Student watercolor from the High School of Language and Innovation.
As a principal, I hear complaints from teachers and students about each other. “Ahmed refuses to participate.” “Ms. X didn’t help me even though I was raising my hand.” I typically try to “solve” or mollify the complaints quickly so everyone can move on.
This week, coming fresh from a seminar on listening, I heard complaints differently. Behind the complaints, I found hurt feelings and disappointment.
I came in for an early meeting with two teachers who are respected and even loved by their students. We were deciding which kids needed extra academic support.
As we went down the list, the conversation seemed normal: “Jennifer could use more support outside of class. Mohammed is doing fine in the class, he won’t need extra help.”
Then the tone changed, hitting upon two names: “Samantha doesn’t care. She doesn’t do any work and when I talked to her about it, she said ‘whatever.’ Neither does Abdul. He does nothing in class.” Continue reading
As the principal of a high school that serves newcomer English Language Learners, I track many pieces of students data: progress with English, attendance, participation in clubs and sports, grades, test scores, etc.
Yet sometimes, a seemingly insignificant moment teaches me more about my school than any piece of official data.
Last week, I was walking past the cafeteria while my students were eating lunch. I heard the normal sounds of lunchtime: over 300 students talking loudly, the occasional shriek of laughter or flirtation.
And, the smell of oranges. Continue reading
Last week, I wrote about a student who sent an angry email to a teacher during winter break. I talked about my own initial instinct to “jump to punishment” instead of finding out what had happened.
Returning from break, I was reminded of another layer of complexity: the parents’ pressure to punish.
The day we returned from break, I assumed that the student who wrote the email would feel remorseful. We would start off with discussing why the email was a problem, the student would apologize, and all would be well.
Nope: the student returned to school angry, sure that he was “right” to express his feelings in the email.
Right before winter break started, a teacher approached me, visibly upset. A student had sent him an email saying, “I hate you” and wishing the teacher a “horrible” winter break, among some other unkind things.
What had preceded this email? The teacher explained that he had called the student’s parents in for a meeting regarding the student’s behavior. Afterwards, the student had sent the angry email to the teacher. (On a positive note, the email was clearly written and formatted correctly, a “modern skill” we now teach in our English classes.)
A student in traditional Albanian dress.
I am the principal of a truly multicultural school: almost all of the students in my school are newcomer immigrants from over 23 countries all over the world.
Three years ago, we started a tradition of having “cultural assemblies” in which students from each culture would lead a school-wide assembly sharing the history, music, dance, dress, and customs of their culture.
This year, we started with the Albanian assembly. Our Albanian population is relatively small, and deeply proud of their culture. My staff had always told me that the Albanian assembly was beautiful but at times, the most challenging to organize: the students are brilliant and dynamic. However, the students also have strong opinions and disagreements about their history and traditions. Continue reading
Students taking apart a computer in a computer science class at High School of Language and Innovation.
Eldan* is in the 10th grade. He’s charming, originally from Montenegro, and a talented soccer player. However, he frequently comes late to school and until we started to address it, he would often cut classes. We have a few Eldans in every grade: not openly resistant or disrespectful, but also not always able to see the point of school.
This year, I realized that rather than being frustrated by such behavior, I could be curious. Does Eldan see the point of school? Are we communicating that school is a “have to because you have to”? Or are we communicating that school is a “get to” that leads to possibilities?
Last year in the 9th grade, Robert* had a rough start. He would argue with directions, wander hallways, and frequently cut classes. We were alarmed to see these habits so early in his high school career and did our best to address his behavior.
However, we didn’t see a major change until July: over the summer, Robert calmed down and got focused. He attended summer school and had a math class with a teacher he admired. In August, he passed the state math exam. He started his 10th-grade year well, arriving on time, participating enthusiastically in classes, and performing well.
Then, the cutting habits started to creep in again. We noticed he’d skip his last class of the day, history. This year, we started a much stronger approach to addressing cutting. We developed a system to stop students in the morning who had cut class the day before. We met with them and helped them re-think how and why they should stay in school all day. Continue reading