Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Our Kids Deserve It

John Herner was president of the The National Association of State Directors of Special Education, and this quote has been shared and reshared online for several years.  I was reminded of this statement when I recently met a college freshman who grew up in one of 19 states where corporal punishment in schools is still legal.  She said that in her high school kids could choose two "swats" from a principal as punishment for being late to school or instead of serving detention, and she herself had been on the receiving end of such swats because it was the quickest way to be done with the punishment.When I asked her if her behaviors changed because of the swats, she almost laughed and replied, "No."

There are many opinions about spanking either at home or at school.  I am a strong advocate of not spanking, and fortunately for me corporal punishment in schools is not legal where I am principal.  The research about spanking is fairly conclusive.  An online search for "spanking research" will return many hits.  This statement is from the American Psychological Association.

Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children. Americans’ acceptance of physical punishment has declined since the 1960s, yet surveys show that two-thirds of Americans still approve of parents spanking their kids.

The American Psychologial Association goes on to say:

that corporal punishment can “instill hostility, rage and a sense of powerlessness without reducing the undesirable behavior.”

Sense of Powerlessness.

Clearly these skills are not what schools or families hope to teach their children.  And yet,

surveys show that two-thirds of Americans still approve of parents spanking their kids.

Two thirds.

We can do better.  For our children's sake, we must do better.

In our school we explicitly teach our students the behaviors we expect our students to be able to demonstrate.  As I've written in a previous blog, our school "Leads with PAWS!"  We have a matrix of behaviors we teach and even videos for discussion.  

Plus we partner with parents to help teach and reinforce those skills.  I am grateful for this partnership.

Some people say, "But Mr. Ascher, what if the kids don't learn these skills?"  I would suggest we need to first look at ourselves to see how we can teach these skills better or differently.  Punishing--especially corporal punishment--is not teaching.

Some people have told me, "My parents did it to me." I usually try to remind them that raising kids now is different than it was even 20 years ago.  While previous generations did the best they possibly could, we do know more now--especially through research.   Ask yourself if you would want to go to a doctor who did not follow the latest research.

There are respected parenting resources that have even changed their view on spanking.  For years I have been a supporter of Parenting with Love and Logic.  They changed their stance on spanking.  You can read that here.

Is raising a child challenging?  Of course.

Is teaching a child challenging?  Many times.

Is hitting a child the answer?  No.

If you spank your children, please reconsider.    If you don't know what else to do, then ask for help.  Contact your child's school, your doctor, me.  Contact someone who can help you.  Our kids deserve it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Looking Forward to a New Year

They were just piled on the bottom of our daughter's closet.  Backpacks!  Oh, there wasn't just one backpack.  No, Jennifer had 5 backpacks tucked away in her room.  As she was packing for her soon-to-be first year of college, I realized Jennifer had saved every backpack she had ever used since she was in kindergarten.  That's when it hit me.  For the first time in 18 years, Jennifer will be living 5 hours away from us.

I've known this day was coming for some time.  I suppose all parents know that their kids are growing up and will eventually "leave the nest," but the backpacks seemed to illustrate this change in dramatic fashion for me.  They made such an impression that I asked to take them out of her closet so I could take a picture of them.

The pack on the left was her kindergarten pack which she used it for several years.  It is adorned with dragonflies, and I know we have a "first day" picture of her wearing it.  In fact, we have thirteen "first day" pictures that include the first five backpacks in this collection.  The pack on the right is new and has a spot for her laptop that she is taking to college.  While I recognize each one in between the  dragonflies and the laptop packs, I don't know that I recall when she switched packs and grew from kindergartener to college freshman.  Where has the time gone?

There have been many milestones and memories along the way, of course.  Concerts and conferences, skinned knees, books, fads, new friends and old friends, challenging projects and tests, losses and wins, late nights and early mornings, tears and fortunately, many more smiles.  

