Know And Remain True to Your North Star

A morning walk of reflection at CAL Poly Pomona

Everyone should get to get up in the morning and walk and take in views like this. I didn’t realize that Cal Poly Pomona had so much beauty on the campus. This morning I got up and took a walk before the conference. Here are a few photos.

Over the course of the days here I am coming to understand the importance of the work we do each day at HSHMC, and the work my colleagues are doing in schools and classrooms across the nation to make this country, and the world, a better place. I pulled from quotes from the past few days to highlight some of the musings in my mind this evening.

 

“To some degree, this is about staying in touch with the passion about children’s rights to their language, to an education, to their culture- to rectify the inequities in schools and society. But to some degree, it is also more specific- about realizing what part of that matters to you and why- and always keeping it in your heart.”

 

I am thinking today how I want our work to transform education for English learners, particularly those students designated as LTELs, that label that defines and most likely confines many of students. In thinking about the work I am doing, it is about sharing the work with all content area teachers in a way that will make curriculum more accessible and meaningful. It is about breaking the academic language barrier, helping students speak and write in academic ways. This is my goal, with three decades in education working with ELs, I want so much to use that experience to better support students in our humanities classes, and then share those strategies out to a bigger audience.

“Advocacy is not what we do for others but what we do with others to transform our community.” 

NEA ELL Advocacy Guide 2015

Forming alliances with like minded people is what makes a difference. Find your tribe, Find the people who can support your goals and aspirations. Together you can do more than going out on your own.

“How important it is as EDUCATORS to stand up- and that you cannot necessarily count on people who SHOULD stand up, to do so.” Rosa Salinas

Find it in your heart to do what is right, when it is needed.Be brave. Be brave enough to have conversations that matter.So many times I find myself looking to see who else will stand up, when in reality if we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we each need to take that first step. It isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it. It is important to take the time to explore your own thoughts, discover what it is as go after it. Don’t wait for the people who “are supposed to” take action, be the leader. If you do it right, many people will join you. Take the first step, speak up and take thoughtful, purposeful action to bring a positive resolution to a situation.

“ANY steps forward, any brave efforts, baby steps even. Find ways to highlight and share it. Give them recognition. Present and talk about their work. Give them that sense of being valued .” Yee Wan

Finally, be generous with your spirit. Honor those that take risks, teachers who go out on a limb to make a difference for our kids. Honor the small steps students take every day to get better. Value the process, and bring that recognition outward. Celebrate along the way, keeping your eye on the greater goal. Make space to honor others, it is truly one of the most important things we can do to ensure people continue to take risks and work hard. We are stronger and better together.

 

Changing Hearts and Minds

Bringing these along to discuss and share with all who will listen.

Getting right down to business at the EL Advocacy

 

 

 

 

 

 

This has been quite a week, working on doctoral chapters, traveling with my school team to New Orleans, and now a four-day Institute on EL Advocacy. There isn’t a more crucial time for this work than now with the divisiveness facing our nation on so many issues.

The key idea I took away from today was we look to change hearts and minds regarding the educational issue of English Learners. What does that look like? How do we speak to be understood rather than just be heard? How do we listen to opposing views to look for truths in issues that we may not want to face? Us vs. them mentality gets us nowhere. We need to come together, face the fact we aren’t perfect and look at what can be improved. Most importantly, bring real examples and faces to problems and successes in our work. It can be daunting. It is about equity. It is important, and at times exhausting which is why coming together like this is so important.

I am working with 50 other passionate people who I don’t know, who care about what it means to support English Learner education. Getting together to learn how to advocate for this group of students begins by looking at the history of English learner education.

By learning about our past we can work toward a better future. Here’s to a productive and enlightening few days.

A history of the work.

