few days, they assumed I was seeking attention or was a hypochondriac or something. Well, apparently what they saw when I didn’t know they were looking scared them, and they made a series of doctors appointments to get to the bottom of it.
I remember the day of my diagnosis my doctor gave me some pills that “in the meantime” should make me feel much better while we worked to find a Rheumatologist and figure out a long-term treatment plan. I’ll never forget waking up the following morning. As soon as I opened my eyes I felt it: the absence of pain. It was so incredibly strange. I threw the covers back and ran into the kitchen in a dramatic show for my parents to say “Look at me! I don’t hurt!” Yet accompanying the painlessness was an even more powerful feeling than physical wellbeing. I felt awake.
Not in the sense that I’d just literally woken up but in the sense that I’d been in this worn down stupor for months, and the universe had just smacked me out of it. I had been living this numb acceptance of lack and less than and not-quite-aliveness… of sometimes dull aching dread and other times sharp throbbing agony. How had I–a vibrant teenager with my whole life ahead of me–almost drifted into an existence in which I was barely recognizable … without even a fight?
Humans are amazingly adaptable creatures. In fact, sometimes we are adaptable to a fault. Sometimes I worry that we’ve unknowingly accepted the state of our world. We just put on brave faces and “go to school” but that sometimes we are also feeling numb and a little (or a lot) broken. So I guess what I want to tell you today (without sounding like a downer) is that it is OK to be pissed about this. We should be. It is OK to not normalize a global pandemic — to not accept that this way of doing school is good enough for any of us.
Of course we do our best with the cards we are given. Of course in the end we will be stronger. But, in the meantime, let’s remember, this boiling pot of water we are in, WE WILL GET OUT. In the meantime, you’re not crazy. You’re not alone. This is not permanent. And our MHS family is absolutely worth fighting our way through this together to get to the other side.
Oct. 19th, 2020
I’ve been doing this stupid (it’s not stupid) diet/exercise plan called “The Game on Challenge.” Basically you eat five small healthy meals a day, get eight hours of sleep, drink at least 96 oz of water a day, work out for at least 20 minutes a day, and avoid booze, sugar, bad carbs, etc. Week one I was jacked up on the hope that within a month I’d have my pre-administration body back. I was by-the-book all week long and feeling pretty good about it. The result? I gained a pound. Week two? Lost the pound I gained. Fourteen days later I have nothing tangible to show for it for all the hard work.
Everyone keeps telling me to keep my head up … that the weight will come off, or more importantly, that it’s not about the weight at all, and if all I get out of it are better habits then the challenge will have been worth it. Intellectually I agree. Emotionally I’m over it.
I’ve been reading a lot about “toxic positivity.” I simultaneously hate the phrase and totally get it. I hate the phrase because there is nothing toxic about authentic positivity. In fact, hope and humor leverage more well-being and success than just about any other factors in life and in the workplace. (Just because I can’t reference this TED talk enough, click here for more on this research..) But, I also get the sentiment because there is nothing worse than someone–rather than taking action toward addressing a legitimate problem–simply saying to put a smile on your face and focus on the silver lining.
This whole pandemic learning situation (actually this whole pandemic) has been maddening for those of us who are action-oriented. Education has always come with it’s fair share of barriers, but it seems that, more than ever, every path we start down in an attempt to solve a pressing issue results in us getting tangled in a new sticky mess of bureaucratic red tape. (Click on this link for a quick elevator pitch on how to battle the bureaucracy.)
On Friday our Response Team met for almost two hours in an effort to problem-solve the inequities many of our families are facing in distance learning. On Monday morning we will be meeting with Maryalice to share some of our families’ experiences and some of our ideas on how to address them. She plans to do the same with Governor Brown later that afternoon. Why? Because we are a month into school, and we don’t have a lot of tangible solutions to show for all our efforts for some of our most underserved families. And, believe me, our efforts have been extensive.
So many staff are putting their blood, sweat, and tears into helping our kids that, when those efforts don’t feel like they are paying off, it is easy to get discouraged and interpret any positivity as naivety. But, somewhere on the scale of toxic positivity to pessimistic surrender lies active hopefulness. And active hopefulness is what I find in every conversation with every educator I’ve been meeting with these past few weeks. They are not naive to the challenges they and their students are facing. In fact, they are vocal about the issues and are demanding action and change. AND, they are also not even close to surrendering their hope for our students or their own professional and personal wellbeing.
I want to thank you for continuing to put one foot in front of the other even when it sometimes feels like despite your efforts you are standing still. I am going to keep with my stupid health challenge too. Maybe I won’t see the difference I was anticipating, but if I don’t continue there is only one possible outcome: defeat. And I am nowhere near ready to surrender.
Nov 9th, 2020
I’ve become painfully aware these last few months of the political tightrope on which I am supposed to balance as a school administrator in a small-ish town. And that is entirely appropriate.
But here’s the thing, no matter your political leaning three things remain true: 1. This is an historic election that will impact the fate of our country for years to come. 2. We are all concerned citizens who feel like there is a moral imperative to civic involvement now more than ever. And, 3. This election will impact high schools, high school students, and communities around the country regardless of how it shakes out.
For those reasons, it would not be very courageous of me to choose to avoid the topic in this week’s Grizzly News.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the fine line between morality and politics. It used to be possible to talk about respecting differences of opinion without people thinking you are shying away from conversations about fundamental rights, basic decency, and the tug and pull of good and evil. This is no longer the case. This is what makes educating in this political climate so incredibly complex. But, if there is anything I have learned these past few years, it is that to truly make a difference on a large scale, one must–more than anything–make a difference in their own sphere of influence first and foremost. “Keep it personal, local, and immediate.”
Here is just one example from my immediate sphere: There are two staff members with whom I have spent a lot of time these past few years as both their roles are crucial to keeping students in school and engaged. One of us is registered Democratic. One of us is a registered Republican. And one of us is a registered Independent. Surely based on this criteria alone (and our current political climate), one of us is a good human and the other two, not so much.
Except this narrative just doesn’t fit the reality. The one thing, in fact, that stands out the most to me about this crew of three is our shared love for all families in our community and our relentless commitment to serving them well. Do we debate about how to best serve them? All the time. Do we debate about who deserves our efforts? Never.
The three of us stay grounded, productive, and passionate due to the constant naming of and discussion about our shared why. We each grow and become better every day due to the willingness to engage in hard conversations, listen to each other with the intent to understand rather than respond, and sometimes even put our pride aside and allow ourselves to change our minds and change course. I can’t help but wonder what a better world we would live in if we all engaged with our own spheres of influence with this kind of respect, grace, and shared humanity.
After all, we are in the business of education. Every great educator knows that one does not learn something deeply and grow in a meaningful way simply by being told the facts and stats. We certainly do not grow by being told that our thinking is stupid, immoral, or invalid. We grow the most when we feel emotionally compelled to by the very people who love us and are willing to stand by us while we learn. We are compelled by them because we respect them, their stories, and their lived experiences.
What I want most for our school and greater community these next few weeks is not to sweep politics under the rug but to keep them personal, local, and immediate because that is how we make the biggest difference and because–I’ll say it again–the fastest path to meaningful change is never hate. It is always hope. As always, great change comes one person, one story, one loving conversation at a time. We will change the world by who we vote for, yes. We will also change the world by who we love. Let’s love each other this week no matter what.
Nov 10th, 2020
Six years ago I was sitting in my shared office at Patton with fellow instructional coach, Veronica Chase, when my inbox chimed at me, and I found a sterile, short, and life changing sentence waiting for me: Your family has been chosen for Kaden. The only elaboration was that we’d be meeting him on the 15th and he’d be living with us full time beginning in December. After years of trying to adopt through the foster care system, I couldn’t believe this was actually happening.
A week later we would drive to Oregon City, knock on his foster mom’s door, and meet our son– a soon-to-be-six-year-old who would, just one month later, refer to me as “mom.”
It was supposed to be what DHS refers to as a “low risk” adoption, meaning that the probability was high that his parents’ rights would be terminated in court. However, just one year later we’d end up making case law after a particularly empathetic judge decided his biological mom deserved another chance.
Throughout the time we’d had him, Kaden had gone on regular “visits” facilitated by a DHS staff member. There were drivers who were tasked with picking him up and taking him to the prison to see his mom or taking him to a park to see his grandparents. We were advised to let DHS handle the visits. Keep it simple … let the professionals handle it. So, we’d stayed out of it–stayed removed– and all we knew about his mom and his grandparents was from what we’d been told by DHS. We had little in common with them. We had very different lifestyles. They scared us. And they wanted Kaden. We wanted Kaden too. That scared them.
We hadn’t attended the termination of rights trial as it wouldn’t be “safe” for his family to see who we were… to know our names and faces. But, against the advice of our lawyers and DHS, soon after the judge’s decision to not terminate parents’ rights, we found ourselves sitting in a courthouse in Portland fighting to at least maintain guardianship. His biological mother and father were still incarcerated, but since they didn’t know us, they were fighting to have guardianship moved to a member of their extended family.
