Many years ago, as the turnaround began, one of the first activities that we completed together as a staff was to write the future into existence. We were tasked with envisioning the school one year down the road and writing the headlines of its success. As we looked around during this activity, we saw "Beach High Makes AYP in One Year," "Beach Rises to the Top of the District" and many others. And as we literally wrote those headlines into real existence, what many left out was the mere propensity of the staff that would emerge.
Some of us have carried the school from before the turnaround, passing on the Bulldog traditions, while others have chosen to stay on board even after we have been removed from the Priority school list. Others have been here to carry us through the sustainability portion after the turnaround, while others are new here yet forging new ground, bravely approaching each task, and persevering through some of the hardest days. It's not always easy. But we are here together on this journey, as our leaders have mentioned, and we are DEEPLY thankful for everything you do, both seen and unseen for our students, for each other, for the leaders, and for the school.
So, in honor of this season of Thanksgiving and thankfulness in general, I've compiled a list of thanks from our school leaders, your fellow faculty & staff members, and some students whose content perhaps remains unspoken on a daily, busy basis but nonetheless, is ever-present in their thoughts and minds.
And without further ado, Beach High faculty and staff, THANK YOU...
"For always uniting in the darkest hours for our young people, pulling every resource you can to make that child's life a little easier. It always makes me happy to see so much good in the world. "
"For recognizing that every day is a new day, and a student's actions on the day before don't determine who they are as a person on every other day of their life. Thank you for being merciful and working hard to find the right balance for our kids without writing them off because they've offended you on one of their bad days."
"For providing me with new knowledge everyday. Knowledge is POWER. Thank you for sharing what you know with me. Thank you for being selfless with your knowledge. In my life there IS ALWAYS room for improvement!"
"For actually caring for us, and not giving up on us like some adults in our life. Thank you for making learning fun and being a place where we can truly be ourselves and find ourselves."
"For inspiring us to never give up on learning, pushing us to do better each day, and letting us know that we can do anything we want to do in life."
"For keeping our building so very clean. The floors shine, the bathrooms smell fresh, and every area shows that people care about us."
"For working with us no matter what we need. When I need extra time, the teacher feels for me and helps us to get the work done, no matter when we get it done."
"For putting so much effort into making us meals. I know there are some kids who are picky, but we know the effort they put into making our food good."
"For making us laugh, even when we're late for the eighth time. Even though I know I'm wrong, it still helps to have someone who makes me laugh through the fussing."
"Because you work beyond 2:30. You plan in your free time when you don't have a collaborative planning time and I see you leaving well beyond when you are required to be here. That other duties and responsibilities clause? You go beyond even that for our babies here."
"For camaraderie and mentoring one another. It helps when we have other people in the building cheering us on and helping us build community with our students, when some days are tough."
"For making our parents feel welcome when they walk in the school and for finding us when we've got to be somewhere. Not every school is like that."
"For staying afterward to help students catch up on work they've missed because of bad choices in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades and being willing to help on Saturdays and in special events without pay sometimes and without a second thought."
"Because even though you are new here and it is hard building that rapport with students and staff during that first year, I see you here smiling and trying every single day, not giving up, and persevering because you know that through reflection and getting better and better, you will become a better teacher. I respect your coming to school each day, even when it's been a bad day the day before, because that takes courage and willpower. I am honored to work beside you."
"For keeping us on track and out of trouble, helping us with applying to colleges and helping us when we have a hard situation."
"For allowing us to use the library space to gather and always keeping it neat and tidy. The entire staff is kind and helps when we need to decorate our classrooms or make items for our students."
"For giving us a firm foundation for life by giving us a family atmosphere, which helped us learn."
"For role models. The leaders are big role models. They set the bar for professionalism and without them, there wouldn't be a lot of guidance. Just like the president sets a standard for others, our principals set a standard to help us do good in life."
"For inspiration. Because of the leaders here at this school, I have learned to lead and take ownership in my own classroom and life. I am always excited to wake up for work because I know that a new day under such leadership is a day in which I will be supported in my position. I know I will be given the freedom to make decisions and grow as a person."
"For committing to our students at Beach High through your hard work and playing your part in this journey together."