We All Have Blessings in our Day to Day Lives, We Have to Remember to Count Them

I just took a trip to New Orleans with some colleagues from my site this past weekend. It was a whirlwind trip, there about 48 hours, with a focus on setting an agenda for the coming school year on what it means to be restorative, how can we grow stronger as a site, and how can we encourage relationship building on all levels, admin, staff, students, families. Big ideas, great conversations. It was a time of work and play, both designed to build relationships and understanding. I was nervous about going since I am literally old enough to be the mom of most in attendance, but I learned we all have something to offer, to share, and experience does not always quantify by age. I left knowing that although I view the world with my own distinct lens, that view is valuable, just as the thoughts and views of everyone who was there.

Today I threw myself back into my work, my writing, and the laundry. All of these things demanding more time and attention than I could muster, but muster I did. I ended the day at the gym because I am promising myself that I need to take care of my mind, body, and spirit this summer. I didn’t want to go, but as usual, once you get there, you always feel better

Todd Durkin, owner of Fitness Quest 10 is a world renowned trainer, working with people like me and professional athletes. His attention to people, his motivation and drive are contagious. It isn’t about just working out hard, it is working out well, finding balance. Tonight he said something as we were stretching that stuck with me, “We all have blessings every day, we need to take the time to count them.”  As I lay there stretching, that really hit me. Do we take time every day to truly reflect? So I lay on the mat and counted my blessings, starting with my family, moving to friends, work, my studies (especially my ‘#firestarters”,  having a career I love, and finally, the fact I could even stretch at all.

So here’s to counting blessings, whether you do it in the morning before you head out to face the world, or at the end of the day like I do. Sit in silence, let gratitude envelope you, take notice of the positive things in your life, and the challenges that help you grow. Spread positivity and remember there is more light than darkness in the world It is tough right now, but as my crew always tells me, “We got this.”

 

Growth Mindset: It Isn’t Just for Students Anymore

I have been reading, writing and playing all summer long. I just recently took a trip back east to see my family, taking an entire week hanging out in Boston and on Cape Cod.

A snapshot in time Summer 2017 Cape Cod.

What a wonderful break, but even there I was discussing my doctoral work, educational philosophies, and challenged time and time again on what it means to be an educator in today’s America. Yeah, no true rest for the educator and grad student.

In talking with family, I  was forced in a way to put my work back into an elevator speech as I tried to answer the question, “what are you doing with the doctorate after you’re done?” I asked myself that question daily this summer when the challenge seems daunting and the process more than I can bear. I find myself growing weary of revision, and doubt what will come of this work. These conversations forced me to go back to my roots, why did I start this process? I came to realize was it really isn’t about what I am going to do when I am done, but rather, how does this work with English learners help teachers and students right now? How does my study of best practices directly impact the students I will be facing in a little over a month from now? In other words, I want to be relevant. I want to create impact beyond the students I work with, and I want to make a difference in the lives of teachers.

I struggle with the writing because writing this book is personal. It isn’t something I am doing to just “get it done” and checked off some arbitrary list, this work matters to me. I don’t want it sitting on a shelf somewhere with thousands of other doctoral thesis papers. I want to make a relevant difference in the daily classroom practices for students in classrooms across the country, starting with my own, but transferring to the work of others in the field.

Right now in my chapter revision,  I am focusing on teacher efficacy and the impact that has on student attitude and achievement for English learners. I think it is one of the most important parts of the book, because if you don’t have the core belief that students can and will be successful, then they won’t. Students can smell “fake news” a mile away. If you say you believe everyone can be successful, but water down discussions for some of your students, or set a lower bar, they will see right through your words. In talking with teachers, so many times we start with the litany of things that we cannot control when it comes to making students successful. We start with administrative constraints, budgets, poverty, and lack of family involvement. All of those things impact student achievement, but none of those things do we as educational practitioners have direct control over. I don’t have control over the outside challenges my students face growing up in an urban environment. I do however have control over the space I create when they walk into my school or classroom. I have influence over how I speak to them, how much I try to foster ownership in their own learning. I can provide scaffolds that are inclusive in content rather than supplant rich dialogue and content.

