What Matters Most to Kids: Lessons Learned from My Elementary Students

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The role of an educator becomes increasingly difficult each school year. The pressure to have all students score proficient on high stakes tests, the mandates and laws that sometimes overpower the profession, and the dynamics of our students make being an educator more challenging than ever before. The one constant is the obvious: KIDS. They are always there, waiting for us to acknowledge them, teach them, and love them. Even the most defiant, rebellious child longs to be loved and appreciated by us. While the curriculum, mandates, and expectations of the profession are a must, those are not the things that mean the most to our children. Deep down I have always known this, but was recently reminded by many students and staff. I received a journal from the school where I serve as an assistant principal. Inside the pages were filled with notes from students, teachers, and staff. I have read through it multiple times, and each time I was brought to tears. This gift is a reminder that we must remember what is truly important to our kids. Simply stated, the little things mean the most. I want to share a few written and verbal quotes from students who have taught me that the little things make a big difference as an administrator. Enjoy!

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  • “Your smile makes me smile.” ~Zachary
  • “You always give me a smile when I need it.” ~Carson
  • “You are allways smiyl. I think it’s becuz you love me so much.”~ Cailyn
  • “When you smile I always want to hug you!” ~Lainey

A smile goes a long way! Kids have reminded me of this many times. I sometimes think of the fact that we may be the only people who make eye contact and smile at a particular child. It is a simple gesture, but one that must be intentional and consistent.

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  • “Thank you for greeting us on the way to school.” ~Brendan
  • “Thank you for helping us out of cars every day.” ~Zachary
  • “When you aren’t at the front door in the mornings, I miss you.” ~Morgan
  • “My mommy and me always see you waving and smiling right when we pull in the school!” ~Abigail
  • “How do you know all of our names when you say good morning? That’s like magic.” ~Gauge

When I first became an administrator, I had no idea how important it would become for me to be visible first thing in the morning. Waves, high fives, some hugs, and smiles can turn a child’s day around. We have no idea what kids have experienced when they step off the bus or out of their car. Some of them are coming from situations that our minds cannot fathom. A little dose of encouragement can change a person’s mindset! The morning greeting time is my favorite part of the day, and starts my own day on a positive note.

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  • “I am so glad principals hug at this school. My old school didn’t have that rule.” ~Megan
  • “You like my hugs because you always have your arms open. That’s why I hug you every day!” ~Cheyenne
  • “When I leave for middle school I will miss you hugging me and telling me to have a good day.”~ Sierra
  • “You always know when I need a hug, Mrs. Hill.” ~Haley

Smiles, greetings, and hugs…the little things that make a big difference in the lives of children. I firmly believe that no child can be given too much attention, validation, or credit for who they are inside. They deserve our focus, even if only for a few seconds throughout the days of school. These seconds add up to minutes and hours of investment in individuals. The consistency of connection with kids provides a secure feeling within that they are important, valued, and you are glad they are present. Smiles, greetings, and hugs do not cost a thing, except your time. I can think of no better way to invest parts of my day than to connect with kids, not by happenstance, but intentionally. Target particular students. Single them out to speak with them. Be intentional with your connections.

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Kids are often more focused on what is truly important than adults are…we need to listen to them and allow them to teach us. I learn something new from a child every day, and the quotes I have shared with you are a glimpse of my learning. I could write a book on lessons learned from children.

Keep the little things on your priority list. They are the constant in your day. They are how you will stay balanced as an educator. When we have balance, we are more productive, and will keep the passion in what we do

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Professional Learning: It’s a Family Thing!

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For your listening pleasure as you read…

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I think often about my “dream school”, where ideas based on no box thinking are implemented in order to strengthen school culture. The following is a continuation of my dreams…professional learning/development that goes beyond the traditional “old school” workshop or training session. Thank you in advance for indulging me, and allowing me to share my vision of professional learning with you. 


Teachers in workships that are not geared to our needs  be like...

Teachers in workshops that are not geared to their needs be like…

I was first introduced to the term “professional learning community” (PLC) when I read Rick Defour’s Whatever it Takes (a must read for educators). Reading this book helped me realize how important it is for a faculty to learn and grow together. Kids watch our every move…whether it is a good one or a bad one! Modeling habits of a professional learning community allows kids and families to witness how we value learning. Great schools have a high level of professionalism where learning is a priority, but they are also viewed as what I like to call a “family learning group” (FLG). Families love and respect one another. They know each other’s personalities and moods. FLGs are professional learning communities that go beyond business to the heart of each individual, recognizing needs and areas of support. Families know how to challenge, support, and validate. They also know when to back off and let someone fly!  FLGs can be honest and forthcoming with feedback and suggestions while growing relationships built on respect, empathy, and love. In my experience, it is more powerful to have a truly authentic and productive PLC that has the foundation of a FLG.

Professional Learning Community + Family Learning Group = Culture of Learning and Loving!

Traits of “Family” to consider in PLCs:

  • Strong relationships
  • Acceptance of each learner’s status
  • Appreciation of personalities and how each contributes
  • Empathy
  • Awareness of when a member is struggling
  • Identifying social/emotional needs of a member
  • Supporting failure
  • Celebrating success
  • Investment in individuals as people FIRST
  • LOVE

Traditional PD for teachers at the building level normally causes teachers to leave their buildings to be in attendance. Many opportunities are sessions held during the summer months and may consist of half day, whole day, or multiple day sessions. I often wonder how effective this setup truly is, and if we are missing the REAL professional learning boat! Students in classrooms all learn at various levels, and it would be unethical for teachers to expect all children to move along at the same pace and need the same things. We must honor personalized learning with adults, allowing their needs to be met through authentic learning experiences. A culture that values learning places this as top priority, honoring ALL members of the PLC/FLG  by providing opportunities for learning and growth. Is this an easy task? Absolutely not! Many factors can present challenges, such as time, scheduling, resources, expertise of facilitators, willingness to be vulnerable, etc. The list of possible excuses could go for miles, so we might as well use it to help us better prepare professional learning to meet the needs of all adults.

I know, I know…we do not need another acronym in the education world! I couldn’t help but share the FLG idea because it is close to my heart. If we think outside the box, we can find ways to create meaningful learning experiences for teachers. Consider Twitter and its impact on the education world. I access Twitter multiple times a day and gain a wealth of knowledge each time. The resources are unlimited! Twitter is a sharing site for people to swap ideas and knowledge…wouldn’t it be incredible to have this same exchange within our schools? My goal as a lead learner is to be an instructional leader who is viewed as a coach, mentor, supporter, accountability partner, and resource to others around me. I can embed professional learning that is personalized and targeted toward individual needs, as well as teams and the building. After all, we are a family of professionals, and I owe it to them. We all owe it to each other to be a provider of professional learning!

Our culture needs professional development embedded throughout it, not confined only to sessions outside our building. We need both types in order for our students to truly benefit. Let’s go beyond the required hours of credit and reflect on what needs are within each individual and within the school as a PLC/FLG. Start dreaming!

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How can you embed professional learning into the daily school culture? The possibilities are ENDLESS! We will be discussing this next Sunday, May 4 during No Box Thinking Chat. Visit us on Twitter and contribute your thoughts! Search for @nbtchat and  #nbtchat to view previous discussions. This is a professional learning opportunity you do not want to miss! Join us each Sunday and leave your box behind!