You know that feeling you have when you’re hyper aware that someone is staring at you–sizing you up–but you try to play it off like you don’t notice? I distinctly remember where I was sitting and where his bio grandparents were. I distinctly remember his grandfather’s head turned toward me for the majority of the trial and me concentrating intently on keeping my face neutral and staring straight ahead. I remember the threatening glance from his mom when she was marched into the courtroom, cuffed, and seated in front of me. I remember the sarcastic cackle of his grandmother when Kaden’s therapist referred to me as “mom.” I remember our lawyer distinctly referring to them as “bad people” in our private room.
So, mid-trial when I requested a mediated conversation with his mom, the “experts” just shook their heads. What good would it do? It would make us even more vulnerable. There would be no way to keep our identities private after that.
Sitting across the conference room from that twenty-something woman in all orange who was still basically a kid herself, I wanted to hate her, but I couldn’t. Regardless of her life decisions, one thing was abundantly clear. She loved her son. And after our hour together, I think one thing became abundantly clear to her: We loved him too. We both cried, and we agreed to be a team … Kaden deserved at least that.
When we were escorted back into the courtroom, the judge motioned for her to stand and indicated for her to restate her position. She stood. She turned around and looked at me and my husband–avoiding her parents’ eyes, and said “I want my child to live with his family. These people love him. They are his family now.”
Last February, Kaden’s mom–not quite thirty years old–walked into an emergency room and never again walked out. She went into organ failure and died. It had been three years since we’d seen her. She was living on the streets and had become addicted to drugs again.
A lot has changed in the last six years. Those strangers in the courtroom whose eyes were burning a hole into the back of my head, just three weeks ago were sitting on our patio, laughing with us as we ate tacos together. We spend holidays together. On Christmas and birthdays they bring gifts to Kaden and our daughter as they think of both as their grand-kids. We talk on the phone with them weekly. Before we hang up, they always say, “We love you guys.” And, we tell them we love them too.
We are still very different people. But, it remains true that I’ve never gotten to know someone better and liked them less as a result.
Why this story? This weekend ended with a new President Elect. And yet, the country remains divided. Our school community has the opportunity to serve as a model for our greater society. Never underestimate the impact of sitting across the table from the “other” and seeing each other’s humanity. Our country, our community, and our kids deserve it. Love isn’t just a feeling. It is a choice. Let’s choose love this week and all the weeks to come, Grizzlies
Nov 16th, 2020
On Saturday ninth and tenth grade teams came out to celebrate our Students of the Quarter. As we were setting up the yard signs and swag bags under the covered area by the food court I realized something: For the first time since school closed, this drive thru celebration seemed routine. We knew the drill. So did parents and students. Staff cheered for students through their masks and over the music that was blasting over our bluetooth speaker.
When the event was over, I dragged the speaker –still playing tunes–through the halls of our ghost town of a school back to Susy’s classroom, and I couldn’t help but dance a little as I did so. It felt so good to see people in human form … to stand in the rain six feet apart and just laugh with each other without having to “unmute” to connect.
I’ve now officially been a principal longer in distance learning than “real school.” That iron man analogy? We’ve hit our stride. We have a routine. We’ve nearly made it through the first quarter.
Eight months you guys. We’ve been doing this for eight months.
How? In addition to each small success that reminds us our work does matter, it is the laughter and joy that has gotten me through.
The morning emails from Maselli.
Carlson’s snap chat filters.
Saltmarsh’s zoom bombs.
Winkler’s nail filing and pants hemming.
Lacey Lee’s “nervy toots” (sorry Lacey).
It’s Chase and Girv comparing the size of their bellies.
It’s Esther Lipke’s unfiltered opinion unmuted and camera off.
It’s Maria Sandoval’s laughter in response … muted with camera on.
It’s Patterson’s surprisingly phenomenal dancing skills.
It’s Mark’s group texts and Robin’s foul mouth during district admin meetings.
It’s every time for the last six months that someone shares a google doc with me and it shows it’s from Kathleen Stocks. (Why? She doesn’t even work here any more.)
It’s Gerber’s phone autocorrecting her emails to brag about how loved she is.
Things have been so incredibly heavy these past eight months. My wish for you all this week is that as this quarter ends and the next one begins, you can continue to find the joy and humor that will keep you going.
Nov 23rd, 2020
Every year, around the third week in November, our grad rates and dropout rates from the previous spring are released by ODE. In my opinion, there are few metrics–other than maybe our student survey and college and career enrollment–that indicate our success as a school as much as these. Why? Because our grad rates are directly tied to our students’ hopefulness (more so than test scores), and our students’ hopefulness is directly correlated to their future success.
Given that we were in a global pandemic last year, and many of our students were missing in action last spring, we might have expected that these rates would decline… But, for the second year in a row, our grad rate was above 90% and our dropout rate was below 1% (about ten percent higher than these districts who are similar in size and demographic). These numbers are phenomenal, especially for a high poverty school.
Some might suggest that we, as staff, actually put more work in to getting those rates than students did. And, they might be right in some cases. I’d argue, though, that this hypothesis is irrelevant. In my opinion the work we do in schools isn’t about students earning it. It’s about students learning it. And, learning it is a team effort.
There’s this senior, Derek. He’s one of my favorites. (Yes, we have favorites.) His freshman year I had gotten a call from OASIS (a self contained behavior program– a more restricted environment than RISE). OASIS is pretty much the last step in a long line of behavior placements we have as a district. Long story short, he wasn’t doing well there. He was “blowing out” and about to get kicked out. There were no other educational options for him, so of course we did what we do best (to the annoyance of many) and offered to mainstream him.
I had known him from my days at Columbus Elementary and knew his story. He was a kid with a lot of ACES and even more anger. I met with him and his tired, bewildered dad in my office and told them I’d give him one chance at MHS. If he blew it, he’d be gone.
Needless to say he had a lot more than one chance. I remember Vicknair radioing me the afternoon of homecoming to say he was sitting in the Fab shop and Derek wanted to know if he had permission to go to the dance. (I was trying to keep him on a short leash, for lack of a better phrase.) I, in turn, radioed Mandi in the Support Center to ask how his day was: Did he go to all his classes? Did he give teachers any lip? I remember his excitement when I radioed back that he was approved.
This last Friday I was late to Derek’s IEP. He and his dad had logged off the call before I logged on. Lucas and Nichelle encouraged me to give him a call to apologize for not making it. I’m glad I did. When Derek answered the phone I said, “Congratulations, Derek. I hear you’re going to graduate. I am so incredibly proud of you.” And you know what he said? “We did it, Ms. Fast.” We did it.
He’s not wrong. There are so many people who should share in his success. He wouldn’t graduate without the teachers who pushed him and also who, like me, gave him way more chances than he “deserved.” He wouldn’t graduate without Lucas and Raynie and Nichelle and Natalie and Mandi. He wouldn’t graduate with his dad who has stood by him through all the hardships life has thrown their way.
Did Derek do as much as some of our other students did to cross that stage? Some would say no: He had way more support and way fewer demands. Some would say yes: Given everything he’s had to face in life accomplishing what he did despite his circumstances was quite the feat–harder work than maybe even some of our top students have put in. Equal and equitable are two different concepts after all.
But again, whether he earned it should be way less important than whether he learned it. I believe what he has learned is that he has so much to be hopeful for … that he is loved and supported unconditionally … and that regardless of his label or his life circumstances, he can achieve great things.
I want you to know that I see the extraordinary work you put in each and every day to push students hard but also to love them hard. I see what you do to help them be hopeful … even when you are working harder than they are and caring more about their futures than they are in the moment.
I see you, Salty, in the IEP meetings when you offer to waive certain assignments to relieve the overwhelm of the mom who hasn’t slept in weeks because she’s a nurse working on the front lines of a global pandemic.
I see you, Nichelle and Kelly and Kristen and Joanie when you spend your Saturdays dropping off groceries so families navigating in poverty can have a Thanksgiving meal.
I see you, Dwight, when you are embracing duties so far beyond your job description and tutoring students in math on PLATO so that they can access their education from the building.
I see you Katie when you keep 28 students on for three extra weeks to give them a chance to boost their grades even though the quarter is over.
I see you Wendy (and team) as you knock on the doors of each and every one of your freshman so you can look them in the eyes and know who you are teaching.
I see you Ben when you show up at a student’s place of work to buy them a meal and problem solve to get them back in school.
I see you Kelly when you are returning that 3AM text from a student who just doesn’t think they can do this anymore.
I know these are just a few of the many things that are happening each and every day that give hope to our students and their families. I know there is so much more that I don’t see–that isn’t right in front of my eyes. But I see the fruits of your labors and want to let you know with unwavering certainty that they are not in vain.
The systems we implement in schools only go so far to get meaningful results. It’s the passion and dedication of the people within those systems that make the difference between great and groundbreaking. And this shouldn’t be extra. You shouldn’t have to be a martyr to be this kind of an educator. It isn’t extra work. It is the work. Sometimes we even need to choose to do this work instead of the other stuff.
Our grad rate and dropout rate is your success, MHS. It’s a symbol of your priorities. They’re the right ones. As we move into quarter two, remember, it’s this work that matters most. Keep doing what you are doing. It’s making all the difference.
Nov 29th, 2020
My mind has been a bit preoccupied this week. The universe has been continuously reminding me of the importance of health and wellbeing, and lately it’s been hitting me over the head … hard … with the message. In fact, the older I get, the more I appreciate this one life we have to live. Most of us at one time or another asks ourselves, ”How will I be remembered?” Instead of sharing my weekly thoughts, here’s a recent piece of student writing from 10th grade lang & lit that captures this wondering beautifully. Enjoy!
