Wednesday, December 7, 2011

One Hit Wonders

Remember all of the bands that came out in the eighties with one hit song and then you never heard from them again?!  I wonder why that is.  Did they just have one stroke of creative genius and then it was gone.  Is one song all that they really wanted to contribute to the annals of music history?  Here is a thought that might apply to this "One Hit Wonder" phenomenon...

Maybe, sometimes we do something that really goes well--our best work--and it is received by friends, family, and even strangers with enthusiasm and great fanfare.  We are praised and held up as an example for others.  We hear from others, "I can't wait to see what you do next!  It's going to be awesome!".  And then we realize, "I have set a pretty high standard of excellence for myself."  And we wonder, "How can I ever live up to that?  How can I ever reproduce something like that again?".  And we worry.  And we doubt ourselves.  And before we know it, we just don't want to try because we fear that we can't live up to the expectations that our own effort have helped to create.

What about our students.  What if the accomplishment is a report card?  What if it is a great day full of positive interactions at school and home.   What if it is simply a "great start".  A new student comes to Landmark and puts their best foot forward getting off to a great start.  They get praised and everything feels good and then the worry sets in.  What if I can't maintain this effort over the whole term.  I fail a class.  I get into trouble again and everyone is disappointed in me again.  Again.  And it is all worse then ever because Landmark was my "last chance".  And so the student stops trying.

I know that I don't have the answer.  I know that I have done this to myself in my own life.  Perhaps it is it is worth thinking about.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lingering In Love

This evening we had our first parent conferences this year at Landmark.  We tried something new for Landmark.  Students have been working on portfolios that they shared with parents and staff.  The portfolios included some items that they felt showed their success for this past term.  Many students included their "Dragon Essay".  This is a piece of writing that our students do that describes their reasons for being at Landmark and how they feel about being a Dragon.  I was touched by many testimonials about how Landmark had helped the students turn their attitudes around and experience more personal success.  I am always amazed by the resilience that so many of our students show by overcoming some horrendous childhood experiences and trying to turn their lives around.

The participation wasn't great.  Some students came with their parents and some came alone.  I noticed an interesting dynamic with all of the students.  After showing their parents or staff members their work, they didn't want to leave.  They waited a moment until a staff member or friend came by and gave them another opportunity to share their successes and get another dose of positive feedback.  They lingered and soaked up as much as they could of the positive atmosphere and love that surrounded them.  Why would they want to leave when they were surrounded by love.  Love is the "Dragon Magic" that the students feel when they come to Landmark.  It is what they are trying to describe in their Dragon Essays.  It is what keeps them coming back after having a bad day.  I am no different then them.  We all want to basque in love.  It is what we crave the most.  I believe that it is at the heart of all we do that is good.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sweeping Away the Sand

I spent a couple of months in Kuwait prior to moving up into Iraq when the war started.  The U.S. military staging base was located in the middle of a sandbox in Northern Kuwait.  We were housed in large canvas tents that were in no way sealed off from the elements.  Sand would blow into the tents throughout the day so that by the time I got back to my cot at the end of my work day, there would be drifts throughout my meager 5 by 8 foot living space. The sand would seep into everything.  It would pile on top of my sleeping bag and my pillow--something that really agitated me. Each evening I would sweep up all of the sand around my area and toss it outside the tent.  It irritated me that those on either side of me would not do the same because no sooner had I cleaned up my area than the sand from their areas would blow over to mine again.  I'm sure they sensed my frustration and finally one of them asked me, "Why do you bother trying to keep the sand out? It only comes back and bothers you.  You are wasting your time."  To them I would respond, "I cannot control the fact that I am here in this dust bowl thousands of miles from my home.  But, I can control whether or not I sleep in a pile of sand every night.  I will take control where I can and the rest I will try not to worry about."

Most of our students arrive home to a pile of sand every day.  Some have the motivation and ability to sweep what they can away for the night minimizing the impact on their lives.  Most do not.  They have little control over their situations--their families, their parents, their support.  Some try to maximize their control while they are at school creating more stress in their lives.  After all, schools are very controlled environments and we are reluctant to surrender any of that control over to young people that we often do not trust.

