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Running With The Bulls
There's No Place Like HomePosted by Diane Hale on 7/5/2022
None of us will soon forget the spring of 2020 when we all went into our homes and stayed there for months, disconnected from one another and from the outside world. If you're like me, you got sick of being at home. So sick in fact, you might have the receipts to prove the huge sums of money spent on remodeling your home after months of staring at the same walls, furniture, and decor like I do. But, as we slowly get back out there, and begin to reconnect with other places, and other people, it is easy to remember how good it can feel to be "at home".
Home is where we are our most authentic selves. Home is where we belong. Home is the backdrop of our lives. Despite, perhaps spending too much time at home for a while, it sure is good to have that space - whether it is an actual physical space, or just the people who make you feel at home - as a touch stone to remind us of who we are.
This school year at Tarwater, we aim to recreate that "at home" feeling for every student, staff member, and family member. We know it is not necessarily the decor or even the physical aspects of a place that make it feel like home. The sense of belonging, the assurance that who you are is more than, just fine, it is celebrated! The experiences you have there are memories in the making. This is what makes a school a place where everyone feels at home.
Home is a place where we feel welcome and safe. Home is a place that is continually changing based on the needs of the inhabitants. Home reflects individual style. This year at Tarwater we will focus on making our school a place where everyone feels safe and welcome every day. We will continue to change and adapt what we do and how we do it to meet the needs of our students. We will find the unique "style" and individuality of every student and showcase it so that it can be representative of what makes our school great.
Whether you have been with us for years, or you are brand new to our school community, I want to say, "Welcome Home!".
Visit the Spice Rack, and Sprinkle the VarietyPosted by Diane Hale on 1/2/2022
At the start of a new year, we hear a lot of talk about "habits". We set intentions to start new good habits and break old bad habits. The focus on habits is because habits are what we repeatedly do. They are what we do wihtout thinking. Habits are routines that help us live efficient lives.
This year, however, I'd like to make the argument for less routine and habitual living, and more variety and originality in life. Our habits and routines can often sneak up on us to the point where we don't realize they exist. Think about the path you take to get to work or school each morning. The food you grab to snack on at the end of the day, or the way you scroll through your phone while waiting. We do these things without thought or presense of mind, and after days and days of the same habits, the days and the year all of a sudden fly by wihtout notice or thought because of the sameness.
At school, routine is our best friend. It is how we train students to operate efficiently. It is how teachers maintain order in classrooms, and how we are able to get 800 students to and from school safely. What if we were able to keep the routine and the structure that keeps us safe and maintains order, but we add variety in a way that makes school unique, for our students as they go through these formative years?
This year, try to add some spice to your routine in the classroom or in your home to make school more memorable and to bring thinking and intentional living back into our days.
- Take a different route to school once in a while. Notice what you see by doing that.
- Plan after school snacks ahead of time to make them fun and unique. Make it a moment.
- Take turns as a family planning the weekly meals. Let kids decide what to have for dinner, but require that it be something NEW!
- Use technology to have "guest readers" at bedtime. Aunts who live out of town can read via Zoom for a fun twist some night.
- Dedicate the learning of the day to a theme, topic or even a person. Let all learning be about that theme or in honor of someone special.
- Start the day with a fun game that builds community instead of ending the day that way. See how it changes the mood all day.
- Tweak the schedule just enough to make the day feel "different". Notice how the small change lifts spirits.
- Change up homework. Instead of the same type of homework, create an open-ended project where students have to measure their room, interview a relative, or review a TV show.
This year, instead of forming a new habit or even break an old one, put habits on the back burner and strive for variety. Look for ways to keep things fresh and unique. It's good for our brains, our moods, and our sense of time.
It's All RelativePosted by Diane Hale on 10/5/2021
As we embark on a new quarter of school with cooler temperatures, routines in place, and some of the challenges of starting a new school year behind us, things seem... well, better somehow. A different perspective certainly has a way of making big things seem small, and small things seem big - depending on how you look at it.