Carol Dweck is a pioneer in the concept of “growth mindset”. She talks about how student mindsets, how they perceive their abilities- played a key role in their motivation and achievement.  She says, “A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating a growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is the key to students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches- not just sheer effort- to learn and improve”  (Dweck, 2015). I feel this also applies to teachers.

So what is my purpose for the work? It is as simple and complex as this. I am developing a book that empowers teachers to make the best instructional decisions for their English learners to create an inclusive and rigorous learning environment. I want teachers to be able to use research based strategies to provide that “repertoire of approaches” ELs need to be successful in core content classrooms. I want it to be easy to read but challenge their thinking. That it isn’t a book of worksheets or graphic organizers, but rather tools to select to build a specific scaffold that allows our ELs to access the core content with meaning. It isn’t a book to supplant learning, but instead to scaffold and enhance learning. The focus is to have teachers see themselves as facilitators of learning for all their kids, and that they have the skillset to do so. And so it goes.

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html

 

Scheduling Time for Fun, Make It Happen People!!

First of all, I am blessed to have summer breaks. I know that, I accept it, and I embrace it. So this summer I am more scheduled than I have been in a long time, but I am also more relaxed than ever. So how is that possible? Because I finally learned that to make the most of the time I have this summer, I have to be purposeful in how I spend it. I have big dreams, huge goals and I need this time to get some serious things done. That means filling my summer with big chunks of writing time if I expect to graduate on time, and I do!

Balancing Act, even in summer

It helps to have the days to write. It is hard to write after a long day at work, and I am making the most of it. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I really do, but I also know that in order to be the best teacher and student I can be, I need to take breaks. Even if the breaks would not seem like breaks to any other sane person.

Best. Advice. Ever.

How big chunks of my weekdays look…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to follow my doctoral dream, I have to set large amounts of time out of my summer days to work on it. I am an all or nothing writer, and I am learning that doesn’t work when writing a book. You are not done, not ever. The revision just flows from one day to the next. I have spent a year on the research for this book, and it is time to quit reading other books and articles and write what I know to be true myself. This blog space is helping me do that. It is the place I found my voice, and just playing around in this space helps shape my thoughts and warm up the brain before I go back to the place where I need to cite and document just about everything I am thinking. (APA may kill me yet!) This is my play space, and we all need one.

So this calendaring thing I have also turned into a play space. I am purposefully scheduling downtime. I know all the great

Yeah, those are socks, and we only have 2 in the house at the moment…

gurus in time management talk about the importance of that, but I have never really done it. I have put it on the calendar, but I didn’t follow through. It started with calendaring big chunks of time to write. And then it was filled with the normal teacher things like doctors and dentist appointments that we put off all year, and a few critical home projects because seriously the laundry doesn’t put away itself.  (as pictured here).

 

But summer needs to be more than work and catching up on all those things you didn’t do while going to work and school. It also is time to have some fun!! So I went back to the calendar and found spaces to put in fun things. It started with my mom coming to visit next week, and thinking about things we can do together. I found this cool thing on my Facebook feed that listed 15 things to do in San Diego, and since I hadn’t done well… any of them, I decided this was a great place to start.  Last night I went to the pier with my hubby and best friends. Check number 10 off the list, now 14 more to go. What are you doing to make the most of your summer?

Take time for fun.

Civic vs. Civil Discourse What It Means Today

I looked up civic discourse this morning and read around on a few sites. Here is a summary of what I found.  Civic discourse is the hallmark of our democracy. Americans’ right to free speech as it is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. We have the right to free speech, to speak our minds and share our views, our truth as we see it.  But with that right, we have the responsibility.That is the part we don’t seem to want to honor anymore. Looking on my Facebook wall, the Twitter feeds, the endless stream of comments and responses in social media seem to foster a place of anonymity, thereby creating spaces where hate and anger can thrive with seemingly little to no consequence.  People write from a stream of angry consciousness, there is not give or take. There is no seeing of another side. There are no faces, no way to register the impact of your words. instead the feeds just roll through fast and furious, at the speed of flying fingers across a keyboard. Access to the political process in this way, the feed of information can be empowering, or crippling.

