#Oneword2018

So…I have never done the one word challenge in the past. To me, it was just like a New Years resolution that I would pay attention to for a couple weeks and then forget about. It was kind of like the new year diet.

This year I have read many tweets and blog posts on #oneword2018 and thought, maybe I should think about it. But what one word would I use? I have seen words like do, balance, reach, question, perspective, and many others. But what word would I use? Balance is good, as I seek to find a balance between professional life and personal life. Perspective I really liked, as I seek to see situations from the perspective of others. But what would I use? Then last week while working over Christmas break it hit me, accomplish. That is my #oneword2018. Accomplish.

I decided on that word when I cam in, sat in my chair and thought, “what to I need to accomplish today?” The lightbulb turned on bright over my head. There are many things I want to accomplish this year. Some of them are at home, some of them are at school, but all of them are important to me.

So, now that I have a word, what do I do next? I followed the steps of my amazing wife. I started a list. A list of the things I want to accomplish in 2018. This is going to be a fluid list, I am sure. As I cross items off of it, I am sure I will add more to it. Some will be quick and easy, some will take more time and be more difficult to accomplish. First item on my list to accomplish is to write this post. Check. On to the next item.

Thank you to all who inspired me to come up with my #oneword2018. Now to get some things accomplished.

Until next time………………Keep up your great work.

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Proud Principal Moment

Yesterday was our last day of school for the first semester. The second semester will start when we come back from Christmas break (yes we still call it Christmas break).

On Wednesday afternoon one of my English teachers sent me part of a final paper submitted by one of our students. In the paper that student talked in great detail about how her single mom had spent all available funds for her and her three siblings for Christmas so they could have presents to open on Monday. As a result of that act of giving to her children, mom does not have money to pay some bills. The student said she just knew if someone could loan her $100 to give to her mom for Christmas that would help a lot.

So…my English teacher sent our social worker and me an email and asked how can we help. It was short notice with only a day and a half until we would all part ways for two weeks, but I sent an email to our staff asking for donations to help this struggling family. We are a small school with only 30 teachers 6-12, but I was sure we were mighty. I was hoping we could raise that $100 the student wanted for her mom.

At the end of the day yesterday when I placed the money in an envelope to be dropped off with a Christmas card, we had raised over $250 for that family. Today another $60 came in for that family that will be dropped off later this afternoon.

Often times when I interview potential teachers I will be asked by the candidate “what makes Kouts MS/HS so great?” I always respond with, we are family. If one of us is hurting, we all are hurting. Whether it is a teacher, cafeteria worker, bus driver, custodian, instructional aide, secretary, admin, etc., when one hurts, we all hurt. Our staff showed this to be true this week. In this time in the world where there is so much hatred taking place on a daily basis, I am going to hang on to the fact that there is still so much good going on in the world. In a time when public education and its teachers are looked down upon, I will hang on to the good they continue to do that is not covered with a lesson plan or assessment.

On Monday when I praise God for the miracle of the birth of my Lord and Savior, I will also give him thanks for our school family that helps each other out when in need.

Until next time……….Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may you see the little things being done for others that mean so much to them.

“What is YOUR why” Dr. Eric Thomas

Back in July, I was at an IPLI (Indiana Principal Leadership Institute) 2-day workshop when one of the other principals in my regional cohort mentioned Dr. Eric Thomas and “What is your why?” When I returned home from that great experience, the question “what is your why?” was still ringing in my head. I sent an email to our staff and challenged them to reflect on their “why.” I sent this video from Dr. Eric Thomas to them all. I changed the screen saver on my computer to “What is your why?” The signature line on my email is the same thing. Dr. Eric Thomas inspired me to remember, every single day, why I do what I do.

Fast forward to today, the day before Thanksgiving. I am sitting in my office thinking about all I have to be thankful for, and “why” I love doing what I get to do every day.  Below is a message I sent to our staff this past Friday.

The first semester is rapidly drawing to a close. We are about to enter that silly season of standardized testing, so again I ask you to reflect on “What is your why?” None of us “got into” education to dole out standardized tests, but it is the nature of the beast at this point in time.

So, what is it that causes you to get up in the mornings and come to school? What is it that drives you to do what you do? The answers may vary from person to person. Maybe part of it is you were inspired by a teacher and you want to be that inspiration for others.

As we get busy in the holidays, testing, life, etc don’t forget about your “why”. Don’t forget about what drives you. I tell people all the time I am blessed to work where I do, with the people I get to work with, serving the students and community I get to serve. I get to play school every day, I work on weekends at home. How can life be any better than that?

When life, state testing, demanding students/parents, the daily grind, etc. begin to get you down this year, remember your “why.” Remember “why” you do what you do.

