Channeling my inner Mr. Rogers

pink treeI’ve always liked talking to students, even if they’re “in trouble.”  I find it healing for me and for them.  I “channel my inner Mr. Rogers,” and try to see the world from a kid’s perspective.

When we moved to remote learning last month, I knew we had use video to bring our presence to the students—our inner “Mr. Rogers.”  We scheduled bi-weekly video conferences with classes (“office hours”) and taught teachers how to make video lessons.

However, at the beginning, a few teachers were camera-shy and made video lessons without their faces showing (the “screencasting” program we’re using gives the option of presenting a lesson with or without a video image of the presenter, so kids might just hear a voice narrating a Powerpoint).  I made two points to the teachers: one, in a school of English Language Learners, it’s crucial for kids to both hear and see the language being spoken.  Two, the kids miss us. Continue reading

All figured out

Jeffrey Zeldman NYCWhen I was a first-year teacher, I thought my second year of teaching would be unimaginably easy.  By year two, I reckoned, I’d have it all figured out: a year’s worth of lesson plans and perfect systems for grading and classroom management.  As a result, I’d have all kinds of free time on the weekend.

Of course, that wasn’t the case.  Sure, a few things were easier, but every year brings new kids, new ideas to try out, and new “asks” of educators.  And then there’s simply the pursuit of excellence: as a teacher, Sundays were about reading over student work and planning.  I learned to be more efficient, but I spent the same amount of time planning because I was always learning how to teach better.

The same goes for being the founding principal of a school. Continue reading

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1”

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Watercolors by 9th graders line our hallway

In most high schools, something very dramatic happens every 45 to 60 minutes: students transition from one class to another.  A school that seems peaceful and quiet while everyone is in class, suddenly erupts as hundreds of teenagers are in the hallway.

When my school first opened in 2011 with 90 students and 4 classrooms, those transitions were easy.  However, as we grew to almost 400 kids in 16 classrooms, 2 floors, and multiple hallways, transitions became harder to manage.  Students would engage in longer and longer conversations with their friends, or kiss each other on both cheeks and squeal as if they hadn’t seen each other for years. Some kids would just stand, and not move.  (That drove me crazy.) Continue reading

Why I love 9th graders

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9th graders’ watercolors in art class

I love 9th graders; this week, I experienced again why.

Periodically, I visit every classroom to deliver a quick “check in” or important message.  My visits can be to remind students of an expectation (“Let’s keep our cafeteria clean”), say “Thank you” for an exemplary behavior, or reinforce a value we’re teaching, like persevering through a challenge.

Our building had recently had a rash of false fire alarms being pulled by students from other schools, causing building-wide evacuations.  To be proactive, I visited classes with my assistant principals to remind students of expectations when we evacuate, and to explain the consequences of pulling an alarm. Continue reading

Just a fun class

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A class of 2019 graduate’s cap.

The High School of Language and Innovation was founded in 2011, and this year was our school’s fifth graduating class, the Class of 2019.

Each graduating class has been unique in its personality.  They have different quirks and different gifts.  As I planned my graduation speech, I thought, “What make this class special?”

Many answers came up, but one word kept rising above all others, a word I didn’t expect.

When I actually stood up to give my speech, I asked the graduates themselves: “What makes you unique as a class?”  Continue reading

No school, no dance?

glow sticks dance.jpgA 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

Melting grudges

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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