Glass Jars and Plots of Roses
I barely remember my grandfather’s name.
He had a life, just like I’m having mine. He had a favorite candy and a song he didn’t like.
He was a father. He raised my mother and her siblings. Little things he did made them who they are now. If he weren’t there, they would be much different people if they ended up existing at all.
He was a doctor. His job was to save lives and heal people. His life changed others in huge ways. He was the difference between life and death for many people.
And I? I barely remember his name.
What was left after he died? Glass jars and a plot of roses. What will happen to them? The jars will break, and the roses will die, leaving little to remember him by.
We all go sometime, and we all want to be remembered, yet so few attain that immortality. Some are remembered by the worlds they build, other by the worlds they tore down.
What will happen to me?
I’m no one special. I have a favorite candy and a song I don’t like.
As my grandfather had glass jars and a plot of roses, what will I have?
What will my children keep and tell their children to be careful with? As I look around my bedroom, I see a cup of pens and a stack of books. I see a jar of pennies and a dead rose. I have decks of cards, cotton sheets, and a bust of Beethoven. What will they keep?
I guess that’s why I write. People can hear my words and thoughts long after I’m gone. At that point I won’t have brown hair and green eyes. I won’t be tall, and I won’t be clumsy. At that point, I’ll be ink on paper. I’ll be a few verses or a rhyming stanza.
Let that be my glass jars and plot of roses.
Dec 7th, 2020
Last Tuesday I had the incredible opportunity to Zoom with Moe Carrick– one of Brene Brown’s team members who specializes in the health and wellbeing of teams in the workforce. While we only met for an hour, I felt so validated and inspired by the time our meeting was over that I’ve been reflecting on the conversation all week.
One of the things we talked about was how difficult it was to have authentic and organic conversations these days. Everything is pre-planned and with an agenda because we don’t just run into each other in the halls. “Leading by walking around” is pretty much impossible right now.”
One of the things I have always loved about MHS is the family-avibe we have–the realness with which we engage with each other. We have always valued healthy conflict over unhealthy peace, which ultimately breeds trust and mutual respect. Those I work closest with can attest to just how healthy our conflict can be in “real school.”
At the risk of “outing” staff, this authenticity with each other has been maybe one of the hardest sacrifices about being remote right now. Take our admin team, for example. We are like a family. When push comes to shove, we are “ride or die.” I know V and Robin would take their hoop earrings out in a second to defend me if need be. I know Mark would be there for me at 3 AM–no questions asked–if there was a crisis. It’s what we do. We are a united front–a family– no matter what. And also, behind closed doors, sometimes WE RUMBLE. In a typical year, we might rumble at noon and then drive together to a football game later that evening–laughing so hard we have tears rolling down our cheeks. It’s what we’ve always done. It’s–according to research-a sign of a healthy team.
Tony and I used to have such epic fights that they were lovingly labeled “front porch moments” as they tended to happen on the front porch of one of our admin team member’s houses at the end of a long week. When Esther, Maria, or I would walk into the other’s office and shut the door, you’d know some “F bombs” were about to be dropped and someone would end up in tears. When Nichelle and I would disagree, we’d know that it was free rein until we went out for cocktails later to laugh about it. Patterson has been known to ring me after hours for a much needed “coming to Jesus” and reality check on the pulse of the school. One time Tom got so mad at me I couldn’t sleep and had to email him at two in the morning with my tail between my legs. (TOM. You know you’ve royally messed up when Tom is mad at you.)
Looking back, those moments ultimately weren’t my favorite at MHS. Yet, they were what pushed me to grow, pushed us to consider each other’s opinions and experiences, and pushed us to lean into each other and our shared mission. It’s what makes us family. It’s what inspires us to give our all when we’re emotionally or physically drained. It’s what makes us willing to fail forward… knowing so many have seen the absolute worst in us and love and support us anyway.
In this remote setting, this kind of authenticity feels contrived. It’s harder to cultivate and harder to come by. Rumbles either have to be scheduled or have to be ignored and avoided …so do our celebrations of each other. Everything feels just a little less relational … in a time when it’s our relationships that ultimately sustain us. I feel so lucky to get to work with a team that truly feels like family. I know it seems like it’s been forever since we’ve gotten to truly BE together. Soon enough, Grizzlies. Soon enough.
I actually cannot wait for the first time Maria struts into my office and closes the door. I’ll try my best not to smile with glee that things are feeling real again and brace myself for the rumble that will inevitably ensue. But truth be told, if tears start flowing, it will likely be out of joy and gratitude for this giant inspiring team who truly–in so many senses of the word–has become a family.
Dec 14th, 2020
The next Grizzly News I write will be in the year 2021, and I’m hoping with the new year we all have some new found hope that a return to physical school and each other will be on the horizon. But, 2020 wasn’t entirely horrific. There was some goodness in the chaos and some wisdom gained. Below are the ten most significant studies from the field of education in 2020 (article from Edutopia):
The 10 Most Significant Education Studies of 2020
We reviewed hundreds of educational studies in 2020 and then highlighted 10 of the most significant—covering topics from virtual learning to the reading wars and the decline of standardized tests.
Calling 2020 a turbulent year would be an understatement. As the pandemic disrupted life across the entire globe, teachers scrambled to transform their physical classrooms into virtual—or even hybrid—ones, and researchers slowly began to collect insights into what works, and what doesn’t, in online learning environments around the world.
Meanwhile, neuroscientists made a convincing case for keeping handwriting in schools, and after the closure of several coal-fired power plants in Chicago, researchers reported a drop in pediatric emergency room visits and fewer absences in schools, reminding us that questions of educational equity do not begin and end at the schoolhouse door.
1. TO TEACH VOCABULARY, LET KIDS BE THESPIANS
When students are learning a new language, ask them to act out vocabulary words. It’s fun to unleash a child’s inner thespian, of course, but a 2020 study concluded that it also nearly doubles their ability to remember the words months later.
Researchers asked 8-year-old students to listen to words in another language and then use their hands and bodies to mimic the words—spreading their arms and pretending to fly, for example, when learning the German word flugzeug, which means “airplane.” After two months, these young actors were a remarkable 73 percent more likely to remember the new words than students who had listened without accompanying gestures. Researchers discovered similar, if slightly less dramatic, results when students looked at pictures while listening to the corresponding vocabulary.
2. NEUROSCIENTISTS DEFEND THE VALUE OF TEACHING HANDWRITING—AGAIN
For most kids, typing just doesn’t cut it. In 2012, brain scans of preliterate children revealed crucial reading circuitry flickering to life when kids hand-printed letters and then tried to read them. The effect largely disappeared when the letters were typed or traced.
More recently, in 2020, a team of researchers studied older children—seventh graders—while they handwrote, drew, and typed words, and concluded that handwriting and drawing produced telltale neural tracings indicative of deeper learning.
“Whenever self-generated movements are included as a learning strategy, more of the brain gets stimulated,” the researchers explain, before echoing the 2012 study: “It also appears that the movements related to keyboard typing do not activate these networks the same way that drawing and handwriting do.”
It would be a mistake to replace typing with handwriting, though. All kids need to develop digital skills, and there’s evidence that technology helps children with dyslexia to overcome obstacles like note taking or illegible handwriting, ultimately freeing them to “use their time for all the things in which they are gifted,” says the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.
3. THE ACT TEST JUST GOT A NEGATIVE SCORE (FACE PALM)
A 2020 study found that ACT test scores, which are often a key factor in college admissions, showed a weak—or even negative—relationship when it came to predicting how successful students would be in college. “There is little evidence that students will have more college success if they work to improve their ACT score,” the researchers explain, and students with very high ACT scores—but indifferent high school grades—often flamed out in college, overmatched by the rigors of a university’s academic schedule.
Just last year, the SAT—cousin to the ACT—had a similarly dubious public showing. In a major 2019 study of nearly 50,000 students led by researcher Brian Galla, and including Angela Duckworth, researchers found that high school grades were stronger predictors of four-year-college graduation than SAT scores.
The reason? Four-year high school grades, the researchers asserted, are a better indicator of crucial skills like perseverance, time management, and the ability to avoid distractions. It’s most likely those skills, in the end, that keep kids in college.
4. A RUBRIC REDUCES RACIAL GRADING BIAS
A simple step might help undercut the pernicious effect of grading bias, a new study found: Articulate your standards clearly before you begin grading, and refer to the standards regularly during the assessment process.
In 2020, more than 1,500 teachers were recruited and asked to grade a writing sample from a fictional second-grade student. All of the sample stories were identical—but in one set, the student mentions a family member named Dashawn, while the other set references a sibling named Connor.
Teachers were 13 percent more likely to give the Connor papers a passing grade, revealing the invisible advantages that many students unknowingly benefit from. When grading criteria are vague, implicit stereotypes can insidiously “fill in the blanks,” explains the study’s author. But when teachers have an explicit set of criteria to evaluate the writing—asking whether the student “provides a well-elaborated recount of an event,” for example—the difference in grades is nearly eliminated.
