All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Character Project: Controlled

Taking my own advice and challenge of being responsible, I decided to take the responsibility of personally speaking to students during lunch to see if they were taking part in the Character Challenge.   My thinking was that students would maybe talk a little more in the relaxed setting.  Once they did, I had hoped the conversation would carry on once I left.  The results appear to be half good and half less than I had hoped for.  The top three responses I received were as follows:

·         Teachers will definitely participate in this more than students.

·         I listen and like the announcements, but I don’t really think about it after that day.

·         I do it a little, but not too much.

When I asked students why, they had mostly shrugs and “I don’t knows” for answers.   I had another group of students tell me that it was a good idea, but they didn’t think a lot of students would take part.  When I asked how I could encourage them, all agreed they did not know.

So here it goes…I will continue to lead by example, talk to more students, and make stronger connections to life.

And there it is…
This week is about working on your control.  Ironically, the less you try to gain control when dealing with other people; the more you eventually have.  I cannot make students decide to be respectful, responsible, and controlled individuals.  However, I can model instead of tell; lead by example rather than manage by order; and expect no more of others than I do of myself.

You will notice the subtle change in the announcement read to the school.  I want to emphasize the need for students to come up with what will get them to participate.  As I have always said.  It is their environment, but it is my purpose to show them the implication of both action and inaction.  More importantly on a personal level, I want them to understand the difference between reacting and responding.  As Martin Luther said, “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”

 Here is the announcement read to the school for the third week of the challenge:

Good morning.  It’s the beginning of another great week!

Before we talk about the next trait we are going to work on in Seekonk High School’s Character Challenge, I want to address the idea that not enough people are working on this.  Sure there are some and it has caused a difference (so thank you for that), but let’s create a bigger difference.  It has only been two weeks.  Imagine what can be done over the course of four or six weeks if more people get involved.  So think…

  • How many of you were responsible enough to get to school on time?
  • Who did that homework, classwork, or project like they were supposed to?
  • Who among you are actually honestly attempting this?

So, let’s get to the point.  We have had…respectful, responsible and this week…controlled.

Have you noticed that so far, these traits are about behavior and even more important, your possible response to situations you encounter every day?

Have you noticed that they are related?

When I talk about controlled, I am not talking about controlling others or situations.  Inevitably that just leads to frustration and conflict.  It is important to remember that there are only certain things you have control over.  For example, you cannot control the actions of others…only yours.

Being Controlled means:

  • Getting along with others
  • Completing activities you don’t enjoy…like homework
  • Saying no when confronted with an opportunity to get involved in something you shouldn’t

When you have a free second, do this…

Make a list of all the things you actually have control over.  Then make a list of the things you do not have control over.  For example:

  • You have control over whether or not you get to school on time
    • You can choose to take the bus, leave earlier, set an extra alarm, or get to bed earlier
  • You do not have control over whether or not a teacher assigns homework.
    • You can choose to do it or not
  • You do not have control over what a person says about you
    • You can choose to not hang around with or listen to that person

Our self-control comes from choices and all choices carry consequences…some good…some bad.

Ultimately, the more control you struggle for, the less you have unless it has to do with self-control.  The only control you really have is in the choices you make.

It gets pretty complicated, but the only way to figure it out is to start.  Not tomorrow or with next week’s trait, but now.  Stop making excuses about your environment and take control of your life.

So when you are confronted with a situation…do not react…respond.  This offers you the opportunity to control how you handle yourself.

Some students have said there may be a better way to get more students involved.  Let me know how.  It’s important.  Let’s do this together in a way that matters for everyone.

Good luck and keep up the good work…


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Character Project: Responsible

