I teach my students that their mind is a muscle and that we must constantly strengthen that muscle the same that we would our bodies. Key words I mention to these students include perseverance, stamina, and "productive struggle." Likewise, following the habit of sharpening the saw means to constantly hone the skills necessary to make the good habits truly become natural actions.
These past weeks have been fun because I've gotten to teach these habits to my AVID students, and they are about to read 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Covey. The students will be enthused to know that we have already been practicing the habits, and now we will be able to sharpen the saw together, as a class. We enjoy referring to our AVID class as a club, especially because we focus on so many life-skills that require transparency and an open mind.
I am excited to sharpen the saw, as I need these habits as a leader. No one habit is greater than another, which is great because I can spend my time focusing on all of them so that I can become a well-rounded, well-equipped leader. I must admit, though, that putting first things first is something I need to focus on at the moment, as opportunities seem to always come my way and it's difficult for me to say no. If I can manage the ability to focus on essential tasks, then I can devote more time to setting up ways to sharpen the rest of the saw.
It's funny to think that our school's new attendance system is called "Synergy." It allows for a synchronization of various reports, such as linking IEPs and other notes from teachers. In that same way, our AVID program has designed itself so that each AVID class (organized by grade levels 8-12) has its own set of officers (president, vice president, secretary and student council representative). The collective of those officers meets once per month (our last meeting was Monday, 9/28/15), and students independently work together, follow a time schedule, record their own minutes, and then delegate other members to communicate with our school's dean of students and entire AVID student body. It is becoming a well-tuned machine, in which everyone works in harmony, in synergy.
The primary purpose of our AVID clubs, led by students, is to demonstrate that these students are able to work efficiently to produce a student-centered collective that is stronger than any group we teachers could organize ourselves. With synergy in mind, we understand that each student has a set of strengths that can edify our collective so that students belong to learn and grow in harmony. No one person is stronger than the other, yet the officers simply facilitate the work. It's humbling to watch 90 students work together effectively to organize fund-raisers, communicate with parents and community partners, and brainstorm projects in the same manner that a group of co-workers would effectively accomplish. Authentic collaboration and accomplishment feels great, and that's what I will continue to encourage my students to seek out when working with others.
I will commit to constantly focusing on collaboration and not compromise so that I can celebrate the growth that all will achieve when we synergize. With my students, I will provide beneficial feedback that drives them to improve, while encouraging them to clarify points of confusion so that we can both work well in harmony for maximized gains in learning. With colleagues, I will work to observe their effective activities that engage students in learning, while also sharing my ideas with them. I will work on effectively understanding the strengths and weaknesses of my colleagues and students in order to properly seek out solutions and delegate responsibilities, as needed. This is a skill that I feel I am comfortable with, as I understand and value the ability of a group/team over that of any individual.
My grandma always told me that we have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. This isn't an original quote from her, as others have said this, but it really spoke volumes to me growing up since I was always a talker. This was when I was first introduced to active versus passive listening, and it is something that I still practice on a daily basis.
The commitment I must constantly make with myself is to make good eye contact with those around me, acknowledging their opinions and statements, focusing on empathetic listening. I encourage my AVID students (and all students) to be assertive when they engage in a conversation, but to also practice good listening skills. These skills include waiting for people to finish their sentences without interruption (which is part of our Socratic Seminar and Philosophical Chairs activity norms in AVID), restating said statements/opinions, and not attempting to refute the opinions or statements of others by attacking the person, but rather, focusing on the content of the language. It is a great life skill and one that I was able to practice after Back-to-School night this last week.
At the end of the last bell at Back-to-School last Tuesday, I had a parent stay to conference with me about her child. I made a phone call to her earlier in the week to discuss progress her son has been making, but to also address some growing concerns. She came in and started to apologize, then came to tears. I let her finish and acknowledged that her son has many positive characteristics that will enable him to reach his potential. She began to tell me more about his life story, and had I not listened actively and with empathy, I would not have understood the depths of her son's issues. It really did make me choke up, and I assured her I would stay in communication with her via text-message and/or Schoolloop on a daily or weekly basis. The most rewarding part of this, though, is that her son has been actively participating in collaborative activities in class this week.
My challenge for my AVID students this week is to have them engage in at least one conversation with someone in their lives to really seek first to understand. This could be with a teammate, coach, family member, classmate or teacher. I even challenged my cross country runners to do the same with other athletes at our upcoming race. To firmly shake the hands of their competitors and ask one genuine question without interrupting. Then, after the race, go back to acknowledge that person (or people). I'm confident this is something we can do, as we have done some fun team-bonding activities in the past where athletes are challenged to compliment someone around them with a genuine praise. I'm eager to see what happens!
