Sunday, October 30, 2016

Equity in Our Schools.......

I was honored to be a panel member last week for the Solano County Equity Alliance Network. I was joined by three other educators from Solano County, including Lisette Estrella-Henderson, Associate Superintendent of Student Programs and Educational Services.  The aim of the network is to provide educators with a safe space to have discussion and learn the strategies that may assist in incorporating equitable practices focused on student learning.  California has formed a statewide alliance to address equity; the California Equity Alliance (CELA) focuses on equity for all students.

To begin the discussion, all panel members explained what equity means to each of us. Interestingly, none of us had the exact same definition. However, there were common themes. Equity encapsulates fairness and provides that all individuals will be given what they need in order to be successful. It was agreed that equity is not the same thing as equality. If we overlook the needs of individuals and provide the same instruction in the same manner to everyone we will continue to see some individuals succeed while others will not. 

An eye opening discussion on the origins of our school system took place. We reflected back on the focus of schools in the mid 1800's where the focus of the economy moved from agriculture to manufacturing. Schools were the source to prepare workers for manufacturing jobs. Fast forward to 2016 and the majority of our schools still resemble the schools of the 1800's. Students are seated in rows, teacher directing the learning, little to no academic discourse. The question arises, what are we preparing our students for? We need to be preparing our students for the jobs of tomorrow. The reality is many of the jobs that will exist in 5-10 years have not even been created yet. We are doing our students a disservice if we do not recognize that we need to create environments in our schools that encourage creativity, innovation, and collaboration. The video clip below is a great visual example of this, The People vs. The School System

All of us have different life experiences that make us who we are. No one path is better than the other. The reality is that we all come to the "table" with a different understanding based on our experiences. As educators we must honor each of our students' life stories/experiences by understanding them and responding accordingly. EVERY student is valuable. EVERY student CAN be successful. We must not allow our preconceived notions or misconceptions to overshadow a student's potential. Most people do have a bias and that is based on their experiences. That does not automatically equate to a bad situation. In order to move forward in a progressive manner, every educator must be able to look inward and recognize what his/her biases are. Once those are recognized, then each educator can ask himself/herself the question of why and how to respond to those biases. If we ignore the lens that we see the world through we are doing ourselves and those around us an injustice. One cannot discount his/her reality. That is what makes us unique. It is once we appreciate that our reality is NOT that same as the person standing next to us that we can then begin to be the most effective. Approaching students and everyone that we interact with from a place of understanding and inquiry allows for give and take. These are some of the equitable approaches that we need to ensure are in our classrooms and schools.

Join the conversation and come to the next Solano Equity Alliance Network meeting on January 26, 2017 at the Solano County Office of Education. Before then, check out some resources provided by ACSA

         Continue to be innovativecreative, and  a                            model of excellence!

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Benefits of Positive Reinforcement

As each week unfolds I continue to see the importance and impact that our positive actions and words have on others. Therefore, I am going to continue my blogging on the topic.

Last Monday, administration engaged in conversation around the book Fostering Resilient Learners. I had the opportunity to facilitate the conversation with the secondary principals and assistant principals. The dialogue was rich and honest. The consensus in the room was that we must look at what trauma our students are going through, and then we must understand how our  responses and interactions play a role in perpetuating the trauma or a role in helping to heal the trauma. I can't help but wonder what would happen if we began to chip away at the negativity in our society? What if instead of honking and yelling at the driver that cuts us off, we took a deep breath and recognized that the other driver made a mistake, a mistake that we more than likely have made once in our lives as well. We could brush it off and experience it as a moment amongst many larger and more important moments in our lives. The thirty seconds we save on expending negative energy is thirty seconds we don't model negative behavior for the youngsters that might be sitting in our backseat. Yes, I too have yelled and been consumed with anger merely because another driver made a poor choice. I in turn made another poor choice that potentially created a cycle of this behavior with my own children. In order to break the cycle I must consciously break the automatic response.

I can't help but think about Ivan Pavlov and his study on classical conditioning from the 1890's. Pavlov's dogs over time began to salivate at the site of anyone in a lab coat since they had been conditioned that they would receive food from those individuals. Ironically, we seem to see this phenomena of conditioning when we look at cycles of negative behavior.  It plays just as a much of a role when we are looking at the impact of positive reinforcement. I am not talking about extrinsic motivations, dangling a carrot to entice someone to perform. I am talking about the intrinsic motivation that we all have from birth. Think about that feeling of euphoria when you nail a presentation and you receive kudos from your colleagues. Or, that amazing feeling of gratitude for life when a baby giggles and smiles at the mere site of your face.

We CAN change the reality that many of us don't like. We can commit to positively reinforce the actions and behaviors that we want to see in our colleagues, our students, and ultimately our society. We must reinforce what is being done well. We must highlight and showcase the strengths of our peers and our students. We must mend any mistrust and replace it with open and honest communication. Don't be afraid to have those that you are leading come out from the shadows and shine bright. True leaders are able to create more leaders and empower those that they lead to be the absolute best they can be.

There are many examples of this throughout our district. Grange Middle School has a staff shout out wall (saw that on Twitter).  Many sites recognize staff at the beginning of their staff meetings. Some of you leave a positive note behind after visiting a classroom. Remember, what we model with our staff, they will in turn model with the students. :)

Grange Middle school has a wall for staff shout outs!!

Continue to be innovativecreative, and a model of excellence!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Kindness and its Power.....

