Tag Archives: teacher dispositions

Hey Bammy! If Anyone Can Reverse the Negative National Narrative, Parents Can!

I whole-heartedly support the concept of the Bammy Awards: “to celebrate all that is good in American education” and “to reverse the negative national narrative that dominates the education field.” The Bammy Awards weave together our collective body of work into one exhilarating story that as individual educators we often struggle to spin. This inability to counter the negativity aimed at our profession, my life’s purpose, puzzled me for years. Experience eventually taught me that the negativity was little more than a community reaction to what was misunderstood. When I was a school principal, I painfully learned that my community’s perception of me and of my school, whether accurate or not, WAS the story. Perception is reality, right? And, because the largest contingency in my school community were my students’ parents, parent perception and what they did not understand about education fueled the story they were telling.

Parents’ perceptions of school are shaped by their own education experiences, past and present. We can’t do anything to address a parent’s past experiences, but we sure can influence their current interactions with school and their relationships with teachers, those relationships that form the foundation for and strong family-school partnership. We can work to make parents raving fans of our schools and of the education field as a whole by empowering parents, by sharing with them the edu-jargon and edu-knowledge we live for, and by including them in decision-making for real issues. We can invite parents to be our true partners in education. As partners, they too will soon become compelled to reverse any negative perception of American education. In a school of 600 students, there are likely more than 1,000 parents ready to engage in the national narrative. That is a small army. If we don’t reach out and offer our knowledge and our partnership, that army may join the ranks of the negative national narrative. However, make each of them a parent leader and school partner, and watch that negative national narrative fall apart!

My school district has embraced dispositional hiring for finding the most effective teachers to lead our classrooms and to build meaningful relationships with parents. We intentionally look for teachers who genuinely want to draw parents into the education process as partners in education. Schools who hire these teachers empower parents by sharing teaching and learning knowledge and by including parents regularly in the school decision-making process.

One of my favorite dispositional interview questions to ask teacher candidates is: “Will the parents of students in your classroom be involved, engaged, or empowered, and what is your role in getting them there?” Of course, there is no “right” answer to this question. However, if the hiring committee listens closely to HOW the candidate responds, they can get a pretty clear picture to what extent the candidate values parent-teacher partnerships. For example, an answer such as, “I will ensure that my parents are involved by providing them opportunities to make photo copies and to help when I need it,” does not likely indicate a disposition for fostering true parent-teacher partnerships. On the other hand, a candidate who responds with, “My students’ parents will be empowered to join my class at any time during the day so that they might learn along with us and share their experiences with us,” is likely a teacher who values school-home partnerships.

A colleague recently lost her mind (we all do from time to time) and, while venting, complained to me, “Parents just don’t want to be engaged in their children’s education.” I could tell by the look on her face she immediately remembered my position on this topic and wished she could take back those words. “Hogwash!” I replied. (For real… I said that. I love that word.) “Of course they want to be engaged. But, we have to provide parents with the opportunities, entrust them with the knowledge, and likely give up a portion of the control to which we have grown accustomed.” We all learned from Schoolhouse Rock that “Knowledge is power!” In schooling, we educators are the keepers of that knowledge. Hiring teachers who will empower parents and who embrace school-home partnerships is essential for all students to find school success. The more we empower parents in the decision-making process, the more engaged parents will become in their children’s learning and in the school community. They will become raving fans of American education and they will take over the national narrative. I believe that.

I suspect that the one-hundred-plus educators nominated for a Bammy Award this year possess the disposition for building effective parent-school partnerships. I also suspect the four (yes, four) parents nominated as of 11:00 pm on 5/7/15 share that disposition, too. I also suspect that if you are reading this blog post, you know of a parent or 1,000 parents who share that disposition. I encourage you to acknowledge those parent voices. Lift them up and honor them with a Bammy nomination so that they are noticed. Join me in celebrating all that is good in American education by nominating a parent leader for a Bammy Award at http://www.bammyawards.org/.

In My Ear, In the Moment, In 2015

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, which makes both figurative and literal sense when the picture is a photo of an actual thousand pieces. The thousand pieces you see in the picture above is from my dismantled iPhone.  Most of those pieces are not visible to you, because they are tiny. I mean tiny like fleas on a dog tiny, and equally aggravating. And by the way, some of those tiny screws are now forever lost in the forest of my bedroom carpet.  What you are really looking at is a bona fide near miss #holidaycatastrophe. But, lucky for me, I had Jason Mraz in my ear.

