Friday, October 16, 2015

Changing the Culture, One Day at a Time

"Culture is defined and created from the top down, but it comes to life from the bottom up." Jon Gordon
("You Win In The Locker Room First)
  By Jon Gordon and Mike Smith.

Creating a positive culture in a school district is the responsibility of the Superintendent.

Creating a positive culture within a school is the responsibility of the building administration .

Creating a positive culture within the classroom is the responsibility of the classroom teacher.

Building and maintainig the positive culture in the district, school and classroom is the shared responsibility of all stakeholders. When everyone embraces the vision and invests in the culture, there is the potential for greatness.

Creating our classroom culture this year has involved a concerted effort to develop an inspired and forward thinking mindset. The goal is for this mindset to be shared by all members of the classroom community.

Over the course of the past summer I came to the realization that I was wasting too much negative energy on Monday. This was a direct result of my own belief that Monday's were supposed to be "lame".  I began to challenge my own convictions and came to the conclusion that embracing this mindset was actually setting a negative tone for the week ahead.  Ultimately it was limiting the amount of progress that I was able to make over the course of a week. 

"Change the mindset change the culture".

Early on this year I made a declaration, or a promise to myself that Monday's would no longer be lame. The first step to making this a reality, was crafting an approach that would first inspire me to embrace it. Once I embraced it, I could then present to my students. Hopefully then they could become invested in the idea as well.  

About a month ago I emphatically shared with my students that Monday's were  no longer going to be lame. Reaction at first was mixed as some students shared their belief that that's the way things were supposed to be, while others were visibly excited that "lame Monday's" were going to be replaced by something new. Lame Monday's no longer existed, from that day forward Lame Monday's were being replaced by Inspirational Monday's" 

Something special was about to unfold. 

At first my co-teacher and I provided Inspirational mini lessons based on specific themes. The first two weeks focused on resilience and self worth. Students would write down their understanding of the themes and connect their personal experiences with them. Large group discussions would follow.  Usually a motivational video, poignant poem or quote was used to reinforce the connection to the theme and then a short closing discussion ensued. The first two weeks were a huge success as students were visibly inspiired; enthusiastically participating in the mini lessons. This has set a positive tone for the meaningful learning that followed. 

The desired results were being attained as lame Mionday's were becoming a thing of the past.  Students were walking in the door looking for inspiration and leaving inspired.

Two weeks ago we took things up a notch. Students were asked to volunteer to provide the Monday inspiration. They were asked to look for a song, a quote, a movie clip or a poem that inspired them. Once found they were asked to bring in the inspirational material and share it with the class. Students have been volunteering and confidently fullfiling these responsibilities quite nicely so far. Quotes and clips that are meaningful to the presenter have led to meaningful connections and discussions with their peers. 

 On any given Monday you can witness students singing, dancing or engaging in inspired meaningful conversation. There is no denying that the inspiration has replaced the traditional lameness that used to accompany the arrival of Monday.  Our culture is changing and our classroom community is reaping the benefits.

When students enter your classroom and utter" TGIM" you know your culture is moving in the right direction. While "inspirational " Monday's cannot guarantee the abscence of troubling events in our individual lives on that day, they can at least attempt to elevate our spirits. (if only for the 53 minutes that we spend together)  

As we continue to change the culture and perception of Monday, we continue to strengthen the overall culture within our classroom community. Students are taking risks and revealing individual viulnarability. This is leading to stronger bonds with their peers. 

Looking back I wasn't sure how putting an end to the "lame Monday" mindset would be received by my students. However I knew it was a change that I needed to make and that the results would benefit my students. What I didn't realize was how quickly the transformation would take hold or how much it would energize our classroom community. 

Sometimes it's the baby steps that lead to the giant steps forward.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Lighting the Lamp

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As educators we are keenly aware of our responsibility to remain knowledgeable about events that have a current impact on our world. The opportunity to use what we have learned, in order to make real life connections with our students, is perhaps the greatest benefit of staying informed. However this can be both a blessing and a curse because while some events are clearly inspirational, others are equally as tragic. 

When the news becomes consistently tragic it becomes more imortant to find new ways to "light our lamps." We need to pursue and find sources of inspiration in order to help us successfully move forward. 

Reading blogs on Twitter continues to "light my lamp" and provide inspiration. Thus igniting and energizing my various passions. There are many that are posted frequently and their authors all posess inspirational gifts.  However, there are three that consistently cause my inspirational meter to soar. 

The Connected Lead Learner by Glenn Robbins consistently inspires my passion for Education. Glenn is a middle school principal near the Jersey shore who is passionately devoted to his students and staff. The work that he has done developing Idea Street, continues to transform student learning while building school community and culture. One cannot learn of Idea Street and its success and not wonder how to emulate it in their school. Watching the growth and success of this initiative as a result of Glenn's blogging, continues to ignite my passion for education.

Jon Harper's blog Bailey and Derek's Daddy taps into my passions for both fatherhood and writing. Jon an Assistant Elementary School principal in Maryland  is a gifted writer and educator. After only a brief sampling of his work you are convinced of this. After faithful readership you learn of the depths of Jon's gifts. His ability to impart life lessons while writing of both his family and his craft is extraordinary.  I can honestly say that after reading each of Jon's posts I have felt more enriched as a learner and always more emotionally inspired.

One of my passions which has been cultivated throughout my lifetime has been my love of Baseball. Suzanne Carbonaro, a Professor at the Rider University School of Education is among several contributing writers for the blog Bleeding Yankee Blue. Her writing consistently reveals her own passion for her students, the sport of baseball, her family and her beloved Yankees.   

My admiration for her writing is strengthened with each post that I read. Her ability to connect baseball, the Yankees and real world experiences while coming from a different angle reveal her gifts as a writer. She literally has taken the phrase "baseball is life" to new, inspiring heights. After finishing Suzanne's posts I always feel that she above all else is a baseball fan, using her writing as a tool to build relationships with other baseball fans. All the while igniting everyone's passion for the game.

Throughout our lifetimes as educators and global citizens it is imperative to our personal and professional growth that we find new ways to " light our lamps." Ultimately we cannot inspire those who depend upon us the most, if we ourselves are not inspired. 

Since becoming active on Twitter two years ago I have amassed an extensive professional learning network of high quality educators that consistently inspire me in various ways. Moreover, their guidance and support helps to elevate my practice as an educator.  My lamp has been lit and continues to burn bright.
    How will you Light yours?