As you know, we are over the moon about space here at Tarwater (pun apologetically intendend, and likely won't be the last one in this blog post). Here are some facinating facts about space that provide a perspective that just might change how you see things on Earth.
1. Parents, when the kids come back to school and you THINK you are enjoying some peace and quiet aroun the house, realize that space is completely silent. There is no medium for sound to travel, so it can't be heard. At all. Now THAT is quiet.
2. Teachers and playground duty aides, the next time you complain about the heat out on duty, know that Venus is around 842 degrees Farenheit. Now THAT is a high heat day for sure!
3. The next time you think about splurging on a fancy cup of coffee and wonder if you are spending too much, realize that a full NASA space suit costs $12 Million - and those were built in 1974!
4. We get to see some beautiful sunsets living here in Arizona, but did you know, the sunset on Mars is Blue? That is a sunset I'd love to see.
5. When you think about how big our world is stop and think that one million Earths could fit inside the sun. That is a HUGE sun!
6. Next time you are camping and see the trees that make up the forest, know that there are more trees on Earth than stars in the Milky Way. Yes, there are about 3 trillion trees on Earth and only about 400 billion stars in our galaxy.
7. We have all had long days. The next time you say "today was a long day", be glad you don't live on Venus where one day is 243 Earth days. That's almost as long as one year on Earth.
8. Finally, the next time you are at the beach sitting on the sand, know that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all of Earth! (If you are reading number six again and scratching your head, the Milky Way is our galaxy, but the whole universe extends way beyond that) While scientists haven't actually counted the grains of sand or the stars in the entire universe, it's a pretty fair estimate based on how massive our universe is.
I hope your mind is blown by some of these facts. I also hope that we all work to gain perspective on the challenges we have faced, the issues we thought were too big to overcome, and the limitations we put on ourselves. Perspective helps us not only see things differently, but once in a while we need to look at what we have accomplished or overcome and be blown away by our own amazingness!
Re-EntryPosted by Diane Hale on 7/8/2021
When a space shuttle returns from space it's called "Atmospheric Re-Entry". Upon re-entry, Earth’s atmosphere presents astronauts with a dense, fluid, which, at orbital velocities, is tricky to navigate. Astronauts must plan to hit the atmosphere at the precise angle and speed for a safe landing. If they hit too steeply or too fast, they risk making an error that could mean a fiery end. If their impact is too shallow, they may literally skip off the atmosphere and back into the cold of space. This subtle dance between fire and ice is the science of atmospheric re-entry.
This summer, traveling, eating in restaurants, and socializing again has felt a bit like atmospheric re-entry. I have to admit, part of me wanted to jump right back into my pre-pandemic life with abandon. I couldn't wait to do the things I loved to do like eat in restaurants with friends, attend yoga classes, and browse through stores aimlessly - things I hadn't done in over a year. I found, however, that my first few social experiences felt almost awkward. I had forgotten how to be a good host, how to listen with empathy, how to "mingle" at social gatherings and forget about what to do when greeting someone for the first time in a long time! Hug? Handshake? Simply smile? Traveling and going to stores was strange too, but for different reasons. Do I wear a mask? Is it rude to touch something I don't intend to buy, but really want to see closely? Not to mention simply forgetting how to pack efficiently, what to wear, and making sure to read all of the signs with reminders about hand washing, social distancing, AND directions on where to go. It's overwhelming.
Blasting back in to my old life was not going to be possible. Just like blasting back into our pre-pandemic life at school will not be possible. This year, we'll take a page from the Astronaut's Guide to Re-entry and find a balance between that fire and ice. All space-mission planning begins with a set of requirements that must be met to achieve mission objectives. The re-entry phase of a mission is no different. Astronauts must delicately balance three, often competing, requirements; deceleration, heating, and accuracy of landing or impact. This school year we aim to balance safety, social and emotional support, and academic needs. While these three components of school are always priorities, they are more important than ever this year. And, they are often competing priorities.