My wife and I are blessed with two remarkable daughters, and we get asked quite often if we are going to be sad when they leave for college.  Yes, I'll be sad.  I will miss Jennifer not being part of the daily routine of our household, but I have no desire to go back in time to the other backpacks.  I'm most eager to see what she will do with her new adventures in college and how she will transform herself into the young woman she has been practicing to be for her entire life.  And although we will be  five  hours away from her, we will continue to help her as she takes those steps.

As we welcome kindergarten through 4th grade students to our school this year, I am excited about what we can help them to become rather than what they were.  In other words, let's look towards the new backpacks rather than the old backpacks.  The partnerships our school builds with our students, their families, and our community inspire me to be the best principal I can be, and I am fortunate to work with a staff who understands that our expectations for the future have a greater impact for our students than recollections of the past.

To the parents of our students, I offer two suggestions as we begin a new school year:
1.) Look forward more than backward.  
2.) Expect your child to do great things.

Welcome to a new school year.  The first day will be here very soon!

PS (If I may)--Jennifer, thank you for the "backpacks of memories."  Do well and live your faith.  We love you.  I love you.  Dad.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Reach Out And Respond

This mural and statement are over the exit of our school's front door.  As we reflect on the end  of  our school year I can't think of a simpler way to express my hopes for our students.  Whether those students are our youngest or our oldest students, I am hopeful that each student chooses to, "Make a Difference" in their world--in our world.

Our school has worked with our community and parents to help teach our students that making a positive difference and being kind to each other helps create a rich learning environment for all students.  That rich learning environment can, of course, be contagious.

Recently our student Reach Out And Respond, ROAR, team (Remember, our district's  mascot is a wildcat.  Note the cat theme!) has shown us how to make a difference, and we hope it becomes very contagious.

You should first know that our ROAR team consists of students from each grade and classroom, and their responsibility is to Reach Out And Respond.  Under the direction of several staff members, the ROAR team has focused on spreading kindness in our school and community.  A couple of  the ROAR students painted kindness rocks, and then the rest of the ROAR team wanted to take the project to an even larger scale!  A local business donated 1000 rocks for our school, and our district's maintenance department (yes, more unsung heroes) delivered them to us.  After great leadership from our art teacher and work from every student in the school, we now have a collection of Kindness Rocks ready to go.

Sometimes, however, the story of a project is best told through the words of our students.  The  following script was shared by our ROAR team at a recent all-school assembly.

Hello, we are all members of the ROAR Team this year.  ROAR stands for:

  • R is for Reach
  • O stands for Out
  • A stands for And
  • R is for Respond

We RESPOND to what you’d like to do to help those around us.  It’s called giving service.  We are a group of students who represent YOU!  

As we thought about a project we could do as a school this spring, we wanted our Novi Woods kindness to be felt not just among us, but to our community and even beyond.  

Our Random Acts of Kindness Week -- RAK Week-- in February got us thinking about KINDNESS and ways we can spread kindness.  

It was this thinking that motivated us to organize a school-wide project of KINDNESS ROCKS. 

Right away, we knew we were going to need A LOT, I mean A LOT of rocks.  We got right to work.  
The HOME DEPOT generously donated 1,000 rocks, YES, 1,000.

We brainstormed over 100 motivational sayings.  

Then, with the help of Mrs. Allen’s artistic guidance, we painted and then wrote an inspiring message on every rock. 

Thanks, Mrs. Allen!

Each one of you made two rocks.  One rock will be placed around our school and you will take the other rock and place it in a spot in our community.  

Perhaps you choose the public library

Or your favorite restaurant

Or a business

Even a baseball field

Then someone can pick up that rock and place it in a new spot, reading the message and being inspired.  

On the back of each rock, we will place a hashtag:   #NoviWoodsROCKS.  As these rocks travel from Novi to other communities, other states, and we hope even other countries, we will be able to hear about it on Twitter.

To finish the assembly, the ROAR team shared this brief movie.

Our #NoviWoodsRocks paw print was placed today by students and staff.

Yes, I suppose we could see these rocks as just pretty rocks.  I choose, however, to see these rocks as symbols of all that our students will do in their lives and in our world to make a difference!

We are indebted to the kindess rocks project, and we are very excited to have your help to, "Make a Difference!"