Let me give you an example. When you like something on your Twitter feed or a Facebook post, a computer generated program will begin to post similar tweets or posts. Soon your feed does not represent a wide variety of views but instead, your feed is filled with views of those you agree with, and your world shrinks rather than broadens. You can’t navigate all there is to see out there, so if you are getting your morning news from Facebook or Twitter, know it is streamed to your bias. It is important to recognize that and be purposeful in finding opposing points of view, that is how debate and discourse work. I have friends who refuse to talk to someone who is on the other side of the political spectrum. They won’t listen, won’t engage, and don’t understand why they should. If we don’t listen to opposing views, if our own knee-jerk reaction is to discredit the other side simply because they are the other side, then we are no longer a democracy.

Certainly, there is a difference between civic discourse and civil discourse; Civil discourse is what we aspire to, the idea that Civil discourse is engagement in discourse (conversation) intended to enhance understanding. In other words, we can be passionate, we can heatedly disagree, but we don’t cross the line to cruelty, or meanness.And for those who believe one side is more intolerant than the other, I beg to differ with you. I have seen both the far right and far left write each other off and refuse to come to any sort of compromise. The problems we face in this country are real. The solutions are complicated. They are not left or right.

Going after the previous administration’s laws and changes simply because you have the majority is wrong. Not recognizing that our country has fiscal, environmental and security issues that need to be addressed is also equally wrong. No one party has the solution, and our representatives in Washington are just that, our representatives. We voted them in, we can vote them out. That is what makes this country great, but if we don’t step up and stay involved and demand leaders to lead, not just soundbite, to represent what is best for the people, not the party, then we reap what we sow.

Being civil doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you a snowflake, or a liberal idealist or a religious zealot. Neither side owns patriotism or nationalism. I don’t believe either side believes they are destroying America. But if we don’t come back to being civil, then civics is dead.

Joe Kennedy, speaks eloquently about where he believes we need to go as a nation. Yes, he is a politician. Yes, he sounds like an idealist. But maybe, just maybe, we can figure out a way to come together with a broader vision, and begin our discussions on what is possible. Will it take compromise on both sides? Absolutely. But I believe it is possible.

Know Your Students, Work For Their Success

In this stressful political time when immigration debate is usually going full throttle across my feed on a daily basis, I am called to task often on my stance on English Learner Education. Being a white, English-only speaking female who is entering her third decade in the classroom, who am I to speak on the topic of EL education? Well frankly, in my humble opinion, each of us who step into a classroom needs to start asking ourselves these questions. What does it mean to be an English language learner in our school system today? What are the benefits and what are the challenges in teaching this group of learners? But first and foremost, who are these students? How am I supporting or hindering their academic growth in the confines of my classroom? We need to look in the mirror, and not out the window, blaming the outside forces we have little to no control over. Easy to say, difficult to do, but necessary now more than ever.

By definition. English language learners are students who come to our classroom speaking another language, many times multiple languages. It is important to note that students are identified as English learners first by their families when they apply to come to school. Once a student has this label, regardless of their academic skills in either English or their home language they become part of our English Learner program. It takes a lot to get out.

English language learners or ELs come with a variety of experiences. Some of our students come to us without ever having attended school before, and they need a whole set of school skills to become successful. Some students come with little to no English skills but have been well educated in their primary language, and that transition to academic English will most likely go smoothly. We teach students who have major gaps in their education, missing months or years due to violence in their home countries. Each of them needs our support, instruction and most importantly, our time. Time to learn about them as a learner and time to focus on their instructional and personal needs so they can become successful in this thing called school. These are the students most people think about when they talk about students still learning English, but there is another group sitting in our classrooms, who need us now more than ever.

