Life is Simple…

I’m not a philosopher.  (It would be tough to call anyone who often quotes Rocky Balboa as someone who philosophizes…). Still, I do try to share some ­­deep thoughts on these pages.  As I have aged, and collected a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, I have been drawn to some great thinkers.  For example, I have grown very fond of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I recently purchased a text (“Self-Reliance and Other Essays”) penned by Emerson that I greatly look forward to reading.

Confucius is one of the great minds of history.  His philosophies, written 2600 years ago still resonate today.  I figured that I’d take some time to examine just a few of the many statements left to us from Confucius to see how they relate to our lives as educators and teachers of children.  We’ll begin each section with a quote from Confucius and follow that up with my own thoughts and reflections.

“Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated.”

Continue reading “Life is Simple…”

A Bolt…

I will begin this post by stating an obvious point:

             Usain Bolt is an amazing sprinter.

As a runner who (more and more) plods through training runs and marathons, I am in awe of Usain Bolt’s speed, grace, and magnificence.

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A Special Teacher! – Conclusion

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I shared direct feedback, in the actual words of students, regarding the characteristics that compelled them to nominate individual teachers for a Teacher of the Week program that I experimented with about ten years ago.

It is my contention that we can learn the most about what matters in the classroom by taking the time to listen to students – and by valuing their feedback.  Students live in the world of today.  Their time is now.  What takes place in the classroom on a daily basis impacts them directly.  Students know what good teachers look like.  We just have to take the time to listen.

Continue reading “A Special Teacher! – Conclusion”

A Special Teacher? – Part 2

This post is the second in a three part series that shares comments that came directly from middle school students in regard to the teachers they nominated for a “Teacher of the Week” program many years ago. 

In the first installment, I shared comments, drawn randomly, about a plethora of teachers.  I only printed one comment for each teacher, and, for the sake of length, stopped at twenty. 

Following that exercise, I decided to categorize all of the comments from the students into categories.  People tend to not be all that creative when completing forms, and the kids in the school were no exception.  Many of the comment cards echoes similar sentiments.  “Mr. Jones is helpful;” “Mrs. Mattingly is kind; “Miss Wyckoff is helpful.” 

Yet, on occasion, some of the students provided some deep thought and in-depth comments on the cards.  While these were categorized in my overall study of all the comments, the comments below also stood out as somewhat different from the rest. 

For this installment, I will list, in the students’ own words, the most memorable comments that were left for their teachers.  These speak to the ways teachers touch children’s lives in unique and special ways.  On rare occasions, for clarity, I added clarifying details to the child’s comments.  Finally, careful readers might note that certain teachers received numerous nominations below.  This speaks to the varied ways that these teachers made special connections with their students.  While the names have been changed, I was diligent in keeping the modified names consistent.  Mrs. Violet, for example, was a beloved teacher. This characteristic shows when one searches through all of this data.  I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that students writing about Mrs. Violet (and others) took extra time to write more clearly and share their most personal thoughts. Individuals go out of their way and give extra effort for the people they care most about.

Upcoming, next week, will be the third installment where I summarize all of the comments left from all of the students.  I will close this three part series by drawing conclusions based upon the totality of this original and unedited data. 

For now, though, once more, let’s hear from the kids:

I am nominating Ms. Brown because she asks me what is wrong when I am sad.”

I am nominating Mr. Tytell for always giving us study guides for our test and helping review.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she’s the best.  She strives to make me safe.  She succeds (sic).  I love her.  She makes me feel very, very special.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she is always in a good mood and is very nice.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because when we have a project she breaks it down so its easier instead of just saying, “Ok you have a project and its due 3-30-06.”

I am nominating Mr. Apple because he is always funny but still keeps the class smart.”

I am nominating Mr. Alda because he really helped me with my dance steps and made me feel very secure with my dance.  He’s a great teacher and everyone really likes him.”

 “I am nominating Mr. Brook because he helped stop bullying with his outstanding performance.  (Note – This teacher developed and presented an anti-bullying assembly for the students that was better received by the students and staff than one from a national speaker.)

I am nominating Miss Woodside because she not only is a fantastic teacher, but helps us with GEPA (state tests) and has much insight on our recent assemblies.  She is very easy to talk to and assists with my problems.  I love you Miss Woodside.”

I am nominating Miss Woodside because she makes sure I understand everything.  If I need help I go to her.  When we have assemblies I can talk to her about it.  She is very helpful with my problems.”

I am nominating Mr. Konijn because he’s always so enthusiastic about his students learning.  He’ll never give up on me or anyone else.”

