Jitters   Leave a comment

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” C.S. Lewis, author

goal-settingFirst day jitters…I still get ‘em. I’m starting my 26th year as a professional educator and I admit I still get butterflies for the first day of the year. It’s a combination of excitement and anxiety that builds up to create enough adrenaline to (probably) prevent me from sleeping much this Sunday even though I don’t even work on a school site anymore. The start of the school year is like I’ve been reborn and given the opportunity to start fresh—absolved of the mistakes I made last year and free to start all over again. I like to start the year by setting some goals for myself, and no matter what difficulties I had achieving last year’s goals, I always believe this will be the year I accomplish everything I set out to do.

Many research studies have shown that goal setting not only increases motivation, but also increases the likelihood of success. Developing a plan to achieve my goals allows me to monitor my progress towards attainment. Seeing that incremental progress gives me hope when I’m struggling and spurs my enthusiasm when things are going well.

I’ve set some ambitious goals for myself this year, including:

  • increase the % of seniors who complete the UC/CSU A-G requirements at all of our District schools;
  • decrease the % of freshmen who fail three or more classes at all of our District schools;
  • improve the achievement for all of our traditionally underperforming student subgroups—Low Income, English Learners, Foster Youth, and Students with Disabilities, as well as our Hispanic and African American students

We had an outstanding year last year and our student achievement levels rose almost across the board, but even so, we had hundreds of students who were not successful. My challenge will be to help our most at-risk students perform at their highest levels in order to increase the likelihood of their success after graduation. Preparing them to take the next step in their educational journey and towards their career dreams will help them to improve our community and avoid a life of poverty.

Ambitious goals? Certainly. But I don’t expect to meet these goals by myself and I am lucky to work with some of the most talented and dedicated educators around. Support staff who remove barriers for students. Teachers who not only challenge students, but also provide support and inspiration. Parents who dream their children’s success will exceed their own. I just hope they enjoyed some good rest this summer and are coming back to school as excited as I am because even though the challenges we face are significant, the potential payoffs are even more rewarding!achieving-goals-with-the-help-of-an-accountability-partner-1-women-making-moves

 

Posted August 4, 2016 by chaffeylearning in Uncategorized

The It Factor   2 comments

brave wings“Great teachers empathize with kids, respect them, and believe that each one has something special that can be built upon.”- Ann Lieberman, Educator

Several research studies suggest that the most significant factor affecting student achievement is the effectiveness of the teacher. But what makes an effective teacher? Teaching is a complex art and effective teachers are far more than a list of shared characteristics. This is especially true as teachers, like the students they inspire, all have their own distinctive blend of attributes that make them unique.

More important is the difference between an effective teacher and an inspired teacher. It’s difficult for me to pin down and articulate this difference, but when I see it, I know it. And it’s quite obvious and apparent to others as well. What is this it factor anyway?

This weekend, I was reminded that a teacher, who has it, is not only effective, but also inspired and inspirational. These two attributes can feed off each other and grow in their awesomeness. The it teacher can see the best in her students; she sees the hidden potential— potential that even the students are unaware of or deny. The it teacher’s insight allows her to not only be able to recognize the best in her students, but to help the students visualize it as well, and with dogged and caring perseverance, push them to become more than they dreamed of becoming. Our best teachers not only are pedagogically sound and experts in their content area, but they are also as exceptionally skilled in their use of interpersonal skills. The teachers who have it make the most tremendous differences in the lives of our students and they improve our community one remarkable student at a time. We are blessed to have them as part of our organizations and families for as long as they remain with us.34527-Youre-Braver-Than-You-Believe

R.I.P Gina Lujan-Randin.