There are identified ELs who have lived in this country their entire life and been part of our nation’s schools since kindergarten. Their parents and maybe even their grandparents were born in this country. These students sound like they are fluent in English, but continue in our EL support programs because they lack the English academic language to access complicated content. They need a different kind of support to reach their full potential. They are categorized as long-term English learners, and they are a growing population in our classrooms across the nation.

Long-term English language learners are the focus of my doctoral work. Why do we have so many of our ELs in high school still not able to read and write well in English academically? How as an educational system can we better support these students? For far too long, students who were designated as long-term English learners received the same type of remedial support as those students who were new to our country. By not taking the time to affirm their skills, build on strengths, and provide a challenging, rigorous curriculum for these students, they remain trapped in the cycle of remediation and ultimately failure. So all this sounds pretty depressing, right? But the good news is, we have the power to change things.  Here are the top five things that need to be in place to ensure our long-term English learners succeed and even excel in our schools.

  1. Know your students. It is your responsibility as the lead learner in the room to understand your kids. Be aware of their home language, their previous schooling experiences, the length of time they have been in American schools, and what supports they have had prior to walking through your classroom door. Are there procedures and routines in place that help students work to their greatest potential? Do you look at language learners as someone who needs to “be fixed” or someone who has a lot to offer in this growing global economy? Every teacher is a language teacher, and we need to see ourselves as such.
  2. Teachers understand what academic language students need to be successful in the content area classroom. What vocabulary do students need to understand the content? How are you explicitly teaching it? What opportunities do students have to practice it with you? By planning with that in mind, all students will be more successful.
  3. Long-term English language learners need to read, write, listen and speak each and every day in every class. By expecting these students to use higher academic vocabulary and allowing lots of time to practice and repeat, they will get better. Structure lessons so academic conversations are supported and celebrated. Give students lots of time to use the vocabulary, and hold them to high standards. Push them to be better, hold them accountable, and support and encourage them along the way.
  4. Provide many different types of language support in your classroom routines. All students need visuals, manipulatives, group work and individual chances to demonstrate what they know. It is not enough to provide a rigorous curriculum if you do not provide the access and support students need to be successful, especially for those students who do not see themselves as scholars. A scaffold is meant to be a support, not a crutch.
  5. Teachers will get exactly what they expect from their students. If you believe in them, build their efficacy by challenging them to continuously improve, they will make progress. Our mindset goes a long way in changing their mindset, how we define their success or failure impacts how they define their own. Be strategic, be thoughtful and be tenacious.

It is not easy to teach in today’s classroom.  There are many things both internally and externally that pull and push on our time and attention. Empowering students to be more than they see in themselves does not occur by happenstance.  It is an unapologetic enthusiasm and setting high standards with structured support to provide every kid the chance to be successful.

 

 

 

Are You Screaming to the Rooftops or Singing to the Choir? Neither Will Move Us Forward

This showed up on my feed this morning. In thinking about the heated temperatures today, both in the weather and rhetoric, this was a nice break. How have we come so far apart?


How do we head back to a road where we quit demonizing the other side of an issue and try to come to some solutions we can live with? As beautiful as this choir sounds, it demonstrates my point perfectly this morning, we aren’t listening to each other. We are simply trying to drown the other out. Now in this case, I much prefer both the music and the message, but it won’t solve anything. It won’t change policy, or hearts, or minds. It is simply another day of in our continued struggle to define who we are as a nation when it comes to social issues such as health care, human rights and education. It comes down to where we want to spend our dollars. And that my friends is what makes or stifles change.

Our focus for the summer is to come up with ways to insert civic education and debate into our humanities curriculum, for me that means looking at medieval history with this lens. How did people share their views during that time? How were they condemned? Who were the heroes? Who were the oppressors? I am learning more and more that it depends. Let’s look at it with the focus on the public education debate currently going on in this nation.