I am nominating Mr. Stokes because he always sits with us during lunch.  He’s the perfect man for (his subject).  He’s funny and awesome.”

I am nominating Mr. Caldwell because he gives us more freedom than other teachers.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she helps me when I need help and compliments me when my work is good.”

I am nominating Mrs. Williams because she gives you tips to do better.”

I am nominating Mrs. Harrington because we bonded (on a class trip) and she’s now one of my alltime favorite teachers.  No matter how hard something is to understand she’ll never give up on you.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she is respectful, and full of happiness (sic.).”

I am nominating Mr. Konijn because his class is something I look forward to every day.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she helped me with my problems.  She makes me feel very safe.”

I am nominating Mrs. Holtz because she makes me smile all day long.”

I am nominating Mr. Stokes because he knows how to keep everyone on their toes.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she has made me feel good and appreciated by calling home to recognize my great work.”

I am nominating Ms. Brown because she actually treats us like we’re responsible enough to handle stuff like adults.  Plus she respects the fact that there’s more to life then school and doesn’t deluge us with homework.  I love Ms. Brown.”

I am nominating Mrs. Audi because she helped me with all of my problems.  She ‘s like my best friend!

I am nominating Miss Woodside because she treats me like a person, not just a student.”

I am nominating Mrs. Williams because she helped me improve my listening, comprehension, and speaking skills.  She is a fantastic teacher.  She makes sure you are happy and smart when you leave her room.”

And, finally, for this post at least,

I am nominating Mrs. George because she was a great teacher by explaining something when I didn’t understand and is always offering to come for extra help and I just wanted to thank her some how.”

In conclusion, I believe that these passages, which were somewhat unique and different from the plethora of nomination forms I received at the time, speak a great deal about what matters to children in a school. 

As we shall examine in the next (and final) installment, there are some powerful conclusions we can draw from all of this this feedback and these honest words from the students. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Special Teacher? – Introduction

About ten to twelve years ago, when I was a middle school principal, I had an idea that we tried out one spring to highlight the great work that teachers do on a daily basis… I established a program titled “Teacher of the Week.”

The program itself was pretty simple.  Any person: student, parent, teacher, secretary, custodian…anyone, could nominate any teacher (as many times as they’d like) by completing a short form that required only three things: (1) The teacher’s name, (2) the reason that teacher was nominated, and (3) the name of the person making the nomination.  

At the end of each week, all of the positive feedback was typed (by me) and posted outside the main office in the hallway for all to see.  Over time, almost every teacher in the school received at least one nomination.  Some teachers, of course, had nomination forms come in on an almost daily basis. It must also be added that in the entire time, not one person submitted a form about a teacher that was negative in any way.  Every submitted comment about every teacher was positive.

The program didn’t last into the next school year, I don’t quite remember why, but while it lasted, the “Teacher of the Week” program allowed all members of the school community to share the very best aspects of individual teachers for all to see.  

Last week, I was cleaning my current office.  One of my favorite summer tasks is taking the time to reorganize myself as I prepare for the upcoming school year.  It’s been a somewhat quiet summer so I had a few hours to spend on organizing my paperwork and in going through old files.  As I did this, I came upon the old nomination forms from the “Teacher of the Week” program from all those years ago.  I had saved them as a memory of what good teaching looks like to middle school kids.

As I read over the positive comments, and reflected on the program. I realized that I possess a unique collection of artifacts.  This collection of forms spoke (and I would state still speaks) to what children admire most in their teachers.  These forms don’t highlight what researchers claim quality teaching looks like, rather, these contain the unfiltered words of students – words that came straight from their own hearts and minds.  

It’s not often that one has an unfiltered view into the minds of children – especially middle school kids.  What follows (as the first in a series of columns dedicated to this topic) are a collection of comments from children about their teachers.  I have changed the teacher’s names for privacy reasons and have never included a child’s name.  (It is amazing to think that today these children are in their mid-to-late 20’s.) (Where does the time go?)

I believe that we can learn a great deal by listening to the feedback from children. Children are our “clients.”  Adults can always learn a great deal by listening to the children in their lives.  We don’t listen to children enough.  Students might be the most untapped and most valuable resource in every school.

This exercise reminds me that we all must listen to children, and consider what they say about our teaching, our affect, our classrooms, and our schools.  We should listen to children as often as we can.  

I have copied each form word-for-word and kept spelling and other grammar mistakes. These are transcribed exactly how each student wrote the form, except where I added words (in parenthesis) for clarity. I also deleted identifying characteristics such as grade levels, subjects taught, and extra-curricular activities when transcribing the comments.

For this installment, I did not include any repeat nominations for any teacher.  Each of these comments was for a different staff member.  I also did not list the nominations from ever staff member. 

