Sunday, April 27, 2014

There Will Always Be People Who Bully

For the past three years, I have been serving on our school division's "Promote Respect" taskforce. Formerly named the "anti-bullying" taskforce, our job is to help our schools develop a safe and supportive learning environment for our students. We have actually just finished developing four modules based on the Safe Supportive Learning website for parents, teachers, students, and trainers to help guide them through this process.

I am appreciative of the fact that we as a school system have recognized the need to shift from talking about eradicating bullies to promoting respect. I am also of a firm belief that getting rid of bullying altogether is a rather unrealistic goal. I for one would much rather focus on educating about kindness rather than cruelty anyways.

Bullying, disrespectful, and unkind behavior is not going to go away completely. I think about my own existence and the extremely wide variety of people I have come in contact with. There were bullies in my childhood, especially during my middle school years. There were a good two years when I felt really uncomfortable riding the bus home in the afternoon thanks to a particularly nasty group of "mean girls" in my neighborhood who loved to torment me. The best thing I did for myself, was to ignore them, to not let them get the satisfaction of knowing that they were getting to me. The worst thing I did, however, was to keep quiet or downplay what was going on. It's ironic. I've worked with a surprisingly large number of parents who knew their own child was suffering the wrath of unkind people, but didn't say anything, for fear it would get worse. In most cases, there comes a point when everyone has had enough, and the child or the parent storms into my office demanding the "bully's" head on a silver platter.

Of course, it's never that easy. I ask the parent to put themselves in the other parent's shoes. I say, "If your child was being unkind to another individual, wouldn't you want to know about it right away so you could take care of it before it gets out of hand?" In most cases, the parents agree and allow us as teachers, school counselors, and administrators to resolve the issue in a way that is of benefit to the person being unkind, and the person who was the recipient of the unkindness.

If you are in a similar situation as I am, and you are working to develop a plan to educate your stakeholders about promoting a safe and supportive learning environment, make sure you continue to teach strategies which help stakeholders respond to bullying or unkind behavior.  Think about your adult life. I am willing to bet you continue to come in contact with adults who bully, or who are unkind. They may be your co-workers, your neighbors, or even someone in your family. Sometimes these people end up being really successful in life. They say 'It Gets Better', and often it does; if not for any other reason but for the fact that you have more of a choice with whom you choose to associate. But don't ever think that this issue is going to go away completely.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Recently, there have been quite a few articles about the effects of stress on teachers and students. I'm beginning to wonder if people think this is a new phenomenon. I'm here to tell you that it is most definately NOT something new. That being said, I do think the issue is becoming more mainstream, as more and more teachers and students find themselves in higher stakes situations as the gradual shift in teaching and learning is taking place.

For example, I remember sitting with two other administrators in my division one afternoon. One worked in an at-risk school similar to my own, and the other worked in a building which served a more affluent community. The more affluent school administrator said to us, "Is it just me, or is everyone really stressed out this year?" My colleague from the at-risk school turned to me and said, "I can't remember the last time our teachers weren't stressed!"

I do not work in a Common Core state. Actually, there are times when I wish we followed the Common Core standards because from what I can tell, they allow opportunity to focus on a deeper understanding of the subject rather than just scraping the surface of a multitude of concepts. Regardless of where any of us work, the standardized tests we are administrating to our students have changed in the past couple of years. They require students to use critical thinking and problem solving skills in order to get the right answer. I remember stopping by a computer lab during which some of our honors level students were taking a practice version of the 6th grade reading test, and one of the students expressed frustration to me because she wasn't able to use the test taking strategies to find the answers. She said she actually had to read the entire passage! Read the entire passage? What a travesty! What strategies have we been teaching our students?

Long story short, a passing score is no longer a given, even in schools where teachers and students have taken passing scores for granted for so many years. Teachers are having to go beyond the content area if they are to ensure students are going to be successful with these tests. They have been amping up their questioning strategies, and are providing additional opportunities for students to collaborate, problem-solve, and think critically. Unfortunately, these strategies may not be inevery teacher's toolbox.

As much as we want them to sometimes, these standards aren't going away. In fact, they are going to become more complex as the push to prepare students to be successful in this century continues. It's up to us as administrators to acknowledge the stress our teachers are under, and provide them with opportunities to "upgrade" their toolbox through professional development sessions, peer observations, and, most importantly, guided conversations in grade level and content area PLC meetings.

So, the next time you are talking with your teachers, ask them how they are doing, and be prepared to listen to their concerns. While you may not be able to take away all of their stress, you may be able to help alleviate some of it with a few simple changes.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Another Fabulous Day!

A couple of months ago, I posted a blog titled "Best PLC Meeting Ever". Well, on Friday, some of the PLC members I work with gave me one of the BEST DAYS ever!

Friday was the last day of the marking period. The Success students I work with were working fast and furious catching up on any missing assignments, and my amazing teachers were right there with us helping them get caught up on anything they were missing.

A couple weeks prior to this, the Success students created 3-slide presentations they could show someone who would serve as a potential mentor for them. The presentations allowed the students to share a little about themselves...their likes, dislikes, and what exactly they needed help on. I took each of those presentations and added a fourth slide to them. That fourth slide had their grade from the first semester, and from the last marking period (the period they spent the success class in). I then took all of the presentations and loaded them onto a Google site that our teachers could access. The teachers were able to flip through the presentations, and if they felt so inclined, could use a Google form to select a student they wanted to mentor for the fourth marking period.

On Friday, the mentors came and visited their students. To say that these students were excited to find out that someone picked them would be an understatement. The teachers were also sincerely excited to meet these students who had come so far. They made plans to meet on a regular basis, and then left to allow the students to finish up their work for the marking period with the teachers who were helping them out. After the mentors had left, I took a minute to sit down with the students and told them to open up the presentation they created, and to take a look at the fourth slide I created for them. I had kids grinning from ear to ear, jumping up and down, and yelling "YES" when they saw the progress they had made. In some cases we weren't just talking about moving from an F to a D. Some of the students moved from a F to a C+. One moved from an F to a B! All were on the right track to passing the grade.

Now the really hard work begins for these students and their mentors. They are going to have to maintain these grades by applying the skills they used in the Success class. My job will be to make sure these students are beng monitored, and that they continue to receive the supports and materials they need to continue to be successful.

When all is said and done, there really isn't any secret formula to this program. It all comes down to establishing and maintaining relationships, and making sure they have everything they need to be successful. Does it take time and effort? Sure! It takes tons of time and effort. Is it worth it? Definately.