So, at the end of the day Bulldogs, we are thankful for one another and others are deeply thankful for us. Not only can students understand how very much you do, so do your leaders and colleagues. Thank you for committing to excellence in all you do, even if it goes seemingly unnoticed.
I feel sure ours is the finest staff in the land. So, Carpe (whatever the Latin word for turkey is) this week, and know that you are valued and you each play your unique and important role in our Bulldog family.
Happy Early Turkey Day!
(P.S. The text colorer obviously took a vacation too, because it refuses to change to black in some places :))
As I was scrolling through a friend's feed the other day, a graphic's words really captured my attention. As both a visual learner and an English major, there's nothing more attractive than pretty words with a deep meaning. Quite simply, I noticed a translation of a proverb: "Anyone can find the dirt in someone; be the one who finds the gold." After reading those words, it hit me: in the classroom and in life, oh how our goal should be to view ourselves as gold miners as educators and human beings.
When we think of gold and how very precious it is, seldom do we realize what it looked like in its pure form, covered with soot and minerals. When our students come to us daily, there are some that stand out quite plainly to us as pure gold; there are others that may show mostly gold but have dark places; yet some may only show a fleck here are there; and perhaps in a few, gold is not visible whatsoever. But in those moments, even when we cannot see the gold, we must trust that it is there somewhere. Understanding our students' needs, maybe they come to us underfed; perhaps underhugged, perhaps underengaged (though not all), and life itself keeps layering soot upon them. But, we have the power to remove it and refine. We are those who spend the most time with them in a day.
Even more, we must realize that as a school functions as a gold mine in that we are taking students from their pure form, finding the gold in them little by little and moving them along to our colleagues who may wash them with a bit more knowledge, a little dash more of life skills, a little bit more refining, a little bit more uncovering of gold. We may sit as their teacher in ninth grade and not see very much difference. Perhaps we saw the gleam of that gold one day sitting in class on one assignment or here and there, but we don't recognize that we are part of a larger process. Take encouragement in the role that you play along the journey. You too are responsible for how much gold we can see as they are seniors and walk across the stage.
So get practical, instead of metaphorical, right? Sounds good.
Carpe Aurum: 10 Steps
1. Greet your students on an everyday basis. Stand at the door. Notice a sweatshirt color that looks nice on them. Ask if their weekend was "ok." If they are looking non-engaged, ask them if they've eaten. Perhaps have an emergency snack drawer. Have them complete an interest inventory (I sent one out at the beginning of the year) so that you know how they learn. Some kids light up and show their gold when they are complimented. Others need a tap on the shoulder. Some need you to pick up a pencil off the floor if they've dropped it (it's not demeaning; they can still be independent with you helping them :)). Grab a lunch tray and toss it in the trash for them (after they've eaten it, of course). Look for opportunities to serve, through action, through words, through just a question. And if you're interested in using something called dinner questions, where you build community through critical thinking, I've ordered a good number of books, so just ask. If you've been given a pet warm fuzzy, tear off a piece and let them know you're thinking of them, that you believe in them. And if you're interested in a classroom pet, just ask.
2.Try to resolve conflict by diffusing rather than inciting. Not everything that is said in a classroom has to be equally matched in strength. If a student is talking loudly, just talk more quietly (one of you amazing teachers does this already). If a student calls you "too much," "crazy," or questions your curriculum, own it to diffuse it. "Yes, I know." "How did you know that was my middle name?" "I understand. Learning is hard work." And at the end of the day, realize they may be projecting whatever has happened at the beginning of the day on the work, and it's not really you or your work...it's just life. So maybe even divert by saying, "everything ok?" whether privately or publicly. If they come into your classroom and you can tell they're down, resolve the conflict before it even starts, by letting them know you are there if they need anything. Humor was created for a reason, and it helps when we human beings get a little too serious (releases pleasing brain chemicals, really.)
3.Provide opportunities for movement and plan it in your lessons. If you've ever raised a kid or had a nephew/niece, godson/goddaughter, or even kept the nursery at church, you know that some boys and girls are just full of energy and can't sit still. Movement is a mechanism that allows our brains to stay awake and alert. Use movement to your advantage. Try putting sticky notes all over the room for a bell ringer instead of sitting at the desk. Have students move around the room to GET ONE, GIVE ONE if they are sharing with one another. Have an academic discussion where you are reading the text and you ask a question; students must stand and buzz in in order to give their answer. It's not movie culture or the 21st century that has damaged our students; we humans naturally have always needed movement. We weren't biologically designed for sitting still. There is health in movement, and even in mining, you've got to put some sifting movement in the pan to find what you're looking for in the muck.
