Mentors Matter

I’ve been thinking about mentors lately.   At the outset of every school year I stress the importance of building relationships around the school.  Relationships need to be nurtured with students, colleagues, parents, and so on.  In particular I stress the imperative that students must feel cared for and guided by their teachers, and valued by their classmates.  This is essential.  I want every student to feel that there is an adult in their world that they can seek out for a conversation, for advice, for a moment of listening.   I don’t often use the word mentor when I think about these relationships.

Building relationships and being a good listener are foundational to mentoring but mentorship is far more.

It’s not about friendship.  Mentors teach.  Whether it is through role modeling, offering advice, or challenging one’s beliefs and thinking it is about teaching and learning.  It is about being pushed to consider alternatives or future directions. From learning a specific skill to mapping out future choices, mentors engage in significant and potentially life changing experiences for their mentees.  While that sounds pretty “heady” and serious, it’s not something that happens overnight or without an amount of relationship building to begin with.

I’ve been thinking about mentors as I watch my two sons, both in their 20’s, navigate their worlds.  My oldest son graduated from college, took a low paying volunteer type job with AmericCorps and ended up working in an office surrounded by interesting people.  He ended up working closely with an individual who grew into his mentor.  Over the course of the year, he Continue reading

Ten Tasks of Adolescense

Over the years one collects various expressions, articles, and handouts that are timeless for their value.  The print may fade over the years but their place on my bulletin board above my desk remains.  One such article/handout has been with me for about 10 years, always on my bulletin board.  The “Ten Tasks of Adolescense” is a great reminder of the challenges middle and high school kids face on a daily basis.    Just as a parent watches the growth of their own child over the years, teachers gain levels of satisfaction in watching the development of their students over time.   When you think of the challenges that kids face in

Building Relationships over Lunch!!

Building Relationships over Lunch!!

navigating day to day, week to week, year to year experiences as their minds and bodies are changing so rapidly, the role of schools and of teachers becomes so special.  To be a great teacher, you must be tuned into these adolescent tasks.  To be a great teacher you must be focused upon the relationships you are nurturing with students.  Adolescent life is full of challenge and opportunity, great teachers maximize both.

Have a read of the 10 Tasks of Adolescents.  At the bottom is an interesting extract focusing upon the importance of relationships between adults and students in schools.

The Ten Tasks of Adolescence

From Raising Teens, A Synthesis of Research and a Foundation for Action, a. Rae Simpson, Harvard School of Public Health 

Adjust to sexually maturing bodies and feelings Teens are faced with adjusting to bodies that as much as double in size and that acquire sexual characteristics, as well as learning to manage the accompanying biological changes and sexual feelings and to engage in healthy sexual behaviors. Their task also includes establishing sexual identity and developing the skills for romantic relationships.
Develop and apply abstract thinking skills. Teens typically undergo profound changes in their way of thinking during adolescence, allowing them more effectively to understand and coordinate abstract ideas, to think about possibilities, to try out hypotheses, to think ahead, to think about thinking, and to construct philosophies.
Develop and apply a more complex level of perspective taking. Teens typically acquire a powerful new ability to understand human relationships in which, having learned to “put themselves in another person’s shoes, they learn to take into account both their perspective and another person’s at the same time, and to use this new ability in resolving problems and conflicts in relationships.
Develop and apply new coping skills in areas such as decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution. Related to all these dramatic shifts, teens are involved in acquiring new abilities to think about and plan for the future, to engage in more sophisticated strategies for decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution, and to moderate their risk taking to serve goals rather than jeopardize them.
Identify meaningful moral standards, values, and belief systems. Building on these changes and resulting skills, teens typically develop a more complex understanding of moral behavior and underlying principles of justice and care, questioning beliefs from childhood and adopting more personally meaningful values, religious views, and belief systems to guide their decisions and behavior.
Understand and express more complex emotional experiences. Also related to these changes are shifts for teens toward an ability to identify and communicate more complex emotions, to understand the emotions of others in more sophisticated ways, and to think about emotions in abstract ways.
Form friendships that are mutually close and supportive Although youngsters typically have friends throughout childhood, teens generally develop peer relationships that play much more powerful roles in providing support and connection in their lives. They tend to shift from friendships based largely on the sharing of interests and activities to those based on the sharing of ideas and feelings, with the development of mutual trust and understanding.
Establish key aspects of identity Identity formation is in a sense a lifelong process, but crucial aspects of identity are typically forged at adolescence, including developing an identity that reflects a sense of individuality as well as connection to valued people and groups. Another part of this task is developing a positive identity around gender, physical attributes, sexuality, and ethnicity, and as well sensitivity to the diversity of groups that make up society.
Meet the demands of increasingly mature roles and responsibilities Teens gradually take on the roles that will be expected of them in adulthood, learning to acquire the skills and manage the multiple demands that will allow them to move into the labor market, as well as to meet expectations regarding commitment to family, community, and citizenship.
Renegotiate relationships with adults in parenting  (and other) roles Although the tasks of adolescence has sometimes been described as “separating” from parents and other caregivers, it is more widely seen now as adults and teens working together to negotiate a change in the relationship that accommodates a balance of autonomy and ongoing connection, with the emphasis on each depending in part on the family’s ethnic background.