Three things astronauts do to strike this very delicate balance is 1) have a plan 2) be ready to adjust and think outside the box 3) work as a team.
The Tarwater Team is ready to be astronauts!
1. Our team has a focus on planning this year. We are prepared for the logistics, the emergencies, and the academic lessons for the school year. We know some things may have to look different and re-entry must be done carefully.
2. Our team has learned that changing the course mid-trajectory is actually possible. We know that having a plan is good, but being able to throw out the plan and find a better way when necessary is equally as important. The skills we gained last school year have flexed our problem-solving muscles like never before.
3. Finally, we are a team. We value the input and support of our community. We see students as part of the team, and we know we are so much stronger together.
Re-entry for astronauts never means "back to normal". Every astronaut who has gained the perspective of ourterspace will say that the experience taught them to appreciate their loved ones and the Earth as home. They'll tell you that after being in space, nothing ever looks the same to them again. I know nothing will ever look exactly the same to us again at school either, and our shared experience has made us grateful. We look forward to re-entering with you.
2020, a Hard TeacherPosted by Diane Hale on 1/4/2021
While cleaning the garage I found some old notebooks from college. I had a great time reading the notes I took in my Educational Psychology course as a sophomore in college and my professor’s notes in the margins back to me. Reading my naive thoughts and ideas made me chuckle. My professor’s tough critique made me cringe. It also made me feel so old. Not old in a “grey hair and wrinkles” kind of way (although…), but old in a wise way. I couldn’t help but think that I have that same feeling about my thoughts and goals from just last year. The things my 2019 self just didn’t know, didn’t realize, or hadn’t experienced makes me feel very wise in comparison to my 2021 self. What I learned from this year, I hope stays with me for the rest of my life. The past year was like that really hard teacher you had in school. The one who pushed you beyond what you thought you could do. Mr. 2020’s course is one I would not recommend to friends, but having taken his course, I am changed.
For months now we have been hearing about three W’s - Wash your hands, Watch your distance, and Wear your mask. Yes, those new habits were skills our 2019 selves needed to learn with an alpha memory device, but now, at the end of the course of 2020, as we are graduating to 2021, there are three other W’s that we learned to value in Mr. 2020’s class. They are, Wellness, Wonder, and Wisdom.
It goes without saying that our physical and mental health are more important than anything. If we don’t have our health, we have nothing. Seeing the virus spread throughout our world, our country, and yes, even our Tarwater community has been devastating. Watching people we know suffer from illness has been heart wrenching. Knowing children who struggled with at-home learning while their mental health was neglected felt out of control. The goals our 2019 selves set like losing those extra ten pounds, or getting back to the gym seem so trivial at the end of the 2020 course. Wellness seems so much more to me now. We have known for years that we are responsible for our own well-being. What we eat, how much exercise we get, and making sure we go to the doctor when we feel ill are what our 2019 selves understood about wellness. This past year taught us that we are also responsible for the well-being of each other. Mr. 2020 taught us just because we feel well doesn’t mean we can neglect our health or put others in danger. Mr. 2020 taught us that our mental health is important, and that being around other people wasn’t just for fun, but is actually essential for our health! He taught us that our health care system and the talented health care providers should not be taken for granted. They have a breaking point, and we must take care of ourselves and each other so our health care system can stay in tact.
Before 2020 wonder sounded like a nice idea for a lazy afternoon, but today we know wonderment is what drives us and ultimately saves us. Teachers wondered how to deliver instruction to students at home and their ingenuity and creativity made it work. Scientists wondered how to create a vaccine that would finally stop this virus and not one, but three different companies made successful vaccines in record time. Mr. 2020 taught us to ask questions of our government, and wonder if there is a better way. He taught us to wonder if the way we have been treating each other for decades is the right way. We learned that when we are stuck at home for months without the usual busyness of life, wonder can build deeper relationships with our family, help us each discover more about ourselves, and wonder can make us question if our old habits were really working for us. Mr. 2020 forced us to wonder constantly, “is there a better way?”