Public education is under tremendous pressure for change, both from the students we serve, and the politicians who believe they know better how to educate our youth. In thinking about school choice, vouchers are touted as the latest silver bullet in saving our education system. How do we debate this issue? Well currently the unions are putting millions of dollars into fighting the initiative, where proponents are putting in even more millions into pushing it forward.There are sound bites and rally cries, but I don’t hear anyone addressing the real question, which in my mind is, why we can’t better meet the needs of all our students? And the deeper question I am asking lately, is do we as a country want to educate all our students any more?

Although guided by powerful ideals and even laws to promote and attempt to ensure equal opportunity, American schools still are deeply unequal. If we as educators don’t admit and address this, then we are just as guilty as our critics in not dealing with the reality today.  As historians of education have taught us, children of different racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds have traditionally attended different schools. With segregation more prevalent today since the passing of Brown vs. Board of Education, researchers like Lareau and Goyette (2013)  and Bader and Warkentien (2016) are finding that neighborhood schools continue to remain segregated both by ethnicity and race. Parents all want what is best for their children, and are relying on each other to find what they consider the best education possible for their kids. It is why the debate for public, private and charter exist and are so strong. Every parent wants more for their kids than they had themselves. There are pockets of excellence everywhere, and there are great public, private and charter schools. But there are also bad public, private and charter schools and we must address that head on if we are going to make positive change for students.

Education Secretary Betsy Devos just sent a warning to both public and charter schools that all programs are on the table in the review of where funding will go. She and her supporters believe that public funds should be given to the student and their families, which include the option to spend those funds on private schools. Read this latest summary from her visit to a charter school conference last week, it will give you pause as both a public and charter school educator.

https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2017-06-13/devos-delivers-tough-love-to-charter-school-advocates

When thinking about my concerns about her stance I think the most important consideration, is accountability on where these funds go.  Are we providing accountability measures to receive that funding, what will those measures be, and how will we ensure that ALL kids get access to quality schools? It is concerning to me that the president just signed legislation that cuts accountability measures and teacher training requirements while now trying to open the door to alternative teaching. Providing alternatives that are not of high quality and academic rigor are change for change’s sake, and that serves no one, least of all the kids in the end.

Finally, do we as a nation believe that all kids deserve a quality education, and if what we are doing isn’t providing that are we willing to make the hard changes necessary to make that happen? My concern is are we providing high quality programs that meet individual student needs at the cost of kids learning how to work together in a variety of situations and structures? We don’t grow to work in companies that create great ideas and products by working in isolation, or in isolated thought. Are we at risk of creating spaces where kids are not exposed to a variety of ideas and concepts to become more well rounded and may I dare say tolerant and respectful people? That too is the role of education. There can be no teaching of civil discourse if we continue to further separate our kids from each other.

So what happens next? It isn’t about drowning out the other side, it is about coming together to face the fact our kids need us, our families need us and as a nation we need to address this continued inequity faced by our students. It is important to not scream to the rooftops, or sing to the choir, but learn how to discuss and move forward. We have so much work to do.

What are you doing today to get a little bit better?

I have two timelines posted on my computer, one that shows how many days until San Diego State Graduation next spring, (for those counting with me it is 327 days). The second is a countdown of summer, which upon my estimation of going back a little early to get things done, I have about 60 days. Why put these counters on my laptop you ask, because days matter. How we spend our days, our minutes matter. I have gotten in this habit of creating list after list, color coded even to try to rein in all I want and need to do. I finally figured out that the process of listmaking is important in some respects, so I can have that sense of accomplishment when I finished something. But in reality, it is simply a way of avoiding those very things I need to do.

But this countdown calendar thing? Well, that is helpful. My writing partners refuse to look at it, it stresses them out and they feel that it is way too soon to begin the graduation countdown. But for me, it is a constant reminder we have limited time. It serves as a beacon that I will actually finish this doctorate, and that if I don’t make the best use of each day then I am going to struggle to get there.