The Relationships Gap

Looking closer at students’ perspectives has shown us that strong relationships with teachers are crucial. The quality of teacher relationships seems to be correlated to how much effort students put forth in their school work, and indeed, research indicates that effort is more important than innate ability when it comes to achievement (Dweck, 2006). As both the number of standardized tests and the stakes related to passing them increase, student effort must keep pace.

Our survey results imply that building relationships with students help increase their effort, which is consistent with research showing that the relationships students have with teachers is one of the best predictors of hard work and engagement in school (Osterman, 2000). When comparing responses of students who agreed with the statement, “ I put forth my best effort at school” with those who did not, we saw dramatically different perspectives on student-teacher relationships. Students who said they put forth their best effort were twice as likely as students who said they did not to agree with the statement, “Teachers care about me as a individual.” Similarly, students who said they put forth their best effort were twice as likely to agree that “Teachers respect students.”

Another telling survey finding was that 56 percent of students who reported that they put forth their best effort also said they have a teacher they can talk with if they experience a problem, whereas only 32 percent of the students who did not put forth their best effort agreed with this statement.

Some survey results indicated that many students lack a solid, trusting relationship with a teacher. For example, only 45 percent of students surveyed agreed that “Teachers care if I am absent from school.” How is it that more than half of the almost 500,000 students surveyed do not believe teachers care if they show up? Teachers must work harder to develop relationships with students and change these kinds of perceptions. Doing so will foster students’ connectedness at school — an undeniable catalyst for increasing students’ investment in learning.

Schools can — and should — implement practices that lead to strong teacher-student relationships.

Excerpted from Got Opportunity?

Russell J. Quaglia, Kristine M. Fox and Michael J. Corso; Middleweb, Norton@middleweb.com

And We Are Off! – Day 1 has come and gone!

Welcome to Day 2

OK, another school year is officially starting.  Heaps of energy and enthusiasm as usual on day 1.  Excitement around the school.  New hair, new shirts, new shoes, new teachers, new students, new furniture, and some new changes around the buildings.  New books in the library, new laptops to borrow, and a few new food items for sale.  There is eager hopefulness in the air!  Fresh coats of

Seniors!  Enjoying their first lunch of Grade 12

Seniors! Enjoying their first lunch of Grade 12

paint on walls and tables that covers up some of the pencil and pen markings from last year’s crop of students.

So what!  What’s it matter?  The fresh coats of paint only matter for a little while;  paint wears thin.

I’m writing this note during the early morning hours of Day 2.  The only thing that really matters is how we decide to “Show Up” at school on Day 2, and Day 3, and Day 4….etc.  All the appearances of new beginnings don’t matter unless you decide to “Show Up” and make the most of what’s on offer.

