Cameroon 2009

Cameroon 2009

Monday, October 14, 2013

Don't sweat the small stuff??

"Don't sweat the small stuff - and it's all small stuff."

Certainly catchy, and more than just an element of truth to it.  I could get into a discussion of the stuff I consider anything but small; another post, perhaps.

No, this is about my belief that a lot of small things matter, and are worth "sweating".
  • A smile is a small thing.  But a person's face is transformed by a smile.  Smiles invite people in, foster the development of relationships and bonds.  Last spring I asked a teacher to smile more, and her "vibe" is entirely different when she does.  I'm so grateful that she's taken this to heart.
  • Graffiti and other small forms of damage are small things in public spaces.  Yet, left in place, they're open invitations to add more.  They signal a mood of lawlessness, and a lack of caring by school staff.  In the mid 90s, Rudy Giuliani announced an anti-graffiti task force; together with other initiatives, it dramatically lowered the crime rate in New York City.  It's worth reading about.
  • Spelling mistakes, poor font selection; bad posture, weak grammar.  How many job applicants have failed to get an interview, or to be considered for a position, because of one of these "small" things?
  • Please and thank you.  Will anyone seriously suggest these little words don't matter?
  • Being in the room to welcome students to class.  No direct link to the learning to follow, but it can be a powerful opportunity to get to know kids, and form relationships with them.  A few minutes that can matter hugely.
A touch (school-appropriate, of course), an open door, cleaning up after yourself, pretending not to see or hear something (once in a while).  There are so many little things that, ultimately, add up in ways we might not appreciate in the moment.

What do you think are the small things worth sweating?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Too much of a good thing

I followed a link on Twitter to a blog written by someone I take to be a relatively young teacher.  In her latest post, she is lamenting that while she finds Twitter and other online sources of PD to be really valuable, they often also leave her with a feeling of inadequacy.  My own experience on Twitter is that there are a lot of posters who, without likely meaning to, suggest that there is something wrong with others who are not sufficiently "progressive", who haven't yet gotten with the program.  As this young lady says, no grades (ever) and no worksheets (ever) "may" be a desirable state of affairs, but they're not realities in her world at this point.  It's worth remembering that there are a lot of people who have had "the" answer before, and they've been wrong.

I wrote the following comment after her post, and thought to myself that maybe this was my newest post for this blog:

Hi Rachel.

You bet it's tough to do the job that you're doing. It's completely natural to feel the way that you're feeling now, and you'll probably feel like that from time to time, even often. On some of my best days, right after the students left after the last class, I'd slump for a moment with my head on my counter, feeling like I might not have the energy to get up. To say that teaching is enervating and exhausting at the same time is not an oxymoron.

I'm relatively new to Twitter, and only a week into blogging, and can relate to that feeling of inadequacy. I've been a principal now for 4 years, after 26 years of teaching. Still, after what most would describe as a very successful career, I often feel like I just can't do enough, or do it well enough. Many of those you're likely following have been out of the classroom for a while, sometimes a long while, and are forgetting the realities of the classroom - I know that I am. It's easy to present the latest and greatest ideas, and to give off a vibe of, "come on, there's nothing to it" or that you must not care if you're not on board. Remember that they almost surely mean the best, but that may not come through in posts and comments.

Are you trying, in the time you have available, to get better, to learn and to grow? Your blog, what I saw in your work to redesign your classroom learning environment, suggests that you certainly are. You won't get it all right, at least I hope not, because the best learning comes from getting it wrong, then refining, revising or just trying something different until you get it right. But it's not easy, and it doesn't always feel good.

Teaching is not, ever, something done perfectly. As you stated, there are those who should not be doing it, for whatever reasons. The rest of us, though, are doing the greatest work in the world, and will have a damnably tough time seeing it and feeling it on a daily basis. One of my favourite quotes sums up how I see this profession as a way to express my faith in the eventual positive influence we have on the future, through our kids: 
“Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be, stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those who go on anyway.” – Robert Henri

Take care of yourself. :)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Foster Parents

My wife and I have been foster parents for the past four and a half months.  There's a bit of a story behind it, but we took in one of our students when a placement for him turned out terribly, and he was placed in a hotel, as too many are.

This young man has FASD and ADHD.  He was fortunate, previously, to have been placed at birth with a foster family who cared for and loved him until his needs became too great for them to handle.  He's a good kid, just turned 18, and knows right from wrong (taught at home) better than he knows the times tables and reading he learned at school.

That's not a slight on the schools he attended.  Rather, it's a testament to the love he received throughout his life, as troubled as it has been not only with the conditions mentioned, but with a number of other health issues.  His foster parents did so much more than feed and clothe him, and send him to school when the time came.  They held and coddled him, were there through all of his surgeries, prayed with and for him.  He was corrected when he was wrong, and praised when he was right.

It turns out that he has a special talent for music, and he received the violin lessons and other lessons that have turned him into a fine musician.  He has a sense of self worth that exceeds what others with his conditions might have had, from this and his other accomplishments.  Last year, he had the confidence to give a presentation to the student body about FASD, and to make the case that it would not keep him from living a life full of worth.  I was, and am very proud of him.

Foster parents, at least around here, are sometimes lightly regarded.  I've heard others intimate that foster parents are in it for the money (it's not that much), and that the level of care provided might just be less than is true in "real" families.  That is so wrong.  This is not an easy job, and that's because it's not a job.  It's a vocation, a calling I think.  After less than half a year, we're played out.  Our boy is moving out into a group home tomorrow, and we wouldn't have been able to go on doing this much longer.  We love him, yet...

It must be a real challenge to take children in regularly, to love and nurture them, and then to have to let them go.  For the foster parents who may rarely, or even never see these children again - my goodness, I just can't imagine how hard that is.  I so admire your willingness to go through that, all of it.  May God bless you for this loving work that you do.