Taking our experiences - good or bad - and turning them into working knowledge that we will take with us forever is wisdom. Like a really good teacher, Mr. 2020 didn’t just teach us facts that we might forget in the years to come or have us practice skills that only serve us for a short time. The year 2020 gave us experiences that changed who we are forever.
Good teachers aren’t necessarily the most fun, or the easiest. Good teachers guide us through experiences that go deep in helping define who we are as individuals and make us see the world in a new way. I wouldn’t recommend the 2020 course to a friend, but I am glad I took it and I feel ready for Ms. 2021’s class. I’m hoping it’s an easy A.
Here's to HopePosted by Diane Hale on 10/10/2020
I have been known to say that I feel truly blessed to have a career where I spend my days with children. You see, something educators get to feel every single day while doing their work is hope.
Children represent hope for a better future for all of us. As I reflect on so much going on in our troubled world today, I am grateful to get to be part of a team of educators determined to plant the seeds of a few things the world needs more of today, and most certainly will need tomorrow.
- The world needs more compassion. It’s one of our Toro Targets and it cannot be overstated. We’ve heard the saying “everyone is battling something”, and that could not be more true today. Having compassion for the path another human is walking and not just stepping aside to get out of their way but taking them by the arm and stepping with them is empathy with action, which is compassion. Teaching it is one thing, but modeling it is more critical. Before judging another person for what they are doing or not doing, take a moment and try to see their path. Try to walk with them.
- We all need more community. We seem to have lost the meaning of this word. We live not just with our families, not just with the people who we choose to make a part of our lives, but we live in communities for a reason. The diversity, the disparate talents and strengths, and yes, the different viewpoints make us better individuals. We need each other. This is true in our schools, our neighborhoods, our churches, and our country. We are proud of our diverse population at Tarwater, but having diversity isn’t enough. Behaving like one community regardless of ideas, backgrounds, or needs is what makes a strong community thrive.
- Speaking of our country, we need more patriotism. Somewhere along the way, we forgot that we are not red states and blue states, but we are a united country of states. We have a rich and strong history, albeit not long. We are not a perfect nation, but the fact that our forefathers wrote down that we should continually strive to be a more perfect nation is the beauty in what makes us American and we should celebrate that. Pride in our accomplishments, without forgetting our areas where we need to improve is a model for life not just for our country.
- Right now, it feels like we need more joy. Children help us find joy in the little things. After stressing about opening school for in-person instruction and all of the new safety protocols in place and all of the new rules to enforce, I stepped into a first grade classroom on the first day students were back on campus to make sure everyone was safe and rules were being followed and what I saw was pure joy. All of the children (and their teacher) were up out of their seats (distanced and masked) and they were dancing! It reminded me of the part of the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas, where all of Whos come together at the end and sing.
Like the Grinch, COVID stole at least a semester of school from our children and from us all. It has forced us to hide our smiles behind masks, and it has even kept us from hugging and holding hands, but we still have our community, our compassion for one another, and a country worth fighting for.
If that isn’t a reason to express joy and have hope, well, I am not sure what is.
SchoolPosted by Diane Hale on 7/25/2020
I turned five about a month after I started Kindergarten. In just one month I had bought into this idea of school. I loved it. This place was changing me for the better every single day and I loved it. So much so, that all I wanted for my fifth birthday was a chalkboard. When my mother asked me why I wanted a chalkboard I said, "for school!" She tried to explain to me that I didn't need a chalkboard at home, that it was something the teacher used. It wasn't until many years later that my mother realized, I completely understood that chalkboards were for teachers, and at the age of five I had decided that I wanted to be in school forever. I did get the chalkboard for my birthday and began my teaching career the very next day. My dolls and stuffed animals were excellent students.
Throughout elementary school I continued to love school. It wasn't just about the learning for me. It was social, it was engaging, and people who were not my family came to know and love me too. I remember when my parents would come to my school for special events or parent conferences and I felt so proud to show them MY place where they were welcome too.