As a student and a member of the LCS community, how will you carve out your path at LCS this year?  Will it be as an active, positive contributor?  What are the most fundamental goals that you have for the year?  Is it about friendship? Is it about academics? Is it about being positive? Is it about being kind? Is it about making the varsity soccer team? My favorite question when speaking individually to students is “What kind of student do you want to be?”  Over 20 years of asking that question to hundreds and hundreds of students the response 99% of the time is: “I want to be a good student”.   What does being a “good student” look like?  The common response is earning good grades.  But this falls short. It’s not about the grades.

IMG_1670

How will you contribute to a positive school climate? How will you be a good friend and a good classmate? What will you try hard to avoid?  How will you “Step Up” and continue your growth as a teenager?

While Day 1 is a great way to start the year and you have begun to taxi down the runway, Day 2 is where you can truly rev your engines, release the powers within, and begin your flight through another school year.

Make sure you watch this video when you are done!!!  Have a great start!

Jelly Beans & Living Life to the Fullest

 

 

 

 

 

Obvious to You, Amazing to Others!!

Sometimes I do wonder about this blogging stuff.  I wonder whether it’s worth the time and energy it takes to put together a link or a post.  But, I do believe it has a place in my world of work, within the community that I specifically work within.  I enjoy writing and I do believe there are many opportunities for communicating important messages as well as putting resources into the hands of community members.  The links that I post are meant to be drawn from by teachers, students, or parents and provide information or inspiration.  I do believe I have interesting and potentially valuable messages to share.  Having said that, I came across this little animation today. It is worth sharing.  It’s worth considering as a student, teacher, or a parent.  We all have good ideas and ideas worth sharing.  I like the idea that some things are “Obvious to you, but Amazing to others” by Derek Sivers!

 

Obvious to you. Amazing to others. from Derek Sivers on Vimeo.

Girl Rising and CNN reports – Must Reads for LCS students!

Check out the links to the Girl Rising reports on CNN.  I urge LCS students to navigate the CNN reports and articles. It looks pretty interesting with powerful stories from around the world.

Girl Rising on CNN

Why is it that CNN has devoted so many stories and so much journalism to these stories of females from around the world?  Why do you think that is the case?  The stories about educating females, forced marriage at early ages, child slavery…they are all powerful and important.  CNN has some very famous people writing some very strong pieces.

You should really check these out.

Along the way, read this piece on school proms.  It’s on the Girl Rising web site as well.  It gives us, at LCS, something to think about.

Another School Year Ends….an important assembly

Congratulations to all of us for getting to the end of another school year.  The end is always a busy time with lots of activity.  From the activities with the Grade 12 students that culminated with graduation on May 24 to final exams a week later to sports day to the final couple of assemblies and then……it’s good-byes all around, some permanent and some temporary until August.   It is an emotional time.  It is important to feel emotion when a good friend is leaving or a teacher you respect is moving on, that means the relationship has value in your life.

I appreciated the last few days of school.  In particular I appreciated the final assembly.  The final assembly allowed us to acknowledge and send off all of our Grade 6-11 students who are leaving LCS.  Every year students leave…..and it is emotional.  We also farewelled 12 teachers.  Students did a great job in farewelling the teachers.  Students, through their claps and cheers and expressions of “we will miss you” created an atmosphere of appreciation that sent a powerful message to their teachers.  These relationships matter.  All students should know that these relationships matter to all of the teachers as well.  Teachers care deeply about their students.

A school is just an empty set of classrooms until students and teachers show up.  Then relationships are built, connections are made.  It is in the power of the learning amongst teachers and students in schools that real change happens.

I hope and trust students have finished the school year in strong fashion and that you are prepared to enjoy the next couple of months and, most importantly to me, that you are well rested to begin again in August. There will be many new students, new courses, and new ways to explore options and interests.  For right now, on a Sunday night at the close of the first weekend of summer vacation, enjoy the horizon of time that stretches in front of you.  I will be sending periodic posts in the coming weeks. I want you to read my posts!!! Maybe, if you are so motivated, you will even leave a comment!

