One of the students’ illustrations for a mascot: a panther.
I’m always fascinated by what gets kids excited about school.
Take a 12th grade student in my school, Rebecca.* Rebecca is known for a sweet smile and enthusiastic participation. However, at some point this year, everything got cloudy for her: nothing in school was fun or exciting. A few teachers told me that she might have had a falling out with some friends, hence the blue outlook, but Rebecca wouldn’t tell us what was bothering her.
A few weeks later, I got an email from Rebecca and some of her classmates: Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago, Sami arrived at our school dance. Sami is a dynamic 12th grader who is passionate about basketball and Star Wars. He is a charmer and a social butterfly. He looked excited at the entrance to the dance, surrounded by his friends, ready to pay his $5 entrance fee.
The only problem was, he had skipped school that day. In fact, he had skipped many days of school this year: over 30 days.
One of the biggest predictors of student success is attendance. My school is comprised of 380 students, most of whom are newcomer English Langauge Learners. Missing even one day of school can throw learning off-course. 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.
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?
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
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
Student artwork sale at the High School of Language and Innovation
I remember my first interview for a teaching position in August 2000, part of the first cohort of New York City Teaching Fellows. I was standing in line at a hiring fair at the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel.
When I got to the front of the line, a harried-looking man introduced himself as a district representative hiring for a position teaching 8th grade in a middle school in Brooklyn. Continue reading
I live in the Bronx only a 15 minute walk from my school. One advantage of living close to school is that I have a beautiful, easy commute, and another advantage is that I sometimes see my students outside of school.
I saw one of my students the other day at the supermarket standing in one of the checkout lines. Usually, I’m happy to see a student, but I wondered if this student, Michael,* would be happy to see me. The last time I saw him, he had gotten extremely angry and physically shoved furniture in our school offices. This wasn’t his first nor his last outburst. Michael’s family had decided to send him to live with relatives in another school district to give him a restart. We all knew Michael was a brilliant young man with lots of potential, but it seemed hard for him to control his anger. Continue reading
Trees on Pelham Parkway that greet our new students and families.
One of my favorite TV shows is “Undercover Boss.” In the show, the CEO or president of a large company is given a disguise and goes undercover as an entry-level employee in their own company for several days. From that vantage point, the CEOs are able to see the inner-workings of their company from the ground-up: the good, the bad, the perplexing.
I often create what I call “undercover boss” moments in my work. Of course, I don’t wear a disguise, but when opportunities appear where I can quickly do a task that I normally wouldn’t do, or briefly fill in for an employee, I take it. I gain invaluable insights into my school and a deeper appreciation of the work my staff does on a daily basis. Continue reading
As a teacher, I used to look forward to summer vacation. As a principal, summer is precious work time. While I have a few weeks of vacation that I take here and there, I work for most of the summer. There’s a lot to do: supervising summer school, planning for the following year, hiring teachers.
There’s also a magic to summer school. While long-term planning for the year is intense, things also slow down. I have a tiny staff of 5 teachers and 3 support staff, and I get to work closely with them in a way that would be impossible during the school year with a much larger staff of 40 people.
The best part about summer school: some of the boys who struggled the most during the school year have transformed into fantastic students. Continue reading