Remember, #NoviWoodsROCKS


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A Date for Lunch...and Recess

Schools and school districts have many, many unsung heroes.  Our noon aides are just one example of such heroes.

You might not know what a noon aide is.  "Back in the day" we used to call them, "lunch ladies," but I am happy to say that at our school we have some dads who help us.  Noon aides monitor our students each day at lunch recess and in the cafeteria when the students are eating.

Our school has five separate lunches; unique 40 minutes for each grade.  Each grade goes outside to play on our playground for the first 20 minutes, and then they come inside to eat for 20 minutes.  While the first group is eating in the cafeteria, the next group is outside playing on the playground.  Over the course of about 2.5 hours all students in our school get a 20 minute recess and time for lunch, and our noon aides manage, monitor, and help all students transition through it all.

Heroes, of course, do much, much more than manage, monitor, and help.  Our noon aides help, encourage, and love our students.  Of course, sometimes help looks like a firm reminder, but more  often than not I see our noon aides laughing with the kids or asking questions about what the students are learning.  I hear noon aides say things like, "Come on, let's be safe so everyone can play."

Our noon aides want to go outside on even the chilliest of days because they understand fresh air and active play helps our learners be more successful in the classroom.

Our noon aides are observant.  They can see if someone has not been themselves or if someone is feeling left out.  They pay attention to who is eating or not eating and which students might need extra care to feel comfortable and safe.

Our noon aides are problem-solvers.  I meet monthly with them, and they are always looking for ways to better help students who might struggle at lunch or recess.  In our most recent meeting, a noon aide told her colleagues, "While I know he has a difficult time following directions sometimes, I can always find something positive to notice, and this has helped my relationship with him.  It's  important to focus on the positives." 

This is a great reminder for everyone who works with children.

Our school would not be the same without our noon aides, and I am grateful for their support and commitment to our students.  These heroes make a difference each day.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Moving in the Same Direction

I'm sure you've heard them.
  • Everyone needs to be on the same bus.
  • It's important we are all rowing in the same direction.
  • We need to sing from the same hymnal.
  • We need to work hand in hand.
Each of these phrases or idioms explain the importance of working together.  I believe that in any organization with more than one person we have an obligation to explicitly embrace and teach the expectations we have for people.  Schools are no different.  In fact, schools probably have the most-urgent need to help everyone work together towards common goals.

Our school has recently implemented common, positive behavioral intervention and supports (PBIS) strategies.  Since our district mascot is a wildcat we say we are "Leading with PAWS!"  We have signs and even a song around how to do this.

I recently asked my students why we should Lead with PAWS.  Their answers varied but included:
  • It helps keep us safe.
  • We work together more.
  • We will have more fun.
  • We will learn more.
Clearly our students have this figured out which is why we are taking this to the next level by explicitly teaching through videos and discussions how Leading with PAWS looks in specific areas of our school.  

Also, we are asking our parents to help us.  The parents in our school are amazing, and they understand that building community and working together makes a difference for each student in our school.  You can view the video we created for our stakeholders here.

Yes, it really does take teamwork to make the dream work.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Will It Fit Through The Door?

Our family got a puppy when I was about 4.  Barney (This was pre-the-purple-dinosaur.) was a black lab mix, and it was clear she was going to be an outdoor dog.  I can barely remember my father building a doghouse in his basement workshop for Barney, but the following legend of the doghouse has remained strong in our family for the last 40+ years.  The story played out something like this:

Mom:  Bill, that's a nice looking doghouse for Barney.
Dad:  Thanks.  The kids are sure excited to have a puppy in the family.  I'm afraid the kids will smother her with too much love.
Mom:  I'm not sure too much love is possible.  I'm glad you're making the house big enough so she can grow into it.
Dad:  I figured I could get a bale of straw to put in the house with her so she can stay warm.  The way the kids are with her, they will want to move into the doghouse with Barney!
Mom:  Uhm...Bill, do you think the doghouse will fit up the steps and out the door?
Dad:  What do you mean?
Mom:  Well, it looks like the roof of the house is wider than our basement door, and then you need to make that sharp right turn to get it outside.  What do you think?
Dad:  Beth, it will be fine.  You worry to much.  I'll make it fit fine.  There's plenty of room.
Mom:  Well, I don't know.  Whatever you think.
Dad:  Let me finish here, and I'll take it outside for Barney.
Mom:  OK.  Oh..that's the kids.  I hope they're not pulling her tail.  I really have to keep my eye on David lately.  Let me know if you need any help.