Posted February 9, 2016 by chaffeylearning in Uncategorized

Final (ugh) Exams!   1 comment

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“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” Dr. Seuss

Many freshmen don’t even know what hit them until it is too late. The first final exams of their high school careers can be killers for our ninth graders who don’t know how to study for a comprehensive exam or why it’s important for them to do so. But, hey, it’s their first semester in high school and all of this is new to them—they have an excuse. But what’s our excuse? We’ve been through this before and seen too many of our youngest high schoolers get slammed by final exams to let this happen to another crop of newbies. We also know that students who get off to a poor start in high school are more likely to become non-grads, and conversely, kids who begin with a little success build positive momentum, so what can we do to help them end their first semester on a positive note?

It’s simple really. We can make sure our freshmen understand the significance of final exams and help them prepare. Many do not understand if they bomb a final worth ten percent of their grade, it can drop them a full letter grade, and a final that counts for twenty percent can be twice as disastrous. Also, many freshman are now preparing for the first final exams of their lives and all the cramming they’ve done to get through the semester will not help them now. We can give them a lifeline by teaching them how to prepare for long-term learning. Some common successful practices include having them organize and review notes and past exams. We can’t take for granted they know how to do these things on their own.

More importantly, we can restructure our finals so they become meaningful learning experiences instead of gigantic regurgitations of pre-Labor Day facts. For example, instead of having them complete a grueling and overwhelming test on all the facts covered in the semester, we can ask them to apply a key skill learned over the course of the semester, reflect on what they learned, or work with a partner to re-teach a mini lesson or an important concept to the class. While we are at it, who says all students have to do the same culminating activity? Why can’t we provide a variety of ways for them to demonstrate what they learned and allow them to choose? Wouldn’t this be more interesting for us as well?

Gotcha final exams should be a thing of the past, not a rite of passage. Let’s end the semester on a positive note and find creative ways to allow our students to be successful and to shine. They just might surpass our expectations.

Posted December 8, 2015 by chaffeylearning in Uncategorized

Frosh Success   1 comment

6357074473726760841611698599_freshman“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Anne Frank

Help a freshman; prepare a graduate! If high school graduation is the key to post-secondary achievement, the ninth grade year may be the most important time to ensure success. Recent studies suggest students who are off-track after their ninth grade year are much more at-risk to drop out of high school. Conversely, students who have a successful freshman year have already embarked upon a path that will likely lead to a diploma.

It’s not uncommon for students to struggle to make the transition to the ninth grade as the big, bad high schools often provide many firsts–firsts that are not necessarily conducive to academic success, such as larger campuses, increased freedom and choices, new social opportunities, exploding hormones, mass amounts of homework, grades that count…the list goes on. Students who get off to a poor start often feel hopeless and cannot dig themselves out of the hole, and they become trapped in a perpetual cycle of failure. We’ve seen it happen too many times.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of spending all of our time and efforts being reactive to help failing students recover credits and lost motivation, we should be more proactive to find ways to ensure they are successful from day one. If a poor start is the gateway to dropping out, early tastes of success can provide students with the road map to graduation.

What can we do to help our freshmen build positive momentum? Some of the measures that have proven effective include counseling and peer mentoring programs, parent partnerships, frosh focused tutoring during the school day, after school, and on Saturdays…fortunately, this list goes on as well and we should exhaust every opportunity to help our students excel and more smoothly make the transition from middle school.

I am going to bed tonight with some questions to ponder:

  • If the freshman year is so important, shouldn’t our best teachers be teaching ninth graders?
  • If true learning is of the utmost objective, shouldn’t students who struggled early in the semester have opportunities to rebound?
  • If a student can demonstrate mastery, or at least proficiency, by the end of the semester should it matter if he was slow in getting there?
  • How do we identify, and provide help, for students at the earliest possible time—maybe even before they start high school?

I don’t expect to answer all these questions tonight or suggest that all of the struggles of a high school are limited to the ninth grade, but I am eager to fight the battle this year with renewed vigor and optimism. Gnight for now.

