“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” C.S. Lewis, author
First 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!
“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.
R.I.P Gina Lujan-Randin.
“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.
“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/)
“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 Mandela
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 Coleridge
“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-Ross
“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