20 minutes later

Mom:  Bill, what's that racket?  Is everything OK?
Dad:  It's fine.  Don't worry about anything.
Mom:  Bill!  What are you doing?  Don't smash the doghouse.  It looks good.
Dad:  I'm not smashing it.  I have to take it apart.
Mom:  Why.  It looks like you're finished with it.
Dad:  It doesn't fit.
Mom:  It what?
Dad:  It doesn't fit.  Go ahead...say it, "I told  you so!"
Mom:  Oh no.  I'm not that mean.  What are you going to do?
Dad:  Well, I need to take the roof off and put it back on when we get this house outside.  Can you help me here for a moment?  The kids--and the dog--will be fine.

I know I'm not telling this story 100% accurately.  I bet there was some colorful language, sarcasm, and laughter involved.  The short story is our puppy needed love and a doghouse, and the house Dad built didn't fit through the door.

Part of my job as a building principal is to figuratively manage what comes in and out the doors of the learning environment for our staff.  I'm not talking about monitoring the cameras or the physical doors.  Rather, I have the responsibility to help my staff adjust to changes, receive the necessary training, and still make all of this "fit" without overwhelming any person or the entire organization. 

The reality is any person, group of people, or a system has only so much capacity for change and  learning--just like a door has only so much space.  If you don't fill the door of learning, your system loses out on opportunities.  If you overfill the door, you either need to start over, remove some critical pieces, or risk not moving your system forward as a unit.

Truth be told, I tend to error on the side of my father.  I'd rather have too much innovation than not enough.  This can backfire, however.  As a principal I can't risk burning-out my staff.  I am grateful my staff faces new challenges with a growth mindset.  They collaborate and find balance together.  We have weekly treats, and I help coordinate monthly lunches.  I try to clarify and prioritize different initiatives.  We have a school improvement team who helps our school think strategically so we can address the needs of our system.  Small teams approach changes and challenges with a  "can-do" spirit.

And yet, there are still some days when I feel like I am having to "knock the roof off the doghouse."  I know my staff feels the same way sometimes.

In the end, we keep working.  We continue to collaborate and partner.  We lean on each other.  We dig deep.  We innovate.  We laugh, giggle, and cry.  We worry about things we can actually control.  We listen to each other, and we celebrate whenever possible. 

Just like love and a warm house for a new puppy, it's what our students deserve!

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Love Story

Let me tell you a love story.

It's not a love story about adults.  It's not a "puppy" love story or even a "first" love story.  Actually, this isn't a love story at all.  It's more of a story about love - the love a first grade boy has for his teacher and how that love can change a life--actually many lives.

This boy is like many other boys his age.  He likes to play games and run.  He likes to be with his friends, and he likes to be independent.  He likes to listen to music, and he enjoys building things.   He likes robots, and he likes to be funny.  He has favorite foods, but he also knows what he does not like to eat.  He doesn't like to hear loud noises, but he likes to make loud noises.  Yes, this boy is like many, many first grade boys.

This boy is like most first grade boys in other ways too.  He has a mother and a father and an entire family who love him very much.  He is a good reader, and he has a very good memory for things he likes to remember.  He is good at math, and he is working to be a better writer.  He likes to get his own way, and he really likes to know what is going to happen in his day and his week before it happens.

Yes, this boy is like most boys in many ways, but he is different too.

This boy, after a full day of school, goes to therapy five days a week for two hours.  This boy, you see, has autism, and the therapy helps him develop strategies to better cope in a world that only sees him as different.  This therapy helps him learn to better control his behavior so he can be more like other students.

