The Smell of Oranges

orange peelAs 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

The Pressure to Punish Part II

Briliant hues

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.

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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

Undercover Boss

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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

A piece of the puzzle at prom

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I’m always surprised by how much I learn about our school from our prom. We recently held our prom earlier than most schools due to Ramadan, as we wanted more of our Muslim students to be able to attend.

Our high school is a school for newcomer English Language Learners from all over the world who have been in the USA less than 4 years. The students are excited by the idea of the prom but they don’t have a strong expectation of what it should be so there’s no comparison or disappointment.

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Permission to be excited

Education NYC - Julie NarimanI walked into a 9th grade art class the other day simply because it looked beautiful.  Little tangles of red, teal, yellow, orange, and blue fibers covered each table and the students were gluing the fibers to paper to create a design.  I asked one group of students who looked particularly engaged, “Are you enjoying this project?”

The students looked at each other, and seemed about to express enthusiasm—and then one girl shrugged.  Following her, the others shrugged as well.  They went back to work, fully engrossed—but not able to admit it.  The girl who first shrugged seemed mesmerized by a teal fiber, pulling it out as if she had big plans for it.
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The parent at school, the teacher at home

Rafael Nariman in Class of 1955

My dad attended a school vastly different from mine.  He grew up in Spain and learned multiplication tables by singing them in a classroom chorus led by a priest.  I learned my multiplication tables by using flashcards.

As a kid, I remember arguing with my dad about math homework.  Specifically, it was about problem-solving in algebra: my teacher had taught me one way to solve problems, and my dad wanted to show me an easier way.  I would listen to my dad (probably not for long) and then, frustrated, huff and puff that I was going to “do it the teacher’s way” because his way was confusing. Continue reading