Conversations that Create Change
October 20, 2017
Education is a people business. We spend a lot of time in Forest Ridge School District 142 focused on our students — figuring out the best ways to customize instruction and engage them so that each individual student reaches his/her potential. We also spend a lot of time thinking about our employees — figuring out the best ways to support them, the best ways to professional develop them, and also devising ways to engage our staff in thought-provoking, insightful, and inspiring conversations about their individual and collective thoughts and experiences within the field of education. Not just what we teach, but how and why we teach. How can we be continually better at what we do?
Recently, I invited the entire District 142 faculty and staff to take part in an in-depth conversation about education. This invitation was not reserved for just teachers, but was inclusive — everyone was invited. I believe that every person in an organization plats a part in providing a good education for our students — secretaries, custodians, District Office staff, paraprofessionals, and my fellow administrators and teachers, our front line implementers. We all contribute to the educational environment on behalf of our students.
It’s difficult to find time and space to gather over 150 staff members, from different buildings and departments. However, thanks to technology, we were able to set up an online Google Classroom so that all staff had the opportunity to join in the conversation. This gathering is known in District 142 as “The Superintendent’s Bookshelf.” Can you believe we quickly had over 70 people volunteer their time to read the book, Drive, by Daniel Pink? So many people accepted my invitation, I had to close registration!! Now that’s commitment. Additionally, these awesome people volunteered three evenings of their personal time to join in on the discussion to talk about our profession and what they think about teaching, serving our students and families, and growing as educators.
The conversations were incredibly inspiring and I wanted to give a glimpse to our parents, local community, and all of those who follow us online of what our employees think about education and their role in it. In each of our three book study online sessions, questions about the book we read as a community and how it relates to education were asked. The speed and depth of these conversations is amazing. We typically average 200 comments/answers per hour.
The following thoughts/reflections have been taken from our conversations on Drive — a book that takes a close look at what really motivates people:
“This was an extremely inspiring experience. I loved hearing what others had to say and the openness and honesty of everyone in the study. It makes me a better person and a better teacher. This being my second time in the book study, I loved it again! I’d definitely do it again and would encourage others to do so too!”
“I love reflecting on my life and my teaching and this book helped me do just that. I am honored to work beside all of you. I haven’t ever been in a district that had such love for their students and passion for their work! I would do it again and encourage others to do it as well!”
“Learning from others, especially those in other buildings and specialities, has been so rewarding. I’m excited to take back what I’ve learned from the book and all of you so that I can be the best teacher I can be; one who inspires intrinsic motivation, creativity, and engagement in my students.”
“It starts with me. I would like to take a step back and see what my students see when they come into the school and the classroom. I want to reflect on what action steps I can take to further their motivation and drive and mine. I also want to develop deeper relationships with the students, co-workers, and parents.
“I have to take a step back and look at what really excites my students, and when they are most engaged. I know they are motivated when I hear them talking about what we are doing in a lesson during lunch or recess, etc. When I notice something they are all engaged and excited about, I try to find ways to implement similar activities throughout instruction.”
“I am always looking for opportunities for growth. And it usually pushes me outside my comfort zone… but that’s when I get the biggest reward. I am always looking for that in students and try to nurture that. We need to get past the fear of failure and accept it as a part of growth.”
“My students obviously keep me up at night all the time. Worrying about what might be going on at home, am I reaching them, are they making the progress we need them to make. The biggest piece I worry about is the transition to Kindergarten and beyond. (Are they ready?, Have we done everything we can?, Are they going to sink or swim?, and What do I need to do to get them ready?) What I do to ensure their success? — ‘Everything in my power that I possibly can!’ Build my room, my lesson, and my materials around them.
“I recall hearing Maya Angelou one time talk about how important she realized it was to make sure that her face would light up when she would see her children so that when they saw her they associated seeing her with that lit-up face instead of a face of criticism. I guess I have to say that every day I am concerned with how I make people feel… including my students. Of course, as educators we hope we make our students learn something academic, but I also am hoping that what they remember about me is how I made them feel.”
“I always take the time to say ‘good morning’ with a smile to each of my students and make sure they are looking at me and saying ‘good morning’ back!”
“I love when my students say, ‘it’s time to go home already?’ or ‘that went by way too fast.’ It shows me they are engaged, interested, and in the flow. All time and ideas of your surroundings vanish, for both students and adults, when you find what you’re doing meaningful, relatable, engaging, challenging, and interesting.”
“This district places so much emphasis on the students. It is a constant reminder and always in my mind to reflect and focus on them. I’ve never been more intentional or conscious of each of my efforts in every interaction!”
As for me, this is the kind of school district I want my own kids to go to school in. A place where they are known, cared for, challenged, and supported. This is Forest Ridge School District 142!