Many of our students come to us with gaps. These aren’t just gaps in academic skills. Knowledge gaps pertaining to digital citizenship, social skills, study skills, and organizational skills also exist. In the age of standards-driven testing and instruction, little time, if any is given to teaching these skills. However, a student’s lack of proficiency in the above-mentioned skills often provide teachers with the greatest amount of frustration.
I have heard some argue it is not our job to teach “soft skills”…but I’m sorry, if children are lacking these skills; skills colleges and employers specifically look for in potential candidates, then I believe we as educators are not preparing the children we work with to be successful in life if we aren’t teaching these critical life skills. Lori Hough put together a thoughtful article in Harvard’s Ed Magazine. Through the article, she reflects upon David Perkins’ book “Future Wise”, a discussion of skills individuals will need to potentially meet success in a wider variety of areas rather than those linked specifically to the four core content areas.
This year, thanks to a little creative scheduling, and a lot of conversation we are taking time during the instructional day to teach these so-called “softer skills” we know students coming to us may not have as firm a grasp of. This investment of time (30 minutes a day) and effort (a team of teachers, staff, and central office personnel) has morphed into a 30 minute advisory period during the instructional day Tuesday-Friday. Right now, the structure looks like this:
Tuesday – Time to implement lessons supporting the PBIS framework. While these lessons currently center around a monthly theme (respect, citizenship, responsibility, etc.) it is the hope of the team lessons can become part of the targeted intervention process as discipline data is reviewed.
Thursday – Set aside for miscellaneous activities. Fundraiser assemblies, activities, special guests, etc. When there are no planned activities, students participate in the SERP Word Generation Lessons to increase vocabulary development. The best things about these lessons is that they are FREE and evidence-based.
Friday – Academic goal setting and notetaking/organizational skill instruction. An unprepared and/or unorganized student is going to have difficulty being successful in class. This is why Fridays are used for students to check their grades, learn about missing assignments, and organize their class materials. Lessons on proper notetaking and study skills will be provided as well.
Feedback is gathered from teachers on a monthly basis, and from students on a quarterly basis. This month’s teacher feedback shows us we are headed in right direction, but we also have some more work to do. GLOWS include thoughts such as, “Advisory is a wonderful opportunity for students and teachers to gain better insight into each other”. In addition the “…small class size” of the advisory groups and the level of “student engagement” are appreciated by staff members. AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT include the need for “more detail on how to implement the lesson”, and concerns “students finish the activities quickly”. Knowing the implementation of this framework is going to be a year-long process, we will have plenty of time to take this feedback and make adjustments.
Teaching Kindness is SO Important! – Colleges are taking into consideration traits including mindfulness, citizenship, and the genuine amount of good an individual does. This goes beyond racking up community service hours, and it is a much needed shift in thinking!
In true form of most of my ideas, I am stealing another from a colleague of mine. This past weekend, she posted a picture of a sign she had placed on her door. It read like this:
I’d love formative feedback on three of my professional goals:
Do I keep student learning at the forefront of conversations?
Do I value staff and student opinions by actually listening?
Do my actions create a collaborative culture?
The sign also included a link to an observation tool individuals could use to provide feedback.
Upending some research, the idea comes from Robert Kaplinsky and he got the idea from a Tweet he came across.
To say the least, I AM ABSOLUTELY IN LOVE WITH THIS IDEA, AND WILL BE USING IT IMMEDIATELY! I’ve always found it very interesting we as administrators are so focused on giving feedback that we often forget to seek out feedback for our own growth. Consider a building principal who gets the majority of feedback from a superior who they see on a very infrequent basis.
If you want to participate, visit Kaplinsky’s website (Link Above) and post a sign outside your door. It’s an easy way to gain peer feedback and reflect on your practice!
Close to 1000 students walked into our building and began their first week of a new school year;
Tweaks in scheduling and programming were endured;
Staff and students became immersed in another form of learning through advisory period; and
We all made it to the weekend!
Welcoming students and teachers back these past couple of weeks, there seems to a different type of energy surrounding us than was felt last year. Of course, I was new to the building; but those I talked to who have been here a while notice something different as well. I wish we could bottle this energy and safe it for that period of time right before winter break, or at the end of the third marking period when all of a sudden things “get real” for some of our students.
A need exists to be mindful that a new type of energy also means a sort of change has taken place; and as I said before this year, some staff members are going to be more comfortable with this process than others; while others are going to be absolutely terrified!
While our motto for this year is One Team, One Goal, No Limits; we also need to remember that even though our goal is the same (Student Success) our strategies are going to be different based on our students, their needs, and how we are delivering our content to meet those needs. Remember, it is perfectly OK, even encouraged, to go outside the box as long as our single goal is kept at the forefront of everything we do.
Weekly Teacher Tip:
Ok, this week’s tip comes from Edutopia. I’m a big fan of Edutopia, by the way! Nothing drives a teacher crazy when their students don’t ask questions. Take a step back, and ask yourself, “Do my students actually know how to ask good questions?” I’m going to be completely honest…I don’t think I was actually any good at asking the right questions until a couple of years ago. In this day and age, students don’t have that luxury of time to learn this essential skill. Here are a few things you can do to encourage students to ask better questions.
Purposefully model what good questions look and sound like. If we ask a question to generate a one word answer, it isn’t a great question.
Break your questions into chunks, and encourage your students to do the same when they ask questions.
Post examples of good questions, and refer to them when you can tell students aren’t understanding of something, but the only answer they can give you is, “I don’t get it!”
Don’t forget about Back To School night this week (Wednesday), and the Half-Day the week after.
Are you ready? Honestly, I never feel completely ready about the first day of school. No matter how much preparing is done, there always seems to be something forgotten. Regardless, the first day will dawn, students will arrive, and a new school year will begin. By the end of the day, it will feel like we never left school; or if new to our family, like you have always been a part of it. For this week, other than the reminders presented during department meetings, grade level meetings, faculty meetings, and PD sessions, remember the following:
Watch out for one another – The first week of school, and all the crazy associated with it can easily overwhelm the most seasoned educator. Whether this is your first day or your thousandth as an educator, be mindful of your teammates. Words of encouragement or a helping hand go a long way.
Start positive – Every student walking into your room on that first day has a different perception of school…some perceptions are more positive than others. For your students who are excited to be here today, it is up to you to give them a reason to maintain a positive outlook on the year ahead. For students who come in with a negative slant on things, this is your chance to win them over. Remember, if your students had to pay an admission fee to come to your class, would they do it?
Work Smarter, Not Harder – Would you be able to wash and dry all of your clothing, and your family’s clothing by hand? Sure you could, and it would be very hard work. Thankfully, most of us have access to a washer and dryer so use can use our energy more effectively. Think about the tasks you have to accomplish this week. How can lighten the load by working smarter? Share tasks among your teammates, use your students as resources, and consider doing away with activities which take a lot of time and effort, yet yield very little.
Last, but not least, here is my stolen “Weekly Tidbit” I say it is stolen, because I actually stole the idea from someone else. Do you have a student who forgot their pencil? Don’t give them a brand new pencil. Instead, ask students in your class if they would like to turn in their old pencil for an upgrade. Give the volunteer a shiny new pencil, and give the one who needs a pencil the old one!