Until next time………. “what is your why?”

Challenge Accepted

This post is long overdue. But, better late then never I guess.

Way back in August at the start of the school year, I issued a challenge to our students. I showed all the students grades 6-12 this video of Michael. After I showed the video, I asked the students if they knew why I had shown it to them. I had a variety of different answers, but mainly just blank stares. I explained to the students that last year when I would be in the cafeteria at lunchtime I noticed we had many Michaels.  Not necessarily that they were Autistic, although we do have Autistic students as well the students do a great job of including them. I told them that most of our Michaels were students that were just a little different, socially. That because of that difference, they usually sat alone at lunch.

This is where the challenge comes in. I challenged the students to make sure that no student sat alone at lunchtime. That every student had someone to sit with. I explained that sometimes students that suffer from a social anxiety may not seek out a group of other students to sit with. That it is safer for them to sit alone than to be rejected. What happened next blew my mind and warms my heart, still now 11 weeks into the school year.

Every day we have a few students that “try” to sit alone in the cafeteria at lunch. Every day we have students getting up from their tables, carrying their lunch over, and sitting with that person that is alone. Sometimes it is just one student going over, sometimes it is multiple students going. Point is, we do not have students sitting alone at lunch most days anymore. There are the occasional days when it happens, but most of the time it does not. I challenged the students to not allow students to sit alone at lunch, and they accepted.

When I thank the students for moving over with the student sitting alone, I always get the same responses. “No problem Mr. Stoner.” “It is ok, he is kind of cool.” “He/she is my friend now.” Warms my heart and makes me a very proud principal. It is not just our middle school students either. The high school students do it too. Male, female, it does not matter. They have decided that no one sits alone at lunch. I told my assistant, if I do nothing else right the rest of the year, at least the challenge was the right thing to do for a few students that would ordinarily sit alone.

Until next time………………………..Challenge the students–they will rise to the occasion!

Homework or No? #homeworkorno #savmp

Before I start writing this post, I would like to apologize to all who read it. I have several thoughts running through my mind on this topic and I am afraid this is going to sound rambling and disconnected. I hope not, but it may very well. But, here goes anyway.

Homework or no homework is one of those philosophical questions that some people are very, very passionate about. Whether for it or against it. When I taught, I was very much in favor of homework. I did it, survived it, and so will the students. I taught middle school math for 10 years. The math series we used at the time had 30 problems for the homework set, and my students received 30 problems most nights. That was what was in the book, so that was what they were getting. I was so wrong! I did such a disservice to my students. I stifled so much learning in those 10 short years. I wish I knew then what I know now. I think I would have been so much better for them.

I also worked with a science teacher possessed the mindset “the students are not going to do it anyway, so why assign it?” He too was wrong!

In the past 5 years I have read several articles, blog posts, tweets, and books  addressing the subject of homework. What kind to give, when to give it, why give it, should we give it, who to give it to, etc, etc.. Now I will add one more blog post to the long list of posts about this topic.

I think part of the problem with homework is the name itself. HomeWORK. The title of it carries a negative connotation for students right away. Not all students want to “work” at doing school after the leave school. If we tell educators they need to do some homework to make themselves better at what they are doing there are typically excuses like; “I have papers to grade”, “I have lesson plans to do”, “I don’t have time by the time I take care of dinner, dishes, the kids”. We don’t like homework either, but we do it to our students. Why don’t we call it homeLEARNING? Shouldn’t that be the purpose of it anyway? To continue the learning while at home?  For me, that sounds a lot more positive than, “homework.” I have heard several people over the last couple of years say “we do school to the students, not with them.” Homework is another of those things we do to them.

I do believe there are times when homelearning is necessary though. Sometimes we have to continue the learning at home because there was not enough time in the school day to get it all done. On those occasions when learning needs to continue outside of the school day, it needs to be learning that is important and serves a purpose. Giving homelearning for the sake of giving it should not be a valid reason to assign it. Most students are busy enough after school, they don’t need to be doing busy work. Are they going to always like the homelearning assignment they have to do? No, but most will do it if they know it serves a purpose. We don’t always like it either, but most of us do it if we know it serves a purpose. That purpose cannot be “because it is in the book.” There needs to be real, genuine learning that takes place as a result of the assignment.

The more we can make that homelearning relevant to the students lives, the more likely we are to get the assignments back. If they are just doing 30 problems out of the math book because that is what is there, we run the risk of them not doing it. Instead of that kind of assignment, what if we had them take 5 pictures of different angles they see around their home, upload it to a google drawings, then measure those angles. Parameters can be established like there must be 2 acute, 2 obtuse, and the 5th can be any angle they choose. Maybe then they begin to see the relevance of angles in their lives just a little bit.