I once heard that compromise is inevitable for progress, but the more I reflect on that word, the more I realize that compromise is only necessary when groups do not focus on effective collaboration; when groups or individuals focus more on "me" rather than the "we." As with the fable with the donkeys, when groups of people learn to effectively collaborate, they work together to accomplish a common goal. Synergy is created and everyone wins. With the fable, the donkeys could have focused on each other's individual goal of eating their own pile of hay, but once they focused on the idea of sharing the hay in each pile, the work became effortless and both gained satisfaction with nothing lost. Collaboration is how progress should be made, rather than compromise.
This week has been fun in my AVID class because we are no focused on the community service aspect of our course. The students are charged with working together to brainstorm a year-long service project that will benefit our community. In doing so, we used strategies that involve students collaborating; building on ideas, restating the objectives and acknowledging each member's opinions as valuable. With me acting as a facilitator, I was able to refocus the class on edification rather than any sort of criticism of ideas during the brainstorm. It was fun to watch the students get excited about the possible projects and then select a few that we could begin with as the most urgent for our school and community needs.
I enjoyed that fable with the donkeys so much that I shared it with some of my colleagues, as there is a lot of transference that comes out of that simple image. The rope could symbolize policies that are forcing teachers to not work together, and the hay could symbolize maximized student learning. I plan on making a copy of it and sharing it with my students as we work on tying collaboration into other tasks throughout the year.
Stephen Covey’s video on working from a different paradigm and prioritizing the bigger tasks in our lives first really resonated with me this week. I am the person on our campus who has the reputation of committing to a whole lot of tasks, but sometimes I forget the power of prioritizing and sometimes saying no. Making sure that I prioritize the big rocks of my life and then fill in the smaller rocks to “fit” within the cracks is something I must constantly remind myself to do, and I think this was key in sharing with my AVID students.
I am happy to say that focusing on proactive versus reactive language and behavior in my class has helped tremendously. In addition, reiterating our SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely) goals allows us to stay committed to our ultimate objectives, both inside and outside of the classroom. And these two habits will take constant work with my students and myself until they become second-nature.
I shared the video of the two buckets and the rocks with my students and had them follow up with a Triad-formation Socratic Seminar (normally reserved for critical reading extensions in our class, but this video had so much transference). It was clear to me that we needed to discuss the specific tasks that we could categorize as large rocks and the others that would be deemed smaller. From sports and academics to “me” time and family, we discussed that concept thoroughly.
We followed that Socratic Seminar with a team-building initiative outside that I call “concentration.” We circled up and I assigned each student a person across the circle, and we started to toss a tennis ball across to that person without talking or dropping the ball. I then introduced a second and third ball to scaffold the task upward. Eventually, the task got too hard to successfully complete in the given time constraint, and students debriefed notions of staying proactive and edifying each other when failure occurs; avoiding the chaos around us to stay focused on our prioritized objectives (who we toss the ball to and why that is more important than watching what others do). It was so great to hear the students realize that that small initiative transferred to things like our “big rocks” in the midst of this chaotic world we all live in, where we are constantly faced with obstacles, interruptions of “small rocks,” and even failure.
Prioritizing my own time and tasks takes lots of work for me, especially at this junction in my life. In addition to this cohort, I’m coaching boys cross country, teaching five preps, involved with the Instructional Leadership Team (as WASC coordinator), and balancing my family time (with my wife and two-year old son). I’ve delegated other responsibilities that I’ve considered to be “small rocks” for the time being, such as sponsoring a couple of extracurricular clubs and coaching a second sport (volleyball). Doing that has urged other people to present new opportunities to me that seem enticing, but the space I’ve created in my life-bucket isn’t free; my bucket was just overloaded with too many rocks.
I look forward to learning and living these habits in the coming weeks, as well as committing my AVID students to doing the same. Tying these mini-lessons into our own reading of Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Covey will also make this a scaffolding activity for my students, and that makes me happy.
What we believe determines how we live our lives. I firmly believe this to be true. Jerry Patterson's paradigm of beliefs leading to actions, and actions leading to results, and those results reaffirming or readjusting our beliefs is a great way to describe this moral compass.