4. When a student possesses a strength, use it for the classroom and create roles to give them ownership. Have you noticed that a student is particularly kind and polite? Seize the gold. Give him or her the chance to answer the phone or the door. Is there another student who possesses excellent spatial knowledge? Let him design the layout of your classroom. Do you know the kid who just likes materials clean and organized? Why allow him/her to take up materials or pass them out to other students. Have a kid really interested in a concept? Let him/her teach. When you see a strength, play on it. Use it for the classroom.
5. Change it up! Change up your classroom format so it allows students who normally would choose the back row, not to have a back-row choice. Make sure you make a mental note and know all students have participated. In terms of structure, allow students change to pods of however many when the lesson is best for pods. Change to two sides facing each other if you have a debate or persuasive prompt. Build the message of a community day on a subject that is difficult by structuring the classroom in a large U formation. Know what you want to communicate to your students and allow your classroom to match what you need. If it's a solitary writing day, isolate the desks in different corner of the room for privacy. And use lighting to communicate your needs as well. Students whose gold might not shine in one arrangement might blind us in another.
6. Create positive communication by sending around a Kudos list. Ask students to write down their parents' best contact number if they want you to give them a Kudos call. The contact information you receive will be accurate, and you may need it in the future. Maybe it's a particularly hard day, and that call may make the difference in that child's encouragement. And really call the numbers with a positive thing to say, no negative. You'd be surprised how well you are received when you take the time to first find the gold in a kid. And in the year, if there is something you have to say that is grounds for improvement, simply sandwich the improvement statement in two bits of good. I'll never forget the day that a student was so sad in the hallway because her mom didn't believe she could make it in college. I got the child's mom's number and told her just what I thought of her child. We ended the call by the mom begging me to let the child know just how proud she was of her.
7. Give stability with rituals and routines tempered by high expectations and mercy. Just as a person whose pan was bent could not mine gold as efficiently, so your classroom is the stability students need in order to truly shine. It is important that they learn to speak positively, that they are able to listen by speaking one at a time, and that they are able to respect one another's property by touching only what is theirs. There are some days when you will have to repeat your rituals and routines EXPLICITLY. In fact, there's no problem with humorously reintroducing yourself daily and reminding them what your rules are. In addition, it is important to communicate the sacredness of class time. We don't usher students into class because that's our job and that's what we were told to do. We do it because by doing so, it sets a routine for them they can use later in life and it prepares them for the day of learning. We are setting the stage for them to see themselves shine.
8. Don't listen to OTT (Other-teacher-talk) and begin each day as a brand new day. Little Johnny has had problems since eighth grade? It doesn't matter; you have the power to win him over with your class brand and the power to give him a new identity of greatness. There's gold there somewhere. To find real gold, we can't borrow our neighbor's glasses and perception. They may be blurred because they never clean them. We've got to filter the student through ourselves and our classroom. Someone been on that ISS list for days? It doesn't matter. Give the gift of learning to every student, every day, with a brand new slate. Another kid insulted you the day before? In your mind, you see only gold. That disobedient kid disappeared yesterday. How can you intervene to make today an okay day and scaffold her to wash away the layers?
9, Give kids belongingness by branding your class and making them yours. Build community in your classroom. Just as a last name gives us identity, so kids can take on your last name academically. Failing three classes? Tell the kid, "Oh no, you're a Smith. Smiths pass all their classes." Have some little routine or feedback for one another that is distinctly yours. Maybe you sing something. Perhaps you give everyone a high five. Maybe students snap their fingers when another student has done good work. Teach the kids to operate in a community. These days, we all really understand divisiveness in our larger social community. Let them thrive by setting the foundation for learning and showing them that people can get along with one another. AND encourage one another as colleagues and let students seeing you doing it. The gift of seeing adults work together with one another is merely priceless.
