Friday, February 9, 2018

An Inspirational Morning Read

I'm in the middle of reading a book. It's called Culturize and it's by the amazing Jimmy Casas.

In our odd world within education, there are a few uber "edu-famous" individuals and I'd suggest that Mr. Casas is part of this elite group. His kid-first, student-always mantra coupled with his poignant words and relatable stories provide a middle-of-February educator with reminders why we're in education: our students and doing whatever we can to enable their success.

I purchased two copies of Culturize for our staff upon its immediate availability via Amazon. I placed the books on our Staff Reading Shelf and went along my way.

Within a few days, I received an email from a staff member. They shared their appreciation for making the book available, informed me that they were already read the first two chapters, and even included a few compliments about my own "principal-style" and how it overlaps with some of the suggestions shared in the book. They also said that if I hadn't read the book yet, I should.

There's one thing true about almost every educator in February: our "to-read" book list is at least twelve deep. Bumping a book to the top of the list and actually balancing some reading time in between all of the demands of our day is a challenge. Still, when a staff member says "you'd like this book," you drop everything and pick it up.

Today, I arrived a bit earlier than usual to work with the intention to catch up on emails, write a few evaluations, add items to the school calendar, and everything else we hope to do in the hours before our students and staff arrive. That was the plan.

When I arrived to my office, I saw the book outside my office. I had purchased a third copy and realized that I now had an hour of quiet to read a few chapters. I'm glad I did.

It's a really good book. To quote the aforementioned staff member, "It's a lot of good stuff in the same place. Very accessible. I don't have to read a teacher book and an admin book to get it." They're right. It's a book that speaks to every educator, no matter your role.

The book focuses upon the four core principles of a positive school culture:

We must expect all staff to champion for all students. It sounds so simple and yet saying these words out loud inspire me to rethink how I judge a certain grade of students ("they seem to just lack initiative") or perhaps a certain class ("I'm struggling on how to best support this class - they seem to want me to do everything for them") or even a specific student ("I feel like we've tried everything - what more can we do?). The book encourages us to recognize what our students are doing well instead of focusing on what they aren't and to refocus on the relationship piece of the school adult-student dynamic. It's a good February reminder, especially during the influx of senior/eighth grade-itis.

Every staff member must expect excellence of one another and, most importantly, of their students. Beautiful words. It's not just the responsibility of a principal, a counselor, a front office administrative assistant, a math teacher, a after school sport coach; collectively, we are all part of the team that demands professionalism as a school community member.  It is important to expect our students to try their best and be the support in place to help them reach the level of excellence. Excellence is an expectation for the entire school community; we all hold the responsibility to uphold it.

 All staff members must carry the banner for their school in a positive light at all times. Admittedly, this can be challenging. There will be times where you'll be upset with an administrator, an educator, a student, a parent, and most likely even yourself. As Jimmy Casas shares, great change begins with self-change. How an educator perceives their school is clearly shared, often unintentionally, in how they collaborate, how they speak to and about students, and their body language. At a previous school, on my very first day, I could tell which teacher was going to be a challenge to work with: they were instantly combative, they spoke negatively about students, and deflected every idea with their own stamp of negativity. They did not believe in the success of their students and not of the school either. When that staff member retired, it was if a dark cloud hovering over the staff has dissipated. Imagine what could have been different for that individual and all of their students over the years if they had chosen to share a more positive light for their school.

Every educator, administrator, and support staff member must strive to be a merchant of hope. I've found it's significantly harder to expect less from a student when I know their story. If I know a student has a less-than-perfect home life, I don't accept the missing homework under that umbrella of an excuse. Instead, our staff works to find ways to support the student at school to complete the homework. We've created extra small group tutorials after school, built electives where kids can be kids, and celebrated the little successes along the way. Most of all, we've worked hard on building a school community and culture where we get to know our students and celebrate them just for being who they are.

Jimmy Casas simplifies his overall message with the following words: every child deserves the opportunity to be a part of something great.

And he's right.

As an educator, it's our job to build something great for our students and each other. A place where we support kids relentlessly, where we expect greatness from one another and our students, where we highlight the amazing work on our campus, and where we never give up on any single student. A place where we provide our students a chance to explore their passions, to be part of something great.

Highly recommend the book. Enjoy your day. Make it special.

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