5. WHAT DO COAL-FIRED POWER PLANTS HAVE TO DO WITH LEARNING? PLENTY
When three coal-fired plants closed in the Chicago area, student absences in nearby schools dropped by 7 percent, a change largely driven by fewer emergency room visits for asthma-related problems. The stunning finding, published in a 2020 study from Duke and Penn State, underscores the role that often-overlooked environmental factors—like air quality, neighborhood crime, and noise pollution—have in keeping our children healthy and ready to learn.
At scale, the opportunity cost is staggering: About 2.3 million children in the United States still attend a public elementary or middle school located within 10 kilometers of a coal-fired plant.
The study builds on a growing body of research that reminds us that questions of educational equity do not begin and end at the schoolhouse door. What we call an achievement gap is often an equity gap, one that “takes root in the earliest years of children’s lives,” according to a 2017 study. We won’t have equal opportunity in our schools, the researchers admonish, until we are diligent about confronting inequality in our cities, our neighborhoods—and ultimately our own backyards.
6. STUDENTS WHO GENERATE GOOD QUESTIONS ARE BETTER LEARNERS
Some of the most popular study strategies—highlighting passages, rereading notes, and underlining key sentences—are also among the least effective. A 2020 study highlighted a powerful alternative: Get students to generate questions about their learning, and gradually press them to ask more probing questions.
In the study, students who studied a topic and then generated their own questions scored an average of 14 percentage points higher on a test than students who used passive strategies like studying their notes and rereading classroom material. Creating questions, the researchers found, not only encouraged students to think more deeply about the topic but also strengthened their ability to remember what they were studying.
There are many engaging ways to have students create highly productive questions: When creating a test, you can ask students to submit their own questions, or you can use the Jeopardy! game as a platform for student-created questions.
7. DID A 2020 STUDY JUST END THE ‘READING WARS’?
One of the most widely used—and notorious—reading programs was dealt a severe blow when a panel of reading experts concluded that it “would be unlikely to lead to literacy success for all of America’s public schoolchildren.”
In the 2020 study, the experts found that the controversial program—called “Units of Study” and developed over the course of four decades by Lucy Calkins at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project—failed to explicitly and systematically teach young readers how to decode and encode written words, and was thus “in direct opposition to an enormous body of settled research.”
The study sounded the death knell for practices that de-emphasize phonics in favor of having children use multiple sources of information—like story events or illustrations—to predict the meaning of unfamiliar words, an approach often associated with “balanced literacy.” In an internal memo obtained by publisher APM, Calkins seemed to concede the point, writing that “aspects of balanced literacy need some ‘rebalancing.’”
8. A SECRET TO HIGH-PERFORMING VIRTUAL CLASSROOMS
In 2020, a team at Georgia State University compiled a report on virtual learning best practices. While evidence in the field is “sparse” and “inconsistent,” the report noted that logistical issues like accessing materials—and not content-specific problems like failures of comprehension—were often among the most significant obstacles to online learning. It wasn’t that students didn’t understand photosynthesis in a virtual setting, in other words—it was that they didn’t find (or simply didn’t access) the lesson on photosynthesis at all.
That basic insight echoed a 2019 study that highlighted the crucial need to organize virtual classrooms even more intentionally than physical ones. Remote teachers should use a single, dedicated hub for important documents like assignments; simplify communications and reminders by using one channel like email or text; and reduce visual clutter like hard-to-read fonts and unnecessary decorations throughout their virtual spaces.
Because the tools are new to everyone, regular feedback on topics like accessibility and ease of use is crucial. Teachers should post simple surveys asking questions like “Have you encountered any technical issues?” and “Can you easily locate your assignments?” to ensure that students experience a smooth-running virtual learning space.
9. LOVE TO LEARN LANGUAGES? SURPRISINGLY, CODING MAY BE RIGHT FOR YOU
Learning how to code more closely resembles learning a language such as Chinese or Spanish than learning math, a 2020 study found—upending the conventional wisdom about what makes a good programmer.
In the study, young adults with no programming experience were asked to learn Python, a popular programming language; they then took a series of tests assessing their problem-solving, math, and language skills. The researchers discovered that mathematical skill accounted for only 2 percent of a person’s ability to learn how to code, while language skills were almost nine times more predictive, accounting for 17 percent of learning ability.
That’s an important insight because all too often, programming classes require that students pass advanced math courses—a hurdle that needlessly excludes students with untapped promise, the researchers claim.
10. RESEARCHERS CAST DOUBT ON READING TASKS LIKE ‘FINDING THE MAIN IDEA’
“Content is comprehension,” declared a 2020 Fordham Institute study, sounding a note of defiance as it staked out a position in the ongoing debate over the teaching of intrinsic reading skills versus the teaching of content knowledge.
While elementary students spend an enormous amount of time working on skills like “finding the main idea” and “summarizing”—tasks born of the belief that reading is a discrete and trainable ability that transfers seamlessly across content areas—these young readers aren’t experiencing “the additional reading gains that well-intentioned educators hoped for,” the study concluded.
So what works? The researchers looked at data from more than 18,000 K–5 students, focusing on the time spent in subject areas like math, social studies, and ELA, and found that “social studies is the only subject with a clear, positive, and statistically significant effect on reading improvement.” In effect, exposing kids to rich content in civics, history, and law appeared to teach reading more effectively than our current methods of teaching reading.
Perhaps defiance is no longer needed: Fordham’s conclusions are rapidly becoming conventional wisdom—and they extend beyond the limited claim of reading social studies texts. According to Natalie Wexler, the author of the well-received 2019 book The Knowledge Gap, content knowledge and reading are intertwined. “Students with more [background] knowledge have a better chance of understanding whatever text they encounter. They’re able to retrieve more information about the topic from long-term memory, leaving more space in working memory for comprehension,” she recently told Edutopia.
Jan 4th, 2021
When we think of embarking on a new year, what often comes to mind are our resolutions–more specifically (for me anyway) forgotten or unfulfilled resolutions … which sucks because the only thing worse than not achieving is not achieving that which you explicitly set out to achieve. It’s almost better if your lack of growth is because you didn’t set out to change in the first place. It’s harder to swallow when you fail after you’ve declared your goal explicitly. I haven’t achieved a lot of what I set out to as principal. Most of my tenure thus far has been spent, necessarily, in triage mode.
On the flip side, nothing feels better than success–than achieving that which we set out to do. Veronica has been known to write things on her to-do list that she’s already accomplished just so she can experience the satisfaction of triumphantly crossing them off. So, what makes it more likely that we will achieve those goals or tasks we set for ourselves? More importantly, what makes it more likely that those tasks will help us turn into the kind of professionals, friends, family members, etc. that we want to be? Don’t start with a to-do list. Start with a “to-be” list.
If we start our days with a to-do list it’s likely our days will be full of what’s in closest proximity rather than most important … Of what others ask of us rather than what we dream for ourselves. .. Of all the “shoulds” in live rather than the “coulds.” If we start our days with to-be lists, it’s the opposite.
For example, if I had to mindlessly create a to-do list for Monday it would look something like this:
-Look over Erin’s narrowed down list of SS candidates.
-Prioritize athletics/facilities spending
-Plan the leadership meeting and asynchronous staff meeting
-Review ODE’s latest Ready Schools guidance to share with DCs and staff.
If I had to create a to-be list it would look something like this:
-Be the kind of person who is open to changing my mind and learning from others every day.
-Be someone who is fun and inspiring to work with.
-Be the kind of principal who empowers others to lead rather than who leads from the “top-down.”
-Be brave enough to push for the right thing for students and staff even if it’s scary or uncomfortable.
Without the to-be list, the to-do list could get done… but it might not get done in a way that makes our school, myself, and those around me better for having accomplished those tasks. I could review ODE’s guidance and start making plans for what a return to in-person learning might look like should we find ourselves in that position this year, but if I don’t review them with the intent of being a brave leader, the outcome could be status quo instead of truly better for kids and staff.
If I look over the list of Social Studies candidates without my to-be list in mind, I may lean toward someone who looks good on paper–who will unquestioningly embrace our current initiatives and practices– over someone who will challenge me and others to grow and become better educators.
If I look over the athletic and facilities spending plan without first remembering that I want to be the kind of principal who empowers those who are doing the work and those we are serving to be the ones whose voices are loudest at the table in all decisions, I might make a call that will save me a headache rather than one that is informed by those who will be impacted most.
If I create agendas for my meetings this week forgetting that I want to be someone who is fun and inspiring to work with, I will fail to be the kind of leader for staff that those very staff are for our students every day.
I–along with most everyone else in this world–am so eager to be moving on from 2020. And, years are merely concepts of time, not the villains of our lives.They do not get to dictate who we are and who we become. 2021 will quite likely throw quite a few curve balls at us too which may affect our goals, daily tasks, and even our achievements. But regardless of any obstacles that come our way, there is hope in the fact that we always get to choose who we want to be.
Jan 11th, 2021
I’m beginning to wonder how many different ways … how many different times .. . I can start a weekly email acknowledging the turbulence and chaos in our world before it just becomes noise. But, I’ve got to say it again: I know this last week was incredibly hard. I know this past year has been incredibly hard.
In sticking with the Iron Man metaphor, we knew the swim would be exhausting. But who knew there’d be sharks in the water? Sheesh. Like frogs in a boiling pot of water, the weight of this world on educators’ shoulders has increased steadily but relentlessly since last March, and someday when we are able to come up for air, I believe we will marvel at just how unbelievable of an era we’ve led our students and each other through and how proud we should be of that work.