In high school and college when people asked me why I wanted to be a teacher my answer was always, "because it is the most important thing you can do in this world." I believed it then and I believe it now. I don't say that to belittle the importance of any other profession. For me, helping grow humans is the most important thing another person could do.
For the past four and a half months our country and the world began to see what I, and many educators realized at a very young age. School is not just about learning how to read, and do math. School is where small humans develop into citizens of the world. School is where we choose our first friends, not friends our parents choose for us. We learn how to navigate social situations and stick up for ourselves. School is where we learn independence. We learn to keep track of our things, and live by a schedule someone else sets for us for the first time. School is where we meet adults and other kids who are very different from us. Who show us an example of what the world will be like with people who look, think and worship differently than we do, and we respect them anyway. School is where we practice manners, have to share our things, and become part of a system much larger than ourselves. School is where we first learn to honor our flag and our country and what it means to be an American; practicing it all in a tiny microcosm society called school.
You can see why listening to the news lately has me shaking my head and smiling at the same time. The world has realized what I have known since I was five; school is critical, essential, and more important than maybe it has ever gotten credit for. As for me, absence has made my heart grow fonder.
The Ultimate High Stakes TestPosted by Diane Hale on 3/17/2020
It's Spring, which in education, means testing season. I was all prepared to write my fourth quarter blog about testing, and finishing strong, and showing what we know... and then a global crisis hit. The past several days have been surreal. My emotions have been all over the place and I couldn't concentrate on my normal tasks, but today I realized, this is about testing. It is the ultimate test.
I've beat the drum of two key ideals this school year: Community and Commitment. I've expressed in public, at staff meetings, and in writing the importance of being a strong community, and how being there for each other takes commitment. Today, we are being tested on those two ideals in the most high stakes way. This test is not just for our Tarwater community, but for our global community.
We are more connected as a global citizenship than ever before. Frighteningly, in light of this crisis, that fact is more evident than it has ever been. In an almost eerie way, the lessons we have worked so hard to teach our students this school year, are being tested. Only, in this case, every human is taking the test this spring. The practical questions read something like this:
1. Can you, and will you think of others before yourself? (Respect)
2. Will you follow the guidelines and sacrifice your immediate desires? (Responsibility)
3. When our fears get the best of you, can you show courage for the greater good? (Courage)
4. Will you take action to help others in need with supplies, child care, or healthcare? (Compassion)
5. Will you speak up and hold each other accountable to the above, even when it's hard to do? (Integrity)
My sincere hope is that every citizen can demonstrate the Toro Targets and get an A+ on this test. When our children tell their children's children about this unprecedented time in history I hope they'll say, "It was a scary and challenging time, but we were all committed to doing the right thing for the entire global community and it worked."
Goal TendingPosted by Diane Hale on 1/3/2020
I have a watch that I guess would be considered "wearable technology". It's one of those techie toys that I didn't really think I needed or even wanted until I had it, and then I loved it. It helps me stay connected, reminds me of tasks and appointments, and it collects all kinds of data about me. That last feature might be the best thing about it, or it might be the worst. You see, over the two week holiday break from school I spent a few days getting caught up on reading, sleeping and television watching. I was happily enjoying time to rest. On the afternoon of the second day of lounging, my watch buzzed me with a message. "Your activity level is down. You are not on track to meet your weekly movement goal." I was annoyed and, yes, perhaps even feeling shamed by my watch. I took it off and went back to resting. Then I thought about it and had to chuckle. How could I let an inanimate object hurt my feelings? After all, it was simply objective data. The truth was that I was no where near the goal I set for daily or weekly activity...but that was okay! I didn't intend to be!
You see, the thing about data is, it has no meaning. Meaning from data is imposed through interpretation and reference. My watch (or the watch makers) didn't set out to shame me into moving. No, as the wearer of the watch it is my job to be aware of and critically examine the data. Sometimes data can be a catalyst to questioning assumptions, trends, and changes. As a critical thinker, and an effective user of data, I should have been pleased to see the dramatic change in my movement - after all, it was my intention. My goal had changed from the previous week. My "growth" was evident. I wanted to be less active for a couple of days. Or, my goal of pages read should have been the data I examined. The growth there was fantastic! I went from 20-30 pages read a day, to 250 pages read in a day!