I also believe these homelearning assignments need to be a time of practice. The students are still learning it. It is in the name; homelearning. We do an injustice to the students when we start assigning points to this learning. It should not be a time of “catching students doing something wrong”. Feedback on these assignments is more important than assigning points. I think this is a tough shift for students and teachers to make. All are used to points being assigned for homelearning. Students will ask, “how much is it worth.” Teachers will say, “if there are no points assigned for it, they will not do it.” I used to use that same argument, and I was good at arguing that side of it. If they are given the right feedback on it, that is worth more than the points. It is a difficult shift that really needs to take place.

I don’t know your thoughts on homework/homelearning, or if I changed your mind or not. I do hope, for just a minute, you thought about what your practices are. Let’s try to make it extended learing, not extended work. Let’s also try to make it valuable for the students so they see the need to continue to learn.

Until next time………….homework or homelearning? What are your thoughts?

What a country jam session taught me #SAVMP

Recently my wife and I took a couple days, right before Christmas, and went to stay at the inn at one of our favorite Indiana state parks. I felt like I just needed a short break away from the world of education. On the last night we were there something took place that got me thinking about teachers, administrators, and students; and how we all relate to each other. So much for a break from the job.

We had finished eating dinner and went into the large gathering area to sit by the fireplace. There were a small group of people kind of sitting in a circle near the fireplace, so we chose some seats off to the side so we did not infringe on their group. There were about 6 of them sitting there talking when they all started pulling out instruments. Guitars, a violin/fiddle (not sure I really know the difference), a banjo, a mandolin, and a steel guitar. A little jam session broke out right there in the lobby of the inn. They went around the circle, each selecting a song to play. What happened next was the part that got me thinking about school.

A little guy, probably about 10 years old, pulled out a violin and joined in. When it was his turn to select a song, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star was the  selection he made. You could certainly tell he was a beginner, but that did not stop the rest of the group from joining in with him. The smiles on the groups faces were so heart warming. Here was a child, playing off key, struggling with the fingering of the violin, and yet the group was so very pleased with his efforts. He joined in on some other songs with them, trying to play right along with the group. They continued to smile and welcome his attempts to play. Why did this make me think of our jobs as educators?

There are so many times in a traditional classroom that the first time students try something new we tell them what they did wrong. We don’t give them that encouraging smile that makes them want to keep trying. Had anyone in the group pointed out any of this young musicians mistakes in Twinkle, Twinkle he would not have been so willing to continue playing along with the others. Yet as educators, that is exactly what we do. We point out what the students do wrong, and not what they are doing right. Even on the first time they try something new. We want, and expect, our students to develop a love of learning, yet we are quicker to tell them what they are doing wrong instead of what they are doing right. For a student that may struggle with school, this negativity right away is a definite deal breaker. Why do we do that?

My goal for 2016 is to try and find the positive in everything our students are doing. Instead of finding things they are doing wrong, I want to find the things they are doing right and point that out. As beginners, they need to know they are doing some things right, that they have hit some of the notes the correct way, so they can continue to build on that. Not to be shut down by what they did wrong.

 

Until next time……………share that heart warming smile.

Why I Lead #SAVMP

15 years ago I started my teaching career. It was actually my third career. I was a manager in a grocery store for a while, and then I was a department scheduler in a factory for a few years. With the experience I had had in management before I started teaching, I thought I may want to become a principal some day, I just did not know when. I had no time frame on it, I was going to wait until the time felt right. After 10 years in the classroom teaching middle school math, I felt the time was right for me to move on to the next challenge.

So why do I lead? For me, I do not lead because I want the power or to be out in front of everyone else. It is actually quite the opposite for me. I lead because I like to help others. For me being a principal gives me the opportunity to let the light shine on the great things our students and teachers are doing. I like to lead from within the group. There are few decisions affecting the school that I make on my own. The majority of the time I will consult with the teachers to see what their thoughts are first. I feel I can make the decision, but they are the ones that have to do it. If I collect input from them, then I know “it” has a better chance of being a successful implementation. Whatever “it” may be. I know that sometimes I have to be the one to make the decision, but if I can consult with even a few teachers first, I will.

I still enjoyed being in the classroom with my students, I left the classroom because I felt like as a principal I would be able to have a greater impact on my students than I did as a teacher. School needs to be fun for the students and staff. If it is a place they dread coming to, then their performance will show that. My motto is “If I cannot have fun, then I don’t want to do it any longer.” Every day we need to find a reason to smile. Something good happens every day, we just have to look for it.

I lead because I feel like that is what I am called to do. This is not a job for me. I am blessed that I get to get up every day and come in to play school. It is not work, it is enjoyable.

Until next time……….what drives you to do what you do?