After a slow acceptance rate the first week, I am finding that there are more students willing to participate (or at least promise to) when I personally speak to them.  Another piece I have noticed is that people are keeping me on my toes by asking me what I am doing (in regards to the challenge) each day.  That works well for me as a segue into what they are doing.  A nice side effect is the extra trust gained by being open and honest with everyone.  The fact that I am consciously doing this with them gives students a little bigger push to participate.  I am sure this is the product of acting with them rather than on them.
Take a moment to stop and think about how often we talk at people rather than roll up our sleeves and lead by example.  When has there been more success?  When has the culture been better?
Individuals usually want to be part of a collective whole rather than in something alone.  Join in and powerful changes can happen.
Why Character?
Aristotle said it best: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
Here is the announcement read to the school for the second week of the challenge:
Good morning, happy Monday.
I am here to talk about the next trait we are going to work on in Seekonk High School’s Character Challenge, but first I wanted to tell you some highlights from last week’s topic of respect.
·         Every day of the week, I got up early to do extra chores around the house out of respect for my wife’s busy schedule.
·         A certain teacher made an effort to greet everyone with a smile each morning…no matter what mood they were in.
·         I had a student thank me for helping them with a situation they had.
·         Multiple students walked around rather than through conversations and waited politely before interrupting.
I know it doesn’t always seem cool to be respectful, but look around…a lot of people are doing it…are you?  Why not?  How do you want to be treated? Think about it. 
Now we want to build on the momentum by practicing the next trait.  This week we are highlighting the idea of being Responsible.
Being Responsible means:
·         Doing what you say you will do
·         Taking care of things that belong to you
·         Working hard and doing your best at things like…that’s right…school
·         Being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there
Think about this…How does being responsible make you feel about yourself? 
Everyone likes it when they finish that project on time, get a good grade, or when everything goes well because of their hard work and planning.
Take a minute and think…what are your responsibilities?  Are you fulfilling them?
Set some goals for yourself, be responsible, and achieve them.  You can’t beat the feeling of success!
Ok.  Remember that these traits are cumulative.  You can’t just forget about last week.  That is why this is a challenge…unless of course you still aren’t doing this because you don’t want to improve your surroundings.
So, while being respectful…take some responsibility for something this week.  Don’t go easy…pick something that you really need to be responsible for and make a difference.  It will feel good when you finish because you will have made a difference…I promise.
Continue to tell me what you are doing, what you are seeing, and how it is going.
Good luck and see you in the halls…

Character Project: Respectful

What follows is the announcement made to students at the beginning of the first week of my push to improve school culture by building character.  This was coupled with my attempt to engage groups of students and personally (face to face) ask them to accept my challenge.  When voicing my concern about the possibility of students not participating in large enough numbers to a colleague, I was reassured.  She reminded me that advertisers operate on the premise that people need to see and hear an advertisement approximately 7 times before actually listening or understanding.  Therefore, this is a small beginning, but isn’t that how all journeys start?
The announcement:
Good morning, happy Monday.
I am starting a project that I want everyone’s help with.  It’s a type of challenge and it has to do with improving everyone’s high school experience.  Those of you who were listening at the class meetings heard me talk about character and the truth behind the idea that we shape our own experiences.  Well, here is your chance to join me in shaping (in a positive way) the atmosphere here at school.
Your planners have a section called Destination Character in the back.  It states that “Your character isn’t just something you’re born with; it’s how you choose to act.”  Therefore, I have decided to follow my own advice and act rather than just speak.  I will be taking one characteristic each week, using the advice in the planner, and by choice, improving my surroundings…can you?  I will share a new trait each week.  You can do the same by letting me know your progress.  Stop me and talk to me, drop me a note in my mailbox, or email me.  The more people that participate, the larger an impact we can make.
I personally challenge you to try this.  Make the culture you are part of better by improving your character!
The first trait is: Respect
You show respect for yourself:
·         Working hard
·         Setting goals
·         Taking care of yourself physically
·         Surrounding yourself with other respectful people
You show respect for others by:
·         Not interrupting
·         Using good language
·         Behaving appropriately
·         Being polite
Think:  How does what you are doing every day show your respect for yourself and others?
You know, we have this saying here at the high school…Respect: Earn It; Give It; Live It.  Take a few moments today and think about what you can do to gain more respect at home, school, and among your friends.
Thanks and have a great day.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Improving Culture by Building Character…one step at a time

I am a quote person.  There is something very energizing in taking the time to reflect on a quote that you find particularly relevant.  This trait I possess coupled with a quote in our student handbook that reads; “Your character isn’t something you’re just born with; its how you choose to act.” has led me to the following:

I have always been interested in the continual improvement of my school’s culture.  I have also always believed that a good, strong, moral character is the backbone to any productive organization or society. As a result of those two beliefs, I have always attempted to work on students character as well as the culture of the school.  However, it was not until recently that I came to realize the nature of the strong relationship between the two and why many of us are going about this culture shift idea the wrong way.