(If this topic interests you, check out Why Ninth Grade is the Pivotal Year for Dropping Out of High School by Holly Korbey at http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/06/30/why-ninth-grade-is-the-pivotal-year-for-dropping-out-of-high-school/)

Posted September 8, 2015 by chaffeylearning in Uncategorized

Renewal   Leave a comment

“There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Nelson MandelaFind-your-passion

I admit I don’t always feel inspired at church, but I definitely was today as our parish introduced a newly ordained deacon. His family filled the first three pews and when he spoke, he invoked scripture, sang, and shared personal anecdotes. He was extremely well prepared and articulate. But what was most inspirational was the genuine enthusiasm and joy displayed by this sixty plus year old man as he embarked upon a new part of his life. It was much more than a religious experience for me; it was a reminder that it’s never too late to pursue one’s passion—whether that be faith, family, work, or fun.

More importantly, why can’t we pursue our passions in ALL of the above areas? They are not mutually exclusive and we don’t have a limited amount of passion to expend. Maybe, like love, the more we give the more we will receive. Maybe our fervent enthusiasm in one area will bubble over to the next. Maybe we can learn from our successes in one aspect of our life and better understand how we can use our talents to achieve in others. The different aspects are really more inter-related than we might think.

This couldn’t have come at a better time for me as the summer provides more down time and frequent opportunities to reflect and adjust my focus in both my personal and professional lives. I will certainly take some time over the course of the next week to reflect on the past year and plan to come back with renewed ambition, energy, and vigor.

“Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm.” Samuel Taylor Coleridgefocused-enthusiasm1

Posted June 8, 2015 by chaffeylearning in Uncategorized

Moving Forward   2 comments

perseverance_by_jennifurret-400x300“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance, and above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that is thing must be attained.” Marie Curie

It’s the end of the school year and that means plenty of awards and accolades are being doled out to our local and deserving high school students. While it’s easy to get caught up in the 4.7 GPA’s and the big dollar scholarships, the students who really catch my eye and pull on my heartstrings aren’t always the highest fliers. I am inspired and uplifted by the teens who overcome great obstacles—obstacles that kids their age shouldn’t have to face—but they do and they do it with grace and great courage.

Some of the kids who walk across our graduation stages this week will spend their graduation night with their families sleeping in cars. Others do not have families at all. Some of our graduates have overcome traumatic injuries and illnesses. Others continue to battle and struggle valiantly. We estimate that 60% of our students live at or below the poverty line and approximately 2000 of them are homeless. Yet, we continue to expect they will attend school everyday. We demand they give their full attention to their academics even as they are distracted by the rumbling of their empty bellies and the self-consciousness that accompanies their dirty clothes.

And many of these students, somehow, find the inspiration to hold their heads up and stay the course. Teachers and staff members make more of a difference than they know by opening up their classrooms and offices during lunch to provide a comforting sanctuary or by offering a genuine greeting or a caring smile. Our most at-risk students soldier on to blaze a trail for a younger sibling or hope to make better circumstances for their loved ones. Thanks to all of our Chaffey family members who make this seem possible…even when it doesn’t. To all of you, I offer my utmost respect and admiration and best wishes for a well-deserved summer break. To those students who are beating the odds on a daily basis, I offer you my prayers that your success, no matter how large or small, will give you the strength and hope to persevere. We are all so proud of your efforts!

“The most beautiful people I’ve known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Rossperseverance-road-sign

Posted May 19, 2015 by chaffeylearning in Uncategorized

Let’s All Be Teachers!   Leave a comment

teach inspire“I touch the future. I teach.” Christa McAuliffe, Teacher/Astronaut

My dad always told me not to become a teacher. As a bilingual elementary school teacher in La Puente, he knew well enough about the complexities of teaching, and his need to work a second job loading trucks at night to support us, made him dream of an easier for life for me and my brother and sisters. As usual, we didn’t listen. My brother and I became teachers at the high school from which we graduated and taught English and Spanish in adjoining classrooms. (Yo no hablo mucho Español.) Over twenty years later, Ted just completed his work to become a National Board Certified Teacher, and although I am out of the classroom, I still aspire to be a teacher in my role as a district administrator. We both followed the calling to be teachers because my dad, and other teachers, made such an indelible impact on us.

