Saturday, December 9, 2017

Students at the Center

I had the brilliant thought to travel to a conference in December, through what happened to be one of the driest seasons in Southern California. Fires. Everywhere. But since it is important for me to make sure to keep up on learning, off I went, and I am so thrilled and grateful I did! What moments I would have missed if I had decided to stay home? What insight and connections with like-minded educators would I have not made?

(*all @ connections are the group or person's twitter handle)

I was able to attend the California League of Schools Fall Conference (@clsfall2017)  in San Diego, California. The focus was "Students at the Center", and my thought was "Of course! As they should be for all educators!"

As we know, we all experience cycles that require an extra motivational boost and personal reminders as to why we are in education. Why do we go everyday to deal with students, who may not want to be there, and families who come with a plethora of problems?

I especially feel it working in school administration where we tend to get busied by the management of the details and volume of tasks at our school sites.  Student behaviors, lack of academic growth, teacher overload, new teachers needs, professional development, data meetings, staff motivation, budgets, schedules, the list goes on.  Still, I packed my bags and went to learn,  hoping to get infused with a good dose of reminding myself of what matters most, the students! If we aren't in this field for the students, then why are we here?

What I found in the conference sessions I attended, was that the focus was not necessarily on the grade-level content standards, or the assessments by which we jockey position in our state and districts. Too often sessions can be dry and we try to decipher what we can do to improve test scores. This was not the case at CLS.

This professional development conference clearly had the focus was on relationships, putting students at the center of every decision we make!  Every decision. We should be asking ourselves "Are we doing what is best for students? And not just for student learning, but for the student as a whole child?!?"

This conference focused on positive connections with students and colleagues. It focused on making smart decisions for student engagement and learning. The power of positive was in every session at the conference ~ I loved it!  My thoughts were "I have to spread the word and bring all of my staff (wish I could)! But I have the power to bring this back with my renewed attitude to share with my school, they have to hear this!"

What was most refreshing were the presenters' take and sharing of connecting with students. Building positive relationships is paramount to truly learning  and shared repeatedly by a variety of speakers. We listened to ideas of exciting ways to engage our 21st-century learners and keep them motivated.

Our visually-bombarded students need visuals to connect. That's how their brains are wired. They are hooked on phones, games, TV, iPads, computers, all visual mediums. But through a variety of thought provoking visuals, used appropriately, we can spark rich conversations and encourage critical thinking throughout our lessons. Student's need voice and choice in their learning to maximize the impact of what they learn. We are raising leaders, young people who will make decisions for the future. It is our duty to push for their best by giving ours.

If you are in education for the paycheck, the accolades or glory, you are definitely in the wrong business. Our job is not to see what test-taking robots we can create to produce admirable data. Our job and ultimate goal is to create critical-thinking leaders, as borrowed from Julie Adams (@adamsteaching). How do we take what we learn about the young brain to prepare and engage students in meaningful ways that will create truly long-lasting learning? What does that look like?

We have to be willing to step out of our confidence circle (@LaVonnaRoth , Ingite your S.P.A.R.K.) into larger circles of influence, but be willing to be silly and turning our weaknesses into non-issues.

What has been holding us back to bring our personalities into our profession? (@burgessdave) "Teach Like a Pirate" guru Dave Burgess shared his experiences and challenges us to find our personal passion incorporated into our professional passion. What a difference would that make in your day? How much more satisfied would you be with your day-to-day work? But most importantly, what barriers would be toppled by you, as an educator, sharing what you love with your students? It is all about relationships. Relationships and authentic connections with students. That matters. It matters to our students. It should matter to you.

We need to know how our students learn, so we can create learning experiences and activities that encourage them to step out, be daring, and try something new. Students need to know that their thoughts and opinions are important. They are the leaders of the future and their ideas matter!

How do you create critical thinkers?? By allowing them to think! To challenge them, to encourage them, to question them, to model for them, to connect with them, to show mistakes to them, to show patience, and grade and love to them. They need YOU! The educator. Whatever your role may be, they need to know face-to-face, that you care about how they are, who they are, and what they are doing. Despite socio-economic levels, despite language or ethnicity, students want to connect. Students grow through those connections, so do their teachers!

Do you remember your best grammar lesson from school when you were growing up? How about that content-rich biology/science lesson? The majority of us would say that we remember the teacher. The feeling in the classroom. The wonder. The encouragement. The love.

What do I remember? I loved my 5th grade teacher. She was tough and strict and expected our best. I cried when she corrected my writing. I was called "teacher's pet" by other students because she complimented my hand-braided barrettes (yes they were a thing). But I will forever remember she made me feel as though I could learn anything. I will tell you I remember the Stock Market she set up in our room. Everyday for one month she would put the daily stock reports from the newspaper on the back counter and we would have a play "stock market" complete with banks, buyers and sellers. I loved being a banker. We arranged our desks so students would come sit across from us and have to re-conciliate their checkbooks based on their gains and losses. I remember being excited to check my stocks everyday. I loved going to school, even when it was challenging and tough, I loved it. She cared I was there. So I cared I was there, and I gave her my best because of it.

What I never realized until much later in life was that she was teaching us how to convert percentages into decimals and back. She taught us about business. She taught us about resilience...with the 5th grade stock market. Brilliant. She created an environment that looked like nothing else we had experienced before. In her class and through her activities and encouragement, I learned I was a mathematician (despite having struggled with math for years and being told by my 3rd grade teacher I would never understand numbers), I was a reader, I was a writer, and I was an artist. Do you remember the teacher(s) who made you feel important, valued, loved? Do you remember those who didn't? Which would you rather be?

This was not just good conference, it was a great conference! Just what I needed at just the right time. With the typical "holiday slump" I needed that injection of positivity. And I got spades!

I want to continue to be a #positiveprincipal, spreading and sharing the good, and encouraging students and staff to do their best.  I am committed to look for those "moments" where I can connect with students, with staff, with families. I know I can make a difference and I want to continue to encourage other educators to do the same!

Teachers, Educators, Administrators, I implore you:  Find your reason "why". Find your positivity. Find your passion. But most importantly, keep students at the center.

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