We often hear the message to spread kindness. It sounds very simple and in reality it is. I think we can often underestimate the power of a smile. On Saturday I went to the park with my daughters and one of their friends. As we walked back home my oldest daughter decided to start waving to the cars and saying, "Hi." Well, as you can imagine the first car that passed the passengers waved back. She giggled and then the momentum took off. My youngest daughter and her friend joined in and also started waving and then yelling, "Hi!" A few cars passed and the drivers looked at the girls but they did not wave back. That did not discourage them. They actually seemed more energized to "get more people." They jogged to the corner where more cars were passing and they started their waving, smiling, and yelling, "Hi." Each time a car passed where the passengers or driver waved back the girls would giggle and become more excited about continuing. One car even honked and boy did that pump them up. Many drivers smiled as they waved and drove past. I heard the girls talking to each other and saying, "I think we made them laugh. We made their day happier." I would have to agree with them. Even as I watched the interactions I was smiling and laughing.  A smile and a laugh can be all you need sometimes to move your day into a more positive direction.

Every time I am out on a jog I give the head not or wave at the individuals as we pass one another, which is customary. I have felt compelled lately to take it one step further and give a true high five, but I keep chickening out. Well, yesterday on my jog, that started in the clouds and ended in the rain, I followed through and gave a high five to another female jogger. It was clear she thought I was just going to give the customary wave but she reached out and reciprocated with a high five back. The result was very interesting. I began to smile and actually felt a sense of encouragement on my end. I was able to dig a little deeper and go a little faster. It is hard to put into words but a rush of glee washed over me and having that sense that we both acknowledged one another and gave each other a quick, "Good job you've got this," it helped to make the task at hand a little easier.

As you move through your day you will interact with many people. Give a smile, say hi and start spreading that chain reaction of kindness. That smile or friendly gesture just might be the one thing that helps someone turn things around. :) The Great Kindness Challenge does not officially take place until January 2017 Great Kindness Challenge but that should not stop all of us from spreading kindness on a random basis. The video below, I saw several years ago but it is such a good visual on how helping someone out can go so much further than you would ever imagine.

Continue to be innovativecreative, and a model of excellence!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Understanding the Teen Brain

I had the privilege of attending a two day training hosted by Solano County Probation last week on the teenage brain. The title of the session was, "Policing the Teen Brain." The training was actually focused on law enforcement and probation officers but it has so much relevance for anyone that works with youth on a regular basis. It is so important as adults that we are aware of how teens process and respond, so that we can more appropriately engage with our youth and de-escalate situations. Check out the resources provided by Strategies for Youth:

My takeaways from the training were more effective ways of communicating and interacting with youth based on brain science. 
  • The teen brain is going through massive changes
  • Youth perceive, process, and respond differently than adults
  • Youth don't see, hear, understand, or act like adults consistently
  • The brain finished growing at age 25
  • Adolescence is a period through which youth pass
When dealing with youth and their behaviors, keep in mind ALL that lies under the surface. Behaviors are the surface, life experiences are underneath. 

We must be flexible and adjust our styles. Everyone is not coming with the same experiences and background knowledge.  Take a look at the speed limit sign below. Does this sign symbolize how many of your students feel in class each day?  

Now, go one step further and add traumatic events or mental illness to the life experiences of a youth. That only further compounds the importance and necessity for caring adults and adults that will take time to listen and build relationships. Did You Know: 4 million children and adolescents suffer from a serious mental illness.  Did You Know: 1 in 5 teens have a mental illness.  We MUST take the time to learn, understand, and apply research based, brain science strategies in working with our youth. If we don't face the realities and adjust our approaches we will be failing the young people of today.

Continue to be innovativecreative, and a model of excellence!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

#Movetober Challenge

The sound of the waves crashing against the sand and rocks as the seagulls chirp above. No, I am not sitting at the beach but instead I am listening to these sounds as I take a few minutes for mindfulness. A week ago I dowloaded a meditation app that ties with my iPhone's health app and gave it a try. I was looking for something that would help me to slow down my mind and help me to become more present. I have to say that after a week of spending between five to ten minutes a day meditating, I am beginning to feel the benefits. When we go through our days at the speed of light there is so much around us that we miss. Taking time to slow down and be more present helps to ground our minds and our intentions. After posting on Twitter that I was beginning the practice of mindfulness a teacher in the district reached out to me to tell me that this year she started using the practice with her high school students at the start of class. She has seen a huge improvement in her students' state of mind and overall happiness and desire to be in her room. If you are interested, two good apps for the iPhone are Calm and Simple Habit.

Things have been going well lately and I have a lot to be happy for. I am extremely happy that I was able to complete the #100milechallenge for September. It was Friday, September 30th and I still had to complete seven miles before the end of the day. My plans to get in some walking in the AM and at lunch did not pan out. That meant that I had to get all seven in after work. I left later than I planned but when I arrived home there was still some daylight. I received encouragement from my family to get my running shoes on and head out the door. My 9 year old daughter joined me and we headed out. As we were finishing mile 2 my husband and oldest daughter drove up and pulled over next to us. They checked in on my progress and my youngest daughter decided to hop in the car and let me finish the last five miles on my own so I could go a little faster. :) I headed off. During the next five miles the sun set and I was running in the dark amid the street lights and lights of the cars. But, I remained vigilant and I was committed to finishing the seven miles. When I completed mile seven I was tired but felt AMAZING for accomplishing the goal. I truly believe I met this goal because of the motivation and encouragement I received from others.

Mile 5 as the sun was setting

We have a new challenge for October and I encourage all of you that read this post to be part of the challenge! The #movetober challenge is a trifecta and includes accomplishing 50-100 miles, 100 minutes of meditation or 30 min. a day, and incorporating planks into your daily exercise routine. For those of you on Twitter, I encourage you to post your progress and use the hashtag #movetober and tag the following people in your post. I guarantee you they will fill you with positivity and motivation to continue and reach your goal!! This is the team that pushed me till the end and helped me hit the 100 mile mark!!

Continue to be innovativecreative, and a model of excellence!