I like to listen to NPR on my car radio in the morning while driving to work.  My favorite NPR segment is “In Your Ear”. Guests on the program share the music they currently are listening to on their iPods, and describe why their picks inspire them, move them, or just plain make them happy.  This past week, along with the usual Christmas carols and Fa-la-la-la-las, this Jason Mraz song was in “In My Ear.”:

Living in the moment.
Living my life.
Easy and breezy.
With peace in my mind.
I got peace in my heart.
Got peace in my soul.
Wherever I’m goin’,
I’m already home.
Living in the moment.

That’s a lot of peace.  We can never have too much peace.  In fact, like many educators, I was more than ready for some peace of mind when my Holiday break rolled around last week.  Educators experience a mad flurry of “have to get done” projects and events at the end of December. My mad flurry was no exception, and to slow things down a bit, I decided to cut some Christmas shopping corners.

For a variety of practical reasons, I wanted Santa to give each of my children phones. I did not want, however, to spend any money to get there. My fifteen year-old already owned a beat-up early generation iPhone with a shattered screen that was barely held together with duct tape. My eleven year-old did not have a phone. My wife had recently purchased a new iPhone 6, and my work phone was scheduled to arrive any day. In hindsight, I probably should have just purchased new phones for each of them.  Instead, I succumbed to the evil Daddy Cheap Skate standing on my left shoulder whispering in my ear, “You can spend $30 on two new screens and a tool kit to replace the cracked screens on your phone and Gwen’s phone, and slyly pass them off as new to your children on Christmas morning! Bwwwaaahhhh ha ha! ”  Tempting me further, Daddy Santa Claus Wannabe was standing on my right shoulder whispering, “Picture it! Your beautiful grateful children on Christmas morning, wide-eyed, smiling broadly, and in perfect gleeful unison exclaiming, “Thank you Mommy! Thank you Daddy!” with Karen Carpenter crooning “Happy Holidays! Happy Holidays!” in the background.” A Norman Rockwell moment, right?  Not exactly.

Have you ever tried to replace an iPhone LCD screen?  Well, don’t.  Contrary to what the nice man on the ten-minute  YouTube video says in his best Bob Ross annoyingly calm voice, it is nearly impossible. Just to get to the tiny screws that hold the iPhone together, you have to remove each and every minuscule Silicone Valley part from the belly of that phone.  AND THEN YOU HAVE TO PUT THEM BACK TOGETHER, if you can find each of the removed screws.  Not going to happen!  In the end, one of our phones powered on, but the touch screen did not work.  The other phone’s screen stubbornly remained black, even though it did power on, as evidenced by the two short vibrations coughed from the phone when we flipped the ringer switch.  My wife and I spent seven hours – I am not exaggerating – SEVEN hours locked in a very tense room trying to create the perfect Christmas moment.  Seven hours we will never get back.  Our Christmas happy disappeared somewhere around hour three.  There was no “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” in that room.  My wife was crying and I was on the verge of tears myself.  Christmas was ruined.  Then I remembered…I had Jason Mraz in my ear:

If this life is one act,
Why do we lay all these traps?
We put them right in our path
When we just wanna be free.
I will not waste my days
Making up all kinds of ways
To worry about some things
That will not happen to me.

Of course Christmas was not ruined.  But, I had set myself up for failure. I had laid this trap myself and led my wife and me right into it.  I was not “easy and breezy” with peace in my mind, heart and soul.  Instead, I viewed every passing moment as a threat to a happy family Christmas.  Instead of living in those moments, taking on the challenge with joy, I batted defensively at each one and watched them fly by with despair.  Once those moments passed, I didn’t feel relieved; I felt defeated. Those moments became part of the past, lost to time, never to return again. Some argue that the past and the future are really just creations of man, ideas that cannot be proven. The only thing we can prove, they say, is that we are here right now, in THIS moment.  And, now, actually THAT moment is gone. And, THAT one.  Get ready…here comes the next moment…and there it goes.

When I think of life as a series of precious moments strung together, one after the other, it gives me a renewed sense of purpose and empowerment.  I can choose to live in those moments, even the most difficult moments, breath them in and taste them, soak in them and experience them as the gift of life itself.  This includes moments in my personal and professional lives. An educator’s day consists of a stream of quickly moving and high energy overlapping moments.  According to Shawn Achor (@shawnachor) of GoodThink, Inc. and author of The Happiness Advantage, the key to my happiness as a school leader depends on whether I live in each moment as if it is a threat or a challenge.  I chose school leadership (or did it choose me?) because of its problem-solving focus, so I know I can live happily in the moment of any challenge.  In the moment of a perceived threat, however, I just react and miss the moment altogether. Peace of mind, heart and soul will flow only from my choice to accept a difficult moment as a challenge rather than a threat to merely survive.