Leaning Forward with Technology at LCS

Technology is integral to learning at LCS.  Students have regular access to technology at school while developing competent users of, and learners with, technology is a high priority.  We strive to support students as they develop their digital citizenship and learn how to manage the multitude of technology tools at their disposal. It is an essential aspect of learning at LCS.

Elementary students regularly access the computer lab through scheduled classes and during specific projects.  All elementary classrooms have a desktop computer to share and a SmartBoard for students and teachers to use.  In addition, a classroom set of laptops and I-pads are available and shared amongst elementary classrooms for additional learning experiences.

In the secondary school each scheduled block of the day (4 blocks in total) sees the collection of 60 laptops in the library borrowed by students for classroom work.  Our laptops are checked out from the library and each block they are fully utilized. In addition, students learn with technology through various classes.  For example, science labs utilize science probes (in conjunction with laptops), Film Art classes use editing software, and Art classes exploit our classroom set of I-pads.   Technology is in demand.

Many secondary students bring their own laptops or I-pads to school on a daily basis.  Over 80% of our secondary students own a laptop and over 60% bring them to school daily.  More older students bring personal laptops than younger students.  If students take care of their belongings at school, then their belongings, no matter how valuable, are safe.  We have had very little theft this year and two cases of disappearing laptops have occurred in the middle school and were the result of students leaving their items unattended overnight.

All students and parents (Grades 4-12) are required to acknowledge and sign our Responsible User Policy.  This document details expectations around use of technology at LCS.  Students in Grade 6-12 also sign a Laptop Borrowing agreement which Continue reading

Transitions…It’s that time of year!

Schools have a unique rhythm and we are heading into what is the most sensitive, stressful, and emotional collection of experiences within that rhythm.

In the coming weeks many members of the LCS community will be in the midst of transitioning away from LCS and Accra. Students will be bidding farewell to friends and contemplating the uncertainty of next steps. Parents will also be experiencing similar transition steps. It can be challenging.

During this process, students will also be immersed in activities at school including pushing forward with academic projects including final exams for high school students. The stressors grow in the coming weeks.

Graduation is the penultimate ceremony and most significant and memorable transitional event. The pomp and circumstance of graduation are greatly symbolic of the multiple layers of transition that our high school graduates will experience.

Generally we think about the impact on those students who are leaving and we do our best to ease their challenges for departure. However, years ago it became very apparent to me that transitions are also about those who are not leaving. Those remaining Continue reading

Transitioning from Grade 5 to Middle School

The move from Grade 5 to Grade 6 is a big deal.  Having said that, witnessing this transition for students for the past 20 years it is also fairly predictable.  It is exciting and challenging for the average student.  It is extremely difficult for kids who struggle with organization.  It is a joy ride for students who thrive on multiple notebooks, organized pencil cases,and  multi-colored highlighters. By and large, it is an opportunity that most kids embrace to experience growing privileges, added responsibilities, multiple workloads to balance, and a fast paced collage of social interactions that include complex friendship groups, online exposure and interactions, “by the lockers” gossip. Make no mistake, the social world of a Grade 6 student is a not so subtle challenge.

Add social challenges to the academic workload to the new found freedom to moving between classes to exposure to older students and older ideas and you have a stew that brews for weeks and months and leads to a myriad of challenges along the way.  It is not easy being a grade 6 student.

But…..all is not lost!  Good teachers who are sensitive to the needs of this age group, structured opportunities to interact, ongoing and specific attention to challenged students, and a general openness of grade 6 students to discuss and consider right and wrong choices  provides a mix for supporting, guiding, and teaching.

I’ve always considered Grade 6 students as the “morality police”.  They really do insist upon “fairness”.  As they move through grade 6 at different paces, they are Continue reading

TedXTeen – Role Models and Inspiration

Role Models.…Students need role models.  Role models they can identify with.  They need examples of young people doing extraordinary things – and being ordinary people along the way!  They need mentors to support and encourage.

I recently came across TedXTeen.  Here’s a collection of really interesting young people.  It is worth exploring the links from TedXTeen. I’m sure it will prove interesting.  Here’s the link.  Navigate yourself to the talks by participants!  Here’s the link below:

TedXTeen Talks March 2013