MS Weekly Staff Memo – February 14, 2014

What’s on My Mind….

Recently, I had a really insightful conversation with a staff member, and I was so moved by something that was said, I thought it was important enough to communicate with all staff.  We were talking about addressing challenging behaviors in the classroom, and this person said, “We just need to clone you!  We need more of you!”  This comment was followed by a very honest, legitimate question: “Are there any plans to add another administrator to the middle school?”  Okay, first off, I want to say that I was extremely flattered by this person’s statement about “cloning” me.  I know the intent here was to say – “Hey, you are doing all you can and what you are doing is really good, but we just need more.”  So naturally, I took this as one of the biggest compliments that anyone could give me, although I constantly strive to be better as I worry I fall short all of the time.  But with this question, I saw an awesome “opportunity” (as Joy recently referred to in the swts blog) – an opportunity to address mindset.

I’ve thought about this A LOT over the past few weeks, and the truth is, it’s not about more of me, but much more about the power of we.  If I am viewed as the solution to all of our problems, student behavior and otherwise, then we have a much bigger problem at hand as no one person could possibly ever be enough.  Sometimes, we can become so engrossed in our own realities that we lose touch with other important perspectives.  For example, I can become very bitter and resentful about the hours I put into this job and can become very focused on my particular set of circumstances.  But then all it takes is a few brief moments contemplating the realities of others.
What about the mom who is in the military and is currently deployed to Afghanistan and hasn’t been able to tuck her baby into bed for the past 12 months?  Now that’s sacrifice.
What about the parent who has been out of work for months on end and is watching him/herself fall further and further into financial ruin?  Now that’s despair.
Or what about the single mom who literally works four jobs just to keep food on the table and heat running in the apartment and depends on her oldest children to take care of her youngest?  Now that’s exhaustion.
So my point is this:  It’s all how we view things.  And the great thing is – the way we view things is a matter of choice.

So back to my original point.  There are no plans to increase the number of administrators at CSD.  If anything, we are looking to head in the opposite direction.  With our new Teacher Leader program, we are looking at ways we can increase willing teachers’ administrative duties incorporating even more of a shared leadership approach – not the other way around.  So when I hear teachers or teams are struggling with student behavior, my job is not to whisk in and remove the problem.  My job is to coach you – the teachers on the frontline – on how to effectively handle the problem from my detached viewpoint.  And that is key – detached viewpoint.  Hence the word, “opportunity.”  This is not to say there are not times that warrant a student to be removed from a classroom to speak with admin.  That is certainly part of the reason I am here, and I expect to deal with these situations as they arise.  But if placing the student with me (on a repeated basis) is viewed as the solution, then we do have a problem as these cases will more than likely outnumber my availability on a recurring basis.  So as I see it, the answer is not about more of “me.”  The answer lies in me helping teachers to acquire the skill sets necessary to effectively deal with these episodes from within – the power of “we.”  Speaking of which…  I am no better at discipline than any of you.  The truth is that if I were in the classroom, these exact same students would be pushing my buttons as well.  And as Joy said at one of our first Teacher Leader meetings, there is no divine sense of “knowing” that descends upon you once you are an administrator.  It just doesn’t work that way.  You acquire wisdom through experience.  And if you’re really lucky, you get to watch some masters in action and learn from them.  That’s it.  So the power does not lie in any one person, whether it be an administrator, an awesome teacher, or that super-supportive parent.  The power lies in all of us working together, and more importantly, in the mindset with which we view the problem/opportunity.

So when we get down or are feeling overwhelmed, it’s important for us to take that “time out” and to remove ourselves from our current reality.  I think it’s super important to the culture of our school to remember how good we have it and to live in that place of gratitude.  I do not in any way mean to insinuate that I am immune to negativity, myself.  It’s part of being human.  But another part of being human is having the ability to recognize when we are in that place and do something about it.  Our kids can certainly challenge us and can stress us to the max.  After all, they are typically developing middle schoolers!  But when I weigh our stresses to those of some other public school teachers I know (and read about in the news), we are extremely blessed.  On the whole, we’ve got it pretty good, you know?

