Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How well do you take feedback?

Most recently, I led our 'new to district' staff members in a day-long orientation.

The goals of the day were to talk about district vision, the beliefs we hold in regard to student learning, and lastly to have some conversation about a few topics the district will be discussing and exploring over the course of the upcoming school year.

We had a group of 27 educators and many of them were first year teachers who've never officially taught before. We had elementary teachers, secondary teachers, SPED teachers and counselors, so our group was pretty diverse.

This was the first time many of these folks have been on district grounds in an 'official' work capacity, so from the district perspective, we wanted the day to be great!

We had donuts and coffee for breakfast and a great lunch from Pasta House.

We had a jammed packed day full of discussion and group learning.

What could possibly go wrong!

I decided to send out a survey to get some feedback and input from the group in an effort to make improvements or changes for subsequent years.

The survey was a Google Form so as soon as I sent the email I pulled up the responses document to watch the feedback roll in.

The first person submitted their feedback and here is what they had to say in the 'other thoughts and comments' section:

"It was very monotonous and boring. 
Sorry! I understand the concept of trying to show new hires what the district is all about but most of the slides and lectures were things I've heard before, redundant, or condescending."


That hurt a little bit...

So, maybe I was monotonous and maybe the day was boring.

Maybe I talked too much and maybe the information I was sharing wasn't really as new or as different as I thought...

Maybe I was wrong in thinking it was a well-planned day that was executed effectively.

Either way, I will take this feedback and reflect on what I did to make improvements. I hold no ill-feelings about this comment and look forward to doing a better job next year.

Remember, when you ask for feedback and input you have to be strong enough to handle what is shared... both the good and especially the bad.

I thank this individual for this comment and look forward to changing their opinion of me as the year progresses.

For the record, the survey was anonymous, so I have no idea who this individual is as it could be any one of the 27 individuals who participated in the orientation.

So, how well do you take feedback...?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Our kids only have one chance...

For many of us, another school year is underway or will be very soon.

Perhaps we are teaching the same content or grade level or are in the same role as the prior year.

Perhaps we are planning to try some new things or approach a few things differently, but for the most part we are looking forward to tackling another year.

But for many of us, another school year is just that, another school year.

But here's the thing, it's not just another year for our students.

Our students may not recognize it or realize at the time, but us adults know better. We've seen it happen and we know the possible implications.

Young people experience so much growth in such a short time frame, so the time we spend with our students is of the utmost importance.

Though it might seem irrelevant in the big scheme of things, each and every day we have the opportunity to work with our students is a chance to positively impact their lives.

Each and every interaction we have with our students is an opportunity to influence another's life. The neat thing about influencing a life is that it creates a ripple effect that goes far beyond what any one individual can imagine.

Our kids are hoping we try something new that will create a more relevant and purposeful learning experience.

Our kids are hoping they get the opportunity to be a part of something that will positively impact the world.

Our kids only have one chance with this part of their lives and they are looking to us to make it magical and worthy of remembering.

If that's not power and influence then I don't know what is...

Our kids only have one chance... let's not let them down.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

5 questions every teacher should ask him/herself

1). Who is doing a majority of the talking in your classroom?

It's the person who is doing the majority of the talking that tends to do the most learning, so what is the teacher/student talking ratio in your classroom? If you find yourself always talking more than your students, try and figure out some ways to empower your students so they are more involved in the learning.

2). How often are you mixing up and changing the learning landscape in your classroom?

So there's this misconception that learning must take place within the four walls of a classroom. In spite of popular belief, the magic barrier between a classroom and the outside world doesn't work like a light switch where learning can occur and can't occur. Learning is happening all around and should be happening all around us; there are no limits or barriers to where and when learning can occur. Take the authenticity of your classroom to the next level by mixing up the learning landscape and allowing kids to learn in a more natural state.

3). Who is deciding what is relevant and important in your classroom?

What you think is important and relevant may not align perfectly with what your students think is important and relevant. If we the educators are constantly telling students what to learn and how to learn it, then we are leaving out the most important parts of the education process, student voice and student choice. Embrace a learning culture where student opinions and student interests are valued and encouraged and you will see student engagement and student passion skyrocket.

4). How often are you including physical movement in your classroom?

Research is quite clear that physical movement has a huge impact on brain activity and brain health. Too often though our classrooms reward and reinforce student compliance and students sitting quietly in neat little rows. Allow your classroom to breathe some fresh air (literally) by taking short walking and physical activity breaks. Think about it this way... in a 50 minute period students will start losing brain activity around 20 minutes, so the next 30 minutes are minimal brain activity at best. Try after 20 minutes taking a 10 minute physical activity break and get another 20 minutes of good brain activity for a total of 40 solid minutes of learning when compared to 20.

5). Is your classroom going to measure up to the dreams and hopes your students are entering your classroom with?

Students are entering our schools with huge dreams and huge hopes. It's our job to ensure what we are doing is going to measure up to their dreams and hopes. It's no easy task for sure, but I can assure you, you don't want to be the educator responsible for extinguishing that hope or smashing that dream...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What if you were student for a day?

Dear building level administrators, central office administrators, and boards of education,

I've got a challenge for you.

Sometime during the 14/15 school year, I challenge you to schedule a full-day school visit at one of the schools in your district.

Now, this isn't your run of the mill school visit where you have a few meetings scheduled and you visit a few classrooms in between touching base with folks in the school.

I'm talking about a full-day school visit that you schedule and plan in advance.

I'm talking about a visit where you arrive when students start arriving. I'm talking about eating breakfast in the cafeteria with students or sitting in the gym with students until school starts.

I'm talking about going to your locker and getting the things you need for your first class of the day. I'm talking about navigating the halls and getting to all your classes on-time.

I'm talking about leaving your phone and laptop at the office and spending an entire day in a school doing exactly as students do.

I'm talking about no email and no administrative duties for the day.

I'm talking about doing classroom activities and assignments and being one of the classroom students.

I'm talking about sitting in classes all day long and planning restroom visits based on when the bell or teacher allow.

I'm talking about an experience that will quickly remind you what it's like to be a student again.

Will you take a full-day to rub elbows with our most important clients, the students?

Will you accept this challenge?

Full disclosure... this idea was shared with me by Ty Crain, one of the principals in my district. I have full intent of taking him up on this offer and wonderful idea. Thank you Ty!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Inspirational video for educators

Here is a video I created a few years ago for a back-to-school gathering. The purpose of the video was to inspire, motivate and empower. If you are interested in getting a copy of the PowerPoint I used to personalize for your district or school, send me an email (justin.tarte@gmail.com) and I'd be happy to share it.