The Quiet Kid

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Student artwork, High School of Language and Innovation. 

As our 12th-grade students are applying for colleges, our staff writes recommendations for them.   The students email the recommender a “brag sheet” of their accomplishments, goals, and life experiences.  I have had the privilege of writing several recommendations this year, and love how much I learn about our students through the process.

One young man, who I see as a leader, described his only accomplishment as “good at sports.”  He was totally unaware of his own greatness.  I made sure to describe his leadership, such as the times I’ve seen him guiding 9th graders to do the right thing.

One young lady wrote an assertive brag sheet in organized bullet points.   Reading it, I remembered how she had volunteered one summer to organize all of our classroom libraries and then ensured that I wrote a letter documenting her community service.  This year, she started a dance club, which has become our most well-attended club.  I felt appreciation for her ambition and how she has made the school a better place.

One young man, Samuel, * was a surprise to me.  I was happy to receive his request to write a recommendation, but I realized I didn’t know much about him.  Here is what I knew: he is from Honduras and started our school in the 9th grade.  He is doing well academically.  He is a nice, quiet kid with a big smile.

His brag sheet was a revelation.  I learned how much he valued his family: he started by describing his family (mom, dad, siblings) as his greatest support and then detailing their levels of education: who finished high school, who didn’t, who was pursuing college, who didn’t finish college.  I learned that he is living in the United States with his father and uncle, and that his mother and siblings were still in Honduras. He had experienced the death of an infant sibling, and wrote about how his parents supported him through that challenge. He is debating about whether to become a aviation mechanic or to have a career in fashion.  I had no idea he had an interest in fashion, and then I suddenly remembered that he is a stellar artist and his work has been displayed all over the school.

I learned that he was class president for two years in a row in Honduras, right before he immigrated to the U.S.  This struck me: how had his identity changed after he came to the U.S in a new school?  Even though we are a school of newcomer immigrant English Language Learners, how hard had it been for him to adjust?  Had he wanted to pursue student government in my school, or was it something he never considered?  Was he a “quiet kid” in Honduras?

In reading his brag sheet, I saw his creativity, his insightfulness, his aspirations.  It occurred to me that over the years, I get to know certain students very well: our star students, our student government leaders, and most of all our attention-seekers who disrupt classrooms (until they don’t).  I don’t always know the “quiet kids.”  In learning about Samuel, I felt I had discovered a hidden jewel that made me want to learn more about all of my students: to see the world through their eyes, to know their aspirations, and to make our high school a more obvious path to those aspirations.

*The names and identifying features of students have been changed.

 

 

 

 

I could do this job until I’m 90

20181104_114211.jpgBeing a high school principal is not glamorous.  Case in point: last week, there were way too many chicken nuggets on the student cafeteria floor.  Note to ourselves: re-teach cafeteria cleanup.

Chicken nuggets included, I love my job and would choose no other.  This week, as I watched a staff trainer work with a student, I realized my experience is unusual.

I hired the trainer to show my staff effective ways to coach students through challenges. I watched the trainer talk to a student named Samantha, who was struggling.  The trainer was skillful in getting Samantha to engage in the conversation.

Then the trainer said, “Samantha, I know you’re not excited to come to school today.  In fact, I don’t think any of us were excited to come to work.  Even I had to make myself get up this morning.  None of us really want to be at work.”

Wait a second, I thought.  Really?  Continue reading

No, you’re sitting here.

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At the beginning of the year, I did a presentation for a 9th-grade class. As the students walked into the classroom, I told them where to sit. “Good morning! You can sit here,” I’d say, pointing to a table.

One student chose another table than the one I had pointed to. “I’ll sit here,” he told me, plunking himself down. He smiled and folded his arms.

“No,” I said. “You’ll sit here.” I pointed to the original table. I smiled back.

“But I can work better here,” he insisted.

“No,” I said again. “I’m very happy you’ll be in this class today, and so I need you to sit here.” I pointed again and repeated myself: “Here, please.”

Continue reading

After a fight

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Student tracing a sketch in art class.

This week, two girls had a fight in the cafeteria.  We found that it had been instigated by other students, and stemmed from unkind posts on social media.

The issue for me wasn’t the fight; we quickly broke up the fight and held a mediation between the students involved that was successful.  The issue was that a large number of our 9th and 10th-grade students cheered on the fight.

Earlier in the year, we had spoken to our students about integrity and how it relates to not encouraging a fight.  I was disappointed that the students had cheered on the fight until a friend reminded me of “rubbernecking” in traffic: “That’s just what people do.  Remember how in traffic, people slow down when there’s a car accident because they want to see the accident.   It’s not always because they actually need to slow down, it’s just that human curiosity.” Continue reading

How to be a man

Sky view

This year, my school is focusing on raising the achievement of boys. I’ve learned that supporting boys goes beyond good teaching: we need to show boys more options for how to “be a man.”

Most boys have an idea of what it is to be a man. It’s often a child’s idea of being “hard” or “tough,” “independent.” A principal colleague of mine said he and his staff consciously teach their 9th graders to lose the “tough guy” attitude and just be kids; be students.

This week, I found myself in a conference with a student, Hassan,* and one of my teachers, Matt. Hassan had hit another student who had been calling him a “little boy” and making teasing gestures towards him.

In the past, we might have said, “The next time someone teases you, tell a teacher or administrator.” However, we saw that an 18-year-old boy who sees himself as a man may not want to run to a teacher to solve his problems.

Continue reading

Saying “Yes” to Interruptions

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Students making origami at lunchtime.

This year, my assistant principals and I committed to being the “first responders” for student behavior issues.  In the past, as the principal, I personally did not respond to most behavior issues.  Teachers would call an office extension and another staff member or one of my assistant principals would respond to the issue.

This year, we created a system where the teacher directly texts the three administrators (my assistant principals and me) on “What’s App.”  One of us then goes immediately to the classroom to support the teacher.

In being the “first responders,” we have our pulse on what’s happening in the school. Continue reading

Teaching Integrity

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Students at the High School of Language and Innovation collaborating in science class. 

 

The first week of school, I learned that most of my students didn’t know the word “integrity.”

As a tone setter, my assistant principals and I visited classes and did a presentation around our core values: integrity, perseverance, respect, and responsibility. We’re using a new approach, Responsibility Centered Discipline (RCD).  In RCD, we coach kids to make choices that embody these core values, rather than simply reminding them of rules.  An RCD conversation would go like this: “Jaime, I love when you participate in this class because you have a great sense of humor.  Your participation makes a difference.  When you stopped doing your work and put your head down, you weren’t showing perseverance.  If you can keep showing perseverance and never give up, you’ll not only learn, but you’ll be a role model and leader for your classmates.  What can you do when you get frustrated with the work and want to put your head down?”   Continue reading