I have this unshakeable feeling, though, that has been creeping in recently … a strange feeling given that the boiling pot seems to be bubbling over. Yesterday I was finally able to name it: It is hope. And it feels good.
We have a vaccine, and there is a push for educators to be next in line after our health and medical professionals. Someday soon our meeting topics will shift from navigating CDL to figuring out how to safely return to in-person school when it’s time. And that shift feels like forward momentum.
While that is still a ways off, for the first time since we started this crazy race, the finish line is in sight. It feels closer than the starting line. While the Iron Man is still far from over, I believe we are now pulling ourselves out of the water, drying off, and getting ready for the bike race. (Get your helmets. Something tells me we might need them.) 🙂
Jan 18th, 2021
As I type this, across the nation in education–a telling microcosm of society–students of color are disproportionately underserved by distance learning and disproportionately unsafe in in-person models of instruction as measured by both their access to learning and the impact this pandemic has had on their health. It’s a hard truth to swallow and not one that feels good to bring up as we are trying to foster hope in our schools. The first step, though, in creating more equitable schools is acknowledging the inequities. Therefore, we must admit that we are still a long way from realizing the dream about which MLK spoke 57 years ago.
We, at MHS, do better than most, and for that we should both be proud and careful to not take our eye off that most important work of serving each student. For a long time the soundbite in our field was about serving all students. The difference in that language may seem inconsequential, but it actually has profound implications for our practices.
When we say “all” students, we have a tendency to lump our students into a monolithic group and make the assumption that their experiences and needs are similar. When we do that, we approach our solutions with too broad a brush and too simplistic systems. When we say our mission is to serve “each” student well, we are more inclined to look at each student separately–as unique individuals with differing lived experiences and hopes from their education, which, in turn, requires different and often more creative than replicable approaches from us.
After all, “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” While I’m not sure the origins of the quote (Can someone help me find it??), I reflect on it often. Based on our results as compared to schools across Oregon with like demographics, we clearly have some pretty effective systems. It’s why each year a new article seems to come out in news sources across the state (and even country) about our successes. And, it makes me wonder, how can we move past systematizing to personalize in each of our programs in order to move from the all approach to the each approach.
I see it happening in your classes–in how while our expectations remain high for student achievement (one of the most equitable mindsets we can embrace), we are taking a less rigid approach to how we help students achieve. I see it in our Response Team, our 9th and 10th Grade Teams, our counseling and PST teams… when at your meetings 90% of the conversation is about individual students and how we can continually change our practices to meet their needs.
In a school of over 2000 students, creating equitable learning environments is no easy task–especially in a global pandemic. But it remains the work. And this is not just the work and the point of reflection on MLK day. This is the work always. I’m so proud to work with a staff who walk this talk and who remain committed to continually doing better by each of our students every single day, even when–especially when–the world seems to be falling apart around us.
Jan 25th, 2021
It’s snowing at my house. Has been for a few hours. Huge white flakes. I would be remiss if I did not harness
this magic today with my kids who–along with so many other kids in our nation–have missed out on so much childhood this past year. So, this will be the extent of my Sunday musings: May you find a little magic in your week as well. Change is coming. I can literally feel it in the air.
Feb 1st, 2021
Yesterday I woke up with a flare up. It’s been years since my Rheumatoid Arthritis has impacted my day. This time was a little different though as I took it as a symbol of hope. I got my vaccine on Thursday and clearly it activated my immune system. (It just so happens that my particular immune system is regularly confused about what it’s supposed to attack–hence the autoimmune disease.) As I was sitting there wiped out, though, I kept thinking about how fitting it was. Progress typically is painful after all. But–just like my body’s response to the vaccine–the pain is often worth it.
Nothing about this year has been easy. And as much as I hate putting it in black and white, nothing about moving forward will be either. We keep saying it: While we cannot wait to get back to school and life “as usual,” it would be irresponsible not to take what we’ve learned during this era and make necessary changes to the system. Last week as I looked out my office window at the growing vaccine line outside the Welcome Center, an excitement and nervousness started bubbling up inside me. The Great Pause will be coming to an end soon. And when it does, I have a feeling we will be catapulted into a new and equally uncomfortable era of great change.
Speaking of big change, on Friday afternoon we convened our first Grading Think Tank in an effort to analyze current practices and research potential shifts in how we evaluate and report on students’ learning. Twenty or so staff showed up to dream and deliberate. On Saturday I got an email from ODE asking that MHS be a part of a greater discussion about and movement for equitable grading. It’s equal parts exciting and scary, and I’m wholeheartedly convinced that we at MHS were made for this moment in history.
Below is an article that showed up in my social media feed this weekend. While it’s probably overwhelming to talk about when we haven’t even made it out the other side of this collective trauma and haven’t had time to catch our breath from all the changes this year has thrown our way, this conversation is happening whether we choose to engage in it or not. The question is, do we want it to happen to us or do we want to be the innovators who drive it?
I have started pulling up emails I saved last spring from people like Christine Garrison and Robin Pederson who proposed brilliant ideas on how our system can shift to better meet the needs of our kids. As I sit here typing this with swollen knuckles and aching wrists, I’m reminded that so many of the hard things we do are also so incredibly worth doing. I’m proud of us, MHS. So proud.
What will education look like in 20 years? Here are 4 scenarios
- The COVID-19 pandemic shows us we cannot take the future of education for granted.
- By imagining alternative futures for education we can better think through the outcomes, develop agile and responsive systems and plan for future shocks.
- What do the four OECD Scenarios for the Future of Schooling show us about how to transform and future-proof our education systems?
As we begin a new year, it is traditional to take stock of the past in order to look forward, to imagine and plan for a better future. But the truth is that the future likes to surprise us. Schools open for business, teachers using digital technologies to augment, not replace, traditional face-to face-teaching and, indeed, even students hanging out casually in groups – all things we took for granted this time last year; all things that flew out the window in the first months of 2020.
Have you read
To achieve our vision and prepare our education systems for the future, we have to consider not just the changes that appear most probable but also the ones that we are not expecting.
Scenarios for the future of schooling
Imagining alternative futures for education pushes us to think through plausible outcomes and helps agile and responsive systems to develop. The OECD Scenarios for the Future of Schooling depict some possible alternatives:
Rethinking, rewiring, re-envisioning
The underlying question is: to what extent are our current spaces, people, time and technology in schooling helping or hindering our vision? Will modernizing and fine-tuning the current system, the conceptual equivalent of reconfiguring the windows and doors of a house, allow us to achieve our goals? Is an entirely different approach to the organization of people, spaces, time and technology in education needed?
Modernizing and extending current schooling would be more or less what we see now: content and spaces that are largely standardized across the system, primarily school-based (including digital delivery and homework) and focused on individual learning experiences. Digital technology is increasingly present, but, as is currently the case, is primarily used as a delivery method to recreate existing content and pedagogies rather than to revolutionize teaching and learning.
What would transformation look like? It would involve re-envisioning the spaces where learning takes place; not simply by moving chairs and tables, but by using multiple physical and virtual spaces both in and outside of schools. There would be full individual personalization of content and pedagogy enabled by cutting-edge technology, using body information, facial expressions or neural signals.
We’d see flexible individual and group work on academic topics as well as on social and community needs. Reading, writing and calculating would happen as much as debating and reflecting in joint conversations. Students would learn with books and lectures as well as through hands-on work and creative expression. What if schools became learning hubs and used the strength of communities to deliver collaborative learning, building the role of non-formal and informal learning, and shifting time and relationships?
Alternatively, schools could disappear altogether. Built on rapid advancements in artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality and the Internet of Things, in this future it is possible to assess and certify knowledge, skills and attitudes instantaneously.
As the distinction between formal and informal learning disappears, individual learning advances by taking advantage of collective intelligence to solve real-life problems. While this scenario might seem far-fetched, we have already integrated much of our life into our smartphones, watches and digital personal assistants in a way that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago.
All of these scenarios have important implications for the goals and governance of education, as well as the teaching workforce. Schooling systems in many countries have already opened up to new stakeholders, decentralizing from the national to the local and, increasingly, to the international. Power has become more distributed, processes more inclusive. Consultation is giving way to co-creation.
We can construct an endless range of such scenarios. The future could be any combination of them and is likely to look very different in different places around the world. Despite this, such thinking gives us the tools to explore the consequences for the goals and functions of education, for the organization and structures, the education workforce and for public policies. Ultimately, it makes us think harder about the future we want for education. It often means resolving tensions and dilemmas:
- What is the right balance between modernizing and disruption?
- How do we reconcile new goals with old structures?
- How do we support globally minded and locally rooted students and teachers?
- How do we foster innovation while recognising the socially highly conservative nature of education?
- How do we leverage new potential with existing capacity?
- How do we reconfigure the spaces, the people, the time and the technologies to create powerful learning environments?
- In the case of disagreement, whose voice counts?
- Who is responsible for the most vulnerable members of our society?
- If global digital corporations are the main providers, what kind of regulatory regime is required to solve the already thorny questions of data ownership, democracy and citizen empowerment?