The affect of a skilled teacher is indisputable. Many studies have indicated that an effective teacher is the single most important factor in a student’s education. Although students will undoubtedly have dozens of teachers during the course of their lifetime, it only takes one teacher to motivate and inspire a student. In fact, a master teacher can connect with and inspire countless students, and the ripple effect from their influence can be far-reaching.

But classroom instructors are not the only ones who are teaching our youth. Many students connect with, confide in and learn from our school support staff as well. Counselors, clerical assistants, security officers, cafeteria workers…I can go on and on…interact with students on a daily basis and kids learn a great deal directly from us and by observing our example.

This really sunk in for me a couple of weekends ago, when I attended a funeral service for one of our school employees, a former instructional assistant. Hundreds of people came to his funeral service and teenagers to senior citizens spoke in fond respect of the many lessons they learned from him at school, home, church, and in the community. Although, not a classroom teacher by title, he assuredly was a master teacher by deed, and his influence will continue to be evident as we put his lessons into practice and emulate the positive behavior he modeled.

So, while we acknowledge the irreplaceable importance of an expert teacher, let’s not forget that we all impact student achievement. We have a great deal to offer students and they deserve our best efforts every day.  Just as they learn something from all of us, we should strive to learn from them as well and we should embrace the opportunity to teach from our experiences.

“Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.” Japanese Proverb

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Posted March 13, 2015 by chaffeylearning in Uncategorized

New Year/New Perspective   Leave a comment

New-Years-Baby-1937-Saturday-Evening-Post-J.C.-Leyendecker “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment; full effort is full victory.” Mahatma Gandhi

All good stories—whether they are found in books, movies or in our actual lives–have ups and downs, tears and laughter, victories and defeats. The story of a year is no different, and although 2014 wasn’t perfect, what year really is? The optimism surrounding a new year springs from the opportunity to reinvent or recommit ourselves to whatever it is we aspire to accomplish or become. It’s the seemingly perfect time to pause and reflect on the year that passed and prepare for what lies ahead.

I was thinking that we educators are so lucky that we have two natural breaks to do this–at the New Year in January and also at the beginning of each school year. But are we limited to these times? At a recent School Board meeting, one of our board members remarked that the privilege to be elected to the school board in November energized him and inspired him to give his best because that’s what we challenge our students to give—their best on each and every day. I think about that remark, and about his willingness to redirect and refocus his efforts. He’s no rookie school board member either; these sentiments came from a man who has served, with distinction, on our school board for 37 years.

This makes me think…what other times can we begin anew and decide whether we should double our ongoing efforts or blaze an entirely different path? Why can’t each day serve as an opportunity to reawaken our passions and be a better and more effective person than we were on the previous day? If we all commit to doing this, in all aspects of our lives, both personal and professional, we will achieve the promise of 2015 and even if it doesn’t turn out to be perfect, we will be satisfied knowing we gave it our all.

“Success comes from knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” John WoodenSunrise

Posted January 5, 2015 by chaffeylearning in Uncategorized

Everyone Matters   Leave a comment

everyone matters“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” William James

So I got to do the opening greeting yesterday for a workshop for high school students who are learning English (their parents were invited too). I was excited to tell them how important it is that everyone is included and share with them all the resources and support we can provide to help meet the needs of non-English speakers. I was eager to talk about how much they can achieve when teachers, support staff, parents, and students all work together. I was a little nervous (but also amped) that I was going to open with a few sentences in Español, but was glad that we had arranged for a Spanish interpreter to translate the majority of my speech.