10. Acknowlege baby steps. Every kid is different. Every kid learns in different ways. Just as the shape of the gold formation is never the same, neither are our students. When a student who normally turns in nothing, takes the opportunity to give you make up work, acknowledge the baby step. They are the progress more than their past. Growth is our aim. Celebrate successes, even the smallest and most insignificant. Are the kids mastering the standards but didn't the first time? Account for that in your grading. If they have mastered it after a while, they have still mastered it.
You guys are amazing. You are on the front lines of this mining process every.single.day, and we feel so inspired by your work. When all is said and done, the world offers layers us with grit and grime, day after day, and our students even more so. We cannot change the circumstances, and our job is not easy. BUT, we are not hopeless. In those moments when we feel like giving up we must believe that there is gold there underneath and that we have been placed here to make a difference and find it for ourselves, find the gold for the students. And even if a students' senior teacher is the one who finally seeks the peek of gold from beneath all of the many layers we have worked to find, KNOW that you have all worked together to find that little peek. Because it may be that that one sliver shines so much more brilliantly to us than a thousand pieces of perfectly sculptured gold we have never had to work for.
Thank you for all you do, and remember...CARPE AURUM!
*Thank you to Ms. Mixon for confirming the Latin. The title was a 5 a.m. Dr. Google find, but I did confirm with our Bulldog Expert.
November's Teacher of the Month: Tabitha Stanley
Laughter, smiles & students, oh my! When a person enters Ms. Stanley’s room, it’s easy to mistake the learning going on in the classroom for just plain fun. Whether students are completing an interactive biography about themselves (how Ms. Stanley enjoys starting the year) or performing a creative presentation of argumentative adverbs, it’s clear that she incorporates best practices through movement, engagement, and interactive strategies to help students expand their thinking. In everything, students are allowed opportunities to show they have mastered the standards through their own learning modalities. And the foundation of it all? Ms. Stanley builds relationships with her students so that when the time of correction does come along, students perceive it as love rather than contention.
Having taught eight years total, Ms. Stanley is in her third year here at Beach High. Teaching both ninth and tenth graders, her educational background is in English and Instructional Technology. She blends these two fields seamlessly in the classroom. When considering her own strengths as a teacher, she comments that “I think my largest strength as a teacher is in the relationships that I build with the students. I realize that I am truly called not only to teach these children English and Language Arts but also skills that will help them build character, self-esteem, and become a successful citizen.” And this perspective is seen clearly when she interacts with students. When a student is angry, her caring approach allows them to calm down and communicate; quite obviously, teaching the communication component of English Language Arts extends outside the classroom for her into practical life skills for her students.
When she’s not planning, creating, and interacting with her students here at Beach High, Ms. Stanley enjoys spending time with her loving, dedicated husband James who works so very hard to support the family. And this bliss is not without the blessing of little ones. The Stanleys have three children; her witty, cool daughter Naziah who is nine; and her two, two-year-olds Jamie and Jayce who always keep her on her toes. It’s no wonder Ms. Stanley is a teacher known for her full loving heart yet her ability to think on her feet and work with students. The terrible twos or the terrible teens? Ms. Stanley is able to handle both with ease. In order to enjoy herself in her free time, she enjoys reading and sleeping as well; she certainly deserves it.
But in all of her moments of teaching greatness, she still feels she struggles with organization. When there are one hundred different things going on, she is juggling them all and sometimes feels that she is all over the place. But in all reality, this eclectic approach and ability to juggle the one thousand things that actually take place in the classroom give her an ability to approach any conflict or problem with preparedness. As a teacher, the best advice she can give is this: “It is very important that you develop some type of relationship with your students. Get to know them, compliment them, be kind to them. Once you have established some type of relationship with them, they will be more open to your teaching and discipline.” Surely, Ms. Stanley lives out this belief in her classroom each and every day. And she leaves us with this thought: getting to know students happens by just taking the time out to talk to them, complimenting them on something they have done, noticing when they are absent, and trying to be sensitive to their feelings.
Congratulations, Ms. Stanley on being November's Teacher of the Month. Let’s challenge ourselves with picking up a habit of each of the featured monthly SuperTeachers in our building. In honor of Ms. Stanley and her November reign, let’s make a commitment to building these relationships throughout the month and longer. Make it a point to connect with a student per class each day. We might just find ourselves with MORE laughter, smiles, and students (oh my!), and exceptional learning taking place at the same time.