When I was in middle school, I chose to write down my daily tasks and fold them up in a piece of paper in my pocket, and before I went to sleep each night, I made a point to cross off the items of that list, or add them to a new list for the next day. I would never ignore my daily goals. I also realized that my daily goals were evolving into bigger goals. By the time I graduated from high school, I had achieved almost every goal I had set for myself. I once envisioned making my family proud and exiting the cycle of generational poverty by attending a university and not having debt, and that dream became a reality. And that habit of believing in realistic goals, creating an action plan to achieve those goals, and seeing clear results still gives me a dopamine rush to this day. What's better is when I get to exude these habits onto others around me.
One of the ways that I strive to earn buy-in from my students is by demonstrating that I am my own greatest critic. I humbly show them that I am far from perfect, and that I constantly readjust my teaching belief system to realign with the emerging goals of our teaching standards, instructional shifts, and student needs. This means that I am always working out ways to improve the learning of my students, and I believe the feedback I receive from the students energizes me to continue to evolve my work. My "True North" is pointed toward integrity, humility, discipline, and growth; without this moral compass, I would not be able to effectively backwards map for my students in order to adhere to their needs first.
My AVID sophomore students are on a great path towards achieving their own goals. After I focused on being proactive with them last week, I also discussed the power of their own personal beliefs. I reiterated the fact that our beliefs determine our lifestyles, so it's extremely important to transparently portray ourselves to the world. We completed our semester G.P.A. template, which stands for our Goals, Plan, and Actionable items. I am eager to watch these students hold themselves accountable to their goals, aligning their authentic beliefs with their actions for achieving positive results.
Life has a funny way of presenting people with a series of decisions. From selecting an outfit to a morning greeting for the first person we encounter, we literally experience thousands of split decisions within our minds on a daily basis. Decisions, however, are things that we can control and weigh (mostly in retrospect), so decision-making skills are often what create a gap between people who are successful in life, and people who are not.
One of the first skills that help us in our ability to make proactive decisions in life is the ability to discern between the things we can control, versus the things we cannot. We cannot choose the color of our skin at birth, or even the region of the world into which we are born, so there’s no point in wasting valuable energy and emotion on the aspects of who we are that are unchangeable. Instead, we should focus our energy on embracing who we are, while simultaneously finding our niche in the world so we can influence positive change.
In my own life, I can reflect on countless experiences where my older sister made poor decisions. I also watched her suffer the consequences of those decisions, which often led to heartbreak in my family. I quickly learned that I am responsible for my own choices in life, and that I must choose wisely. That zoomed-out lens has saved my life. Each day is a gift, so I must constantly remind myself to focus on the positive and not the negative.
In order to avoid being a reactive person, or one who chooses to “celebrate the problems” of life, I will choose to respond to each negative comment I hear with a more positive, solution-oriented answer. We are unable to focus on the road ahead if we are constantly looking in the rear-view mirror. I will hold myself accountable to watching my own thoughts, as thoughts become words, and words become actions. I want to stay on a path that will maximize my positive influence on those around me, from students to colleagues. This means that I will need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my colleagues, believing in the best of everyone, and diplomatically refocusing every negative situation into a more positive one.
This week was our first week back to school, and I have the pleasure of teaching a 10th grade AVID class (in addition to several math classes). Although I enjoy teaching all of my students, teaching AVID is exceptional because I get to focus on positive habits that lead to successful students who are prepared for both college and career. In teaching Habit 1: Be Proactive from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, I chose to use an acronym that I learned from Boy Scouts when I was 14 years old. This is S.T.O.P., which stands for Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan. STOP is primarily the tool used when a camper is lost and needs to regain focus. Rather than being reactive, one should be proactive in resolving the situation. When we stop, we physically protect ourselves from venturing further away from our origin. When we think and observe, we allow ourselves to focus on where we’ve been and other key landmarks. Then we plan out our actions that will lead us back home. These skills are directly transferrable to our daily encounters with other struggles in life, and my students could relate.
My students and I engaged in a conversation about what it means to be proactive versus reactive. They began to talk badly about certain people in their lives who have made poor decisions, but I was able to refocus the conversation to reiterate the importance of watching our thoughts, in that it’s important we stay positive in order to influence positive change. We ended the conversation in agreement that our actions speak volumes, so it’s important for us to walk-the-walk rather than talk-the-talk in all we say and do. Edification is one our monthly theme words, so I’m encouraged to think that my students will proactively seek out ways to edify their peers and shun the negativity that will come their way.