Thursday, September 20, 2012

While large meetings and grand symbolic actions play a part, the most significant change in work culture is accomplished in one-to-one personal interactions.                                                                                      (Sagor, 1992, p. 18)
I do enjoy our faculty meetings and our other large group gatherings, but I understand Sagor’s emphasis on individualized interactions playing a key role in the success of any work culture, including school buildings and individual classrooms. This is applicable as we work with each other and as we work with our students and parents. One of the primary skills we must possess in order to establish positive interpersonal relations is the seemingly simple skill of listening. It is of paramount importance that we listen: to our students, our parents, and—perhaps most notably—to each other. As important as it is for us to be active listeners, it is equally important that our students do likewise. Highlight the following aspects of effective listening in your own practice and in teaching your students to listen:
  • Make eye contact.
  • Give your undivided attention.
  • Send nonverbal signals that you are interested and that you care. For example, don’t shuffle papers or continue writing when someone is with you.
  • Be able to restate or paraphrase what is being said when appropriate.
  • Don’t interrupt. Even though this may happen to us, guard against sending the message that you do not have time to listen. (McEwan, 2003)
The more we listen, the more we learn. Listening often allows us to quell erumpent conflicts. Moreover, through engaged listening, we have the opportunity to put into practice a central theme of a popular book, To Kill a Mockingbird. In this classic novel by Harper Lee, Atticus often stresses to his daughter, Scout, the importance of seeing things from the other person’s perspective. By effectively listening to others, we enable ourselves to really know another person, thereby improving our little world, however slightly. Encourage your students to engage in the above listening techniques.
At times, we become so overwhelmed that making the time to truly listen gets shortchanged. I know that I am often guilty of this myself. Thanks for listening to our students, our parents, and each other. Thanks also for letting me know if and when I am not doing the same.
Have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What makes a good school has very little to do with how rich or poor the students are or the type of curriculum that’s taught. It has very little to do with special programs, expansive playing fields, huge endowments, snappy uniforms, celebrity alumni, or whether the school is wired to the Internet. What makes a good school, whether it’s public or private, religious or nonreligious, charter or noncharter, is a feeling. A feeling shared by the entire staff that their particular school is special. The feeling that their school really belongs to them.     (Manna, 1999)

The above quote may not directly tie in to the subject matter of this correspondence, the characteristics of effective teachers. However, I thought of AAK Middle School when I came across it. The feeling here is nearly palpable. It truly is special, and it fosters a feeling of ownership among staff and students. Thanks to our teachers, custodians, secretaries, counselors, nurse, librarian, cafeteria people, psychologists, aides, assistants, and maintenance workers, we have created and maintained such a feeling.

While cleaning out some files from the office a while back, I came across an article titled “What Makes a Good Teacher?” (Traina, 1999). Please accept my apology if this is something that has been shared previously, but I found that it rang true with respect to my experience. The author sought to identify characteristics that are consistently cited by students and parents as those exhibited by their very best teachers. They are as follows:

Command of subject matter. Effective teachers know their subject matter inside and out. In addition, they convey a love of, and passion for, their subject matter.
Caring deeply about each student and about that student’s accomplishment and growth. Effective teachers take time to consider each student as an individual and a unique learner. They take the time and make the effort to get to know about each student, inquiring of their interests, family, and so forth.
Distinctive character. Effective teachers add a special flavor and zeal to their instruction that creates a memorable impression on their students. Whether it is an eccentric sense of humor or a tragedy overcome, such teachers stand out in the minds of their students.

At AAK, we are obviously staffed by teachers with distinctive character who care deeply about each and every one of their students. It is equally apparent that AAK teachers possess a superior command of their respective content areas. As a result, your students will remember you long after they leave us.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back to School - Yeah!

Schools are not buildings, curriculums, and machines. Schools are relationships and interactions among people.               
(Johnson & Johnson, 1989)

Did you know that I love the beginning of school?  I honestly couldn’t sleep the night before the children came for their first day.  The smells of floor wax, new sneakers, fresh pencils and, of course, the familiar smiles are emotional signposts in my mind.  I missed being in school.  This is not to say I don’t love my summer vacation, I’m just really glad that school has begun.

I can tell that many of you are glad to be here, too.  Your energy, passion, and excitement is palpable.  Students were met at the classroom door with greetings and salutations.  The atmosphere was very pleasant.  The children loved their first week of school.  I also have learned that many of you had made calls home before the children even left the building on Thursday.  It goes without saying how appreciative our parents are for this simple act.  You welcomed these nervous and anxious parents into the AAK family.  Well done!

Building positive relationships with our students and parents is essential to our mission as educators.  This week, I participated in a Twitter chat with parents and educators nationwide and the consensus was overwhelming.  Schools that made relationship-building a priority excelled in almost all areas.  The results were touted, shown, and discussed during this chat.  As a point of Potsdam PRIDE, AAK’s practice of calling and emailing the parents with a personal greeting from our teachers was mentioned during this chat and it impressed many.  This small gesture forms the foundation for success.  We can build a strong structure on a good foundation.

While we continue to stress relationship-building with our students and parents, I’d like to encourage you to search for opportunities to practice the 100/0 principle with colleagues, co-workers, and family.  I’m confident that it will improve all relational situations. 

Good luck with this school year.  You’re off to a wonderful beginning. 

Be the light!