Simply put; you cannot change character by adjusting culture.  Rather, you need good character to build a positive culture.

While it is true that the relationship between the two is so tight that you cannot have one without the other, they must be approached, attained, and perpetuated in the proper order.  A positive culture definitely supports the cultivating of good character, but it in turn cannot exist without first being created by a collective group that possesses good character.  Therefore, the positive school culture many of us look to improve is only attainable by a strong focus on improving character.

This is where the act part comes in.  For an individual to achieve and maintain good character, they must consciously perform acts that keep it present in their thoughts and acts.  Upon reflection, I cannot remember the last time I actively focused on improving my character.  For those reading this; can you?  Sure, I “do the right thing” as often as possible, but when have I thought about what constitutes good character?  I cannot remember.  Therefore, realizing all too plainly that I am far from perfect, I have decided to improve in the area that I ask from all others, my character.  Our student handbook lists 30 character traits along with tips and strategies for improving and reflecting on them.  The first is: Respectful:

                                                       The rest are as follows:
Responsible     Controlled        Punctual     Reliable

Creative           Optimistic        Self-Motivated

Persevering      Thrifty             Gracious    Ambitious

Courageous      Resourceful     Joyful        Kind

Patient              Tolerant          Honest      Thankful

Polite               Considerate     Generous  Cheerful

Loyal               Sympathetic     Patriotic    Trustworthy

Fair                 Cooperative

My challenge to myself is this:
I am going to work my way through these traits by completing the activities listed in the handbook.  I will also share these activities in an effort to get as many of the students at my school focused on them as well.  I am asking them to challenge themselves to build a better culture by increasing the level of character displayed at our school.  I have also invited (and continue to invite) the parents to join in for the support at home.  I plan to focus on one trait each week, share some of my successes and failures, and encourage all those on this journey with me to let me know about their progress.  Again, the first week is respect.

Let’s stop talking about improving culture while we ignore character.

Let’s stop talking to students about how the culture can be better.

Let’s stop talking about “if only” and “what if.”

Let’s stop talking…and start leading the way…

I’m first…are you next?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Perspective, Effort, Teamwork, and Differentiation Rule the First Two Days

Seekonk High School opened last week with an excellent display of how prepared its teachers were to give students a challenging yet engaging experience.  I could not help but notice (as I visited classrooms) how many teachers were subtly practicing those things (Common Core, common assignments, differentiation, effort, engagement, and ownership) about which we are not always subtle when talking or pushing about.

It was not just that teachers were:
·         doing the typical “first day housekeeping”
·         telling students the importance of effort
·         explaining that education isn't just about memorization, but understanding
·         having students speaking in target languages
·         reviewing summer reading

Rather, they were taking it further by making their messages meaningful, relevant, and modeling their emotional investment in what they were saying.  By way of example:

While going over class rules, Mr. Winsor addressed the issue of harassing or bullying others by simply stating, “We are here to learn, not give other people a hard time.”  Mr. Censabella took a similar tack when explaining issues pertaining to plagiarism by saying, "Accept responsibility for yourself and your actions."  Other messages on the same topic included positive phrases such as, "put your own work forward so you can improve," and "honesty is what will get you ahead."

Mr. Lancaster was explaining to students that the idea is for them to “learn the material; not memorize it” as he was stressing the importance of completing homework, asking questions, and exercising continuous effort.  While many students might groan at this prospect, it was well received in the context in which it was delivered.  Mr. Lancaster was reviewing his reasoning for not only giving second chances on tests, but hoping the students take advantage of the opportunity.  It was a display of a teacher pushing for mastery and understanding rather than “continuing on whether or not students are lost.”

The only thing that limits us is our own beliefs.  Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Censabella were getting that message across as they discussed perspective and potential.  Ms. Lawrence was reading poetry to students as they guessed the skill level of the author.  There was many a surprised face as students found that poems they thought written by professionals were upperclassmen.  Mr. Censabella stressed the importance of perspective when studying history by showing students double sided pictures and asking for feedback.  The most enlightening moment being when he shared a picture that had sparked an answer from one student compelling enough to make Mr. Censabella adjust his perspective.