As I head into 2015, I’m choosing to live in each moment, viewing tiny little screws and thousand piece problems as challenges rather than threats.  Instead of trying to create perfect Norman Rockwell moments to live in, I’ll live in the moments I’m dealt.  With peace in my mind, in my heart, and in my soul!  If I get a little off course at work or at home, I’ll pay closer attention to that song in my ear.

I’m letting myself off the hook for things I’ve done.
I let my past go past
And now I’m having more fun.
I’m letting go of the thoughts
That do not make me strong.
And I believe this way can be the same for everyone…
Living in the moment.

If  you’d like to have Jason Mraz’s song in your ear, go to

 

Lost In a Daydream

“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.”  – Anatole France
My family and I followed my wife to Europe a few summers ago while she was teaching opera students in Spoleto, Italy. Her teaching schedule allowed one weekend of free time, so we made the most of it using the rail system to see as much of Europe that we could pack into 3 days. It turned into quite the adventure. After spending an evening in a sleeper car on a train from Paris that broke down in the Alps, we found ourselves somewhere between Milan and Rome on a bullet train that was sitting painfully motionless on the track in the middle of grape vineyards. Our trip was halted  because the train terminal in Rome several miles ahead was reportedly on fire. Seriously. The Griswolds’ “European Vacation” had nothing on us.
My daughter, Katelyn, 8-years old at the time, was bored out of her mind sitting on that motionless train. I glanced at her in the seat next to me.  Her eyes told me that she was lost in a daydream as she slowly and smoothly turned a bottle half filled with water over and over.  I watched her for about 10 minutes.  Then, without stopping, she said quietly, “I wonder why the water in this bottle doesn’t just clump up; I wonder why it follows the shape of the bottle.”  I started to say something to her about molecules and blah, blah, blah, but she quickly stopped me: “No Daddy! I don’t actually want to know the answer.  I just want to wonder about it.”  And, she went back to twirling her bottle.
Wow. Out of the mouths of babes!  I learned a lot from my daughter in those 10 minutes.  I saw the seeds of inquiry-based learning up close and personal.  I saw what intrinsic curiosity and a drive to learn looks like disguised as an 8 year-old’s daydream.  I imagined how this same scene might play out in a classroom. How might a teacher huddle up next to a daydreamer, tap into her curiosity and activate inspired learning? 
I stumbled upon such a teacher – a character in a Newbery Award winning book from 1954: The Wheel On the School by Meindert DeJong, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.  I had never heard of this book, but Sendak’s name caught my eye in a pile of books a teacher put on an “up for grabs table” at the end of a school year, so I claimed it for my own.  In the story, a teacher challenges his students to wonder: 
“We can’t think much when we don’t know much.  But, we can wonder! From now until tomorrow morning when you come to school, will you do that?  Will you wonder why and wonder why? Will you wonder why storks don’t come to Shora to build their nests on the roofs, the way they do in all the little villages around?  For sometimes when we wonder, we can make things begin to happen.”
 
As the story unfolds, these children DO wonder and they DO make extraordinary things happen.  Is this true of our own students: our quiet thinkers who sit on the corner of the playground and our classroom daydreamers who frustrate us to no end because they appear to not be engaged in learning?  Maybe our daydreamers are wondering about things that are more educationally rich than the so-called knowledge we expound. Maybe they are poised to “make things happen”. How can we incorporate into our school day the freedom to daydream about the “whys?” the “what ifs?”  and then provide opportunity for daydreamers to examine ideas that spring from their wonderment?  
 
“But, the school day is short” we all say. Yes, it is. So, why would we waste any bit of it?  We should use that valuable time looking for opportunities to jump into a child’s daydream and awaken their natural curiosity. It comes down to choices about what we value about learning. Can we carve out some instructional time for the daydream, find ways to gently shake it up, and then through artful teaching satisfy student curiosity and guide students to make things happen?  I wonder…

Hire Teachers Who Empower Parents

I’ve just recently started referring to myself as my school’s Lead Learner, following the example of extraordinary educators I’ve met through #PTchat on Twitter (Wednesdays at 9 pm EST; shameless plug, I know) and through my summer #PTcamp Voxer conversations with my PLN.  If you’ve read my other two blog posts (yes…two…I’m a blogger-in-training), you will not be shocked when I tell you that I am kicking around a new leader label: the school’s Lead Dreamer.  Not to leave you hanging, but I have to move this particular post along, so if “Lead Dreamer” does not make sense to you, you might choose to read my other posts after you finish this one. 🙂 
 
Hiring exceptional teachers is one of the most important Lead Dreamer jobs. Effective teachers make the most difference for student learning.  These teachers embody certain identifiable dispositions.  One critical disposition of effective teachers is the desire to build relationships with parents and the ability to draw parents into the school community as partners in education.  These teachers build school-parent partnerships that have positive impact on students.  Schools who hire these teachers empower parents by sharing teaching and learning knowledge and by including parents regularly in the school decision-making process.   
 