Perhaps if we gave students a little more control during the school day, it might empower them to exercise a little more at home where they need it the most.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who is really in charge here

We should almost never lose control of our classrooms.  We should never surrender our power as classroom leaders.  We are more mature, more experienced, better trained, and have more common sense.  And yet, time and time again we allow ourselves to get caught up in power struggles with students.  We cannot win a power struggle with a mind that is in an irrational state.  Have you ever been able to reason with an angry teenager?  Then why do we allow them to taunt us into the fight with disrespectful language, personal attacks, and affronts to our personal authority?  Why do we respond to a rude comment with a counter attack like: "What did you say to me young lady?"; "Nobody talks to me like that and gets away with it!"; "You can just get yourself down to detention!"; or, the crown jewel, "Get out of my class and never come back!".  The message to the student is simply, "I don't have the tools, the experience, or the patience to deal with you."  I surrender.  I cannot teach you.  Sadly, this is the response that most at-risk students expect and usually get.  Even more sadly, this is often the experience they have at home as well.  Parents emotionally check out, give up, withdraw from the lives of
these young people.  They deserve more from us.  Next time there is a student outburst, consider this response, "I care too much to send you away.  I will overlook your outburst for now if you will sit down and try to get back to work."  Don't ignore what happened.  Deal with it when all have had the chance to consider the consequences of their words and the ramifications of their actions.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Mother, I'm home!"

I have three daughters. As they were growing up, it was possible for my wife, Karina, to be home for them when they got home from school. When they were older, my girls shared with us how meaningful it was to them to have Karina home when they got there. They would share their day with her--teacher frustrations, friend situations, funny things that happened etc. That opportunity helped them put their day into perspective and provided love and support at a key moment. When students are at school, we become their family. At Landmark, this is particularly true as many of our students do not have a supportive family waiting for them when they get home. Each day, perhaps each period, students are looking for that family love and support that you can give them when they walk into your classroom. What an awesome gift to have multiple opportunities each to day to have that kind of impact on the lives of others. Do we take advantage of the opportunities? Do we greet the students with a positive affirmation and a smile? Do they feel welcomed to our classrooms? Do we give them an opportunity to share a little something about themselves that is personal? Are we interested? Are we there when they walk through our doors? The most successful and loved teachers that I have worked with do these things. Let's not create latchkey kids out of our students!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Service For Goodness Sake

One of the five Vital Behaviors we promote amongst our students is serving others.  Yesterday was full of service opportunities.  Laying sod, digging holes, and moving soil in support of our greenhouse project or picking up litter along the highway outside of town, Landmark students served up a heavy dose of Dragon pride.  It was a good day and I was very proud of our school. 

Sometimes we adults are so impressed when our youth step up and do something for the benefit of others that we feel compelled to recognize the effort with some kind extrinsic reward.  In doing so we rob them of the intrinsic satisfaction that is inherent in selfless service.  We shift the focus from "what they did" to "what they got".  Instead of being the "giver", the student becomes the "receiver".  I believe that our students would be better served if we helped them recognize the goodness that they feel inside when they give of themselves.  We want youth that say, "Sure. I would be happy to help", rather than, "What will you give me for it?".

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fault Lines

I was reminded of a very important principle of life today.  "People are more important than programs". We have a lot of new initiatives being implemented this year at Landmark HS.  New isn't always easy.  Sometimes it is quite difficult and almost always it is stressful.  We have been working so hard to implement new programs that we have been inadvertently allowing struggling students to slip through the cracks.  Perhaps Geology can explain it.  When there is a great amount of stress on the Earth's crust, sometimes fault lines--huge cracks in the Earth's surface--form.  It might be easy to fall into these cracks or faults.  One might say, "But, it's not my fault. This is your fault."  Does it matter?  Take a number and get in the fault line!