Thinking about the future requires imagination and also rigour. We must guard against the temptation to choose a favourite future and prepare for it alone. In a world where shocks like pandemics and extreme weather events owing to climate change, social unrest and political polarization are expected to be more frequent, we cannot afford to be caught off guard again.
This is not a cry of despair – rather, it is a call to action. Education must be ready. We know the power of humanity and the importance of learning and growing throughout our life. We insist on the importance of education as a public good, regardless of the scenario for the future.
Feb 15th, 2021
In a little over a month it will be spring. And the dawn of spring marks a year since this unbelievable adventure began. In that time, we’ve not only navigated a global pandemic but also intense socio-political upheaval as well as environmental catastrophes like the raging wildfires this past summer to the worst ice storm Oregon has seen in forty years this past weekend. Throughout this time, though, we’ve remained hopeful. Hope, in fact, has been our mission. It’s what has gotten us through thus far.
And while hope is a worthy end goal in and of itself, there comes a time when hope must become possibility… and possibility, reality, if we are to continue to prove to ourselves that hope remains a worthwhile investment in hard times.
So, what next? Hope, after all, will not repair the hole in my roof or the windshield of my husband’s car. It merely keeps our vision steady and our heads in the game so these set-backs don’t mentally or emotionally paralyze us into actual inaction. It’s hard to think about repairing our roof when the freezing rain is still blowing sideways on our face. It’s hard to think about reimagining and rebuilding (yet again) our schools when our county is still in extreme risk.
Nonetheless, it must be done. Spring is coming.
Someday, whether it be quarter four or the beginning of next year or sometime after that, we will begin the process of repair. The sun will be out soon, and with it will come the slow shift from pain to possibility. And from there, another new reality.
If I haven’t said it enough, I’ll say it again: Hope is not a feeling. Hope is a behavioral process born from the knowing that we can and will overcome adversity.
Ryan has three seasons of athletics to get off the ground in one week. We have a hybrid model to have at-the-ready for when it is safe to be back … and an entire school culture to rebuild for when we are finally in full in-person learning after that (whenever that may be). Visualizing these next steps and beginning our plans to make them a reality is the culmination of our collective hope in action. Ready or not, here we come.
March 1st, 2021
Around four years ago, we shifted from having a “Classified Appreciation Week” and a “Teacher Appreciation Week” to having two “Educator Appreciation Weeks.” We made this shift because everyone who works in schools 1. deserves more appreciation, and 2. is an educator. Never has this been so apparent to me as it has this year.
So often I get texts or emails or calls in which the person on the other end says something to the effect of, “I can’t imagine being you this year,” or “You couldn’t pay me enough to have your job right now.”
Here’s the truth though that I’m probably not supposed to say out loud: My job isn’t as hard as yours.
Sure I’m the angry-parent-phone-call person and the keep-the-community-happy person, but that’s just politics. That’s nowhere near the emotional labor most of you exert on a daily basis.
It’s nowhere near the level of hard or level of impact that Dwight has when he shows up at the same drug-impacted apartment for the third time in the month to wake a student up and convince her that accessing her education in spite of her hopelessness is a worthwhile pursuit.
And Dwight is just one example of many.
The list of educators who embody our mission every day is awe inspiring. Whether it be a staff member who takes it upon himself to think up and share a morning funny every single day to do his part to contribute to school culture during such a hard year or an educator who has spent her last three Friday nights hosting virtual movie nights with her students, the way you each have stepped up to the challenge and taken initiative to do whatever it is our students and school community needs, is what truly sets us apart and is what inspires and leads me every single day.
While adequately showing our appreciation is tricky during distance learning, I want you to know that appreciation weeks aside, I spend a lot of time feeling grateful to get to work with the people I do at MHS. I’m not sure, though, that I realized until recently how abnormal our school is. I’m often quiet (surprising, I know) during our monthly Pacific Conference Principals meeting because so much of the time is spent discussing the best ways to convince schools’ staff members to make some kind of shift that is in the best interest of students.
What I don’t say to the other principals is, I don’t have to do that. Our shared mission is so alive in our culture and in all our educators, that there are very few meetings I attend or conversations I have where I am trying to sell something to staff … where I am trying to convince you to embrace some sort of agenda. I have the unique luxury of simply empowering you each to do your thing and removing any barriers that might get in your way. Do you know how not normal that is? Do you know what a special thing it is that we’ve built here? That’s on you. That’s a result of the collective heart and collective work of this giant team.
So, happy Educator Appreciation Week (one of many). Let’s take this week to intentionally celebrate each other. Typically we’d use this opportunity to splurge on some good food and just be together. While we can’t do that just yet, we can make it a point to show each other our gratitude and tell those with whom we work just how much they mean to us.
We’ve got some goodies that will be arriving in your classrooms and offices sometime next week (sorry for the late arrival) and some other surprises in the works. For today, though, I want to celebrate just how truly not normal we are. And do know, when it is finally safe to celebrate in person, we are going to go big. I promise. It’s the only way we do things at MHS.
March 8th, 2021
To me, the biggest indicator of emotional maturity and cognitive flexibility is the ability to hold two seemingly opposing truths in our heads and hearts simultaneously. In fact, this past year has really illustrated the danger of duality, of absolutes, and the “us vs. thems” they create. Take, for example, the debates about schools “reopening.” In reading the responses to our parent survey, each comment seems to land on one of two extreme ends of the spectrum.
They either say something like, “What we are doing to our kids is absolutely heartbreaking. Students need interaction, they need a safe space to be, and they need developmentally stimulating activities to help them grow instead of being plugged into a device all day.” Or they say something like, “Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our students, staff, and community. Just because students haven’t had a “normal” year does not mean their experience this past year was in vain. Students are learning lessons that will last a lifetime, and many of them are finding success in this non-traditional environment.”
Both of these takes are very real. They are important. And they are right. But, when one truth doesn’t take into account the other, our solutions become over simplistic at best and create new and greater problems at worst. I’m always weary of answers arrived at too easily.
Paradox is hard to embrace, but ironically when we are able to embrace it, we often find the clarity we seek. I think this level of emotional maturity and critical thinking is why our school has been able to personalize the learning for so many of our students even during distance learning. And I know this ability to be curious and not furious while we examine and hold multiple truths and perspectives simultaneously will be the only thing that will get us through these next few seasons united as a community and stronger in the end.
You saw the Governor’s mandate last week that we WILL be in some sort of in-person model of instruction by quarter four. Honestly, I think that is where we were headed anyway. And even more honestly. I do think it is the right move. The question on the table now isn’t if we get there, but how. Will we do it as a team? Will we innovate and deliberate and create a model that takes into account all the profound truths that exist right now for students, staff, and our greater community? I have no doubt we will. We are on the final stretch of the iron man, folks. This is the moment we’ve been talking about for a whole year. It’s time to dig deep and pray for our second wind.
March 29th, 2021
We are on the home stretch, y’all. And, our fuel will be our hope …
In Schools, Finding Hope at a Hopeless Time
Research shows that hope is a measurable, learnable skill—and to feel hopeful, students and teachers have to work at it.
By Nora Fleming
March 26, 2021
In mid-February, three snowstorms knocked out the electricity for thousands of residents in Boyd County, Kentucky. As they waited for up to two weeks for the lights to come on, many residents were left snowbound in their homes in freezing temperatures. Two people died from hypothermia before power was restored.
The outages added insult to injury for a rural community struggling to keep students connected and engaged in remote learning for the past year, shared Christy Ford, a high school English teacher. With limited cell phone battery, Ford texted her students during the “dark days” to let them know she was thinking about them—and ask them what they’d do first when the power came on.
“During the time virtual school was ‘off the grid,’ I noticed that looking forward seemed to be the best use of my mental energy,” said Ford, who now plans to create a new assignment: “What’s the first thing you’ll do when things return to ‘normal’?”
While pandemic schooling has always been hard, it’s seemed to get harder as time has gone on, say Ford and other educators, who are desperately looking for ways to help students stay motivated. Teachers have reported that students increasingly see school as irrelevant and feel a sense of hopelessness about the future. Even with vaccinations and school openings increasing, there are reported upticks in youth depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts. Many teachers, too, share a deepening sense of disillusionment after a year of significant upheaval—and what is expected to be a challenging, slow transition back.
So what can educators do to instill hope in students, especially when many feel hopeless themselves? According to many research studies, people who are hopeful aren’t simply optimists or Pollyannas but are able to think proactively about the future and plan ahead to get there. Research shows that hope is a learnable, measurable skill, and one that has a sizable impact on students’ success and persistence in school. Children who are hopeful are also found to have higher self-esteem and social skills, are more likely to set and achieve goals, and can more easily bounce back from adversity.
“People always think of hope as ‘squishy,’ but it’s not,” said Crystal Bryce, the associate director of research at the Center for the Advanced Study and Practice of Hope at Arizona State University. “Hope is cognition and a leading motivation that pushes people to act towards their goals. It’s a skill we have to work on and one that we can grow.”
According to researchers and psychologists like Bryce, small shifts in curriculum, assignments, and tasks can actually have an effect on how students see themselves and their world. By making some adjustments and bringing new activities, teachers can mitigate some of the hopelessness students feel—and, in turn, make themselves feel more hopeful too.