Then I saw them and my heart dropped to the pit of my stomach. Three Vietnamese girls arrived and joined the otherwise Hispanic audience! Instantly, I realized my meager attempt at Spanish would be meaningless to them, and my English, no matter how articulate I thought I would be, would seemingly fall on deaf ears. The interpreter and translated materials were useless to them.

We went on with the program and even though my Spanish wasn’t perfect, at least it was appreciated by most in attendance. We had some fantastic teachers and support staff who presented to students and parents with study skills tips and they outlined the many academic and outreach supports we provide to help them to achieve, learn, and navigate our school system.

Still, the unexpected arrival of the Vietnamese students created an “aha” moment for me. It reminded me that every student arrives at school with unique talents and needs and it is our responsibility to help them overcome obstacles and flourish. This isn’t a new concept for me—I talk about this everyday, but the girls reminded me how complex this challenge can be. The rest of the workshop took on a different meaning for me as I tried to view it from their perspective. We were certainly leaving people out no matter how many times we went back and forth from English to Spanish–even though it was probably good for the other parents (some who serve on District advisory committees) to be reminded that our students and parents speak dozens of languages.

Even more significantly though, language barriers are only one of the MANY obstacles that prevent kids from achieving at high levels. Our greatest challenge remains cultivating each student’s individual talents and remediating their deficiencies…because this varies widely for every student. Our teachers are remarkably adept at doing this on their own; the results will be even more amazing as we continue to improve our systemic efforts to support their artistry.

***Everyone matters***Everyone can be better***Everyone deserves to be inspired and encouraged***kush

Posted September 15, 2014 by chaffeylearning in Uncategorized

The Winning Team   Leave a comment

image“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.” Malala Yousafzai

This was an important week in the education of our youth, but this entry isn’t really about Shark Week. We begun our first full week of the school year and nearly 25,000 local teenagers descended on our high schools eager to get back. Sure, there is a certain beauty in not having to set an alarm clock for months at a time, and although it may seem nerdy or uncool to admit looking forward to the start of the school year, kids return to school and they inevitably bring excitement and energy with them. I know because I’ve been here all summer waiting for them to come back.

I’ve always likened the first day of school to the opening day of the baseball season; optimism rules and every team believes they are headed to the World Series. No kids come to school on the first day and hope to be bored, to fail, to not be accepted. Last week, most of our District staff attended a kick-off event—a rally—celebrating the opening of what promises to be another exciting year. Like the kids coming back on the first day, we greeted friends we hadn’t seen since spring, we hugged, shook hands and talked about our summer adventures. Inside the rally, we cheered, we got silly, we reminisced about our own first day of high school, and we were asked to remember that teacher or staff member who made a difference for us. Many of us were inspired to become educators because some special teacher or staff member made an impression on us. These people, heroes in our hearts, made a difference in our lives because they cared about us and they cared about our success.

It is now our turn to give some of that back to our current students. Yes, we must plan rigorous learning activities that challenge students; we must continue to have high expectations. Most importantly though, we must make it clear to students that our instruction and carefully orchestrated lessons aren’t the most significant things happening in our classrooms—their learning is far more important, and when we see that students aren’t getting it, we demonstrate how much we care by how willing we are to get a little messy and deviate from our lesson plans to provide more in-depth explanation, hands-on practice, individual help, or flat out re-teaching. We have to be willing to try new things that will engage and interest kids even if it means we step out of our own comfort zones. We must model for them that taking risks and accepting challenges is how we all grow and learn. When they struggle, we will need to provide supports and scaffolds to ensure they achieve. They will meet our high expectations if we do everything in our power to ensure it and they will know we care because we put their needs ahead of our own.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to push myself to learn even more this year and honored to work with so many talented and inspirational educators. I know we are playing on the winning team and I can’t wait to see what we will accomplish together!

“Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.” Colleen Wilcox

 

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Posted August 14, 2014 by chaffeylearning in Uncategorized