In closing, I just want to acknowledge that what you are doing is hard.  Teaching middle school is not easy!  But we must resist the urge to ride the emotional rollercoaster with them.  We have to remember that we are the adults.  It’s very easy to lose sight of the scientific rationale behind pre-adolescence (and there are lots of scientific reasons they are acting the way they are!)  At times, I find myself being sucked into the rollercoaster ride as well!  That’s why I have my go-to mentors who reside on my bookshelves and in the folders on my computer that pull out on days when I feel I’m at my wit’s end.  I read their words, and then I’m reminded that it’s supposed to be this way.  Anybody who knows me well knows that Rick Wormeli is one of my favorites.  In my opinion, he just “gets” it and has a gift for putting it in a way that others will “get” it, too.  So I want to close with a few of his incredibly powerful words.

“Young adolescents can be absurd, on purpose and by accident.  They can get their braces stuck in classroom pillows or glue their armpits so they can’t raise their arms without ripping hair – both of which actually happened in my classroom.  Sophisticated students will laugh when someone passes gas during a test, and they will ask questions that I answered four seconds earlier.  As middle level educators, we must learn to be patient with their quirky growth patterns.  Our classes are full of human beings in the making, and we play important roles as their coaches, mentors, and referees.  I have lost track of the students who gave me nothing but frustration and terrible work during their time in my classroom but performed well in high school and college.  Either they weren’t ready to receive what I had to offer or I wasn’t offering what they needed.  But somewhere inside, they were germinating the seeds of what they could become.  With each of them, I had to look past those frustrating years and not hold their development against them.  What would I have become if I had been held to the labels placed on me as a young adolescent?  I don’t want to think about it.”  (Pg. 191 Meet Me in the Middle, Rick Wormeli)

Please ponder these words in the upcoming days.  On Wednesday at staff meeting we will come together to review CSD’s approach to student behavior, discipline, and classroom management/leadership.  As always, I look forward to learning and growing with you.

Many thanks and much love,
Juli

Professional Development

Here are a couple of excellent resources on Pre-Adolescent Development.  These would be great documents to review prior to Wednesday’s Staff Meeting:
Understanding the Young Adolescent:  (Chapter 2 from What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know by Trudy Knowles and Dave F. Brown)
https://www.heinemann.com/shared/onlineresources/e00266/chapter2.pdf

Characteristics of Middle School Students:
http://www.culpeperschools.org/ms/guidance/characteristics.pdf

Also, in response to the last Staff Meeting, I asked for staff feedback on ways I can better support you in your classrooms when it comes to student behavior.  If you have a specific situation that you would like to brainstorm, please add it to the list by clicking here.  Thanks!

Upcoming Dates

Monday, February 17th
*Snow make up day – Regular School Day
11:15-12:15 – Juli will Pop into all team meetings.  Dana is out today.

Wednesday, February 19th
11:15-12:15 – Vertical Math Team Meeting to discuss EOG’s – Science meeting postponed due to weather.
3:30 – MS Staff Meeting – CSD Approach to Student Behavior, Discipline, and Classroom Management/Leadership

Thursday, February 20th
Beth Knight – Teacher Leader
Juli – Sacred Classroom Time – To sign up to use Juli in your classroom, click here.

Other Upcoming Dates/Events:
February 20-23 – Les Miserables Performance at HS
February 24 – CSD Lottery
February 26 – Admin Team Planning Day
February 26 – NWHTYS Book Study (last one)
Feb 28-March 2 – MS Musical – Dear Edwina
March 3 – Parent Advisory – 7:30 at High School
March 7 – MS Show Choir Competition
March 21 – *School Make Up Day
March 28 – 8th Grade Dance
April 3 & 4 – 8th Grade Finance Park
April 11 – Early Dismissal… Spring Break begins
April 11-20 – SPRING BREAK; April 21 is Snow Make Up Day

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine

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