DON’T SWEEP IT UNDER THE RUG
To feel more hopeful, address the elephant in the room. Both children and adults should acknowledge and address the tumult they’ve experienced this past year, said David Schonfeld, a pediatrician and director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, which works with schools after crises like school shootings.
Not long after 9/11, Schonfeld said, one of his daughters came home from school, frustrated. “They haven’t talked at all about what happened on 9/11,” Schonfeld recalled her saying. “Right now, we’re learning about the War of 1812. Can you think of any way school could be less relevant to my life right now?’”
While learning about the War of 1812 is important, neglecting to discuss current realities can make students feel that school is out of touch and push them to disengage, said Schonfeld. That’s not to say educators should turn every class into a counseling session, but they should try to carve out time for students to share how they feel. Be careful not to minimize their feelings by making “them feel guilty for being upset about something that pales in comparison to someone else’s tragedy,” he cautioned.
Instead, coach students to focus on one or two things that are troubling them—a roadblock, for example—and address those specifically, said Phyllis Fagell, a school counselor in Washington, D.C. Fagell’s go-to is using a “worry monster” (a stuffed monster with a zippered mouth pouch) for younger students or a “worry box” for older students, where students can write down a worry and “set it aside.” She also recommends creating anonymous Google docs so that students can freely vent frustrations and brainstorm coping strategies to help.
“Kids can’t solve problems if they feel stuck and overwhelmed,” said Fagell. “A small setback can leave a kid feeling hopeless, but it often doesn’t take much to pull them back from the brink.”
Share success stories: Once children get some of their concerns off their chests, educators can focus their thinking forward—with hope. In lessons, integrate stories of people who have overcome tremendous hardships or failed repeatedly and then succeeded, experts recommend, making sure that all students in class can see their backgrounds reflected in the examples.
Making history: Teachers might also consider helping students frame current experiences as a “moment in time”—and one that will pass, eventually. Bring in examples of other past global crises or epidemics, said Michele Borba, a former teacher and nationally recognized education psychologist who is the author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. As a supplement, students can create time capsules or write letters to their future selves about their experiences, what progress was made, and what they see ahead.
A MINDSET SHIFT
When students have the right frame of reference, educators can prime their brains to be more hopeful, according to research.
C.R. “Rick” Snyder, a well-known researcher of hope, found that students who scored higher on measures of hope had more agency to develop goals and set pathways to accomplish them—including finding alternative strategies if they had setbacks along the way.
Ask the right questions: A good starting place for teachers is regularly integrating specific question prompts into classroom activities that many already conduct—like morning meetings or entry or exit tickets—said Denise Larsen, a research professor and the director of Hope Studies Central, a research center at the University of Alberta.
Larsen, a former teacher who has studied hope for the last two decades, recommends having students answer the prompt “Today, I hope…” as a verbal or written response daily, if possible. Students can also journal about things they are hopeful and thankful for, or complete a broader exercise in which they reflect on their past successes or times they overcame obstacles.
Set goals with accountability: These prompts can develop into more comprehensive activities where students and teachers work together to tie a student’s hopes to specific goals. To make the goals manageable, teachers should help students prioritize and break them into smaller, targeted goals, or stepping stones, along with a Plan B if things don’t work out, said Bryce. Most important, the goals should be personalized to the child—not someone else’s goals for them.
High school English teacher Allison Berryhill recently conducted a “Dream It, Do It” activity in her class, for example. Students first watched Tim Urban’s TED Talk “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” and discussed how one might not achieve goals if they lack structure. Then, each student brainstormed 12 hopes for their future and selected one to focus on. Using a backward planning process, students developed plans to reach their goals—including conducting research and setting deadlines—and presented them to classmates for accountability.
While hopes and goals are closely related, a framing of hope sets a different tone—and one that may help students, especially those who are discouraged, to think futuristically, said Larsen. “There is a simple but powerful shift in the language when we move from goals to hope,” she said. “It’s possible to fail at a goal, but you can’t fail at a hope. Start with hope first.”
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPACT
It can be a challenge, however, to think optimistically about the future amid so much instability and uncertainty, said Schonfeld and other experts.
In a classroom, teachers can help combat the feelings of powerlessness by giving students opportunities where they regain a sense of control. This, in turn, makes them feel more hopeful, according to a 2010 research study of adolescents ages 14 to 18. These can be small things, like the ability to choose activities to complete, an opportunity to share passions and interests, or having a second chance to improve.
Connect students to students: Educators should also consider larger impacts that students can have right now, say Borba and others. She recommends helping children see themselves as changemakers by sharing stories of children who have made a difference—even if the impact was small. Consider pairing older students and younger students together, or buddies within a class, Borba said, so that students can quickly see results from the small things they do that affect others.
Create community projects: Because hope is driven by the individual, children should be given a chance to brainstorm their own ideas for making an impact too. According to research, having hope for others can have a significant effect on how much hope people feel themselves—especially for children, said Larsen. In Amy Badger’s middle school class, students present ideas for how to bring hope to their community. The class then votes on the proposals and picks one to take on, including developing an action plan together for achieving it.
It’s normal for a person’s hope to ebb and flow, though, especially in tough times. Larsen suggested that as teachers try to stay steadfast at the helm, they find “tiny sparks” or “hits of hope,” like reminding themselves of all the times they impacted kids and didn’t realize it until later. One of the biggest ways to bring hope to children is through their relationships with supportive adults, she and others emphasize.
“My takeaway during dark times is I need to model strong and consistent behaviors for my students—even if I’m struggling with the same frustrations and sense of hopelessness myself,” Christy Ford said.
April 12th, 2021
I was listening to a podcast the other day where the guest was unpacking the age old question about whether or not the glass is half empty or half full. Or, in other words, does optimism or pessimism win in the end? In the interview the guest said that he had posed this question to his eight-year-old son, and his son replied without giving it much thought, “I guess it depends on what you’re doing with the glass.” He went on to say that if you’re using the glass to water a plant (with the purpose being to empty it), the glass is half empty when you’re looking at how much is in it. If you’re in the process of pouring into the glass for someone to drink from, it’s half full as the purpose is to fill it.
I think this is a pretty brilliant way to look at life. Maybe the way we feel about our situation should be in direct relation to its purpose. And, of course, I couldn’t help but think of the hybrid we are diving into next week. Feelings about returning to in-person instruction are all across the board. And there are actually many answers to the question, “Will it be better or worse than what we’re doing now?” I guess, it depends.
There are situations in which the glass looks half empty when thinking about shifting to hybrid. I’ve talked to staff who feel the instruction won’t be as cohesive or as quality for students. It won’t be as easy for staff either. When preparing students for their AP exams or the looming state testing (GAH!) it’s probably true: The glass is probably half empty. After all, after a year of remote learning, we’ve gotten pretty adept at it. Some students (mostly our historically highest achieving) even prefer it.
But if we look at the hybrid model as a chance to improve our connection with our kids–to get to see their actual faces, hear their actual voices, and to once a week build the relationships that we know are essential to meaningful growth and learning … then the glass looks pretty full. If we look at a hybrid as a chance to re-engage the 20% of students who have essentially been MIA for a year, it’s overflowing.
I encourage you to keep what’s most important to us–the wellbeing, hope, and growth of our students–the purpose against which you weigh the worthiness of our efforts. If you let go of mastering the tech and embrace that it will be clunky … If you let go of covering your entire curriculum in depth and focus on the depth of your relationships …. If you let go of basing your effectiveness as a teacher on their test scores and instead base it on their desire to show up and continually grow …. then folks, there is so much to be optimistic about in the coming weeks. The water in the glass is the constant. The hybrid is what it is. How we view it (for our own sake as well as our students’) is the variable that matters most.
April 13th, 2021
This week is the final leg of our full-on CDL journey. YOU GUYS. 1. We did it. 2. You ready for the hardest leg of the race?
Today when I was introducing new-hire Spencer Payne, I was fumbling with the tech. And, unfortunately, my priorities accommodated my insecurity before my why. I wanted to talk about WHAT ROLE WE HIRED HIM FOR and why we hired him, but instead I poked at the SMART board trying to figure out how to make it seem like I knew what I was doing.
I bring this up because at some moment next week you’re going to have to choose between having your ish together and creating a classroom environment students want to be a part of and come back to. Please don’t make the same mistake I did. Choose the latter.
I was at a conference once, and the presenter–while kind of harsh–said something to the effect of “Would they show up to your class if they didn’t have to?” I guess that is kind of the situation in which we find ourselves. If they don’t want to be here, they basically don’t have to. The measure of our effectiveness at this point might just be their desire to SHOW UP.
Below is this week’s schedule. If there is no link, you can choose independently or as a department what that practice/preparation looks like.
And below the table is a message from the legendary Michael Roberson (from when he retired a few years back). I think it is the perfect reminder about what matters most right now and always. Your work…It matters so much.
|Wed, April 14th||Thurs, April 15th||Fri, April 16th|
|AM-1:30||Individual Planning & Tech Checklist||Individual Planning & Tech Checklist||Grading|
|1:30-2:00||Departmental Hybrid Practice||Review of Instructional Models and Methods||Grading|
|2:10-2:40||Authenticated Users & Tech Video and Slides||Support Center Updates & Office Hours||Staff Handbook and Behavior Support Plan|
|2:50-3:20||Health Protocol in Hybrid (Nurse Videos)||Safety Features & Protocols 20-21||Admin Office Hours or Pre-recorded Q&A|
It is said that one can count the number of seeds in an apple, but one can never know the number of apples in the seed. Perhaps. An apple tree bears some 300 apples per year for about 33 years. Thus a single seed yields nearly 10,000 apples. However, each apple contains roughly ten seeds, and each of those another 10,000 apples. A single apple promises 100,000 fruits from its lifetime effort. Would that I could hold such promise.