My school district has embraced dispositional hiring for finding the most effective teachers to lead our classrooms. One of my favorite interview disposition questions is: “Will the parents of students in your classroom be involved, engaged, or empowered, and what is your role in getting them there?”  Of course, there is no “right” answer to this question. However, if the hiring committee listens closely to HOW the candidate responds, they can get a pretty clear picture to what extent the candidate values parent-teacher partnerships.  For example, an answer such as, “I will ensure that my parents are involved by providing them opportunities to make photo copies and to help when I need it,” does not likely indicate a disposition for fostering true parent-teacher partnerships. On the other hand, a candidate who responds with, “My students’ parents will be empowered to join my class at anytime during the day so that they might learn along with us and share their experiences with us,” is likely a teacher who values school-home partnerships. 
 
Over the summer, armed with my disposition questions for hiring, I set out to build dream team interview committees of educators and empowered parents. For the first interview cycle, I received 206 applicants for one teaching position. I decided to conduct three rounds of interviews.  The first was a screening round where pairs of educators and parents asked applicants four questions, two of them being disposition questions.  From there, we narrowed the field down to six candidates who interviewed with a full committee of educators and empowered parents.  Finally, two finalist candidates were invited to teach a classroom of Grade 5 students in front of the committee. After the lesson, the students were given the opportunity to provide input – student voice – regarding the teacher selection.  Did the parents on the committee feel empowerment in the education process?  Did it make a difference?  You betcha!  Kim, one of the parents on the interview committee, described her experience:
 
“I was surprised at the entire process.  While the disposition interviews, panel interviews, sample lesson being taught to kids were impressive, it was your willingness to trust and put your faith in us to find the right teacher. I felt empowered, as did my daughter, to have a voice in the process.  I’m sure that the candidates that came through my room, were less than thrilled to only meet two parents during disposition interviews, but it sent a strong message as to what your vision/voice is about our school. While this new hiring process is lengthy, you should continue to do it this way and always ask parents to be involved.”
 
For a second interview process, I turned the parent empowerment dial up a notch.  I assembled a hiring committee where the educators and parents were equally represented in numbers: five parents and five educators. The parents on the committee were parents of the children assigned to the class for which we were hiring.  Maria, another parent, described her participation this way:
 
“I’m going to be honest, I thought maybe we (as parents) would get to ask a few questions but otherwise be there mostly as a side note. I might be a bigger “nerd” than I originally thought; but being able to be a contributing part of the interview committee was absolutely invigorating…. we were trusted with the freedom to comment during the interview and ask the candidates our own personalized questions. Huge!”
 
Do parents want to be engaged and empowered in their child’s learning? Of course they do.  But, we have to provide them with the opportunities, entrust them with the knowledge, and likely give up a portion of the control to which we have grown accustomed. Listen to how the following parents from the interview committees describe their desire to be engaged and empowered:
 
Jen: “I would like to see a stronger Parent-School partnership in every aspect of education, from being more active in the PTA or PTA activities to being present more in the classroom. I am a single mom with a full time job so I know it can be difficult, but it is so rewarding to be a part of your child’s/children’s education.”
 
Maria: “We have hundreds of kids in our school, that means that we have a whole lot more sets of parents associated with these children. Each of these parents are good at something. Experts at something. Trained in something that maybe nobody else in the school knows anything about. I would love to see parents in the school teaching classes or something as simple as making a presentation on something they specialize in, mentoring kids, using the skills they have gained through their lives to help advance our children. For instance, I’m a commercial certified inspector for a pest control company. I could talk to the kids about bugs or maybe have a presentation for the staff on helping prevent bed bug infestations or avoid taking it home.”
 
Knowledge is power.  In schooling, we educators are the keepers of that knowledge. Hiring teachers who will empower parents and who embrace school-home partnerships is essential for all students to find school success.  The more we empower parents in the decision-making process, the more engaged parents will become in their children’s learning and in the school community. The question is, are our schools staffed with teachers and leaders who possess the dispositions to take that leap? Hiring with effective teacher dispositions in mind is the answer.