We talk about the use of data and growth at school all the time. Teachers plan their instruction based on data. We need remember, however, that the data must be interpreted and analyzed so that we can effectively manage our progress and determine next steps. Planning instruction or even larger school goals based on data must be done carefully. Teaching and learning is never improved simply because of data. Learning improves because of sound teaching practices and a strong connection of the student to the content. Data simply helps us know how close we are getting to the goal. A clearly identified goal, then, is the key.
Children's reading goals change over time, for example. The big goal is to be able to read of course. First, we measure how many words children know by sight. Then, we measure how many letter sounds they know. From there we measure how fluently they can blend the sounds together. Then, we even measure how well students can decode words that are not real words! That data, you see, helps us know if the student can decode a word they have never seen or heard before. Later on, we measure how well students can retell the story of what they read, how fluently they read, and how accurately they read. As they get older, the data we want is how many words they read, how well they understand and interpret what they read, and even, how they can respond in writing to what they have read. School, like life, is a constant cycle of goal setting, measuring progress, and setting new goals.
As you make goals for the new year remember to collect the data along the way. Data will help you know how you are doing toward your goal, but be mindful that as goals shift and experiences change, the data that is collected will likely have to change too. Don't ever be ashamed of your data. It is simply answering the question it thought you asked. Maybe, better advice is to tend to our goals, and ask a different question.
The Power of Social Emotional LearningPosted by Diane Hale on 10/13/2019
It's undeniable that the world our children live in is very different from the world in which we, as adults, grew up in. The rate of change is unprecedented in generations before. We can point to technology, to information, to family structure, to media, or to countless other ways in which our world is different, but the bottom line is, this changing world requires a different approach to teaching and parenting. Let's face it, our kids can learn a lot just from Google. Their world is filled with information, with choices, and with opportunities to succeed. That all sounds like great news for learning, until you stop and realize what may have been squeezed out of our children's lives in this fast-paced world is human connection, social skills, and unique problem solving.
The need to explicitly teach and model social and emotional learning has become paramount in schools all across America, maybe even the world. Educators can't read an educational journal, or attend a conference without hearing about Social and Emotional Learning. Researchers know that without, what used to be referred to as "soft skills", our children don't stand a chance dealing with the key factors that have remained true in every generation - emotional intelligence and human interaction. The bad news of addiction, suicide, depression, and violence among our youth haunts us as parents and as educators, but we can do something about it, and the good news is, what to do, is what we do best...Teach.
At Tarwater, we took on the challenge of addressing the Social and Emotional Learning over two years ago and continue to keep it as one of our primary focus goals. Our Social Emotional Target (SET) committee began by doing a book study of Tribes Learning Communities by Jeanne Gibbs. From there the committee established our own Tarwater curriculum for addressing these skills. We developed strong outcomes, articulated over the grade levels and even created our own classroom resources. This year, we are excited to have adopted the Caring Schools Community Curriculum. This research-based program will help us build upon what we have begun and go deeper into establishing a strong school culture and in devloping individual student social and emotional skills.
If you haven't heard about it already, you'll hear your child talk about "community circle", class meetings, role playing, and self-advocacy. Campus-wide buddy classes are established for more than just a fun way to work with other students, but an intentional way of building rapport and problem solving skills across grade levels. Students are taught to describe their emotions in terms of "zones" and colors, and vocabulary is taught to help identify emotions. Instead of adults solving all social problems, students are taught to seek the guidance of an adult and be empowered to solve problems themselves. These are just a few of the ways we are taking the Social Emotional Learning challenge head-on. Like everything we do, data drives our decisions. Student survey data, school-wide incident data, and Toro Ticket distribution data help us track our success and examine our needs.
Please take time to visit some of the links below to learn more about this important work your school is doing.