The single seed planted, nurtured and cherished weaves a tapestry across time that will echo for generations not yet imagined. What a bountiful harvest is promised from a single kind word or deed. How much treasure may evolve from one lesson carefully crafted and passionately taught? You my friends are the master farmers and weavers of futures and lives that so few comprehend but benefit so very many. I am humbled to have toiled alongside each of you for these past twenty years. I am grateful for the lessons and opportunities that all of you have shared. Much as we enjoy the sweet fruit from the unseen generations who have cultivated before us, so too will those generations that follow be enriched by the seeds of wisdom each of you imparts every day.
You educators, your value can never be truly counted. This vocation that we have been called to demands everything we have and the harvest may never be ours to witness and celebrate. But know please that what each of you does, what each of you sacrifices brings hope, laughter and song to our beloved world.
April 19th, 2021
Good morning, Grizzlies!
Remember that time I stood in front of you in the auditorium and told you we’d be taking a two week spring break but that we’d all see each other shortly? Well, that was thirteen months ago.
TODAY IS THE DAY. Let’s make it count.
Don’t forget that our kids are feeling the same sense of anticipation and nerves that we are. They’re wondering if they will be able to find their classes. They’re wondering if we will be kind. They’re wondering if—even though different than before—it will all be good to come back to. They’re wondering if it will still feel like home.
Some of them have had an introspective and somewhat restful thirteen months away. For others, it’s been absolute hell. Let’s remember what we stand for. Our smiles WILL be seen, even from behind a mask. Our joy WILL be contagious. Our patience with ourselves and with them WILL be noticed.
After months of debates about whether to stay online or return to in-person, it is important to remember that “school” isn’t a building. It is all of you. It always has been. You were what inspired students to show up before all this happened. You were what kept them logging on this past year. You will be what makes them want to come back again.
Thank you each for making MHS such a great place for humans to thrive.
May 3rd, 2021
A few weeks back my son had baseball tryouts. The first day of tryouts was at the varsity baseball field. The second was at Baker field. Being the on-top-of-it parents we are, we somehow missed the memo about Baker field. That evening, while I was speaking at the National Honor Society induction, my husband hurriedly dropped Kaden off at the fields by Patton and rushed off to get Gracie to dance.
After the induction ceremony, I headed over to Patton to catch the try-outs and bring Kaden home. Only, when I got there, there were no little guys–just the big varsity player variety. Feeling pretty confused and a bit panicked, I texted Greg, but my husband–while talented in so many ways– is equally as good at reading and returning texts as he is about reading memos, so I decided to drive around town to see if I could find the team.
As I was heading back toward the high school on McDonald, I noticed little arms waving wildly out of the corner of my eye. On the corner of the intersection, there was Kaden, determinedly trudging down the street, baseball bag, bat, and water bottle in tow. I pulled over, and as he hopped in the car he said, “Dad must’ve dropped me off at the wrong place. I’m late to tryouts. What if I don’t make the team?”
Those of you who know my son and know his story know that he’s just about the bravest boy in the world. He basically raised himself from birth to age five at which point he was removed from the care of his birth parents and placed in the custody of the state–eventually to find his “forever home” with us.
I just looked at him in awe. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t pissed. He was just taking care of business. I apologized, told him I’d explain to the coaches that it was our fault, and I asked him if he had felt scared. He replied, “Sure. But I knew that crying about it wouldn’t make me less scared, so I decided to just do what I could to solve the problem. I was trying to find the high school because I assumed you were there. I saw the football field and figured I was close. If you weren’t there, I was just going to ask around to see if anyone knew where baseball tryouts were taking place.” While I wouldn’t wish his trauma on anyone, it has also become his superpower. The kid is as independent and confident as they come.
When we got to Baker, he scrambled out of the car and onto the field. I explained to the coaches what had happened, and as Kaden was getting his helmet on (they were batting), the coach hollered at him, “Hey, shake it off, and get out there and hit a homerun!” And you know what? HE DID.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that moment. Kaden could have let the stress of the evening paralyze him or get in his head. He could have used it as a reason to feel sorry for himself or even to sit on the sidelines and pout. But instead, he realized that he could do hard things, and he leveraged that realization and confidence to … well, … do more hard things.
Makes me think about you all. This past year we’ve been navigating a global pandemic along with the rest of the country. While we are indeed worn out and stressed by it all, the circumstances haven’t put a pause on our success, the circumstances seem to have excelled our excellence. Last week I received this notice from US News that McMinnville High School has earned the honor and title of one of the “Best High Schools in the US.” I’m simultaneously in awe of you and also not surprised. This is a big deal and a huge honor.
Way to lean into hard things and hit it out of the park.
May 24th, 2021
This video (also linked in the Grizzly News) crept back into my life this morning when I was looking through old emails, and it proved to be just the thing I needed to see at just the right moment. Disclaimer, I’m a Tony Robbins fan. I find him both wise and nutty–a combination I can get behind. Some find him obnoxious. Regardless, I think his message is powerful: We all suffer from stress, but we don’t have to.
In fact, he asserts that we each have our ”favorite flavor” of stress. Whether it be worry, anger, fear, boredom, etc., we tend to each have a habituated negative state of being. (Full disclosure: I’m pretty sure mine is boredom.) Anyway, he suggests the greatest way to combat stress is to trade in our expectations for appreciation. ”If people have to behave a certain way for us to be happy, we are not going to stay happy for very long.”
Our circumstances can create stress, absolutely. But it is our mindset that determines the extent to which that stress controls us. This has certainly been a stressful year. But you know what I realized today when I was perusing my old “Fast Facts” to try to find some inspiration and motivation? They all are. THEY ARE ALL HARD YEARS. I know that sounds defeatist. It’s not meant to.
While a global pandemic certainly takes the cake, I have yet to experience an easy year in education. In my six years just at this high school, we’ve been through loss, construction, scandal, political upheaval, walk outs, threats to the school, you name it. It’s not meant to be easy. And that’s actually a good thing because easy isn’t fulfilling. (By the way, it’s not fulfilling for students either. A common mistake we make as educators is to take away some of the challenge to make school more enjoyable. The opposite is actually true– the more challenging and complex the learning, the more engaging it is for students. But I digress …)
In the end it’s the stories we tell ourselves about our circumstances that contribute to our happiness or lack thereof. Last week a few of you checked in on our admin team after the staff survey results were sent out.
There were some comments that were hard to read. There always are. The extent to which it stresses us out depends on the story we tell ourselves about those comments. We could be dismissive and defensive and tell ourselves that we can never make everyone happy no matter how hard we try. Or, we could be obsessive and depressive about it and lose sleep trying to do just that.
The real story is a little more complicated, I think. The real story is that there is a lot that we can do better. There always will be. School leadership matters. It sets the tone and contributes to the culture. For those reasons, we must always ask and commit to constant growth. And yet at the same time, it is also true that those who are fulfilled in their jobs at MHS likely aren’t fulfilled because of me or Robin or Mark or Veronica or Tony. They’re likely fulfilled because they choose to be. They focus on what is working and they act on what isn’t. It’s oftentimes that simple… even in a global pandemic.
Think about how much we’ve done–how much we’ve been through–this past year. It’s hard to fathom and is incredibly impressive. I need to pause more often in awe and appreciation that WE DID IT. We did it with grace and style and strength. And despite the stress of trying to pull off another strange graduation season, the fact that here we are yet again–crawling across the finish line united, stronger, and victorious–makes me smile. In these last few weeks before summer vacation, when you feel that stress starting to creep in, think about something, anything, for which you’re grateful. It truly might make all the difference.
We did it. We just made it through 15 months of the most challenging era the field of education has seen … possibly ever. This week, we cross the finish line of our iron man. When you’re living it and just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, it can be easy to downplay the magnitude of the accomplishment. But, sometime this summer or next year or later in the future, as we are barbecuing with friends or sitting with our families in a restaurant that has opened back up, we are going to think back on what we all just went through in awe that we did it. In fact, we didn’t just do it, we did it with humor and grace and determination. And, we did it together.
The last few years we’ve asked how it is that we can go from great to groundbreaking. This year, I think we unknowingly answered that question. We do it by doubling down on our relationships with our students, their families, our community, and each other. It is the only way we got through this. It will also be the only way to make the kind of changes that finally allow us to realize our mission of true equity and unprecedented excellence.
But that work … it is the hardest of all. It is the emotional labor that takes it out of you. This morning as I woke up and rolled over to look at time on my phone, I realized that I’d slept for twelve hours. 15 months of pure adrenaline is starting to subside, and it dawns on me that this all has affected me maybe more than I know. Now is the time for rest. We need it. We earned it.
This last week of school, sleep in when you can. Soak up your accomplishment. Celebrate with each other. And then take the time for yourself this summer that you deserve. We did it.