My calendar is pretty planned out for someone who is on the first official day of summer break. But the first thing I did was put in all the travel we are doing this summer, some for work and some for family time. Then the rest of the days were blocked out to write and to plan for fall. Every. Damn. Day. Why? Because that is what it’s going to take to get this done. And writing includes blogging here, because this is where my writer’s voice began to grow louder, and so it brings me the confidence to ramble on here awhile. And if I calendar blocks of prime daytime to write, my summer nights can be mine, and that is such a break from the school year where you work all day and struggle to write when tired at night.

So today I got up, went to the gym, set a timer to get some house chores done and sat down to finally write.  I cleaned out the office one more time from the end of the school year dump and created the space I can lock myself away and feel like a writer. This showed up on my Facebook feed this morning from a student a few years ago.  If that doesn’t inspire, I don’t know what does. Happy Monday writers and artists.

Wise words from the past.

 

Summer is a Time of Reflection and Rejuvination

Summer is a time to reflect upon the year that has passed and plan for the future. This past year was a whirlwind of learning, growth and facing my fears of change. Jumping from a large district to a small charter school was more than just a way to work with my doctoral professors. It was a statement about what I believe students deserve in an education, and who I want to be as an educational leader. Coming to HSHMC, as part of the HSMS middle school I was attracted to the culture of the organization. Most schools identify themselves first with an optic lens, what you see sets the tone of the site. They highlight the campus structure, sprawling with play fields, locker rooms, quads, computer labs and libraries or maker spaces. When you identify the feeling of the campus at first glance it is usually the bells and whistles of appearance that students and outsiders notice. But if the campus is a just a shell, and the true culture is not based on shared ideas about learning and students, then the structures are just buildings, not symbols. They are wallpaper or a facade.

Coming to HSHMC, as part of the HSMS middle school I was attracted to the culture of the organization. Most schools identify themselves first with an optic lens, what you see sets the tone of the site. They highlight the campus structure, sprawling with play fields, locker rooms, quads, computer labs and libraries or maker spaces. When you identify the feeling of the campus at first glance it is usually the bells and whistles of appearance that students and outsiders notice. But if the campus is a just a shell, and the true culture is not based on shared ideas about learning and students, then the structures are just buildings, not symbols. They are wallpaper or a facade.

HSHMC is founded on core pillars, symbols you will see throughout the campus that are the foundation of the culture. The ideals and daily practices are seen throughout our campus not in traditional ways, but in the feeling of the campus every single day. The school is immersed in an office building, but the student created artwork, the pillars, and the mission statement all serve as visual symbols to the mission. But it is daily practices, such as morning circle highlighting the strengths and challenges faced by students, the daily positive interaction with students in the hallway, the feeling tone on campus where every person is welcomed with eye contact, their name, and if visiting, a personal walk to wherever they need to go. It is the symbol of the heartbeat, that reminds us every day it is about the students, about the aspirations and goals of those we work with and our role in providing a pathway to get there.

The middle school will soon become integrated into the high school as one charter. This summer each room is being upended, all teachers moving to new spaces, creating their own vision of what a classroom should look like to foster the growing identities and academic and social needs of middle school students. As I think about how I want to begin to create the space, I think differently now. The space is not mine, it is theirs.  I am just one of many that will facilitate the learning in that space. The space is about highlighting humanities instruction, and what tools and symbols represent that. After working with these scholars for a year, what type of set ups do they need to be successful? What inspires student debate and discussion? What symbols will be put on the wall that creates a culture of restoration, inquiry, social justice and civic action? It is about the learner and the learning, and every image and quote we post must be carefully thought about. When people come into our room next year, what will they see through the symbolic lens? More importantly, what will they feel as they wander in and out of our space? What I hope that lens highlights are my hopes and aspirations for them, and more importantly a view into the thoughts, dreams, hopes, and aspirations of the students themselves.

What do you dream for your next year?