Giving the Greatest Gifts

This is one of the toughest times of the year for our high school staff. They are trying hard to finish up the final unit of the semester, preparing final exams as well as trying to catch up on the mountains grading. There is so much to do it can be downright overwhelming! Throw on top of all that the fact that all of the students are anticipating being away from school for two weeks and the effect of the Christmas rush and I believe that the faculty can feel as though it’s burden is unbearable. I, like all of the other staff, get immersed in my job and what I consider important and sometimes miss opportunities to help where help is needed. As Director of Paris High School I am very focused on our new building, data and PSAE results, school safety issues, staff evaluation, our interest based academy agenda, staff development, budget development and problem solving what seems like a million day to day questions from students, staff and parents. I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to integrate technology into instruction, how to motivate students and how involve the community in improving our program. I am always looking toward the future and trying to learn new things.

…..But it never fails, a situation will occur or a conversation will happen that causes me to take a step back and consider what is really important. Several years ago, around Christmas time, a student came into the office and asked for withdrawal papers and informed me she was going to drop and get a job. As always, whether it is me or the assistant principal, we try to take the time to discuss this decision with the student and try to reason them into considering all options rather than dropping out. At first the student did not want to discuss her decision with me. Her mind was made up. She was of the age that she did not have to have parental consent and she seemed determined to carry out a plan that did not include finishing high school. I knew this student fairly well because I had been her elementary principal and had developed a rapport with her to where we would talk to one another when we saw each other and tease each other about our favorite sports teams. On this day, however, she was not in any mood to talk to me and refused to tell me the reasoning that had led her to this decision. I knew this student had developed a good professional relationship with a teacher on staff, and as a last ditch effort I called this teacher in to talk with the student. What unfolded, as I witnessed it, was a remarkable conversation between a teacher who cared for her students and a student who both liked a respected her teacher. I could tell that their relationship had become one in which the teacher had a vested interest in the student and that the student felt cared for in her presence. I will not divulge the content of their conversation, but suffice it to say, the student remained enrolled, graduated, and went on to a two year technical school. Last I heard, she was married raising a child and gainfully employed in a good job!

Sometimes you will never know the affect you have had in the way that you deal with your students. Sometimes, just giving your time and caring is the greatest gift you can give. Even though this time of year can be very tough for us, it can be even tougher for our students for various reasons. Our staff does a great job of doing what is important….and that is keeping students our number one priority!

Photo courtesy of HaniAlYousif’s photostream of Flickr

On Disrespect and Vitriol

State law requires schools in Illinois to have bullying policies, i.e. stop all instances of students verbally and physically harassing one another. How are we supposed to stop these practices among our students when the adults who are supposed to model appropriate behavior are unable to treat each other in acceptable ways. I could give multiple examples of highly exposed adults (from all kinds of professions and different sides of the political equation) who fail to give the respect all people deserve. We do not have to agree on all matters, but we need to respect one another despite our differences on issues. The role models, whether they be the President of the United States, a TV talk show host or a parent in the stands, need to show respect to others whether or not they agree with another person on an issue or an official’s call on the field. One does not have to watch human behavior very long to understand that young people are always watching how adults react in all situations and very often model the behavior they see. The old saying that “they may not listen to watch you say, but they always see what you do,” holds very true. This week’s controversy about whether or not to show the president’s speech to the nation’s students is a case in point. Name calling and stereotyping based on one’s political beliefs needs to give way to open, respectful debate about issues and responsibility. How can we expect our students to treat one another with respect, despite their differences, if the adults and highly visible cultural and political leaders cannot do the same?

Building and Cultivating a Positive Learning Environment

Relationships and expectations are the foundation of a school that will prepare students for higher education and/or careers. Strong relationships with other students and staff cannot exist without a culture of trust and respect. We as a staff can build the level of trust in our building by affording the students a level of respect by which we acknowledge them not as subordinates, but as fellow learners. Our mentoring program (A BIG THANKS TO OUR MENTORING TEAM!) is being designed and implemented to help both students and teachers build positive, respectful relationships. It is the aim of this endeavor to build strong relationships between teachers and students for the purpose of guiding students, building motivation for learning, and exposing our students to information which will guide them in their daily decisions as well as long term planning. This environment is not something that a principal can mandate. It must be cultivated by the entire staff. We must remember we are here to teach students and not subjects.