In an effort to make summer reading meaningful, Mr. Darren and Mr. Crippen were executing a common assignment designed to increase student engagement and reflection through personal connection.   Students were given quotes from their book and asked to analyze their meaning, select the one that they could relate to the most, and then explain how it was connected to their life.  This assignment was full of students applying their perspective and making meaning out of the text they had read.  Sounds like understanding to me.  Another pair of teachers who were working on something similar to a common assignment was Mrs. Salisbury and Mrs. Yttredahl.  They were both teaching using the historical tool P.R.I.C.E.S.  The shift occurred with the strategies they used to introduce the tool to their students.  Both Mrs. Salisbury and Mrs. Yttredahl differentiated for their students by using either media clips or students personal memory.  Once students selected a significant historical event, they had to place it in one of the categories and defend their position.  Discussion was good and punctuated with phrases such as “building on what ____said” and “I agree with what ____said, but also think this.”  Students backed their answers with what they perceived to be facts which led to questions.  As we know, a person may learn void of explanation, but only understands through the rigorous application of well thought out questions.

Understanding was the required tool in another one of Mrs. Salisbury’s classes as she had students reading the school wide rubrics that they were to be measured against.  Her reasoning was that students, just as professional adults, need to understand what is required and how to meet that objective.  Now those extra scores on their report cards will have more meaning and give them some extra perspective when it comes to their progress as students.

In short:
Yes, Seekonk High School is open and what excites me is that education or what people like to call authentic learning (fostered by a dedicated, talented group of individuals) is occurring.  They are acting on the ideas of:
·         Don’t tell the students; show them.
·         Don’t regulate students into compliance; teach them to be members of a civil society.
·         Don’t force a culture onto students; create one in which they want to join and actively participate.

“Discovery has proven that the power of education lies not in the pages of textbooks or recital of facts and figures, it resides in the mind of the child who is taught how to think, how to learn and how to navigate the world.”
                                    -Teacher, Kenya

Friday, September 6, 2013

Transition to High School Skills Are Not Just For Freshmen

On August 29, 2013 Seekonk high School welcomed the incoming class of 2017 with their Freshmen and new Student Orientation.  This well attended night was full of workshops for both parents and students.  What struck me as I was leading my session titled “A Parent’s Guide to Knowing the Handbook” is how irrelevant the “rules” portion of the handbook is to families.  Therefore, I structured the session to focus on the four areas many students struggle with: Character, Involvement, Communication, and Awareness.

Let me explain:
1.      I opened by discussing the various sections of the handbook.  I spent some time touching on new policies and the calendar, but mostly on the very last…ironically buried at the back of the book.  It is a section called “Destination Character.”  It states, “Your character isn’t just something your born with; it’s how you choose to act.”  It then gives thirty positive character traits and how to develop them.  Think on that for a second…
2.      I then discussed Seekonk High School’s Statement of Respect: Earn It; Give It; Live It.  I combined this with a discussion of everyone’s (students, teachers, administrators, and parents) rights and responsibilities in the student’s education.
3.      Finally, I discussed a handout that addressed involvement, communication, and awareness.  I encouraged parents to get not only their students, but themselves involved as well.  Stressing appropriate levels so as not to overload anyone, I informed the parents that communication is much easier when they are involved.  Lastly, I reminded the parents that all teenagers need supervision and that they need to be aware of friends and typical versus non typical behavior.

As this unfolded, I realized (and actually said to two of the groups) that if any student practices these skills, they will be successful throughout and well beyond high school no matter the path they choose.

The point is:
We should concern ourselves with not getting tied up in policies, rules, and regulations.  Leave that to the state as they implement more mandates.  Rather, our focus should be on what really matters; developing students into individuals who are capable of being productive citizens through their contributions to a civil society.  We all talk about this a lot, but how many of us actually do the hard work of reflecting upon those small actions that add up.  Next time you lead a meeting, correct a behavior, or even engage in what is meant to be a meaningful conversation are you:

·         talking about how to increase positive character traits
·         increasing people’s desire to be appropriately involved
·         stressing the importance of positive communication
·         increasing individuals awareness that more focus on these points lessens issue that arise due to rules and regulations

Try it.  I know my next brochure and set of handouts will have a different focus than this years (included below).  It is not easy because it is new, but at the same time empowering.  By focusing on character, we will need fewer restrictions because we will be strengthening our culture.


“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”  -Aristotle