Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Van Allen Pride

This is the third of four blog posts that I am sharing to elaborate on our work for re-creating our school’s mission/vision (First blog, linked - Inspire Learning; second blog, linked - Act with Empathy).

As a staff, we identified Happiness and Commitment as core values within our school. As a smaller team, we took those words and created the phrase Feel Pride. Based off of feedback that we received, Feel Pride became Van Allen Pride.

What follows is the thought process (as well as my own elaboration) for how and why we went from Happiness and Commitment to Van Allen Pride.

Pride isn’t arrogance, and it isn’t boastful. Instead Pride comes from feelings of self-respect, satisfaction, and accomplishment. Pride is a good thing. Pride is NOT something that we should ever be ashamed of feeling. Pride is something that we should always have in regards to all that we are doing. Feeling Pride correlates with strong levels of commitment and intense feelings of happiness.

In his book Beyond Basketball Coach K’s Keywords for Success, Mike Krzyzewski describes it (Pride) as, “A feeling you get from being a part of something bigger than you.” We want staff, students, parents, and other community members to have that feeling of Pride from being a part of Van Allen Elementary School. Krzyzewski goes-on to say, Pride is putting, “Your signature on everything that you do - your best.”

At the end of one of my all-time favorite picture books, The Dot, Vashti's character hands the paper to the boy and says to him, “Please...sign it.” That’s Pride. Put your name on everything that you do. Let other people know that it is your work. Always give your best work, knowing that your work is attached to your name. And then feel good about your work. Feel good about your effort. Feel Pride. Feel Pride in Van Allen. Feel Pride in everything that you do that is associated with Van Allen. Feel Pride that you are a part of all that we are accomplishing at Van Allen.

Via The Dot written and illustrated by Peter Reynolds

Friday, March 10, 2017

Act with Empathy

This is the second of four blog posts that I am sharing to elaborate on our work for re-creating our school’s mission/vision (First blog, linked - Inspire Learning).

As a staff, we also identified Kindness as a core value within our school. As a smaller team, we took that word and created the phrase Act with Empathy.

What follows is the thought process (as well as my own elaboration) for how and why we went from Kindness to Act with Empathy.

We thought that Empathy encompassed kindness. If one was Empathetic, they would also be Kind. We didn’t necessarily think that the opposite held true. You could potentially be Kind towards others (at least on the surface), but that wouldn’t guarantee that you were Empathetic. It just seemed to us that you could fake Kindness; you couldn’t fake Empathy.

Empathy is about recognizing, respecting, and valuing other people’s needs and perspectives. It begins with listening, it extends to understanding, and then culminates with making connections. Those are critical skills for today’s learner. Those are critical skills in today’s society.

Now let’s make sure not to confuse Empathy with sympathy. These are not the same things. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is much more than that. According to Mike Krzyzewski, in his book Beyond Basketball: Coach K's Keywords for Success, "Empathy means having the ability to, most literally, feel what te other person is feeling. Then they will never feel alone." What if we could make that guarantee to ALL of our parents? Your child will never feel alone when he/she is in our school. Yes, please!

Marilyn Price-Mitchell, from her Edutopia article Empathy in Action: How Teachers Prepare Future Citizens’ says, "When young people develop Empathy, they not only thrive in school and life, but they also impact their communities in positive, often extraordinary ways.” Who is going to argue that opportunity for their children/students? No one. That is why it is essential that we, as educators and school staff, are continuously modeling Empathy through all of our actions.

“Empathy is the most important back-to-school supply for teachers.”   
- Homar Tavangar (2014) via Thomas R. Hoerr's book, The Formative Five (2017)

From the book Start Right Now by Jimmy Casas, Todd Whitaker, and Jeff Zoul 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Inspire Learning

At the first PTO meeting that I attended as the Principal of Van Allen Elementary, I was asked about the mission and/or vision that I have for my new school. I refrained from answering because while I certainly had a mission and a vision, I didn't think that it was worth sharing at that time.Instead, I wanted to spend time getting to know and working with staff, students, and the school community before creating a collective mission/vision.

We've been doing that. And this is the first of four blog posts that I am sharing to elaborate on our work.

As a staff, we identified the core values that were most important to us. We wanted to identify our core values, first, and then use them to draft the content of our mission statement. Knowledge was the first core value that we identified. Then, as a smaller team, we took Knowledge and turned it into the phrase Inspire Learning.

What follows is the thought process for how we created Inspire Learning from Knowledge.

When we thought of Knowledge, we thought of facts and the accumulation of facts. That isn't what we hope for students when they leave school. Knowledge is so 20th century. With tools like Google, we can obtain infinite amounts of Knowledge with a few proper key strokes and clicks. Knowledge is summative. And as David Culberhouse (@DCulberhouse) shared, recently, to Twitter, "Knowledge is no longer a commodity as much as it is a collaborative tool."

Conversely, Learning is a necessity. Knowing how to Learn in the 21st century remains a vital skill. Learning values the process. As educators, we value the process. We want Students to know how to Learn. We want Students to love Learning. We don't want our students (and/or adults) to ever stop Learning.