This boy is different from other first grade students in more ways too.  This boy knows the flag and capital for every - yes every - state and country in the world.  This boy has a remarkable sense of what is called "theory of mind" which means he thinks you think what he thinks.  You will want to reread this last sentence, but you could say this boy struggles--really struggles--to empathize with others.  And yet, he does empathize.  This boy has discovered something that we want all students to know.  This boy has learned that his teacher loves him.

Of course, it's not a romantic love, but it is more than just respect or caring.  This teacher sees this student as special, but she also sees him as she sees all of her students.  She expects him to be safe, to help others, and to never give up.  Most of all she expects this student--as she does all students--to learn.  And he does.

But like all first graders, he has some tough days.

Some days are  tough because he doesn't feel well.  Some days are tough because he did not sleep well.  Some days are tough because he doesn't like what he has to eat or what he must do.  Some days are tough because he gets so excited that he can't calm down right away.  Like all of us, some days are just tough.

One day this boy was so frustrated that he couldn't calm down without help, and this teacher helped him-of course.  She would do this for every student-for every person.  But this boy is different.  He thinks you think what he thinks which means he couldn't easily calm down and he got even more frustrated when this teacher wasn't frustrated too.  She was, of course, calm and caring which is the right way to respond to this student, but he was still frustrated.  He was so frustrated that in his frustration he hurt his teacher.

Oh he didn't mean to hurt his teacher.  He didn't hit or kick or bite or throw something at her.  But, in trying to calm his own body, this boy did hurt his teacher.  It was not on purpose, but it was one of those hurts that is more shocking than hurtful at first.  She knew she needed to go to the doctor.

She went to the doctor, and she learned she was going to need to see other doctors to help fix what had happened.  She learned she would be OK, but it was going to take several appointments and weeks to fix everything.  She also reflected that perhaps she should have consoled this student in a different way.  She thought that she could have done something different to better help this student?

When this student's parents learned what had happened, they were apolgetic and offered to help as much as they possibly could.  They were very concerned for the teacher and only wanted the best for her.  In fact they offered to go above and beyond to help her.

What makes this story so poignant is that this teacher still loves to teach.  She wants to help students.  Helping students is a part of her.  She doesn't hold a grudge and is not mad at this student. She understands in her heart that if a flower is not growing, you don't give up or just pull the flower from the garden.  Sometimes you must build a better garden for that flower.  Sometimes the gardener must work even harder to try new ideas and strategies to help each flower in her garden grow.  Most times every flower needs a little something special.  This teacher knows that she must teach the students she has right now and not the students she used to have or the students she has read about in books.  Like her colleagues, she seeks-out new learning to apply new strategies to help the many new and unique students she wants to help.  She exemplifies what a professional is, and she inspires others with her growth-mindset towards teaching and learning.

Now this is not just a story about a student and a teacher.  There are supports, of course, for this teacher and this student.  This teacher works in a school with an entire staff full of amazing teachers and staff who care and support her and each other every day.  This student goes to school in a school and district that allocates significant professional learning and resources for all students to have the absolute best education possible.  This student attends a school full of remarkable students who work together to grow and learn.  This student and teacher are in a school with a parent community that understands ALL really does mean ALL and that each student is special.

What makes this story a love story?

The day after the accident happened, the boy made a sign that said, "I love you."  The teacher was so touched that she hung-up the sign and told her principal about it.  The sign in itself is special and endearing, and it could be the end of this story.

But what really makes this story a love story?

A few days after the boy brought the sign he had made to apologize to his teacher, his morning work had a sentence starter that needed to be completed.

Morning work is pretty common in schools.  It gives the students an opportunity to independently demonstrate basic skills on a worksheet as soon as they enter the classroom so the teacher can facilitate attendance, lunch count, and get the day started.  It's not supposed to be hard.  It's supposed to be practice--unless you are different.

And as much as this little boy is like other boys.  He is different--very different.

The sentence starter on this day was, "Write a sentence about your teacher."

How did this boy respond?  How did this boy who is so like other boys but is so, so different at the same time?

This boy wrote, "She loves me."

Happy Valentine's Day.