Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Forgiveness is a gift

Do you make mistakes?  Have you ever sent an email and wished you could "unsend" it?  What about saying something and realizing you had mistakenly offended someone?  I know it's not just words that can hurt.  Even the tone we use can send the wrong message. Most of us have done this either intentionally or unintentionally, and with so many ways to communicate (face to face, phone, e-mail, social media, written letters or  notes, etc...) I sometimes feel like there are even more ways to hurt people.

Like you, I communicate a lot.  As a building principal, an educator, and a professional, my words matter.  My tone matters.  What I say and how I say it matters to my students, my colleagues, and our community.  It should.  And yet, I know I still stumble.

Fortunately, I work within a school and a school community with people who understand the power of forgiveness.  My colleagues hold me accountable in professional ways when I inadvertently offend someone.  They seek clarification.  They give me the benefit of the doubt.  They forgive me.

Perhaps forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts we have and can give to someone else?  Forgiveness allows us to make mistakes and to grow from them.  Forgiveness gives us permission to take some needed risks while knowing we will have the support from others if we fail.  Forgiveness helps us move forward.

Our students, of  course, learn about forgiveness from adults.  They're watching to see how we handle controversy and struggles.  Forgiveness is just one gift we can teach them.

I'm not saying I or anyone should have "free passes" because of forgiveness from others.  No, I am simply very grateful for what people, colleagues, and others provide me when I make a mistake.  

How can I repay or recognize this gift?  The best way to is to learn from my mistakes, try to do better, and pay it forward by forgiving others.

As we move towards a new year I resolve to do better when I communicate, but I also resolve to forgive more.  

In this holiday season, who have you forgiven lately?  

Friday, October 26, 2018

Teaching and Learning Unwritten Rules

Play with me for just a bit.

You enter a movie theater to view the latest blockbuster, and all seats are filled except for one that is in the middle of a long row.  That's OK because you're the last person to enter the theater.  You shuffle in front of and sometimes  over people, but you finally get to the lone, remaining seat in the room.  You sit to make yourself comfortable, and the film starts.  Now remember, the theater is full--very full.  You're surrounded by people who want to see the movie--just like you do.  The rules are fairly simple.  Sit, turn off electronics, don't talk.  Enjoy.  The rules are so simple, they can be shared via a dancing cup or a talking box  of popcorn.  But at least one rule in a crowded movie theater is an unwritten rule.

Who gets to use the armrests?

Hmmmm....  While there are enough seats for every person, armrests are usually shared.  This can create a bit of a quandary-unless you understand  unwritten rules.

From my experience the person who is present first or the larger person gets to use the armrests.  That doesn't always seem quite fair.  And surely it doesn't always feel as comfortable.  After all, you paid just as much to see the show as the people on both sides of you.  Don't you deserve to be able to use an armrest too?

There really isn't an answer to these questions, of course, but this story does illustrate the power of unwritten rules.  Not navigating an unwritten rule properly can single you out.  It can even lead to embarrassment or other uncomfortable situations.  Some of these situations are so uncomfortable people won't even put themselves in those situations.  When was the last time you went to a different church, synagogue, or temple?  It's not that I am not respectful or even curious.  One reason I don't is because I don't understand the unwritten rules, and I don't want to offend anyone.

Playgrounds at school have unwritten rules too.

You'd think rules for recess would be fairly self-explanatory, and they are in many cases.  Have fun.  Be safe.  Be respectful.  Recall, however, how many "new rules" get made up within a soccer game or a game of four square.  What's out, or what's in?  Who leads?  What is a score?  What is allowed or not allowed?  How are controversies resolved?  How are teams  decided?  What if teams are uneven?  What if someone new doesn't know the rules?  What if someone doesn't understand the rules because he/she is learning to speak a new  language?

When you stop and reflect deeply, there are many, many unwritten rules at recess.

Teaching unwritten rules is just one reason why we have noon aides.

I've written about our noon aides in the past.  They are a team of dedicated individuals who help monitor our kids at lunch recess.  They help our kids be safe, be respectful, and have fun.  But they do so much more.

With great support from our district's educational foundation, all elementary schools in our district are embarking on a partnership with Playworks, an organization teaching leadership skills through play on the playground.  We have a Playworks coach who visits our school one week a month.  In that time she teaches games to classrooms and then she helps implement games and fair play with our team of noon aides during recess.  She will even be training a cohort of 4th grade junior coaches to help facilitate this work across the building.

The Playworks website shares:

Why Play Matters in Schools

Play is especially important in schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes,“Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education—not a substitute for it.”At Playworks, we believe that every child deserves the opportunity to play, every day.

What Gets In the Way of Play

When you think of recess, do you remember laughing, playing, and having fun? Or do you remember sitting on the sidelines, getting in fights, and waiting for the bell?For many students, playtime is anything but playful.
  • Children who feel excluded or who do not know the rules play less with their peers. They have fewer opportunities for physical activity and social development.
  • Playground lessons are priceless, but kids need strategies for success. When play is too unsafe or when conflicts escalate, kids miss out on fun—and learning opportunities.
  • Children play together outside school less than they once did. By learning games and having time to play at school, kids are able to explore creativity and leadership.

While we are just beginning our journey with Playworks, I am grateful for our partnership and for our noon aides and staff.  I'm confident we can help more students find more success by uncovering and intentionally teaching the unwritten rules in our already loving, safe, respectful school.

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.