Monday, November 13, 2017

A Chat with our Leadership Kids

Every so often I visit our 8th grade leadership class. Comprised of 32 of the most amazing students ever, our leadership class has a rather competitive application process to join. Each year, I'm dazzled by the work and compassion of our leadership students. That said, every year brings a new class filled with new personalities and avenues of growth.

I'm a huge fan of our current class. They're fun, bright, kind, silly, and hardworking. They also struggled at times with tasks that call for a bit of independence and initiative. Knowing where they should be as a class at this point in the year, I decided to give them a "this is where you are, this is where I need you to be" chat today during 4th period.

And of course, I followed it up with a letter home to their parents shortly thereafter.

The point of the parent letter is to help frame the conversations from 4th period, specifically the conversation that I wanted to share, the conversation that I may have shared, and the conversation that the kids believe they've heard.

I've found that all three conversations are often quite different.

As I follow up with students, I try to get a sense of the message they took away our time together during 4th period. In speaking with the leadership teacher, I get a second perspective. By including our parents into the conversation, I'll be able to hear and learn from what the students' takeaways truly were. It's possible that they were fine with the pep talk. It's also possible that some students were not pleased with the constructive feedback. I'm ok if they didn't appreciate the message but I want to be able to shift away from the "I didn't like what you had to say" and begin to talk about "you know, there are a few improvements we can make."

I've copied the message to our leadership class parents below. I'm also going to be sending a copy to the leadership students as well. They are fantastic kids; we're very blessed to have them here at Union Middle School



You are receiving this email if you have a student in our Union Middle School 8th grade Leadership Class. This is not an urgent message; I'm just going to share a conversation I had with the Leadership class during 4th period today.

Over the past few months, I've been able to have numerous individual conversations and even some all-group conversations with our leadership students. I've met weekly, if not more often, with Mrs. Carreras, the leadership teacher, on the group's progress, what they're doing really well, what they may need some support with, and just a general overview of the program.

As a leadership teacher for many years, Mrs. Carreras has been able to compare how independent, how strong, and how "leadsership-esque" her students are from year to year. We discuss how each class has their own personality, their own strengths, and their own possible improvements. Almost always, we see a rather young, silly, talented group of 8th graders from August mature into these amazing, 8th grade award winning young adults by June. The transformation is pretty remarkable.

One struggle that Mrs. Carreras has shared (and that I've personally seen with this year's class) is that the 2017-18 UMS Leadership Class is a bit behind when it comes to class expectations regarding initiative, professionalism, and independence. Individually, I don't see the same issues, but collectively, as a group, there are been a few data points lately regarding events where it feels like our leadership students aren't performing up to their abilities.

This week, I had the pull the weekly Highlights Videos. This is the first time I'd had to do such a thing. 

The video in question had two separate dress code violations, one leadership student shoving another leadership student out of the camera shot, an interview that was of rather low quality, and an overall lack of professionalism, even for 13-14 year olds, that I wouldn't expect at this point in the school year.

Today, during 4th period, we showed the highlights for the students with the preface to see what could be done differently. For the majority of the video, our leadership students were giggling and laughing at their performances. When we ended the video and asked for their thoughts on the video, only one student raised their hand. This student suggested that they act a bit more professional in the video. I agreed.

And then I explained why I had to pull the video, for the reasons described above. I shared that while these videos can be silly at times, there is an expected level of professionalism that that's currently missing. I asked how can I effectively address dress code issues on campus with non-leadership students when the other students see the leadership students not following the dress code themselves. I asked what they're telling our 6th graders what's ok at UMS when they're shoving other students on the UMS highlights presentation. I reiterated that there is a place for the silly parts of the highlight videos, but we are at the point in the year where they need to revisit why they applied for leadership, what talents they have that prompted their inclusion into the class, and what kind of legacy they want to leave for future leadership classes after they promote in June. 

We discussed a few other topics as well. The common theme was a need for an increased sense of initiative. If the DJ is showing up late to the dance, take the initiative and get the speakers out ASAP to see if they're a viable back-up plan. If we want to have an inside-the-quad turkey trot this Friday (of which I'm having nightmares about, for the record), take the initiative and create a segment for the UMS highlights video that shows a scaled map and action figure running the route. If the dance lines are too long, take the initiative and come up with five different possible solutions and start testing them out.

Essentially, we want our leadership students to be a bit more self-supported and less reliant on Mrs. Carreras for explanation. At this point in the school year, we would expect Mrs. Carreras to be more of a guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage. There are times where we do see this initiative from our leadership students. Our goal is to provide more opportunities for them to show this growth and demonstrate their progress.

As I shared with them during 4th period, I absolutely adore this group of leadership kids. They're funny, bright, talented, and destined for much greatness. I also know they're capable of much more than what they're showing right now. Both Mrs. Carreras and I are available to help guide them along the way.

So tonight, if you'd like to have a conversation with your leadership student, I'd be interested to know their thoughts. I often fear that a student will clasp on to one bit of constructive feedback rather than seeing the overall message of support. Additionally, when I asked for questions multiple times during my time with them today during 4th period, they were rather reluctant to speak out and share. Please let them know that I'd be glad to meet with them to discuss anything I've shared and will be making multiple reappearances in their class over the next few weeks to support them.

As a closing, when I asked them if they wanted to be in Leadership, the majority of the class yelled a resounding "yes". I realize that not all students may feel this way and we are always willing to move a student into a different elective if they're feeling that leadership is not what they want to do for second semester. That said, as I shared with them today, I believe in every single one of our leadership students and told them "you were selected for a reason" for the class. I'm hopeful we'll see a renewed focus and initiative over the next few weeks and the remainder of the school year.

They're a great group of kids. Thanks for sending them our way.

Todd Feinberg, Principal

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