This installment serves as a preliminary overview of comments about individual teachers from the students of a school in the early 21st century.

I think there is a lot to learn here…

***

SAMPLE FORM OUTLINE:

Name of Teacher:

I am nominating this teacher because:

Nomination Made By:

***

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she is always willing to help and teach things in private to one kid.  And because she is so fun and caring when you don’t feel good.”

I am nominating Mrs. Audi because all her work and she is very, very, very…(the child wrote “very” 14 times) nice.”

We are nominating Mr. Alda because he is really easy to relate to and really easy to talk to.  We love him and hes the most amazing gym teacher ever.”

“I am nominating Mr. McDougall because he is always helping and encouraging me even though he’s not my teacher.”

“I am nominating Mr. Stokes because he is a great homebase teacher, someone who understands you and he has fun while being serious.”

“I am nominating Ms. Keating because (she) is a good teacher.  (She) helps me when I need help.  She’s a good friend.  I love her.  (She) helps me when I need advice.”

“I am nominating Mr. Norton because he was really nice during (an extra-curricular activity).”

“I am nominating Mr. Caldwell because he has helped me improve on my talents.”

“I am nominating Ms. Brown because she makes class alot of fun and is good at explaining things to us.”

“I am nominating Mr. Balboa because he is nice and cool.”

“I am nominating Mrs. LaValliere for being a great teacher.”

“I am nominating Mr. Tytell because even though I don’t always do well in his class, I know he still believes in me and know if I work to my potential I can do anything.”

“I am nominating Mr. Brook because he shows me much respect.”

“I am nominating Mr. Rizzuto because he helped us sound out a word and looked it up for us.”

“I am nominating Mrs. Harrington because she is a good teachers and also her birthday was this week.”

“I am nominating Mr. Kostya because I love her.  (She) makes me laugh.”

“I am nominating Mr. Konijn because he has always been there for me.”

“I am nominating Mrs. Remnick because she listens to me.  I can say anything to her.”

(And finally, for this installment)…

“I am nominating Ms. Pencroft because she’s great, very kind, and always cheers me up!”

***

Although this series is just getting started, I believe there is a great deal for all educators to learn just by reading and carefully considering the messages shared by the students above.

We must ask ourselves,What is it that really makes a teacher special?”

For the answer, we should ask a child.  

The child will know.

 

 

 

 

 

The Messages We Send

Last Saturday I went out for a long run.  It’s one of the pleasures of spring time…getting outside in the warm air and enjoying the struggle of covering mile after mile after mile. 

As I ran, I started to notice something very interesting that we most often take little notice of – traffic signs.

As a society we seem to have a fascination with traffic signs.  It is as if we love them or at least feel the need to put them all over the place.  Once I noticed how many there are, I couldn’t help but be amazed.  They are literally everywhere. 

Continue reading “The Messages We Send”

Ramanujan!

It has been said, although I would hardly claim this as an absolute fact, that a person only will need to read a year’s worth of my blog posts to learn, as much, or more than any traditional four year program at Harvard University or Trinity College in Cambridge.  

It has been said, although, I have never had the theory tested, that readers of this blog will see their IQs grow by no fewer than 25 points over the course of a calendar year.

Mind you, these are just claims with no definitive proofs.  Because we’d need proof.  Or so they told Srinivasa Ramanujan.  But, alas! I am getting ahead of myself.

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Kintsugi

My son came home from college, and in a discussion with me brought up a Japanese word, Kintsugi, that immediately opened up my mind to many thoughts.

It’s wonderful to find new words, new ideas, and new ways of thinking.

And, just for the record, kintsugi is now my new favorite word.

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Crash-Test Teaching

Last fall, as my son and I were having some fun watching football, I was struck by the following commercial:

It is an extremely powerful commercial – one that strikes and resonates within the heart.

And it is so true.  100%.

And not just for cars.

Or crash dummies.

But for everyone.  Always.  Especially in a job where we deal with children.

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What Classical Music Can Teach About Quality Instruction

I enjoy music. Most people do, of course.  Depending on our mood or purpose for listening, we enjoy different music styles at different times. When I run, I usually like up-beat fast paced music that will energize or inspire me. I look for songs with motivational lyrics or songs with a great beat. (Or songs from the Rocky movies.)  Other times, other music will suffice.  Sometimes a little Sinatra goes a long way as I complete some of my daily routines.

Over the past few years, I have found that listening to classical music also provides me with a certain peace and tranquility. I have found that the more I listen to classical music, the more I enjoy it.

For much of my life, I tried to enjoy classical music, but a few things got in the way.

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