Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Visiting Delegation from Shanghai was Gnome'd Today

Today was an amazing day. Here's why:

Just a few short weeks ago, we were contacted by a spokesperson for a group of 5-10 educators from the Shanghai Pudong Institute of Education Development. Their delegation would be arriving in the Bay Area in a few weeks and would we be interested in hosting them one morning at our school. Without hesitation, we said "yes" and began to create a schedule to best display our students' and teachers' talents. While the schedule changed substantially over the next few weeks, today was the day they were to arrive at 9 am and spend the next 2-3 hours at our site.

Fast forwarding to today, I felt unprepared for their arrival. I will fully admit that my administrative talents, whatever they may include, do not cover beautifying the staff room nor acquiring gifts for visiting delegations. In fact, my administrative team gave me the sole task of bringing Krispy Kreme donuts to school today. While I'm proud to say I accomplished this task, I did not think ahead to prepare our staff room for our visitors. As I dropped off the donuts, I walked back into the staff room and was instantly amazed. The staff room had been cleaned, redone for the upcoming festive holidays, and organized for the day's events. My amazing co-worker and administrative assistant, Kathy, had prepared the communal space after her work hours yesterday. Somehow, she knew that it needed to be done and made it happen. Kathy is an amazing co-worker and we're blessed to have her at our site. Her efforts set the right tone for the entire day, showing how one person truly can make a difference.

Our distinguished guests arrived promptly at 9 am and were ushered into our now-beautified staff room for donuts and tea. As we introduced ourselves and began to explain the history and current status of our award-winning middle school, they interrupted and explained that they first wanted to give us a gift for allowing their visit. I will admit that I was somewhat taken aback by their generosity and at the same time upset with my lack of preparedness to response in kind. Our assistant principal and one of our classroom teachers understood the situation and quickly worked with our activities director to prepare our school leadership shirts for each of the visitors. I was so thankful for my team's quick response and thoughtfulness. I also thought to myself that I spend my days with such complementary personalities and kind individuals. The visiting educators were so impressed with our gift and truly seemed thankful of the exchange.

We met for the first half of second period as a group, explaining more about our school community and culture. The delegation asked the most interesting questions, showing that their "problems" at their school site are very similar to our daily concerns at our middle school.

  • "What do you do for the most talented students at your school? How do you support them outside of the classroom?"
  • "How did you and how do you attract and keep the best teachers for your school?"
  • "When do your teachers have time to plan and to discuss students?"
  • "What data and assessments do you use to know your students have made progress in their studies?"

To help with the conversation, all of our 7th and 8th grade Science teachers spent their prep period today in the staff meeting. For those of you not involved in education, a teacher's prep period is the time they have during the school day to plan, prepare, grade, clean, organize, schedule, call, email, and more. It's a (rightfully so) sacred time that I try to not interfere upon, knowing how valuable this time was to me during my classroom days. We asked for their support today and every Science teacher showed. I can't say I was "amazed" necessarily as they're an amazing group of educators in their own right, but I was very appreciative of their willingness to spend these precious moments with our visitors today. They were joined by two 6th grade teachers, one of whom was "off the clock" during 2nd period, and arrived early on campus to assist with the visit.

From here, we spent the remainder of the visit in classrooms, observing our staff in the midst of lesson delivery. I saw Jeopardy review and lab hypothesis creating in 7th grade Science, Chromebook introductions in 7th grade English, annotating text and summarizing articles in 6th grade Social Studies, and "pull toy" creation in Project Lead The Way. So many students were engaged in the class activities and all of the classrooms had a healthy chatter level with students collaborating with other students about what they were doing, learning, and reviewing. Outside the classroom, students were transitioning from the classroom to the computer lab across campus. They walked in a semi-straight line, quietly through the quad so as to not disturb the other students in the open door classrooms.

As we returned to the office to say our good byes, the translator for the delegation asked me about a group of students huddled across the quad. They were practicing odd poses, many of them with their arms spread out as if to indicate a motion of some kind. As I began to reply, the escorting teacher knocked on a classroom door and then counted down from three. When they reached zero, each of the students yelled out a Spanish verb they had learned (and were mimicking during the countdown) and then proceeded to put the palms together, over their head, yell out "You've been Gnome'd!" and then ran back toward their classroom. Imagine trying to explain that a Spanish class leaves their room, travels across campus to another classroom, strikes a silly "verb pose," yells out the verb and "You've been Gnome'd" and then runs back toward their original classroom. I tried my best but couldn't help and laugh at the silliness of it all. Only in middle school, I said. I have a feeling that a lot of the conversation may have been lost in translation.

And of course the Spanish class saw the delegation and admin team walking back to the office. They sped up their pace, garnered our attention, and then proceeded to "Gnome" the visiting Shanghai delegation as well. It was later shared with me by the translator that they were honored to have been part of the exercise and loved our school culture and community. I also suspect it was their first time they've been "Gnome'd."

It was the perfect ending the our morning. More pictures were taken between the groups and they left to their next school visitation. It's a day that couldn't have been so successful with the efforts of our administrative staff and amazing teachers, those who participated in the staff room as well as all of the classrooms we visited. It makes for a long day, one that isn't over as we have the CLMS Teacher of the Year Dinner to honor our very own nominated Beth Shaw tonight, but does provide a welcome reminder of how amazingly lucky I am to work with this staff and school community. It was a truly amazing day.

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