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Running With The Bulls
A Sense of BelongingPosted by Diane Hale on 7/8/2019
Everyone loves vacation. It is so nice to get away from the daily routine and from regular responsibilities, but tell me I'm not alone in that I LOVE coming home. That feeling when you walk in the door after having been away from home feels comfortable, safe, and... well, cozy. Home is where you can be yourself. Home is where you relax. Home is where you feel you truly belong.
Something magical happened to me this year. After my vacation out of town, I had that great feeling of coming home as I entered my house. I had the rest of the weekend to rest and enjoy being home. Today was back to work. I came to school ready to start a new school year and as I walked in the front door... I had that feeling! I felt like I was home. Having that sense of belonging outside of home, and especially where you work, is a wonderful feeling.
I got to thinking that this feeling like you're home is really a strong sense of belonging. It actually doesn't have a whole lot to do with where you are, as much as how you are treated when you are there. I spent a lot of time with friends and family over the summer. No matter where we were, whose house we visited, it felt like home. The people I was with were "my people" and they accept me for who I am and the sense of belonging was strong.
The truth is, you can also have that feeling of belonging even when you are among strangers. At a unique local restaurant during vacation, we were invited to sit at the "chef's counter". It was a counter facing into the kitchen of the restaurant. The chef and cooks talked to us about what they were preparing and asked us where we were headed after lunch. They joked with us and even dropped a few tastes of what they were cooking on our plates for us to try. They asked us how we liked the food and told us about their favorites. After learning we were from out of town, the server came by with a map of the area and a pen. She pulled up a stool at the chef's counter and showed us some of her favorite places to visit in town. After a three hour-long lunch we left waving good bye to folks who were strangers when we entered, but who now felt like friends. I no longer felt like a tourist. I felt like a local. I felt like I belonged.
This year, I want to make sure every student feels like he or she belongs on July 23rd when school starts and every day after. Whether it is the very first day of a new school in a new state, or if Tarwater has been your family's home school for years, I hope it feels like home.
If you are a returning Tarwater teacher, staff member, or family help us make everyone feel as if they belong. It doesn't take a lot. Let's all commit to doing just a few of these things so everyone belongs all school year long.
- Smile and greet people - even those you don't know yet
- Introduce yourself to someone new
- Be friendly (even in the parking lot at drop off or pick up!)
- Include others in your conversation, in your activities, in your thoughts
- Be you
If you are new to our school as a new staff member, parent, or student we hope you feel like you belong right from the start. I hope it feels like home in a short time. Commit to doing a few of these things to help cultivate that sense of belonging.
- Smile and greet people - even those you don't know yet
- Introduce yourself! There are many families here, I sure appreciate your help by helping me get to know you.
- Get involved - sign up to volunteer, or just come to coffee with the principal and other PTO functions
- Be friendly
- Be you
As always, I look forward to this year with great anticipation for a wonderful school year. I am so grateful to call this place home. I hope you feel at home here too.
It's a Small World After AllPosted by Diane Hale on 3/21/2019
It's a Small World Afterall
I had the opportunity of a lifetime over this Spring Break. I got to go to China with a group of other school and district adminisrators from around the United States. The trip was intended to share the Chinese culture with administrators who have Mandarin Language programs in their schools.
Traveling to the other side of the world opened my eyes to a different culture, my taste buds to different foods, and provided me an historical perspective that can only come from learning about a country with a 5,000-year-old history. Ultimately however, I came to realize that educators, no matter where they live, share similar values and share a strong desire to build a future through the teaching of the next generation.
We visited museums, the Giant Panda Research Base and spent hours walking through narrow alleys filled with smells of unique foods and spices and gifts only found in this part of the world. It was an experience for the senses! I found it very heart-warming to see how proud the residence of every city we visited were of their home. That seems to be a theme throughout the Chinese culture. Rather than keeping the unique treasures of this country and culture a secret, the Chinese are proud to share their treasures with the world and show pride in all that is their culture.
My favorite take-away of the entire experience, however was getting to enjoy the kindred spirit of educators. First of all, meeting other principals, district leaders, and teachers from other districts gave me the opportunity to make several connections. I wasn’t surprised, but was delighted as usual to connect with other professionals who share my values for the importance of educating a generation about other cultures, and teaching the gift of language. We were all equally excited to visit schools and see children. After a visit to a local school, I'd look around at my fellow travelers and see the satisfied smile of educators. There is something special about a school when you carry a deep love of learning and teaching in your heart.
Meeting educators from the Chinese schools, however really solidified that educators are special people – no matter where they live. We heard principals talk about how they want their students to be academically successful, but also to build strong character and lead happy lives. We saw signs on school walls declaring that the school was a place for children to be nurtured and cared for, not just taught. When I complimented an English teacher after watching her class, she of course, gave credit to her hard-working students. Teachers were proud to show off the skills of their students and didn't just teach the basics. They reminded students to put on their coats and encouraged them to have fun at recess. They shared concerns about teaching social and emotional skills and "good character". Finally, the evidence that education speaks a common language was in the children. They groaned about homework, laughed with their friends, loved their teachers, were eager to show what they’ve learned, and ran in the hallways despite reminders to walk. These observations made me smile. As educators, we all want the same things for our schools. We want them to be a place for children to grow and learn and to feel good about themselves in the process, and our students are more similar than different because kids are kids. When we have the same goals for our future generations, the world becomes a smaller place.
The Butterfly EffectPosted by Diane Hale on 1/4/2019
It’s January and that means many people make “resolutions” for the new year. In terms of the school year, January is the half-way point. Now, that doesn’t mean it is not a good time for resolutions, or new habits, or goal setting. Of course, it is a great time for all of that. As a very goal-focused institution, schools are ripe for taking stock in successes and establishing new habits for the remainder of the school year in January. However, this year, I’d like to challenge you to consider the “Butterfly Effect” when setting out to make positive changes.
The Butterfly Effect is a nickname for the chaos theory. It describes the idea that a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. The name comes from the extreme suggestion that the tiny flap of a butterfly’s wings could affect the climate in another place and time. Let’s take that idea and apply it to the conditions we create daily for young learners. Tiny tweaks in a system as complex as a school, or any learning environment we create for an individual learner can have large effects down the line.
The freedom of the Butterfly Effect is that we do not have to decide now what that effect might be. Different than a resolution, or even a goal, the Butterfly Effect allows us to act in the now and simply pay attention to the slow but impactful change that might occur.
What if small changes to a child’s bedtime routine, to the physical set up of a classroom, or to the wording of adult questions had big impacts on a child’s future? Consider any of the following seemingly insignificant adjustments and see what happens.
- Choose a different location for homework
- Lay clothes out the night before school
- Spend five minutes every day playing number games
- Use time in the car to spell words
- Give a non-sugary treat as a reward for hard work
- Play music as students enter the classroom
- Spend five minutes every day sharing compliments
- Start a lesson with a game or joke to set the mood
- Gather student input in short written responses instead of raised hands
- Speak out loud as you problem-solve to model the process for students
Of course, these are all just simple suggestions, but take a minute to think about some tiny things you could do differently in 2019 and remember to do it without any expectation or assumption of the possible outcome. Just be pleasantly delighted as you see children reap the benefits of the tiny adjustments you have made.
Growth Requires ChangePosted by Diane Hale on 10/12/2018
As the season changes, I can’t help but think about the inevitability of change. Feeling the weather get cooler, and the days get shorter seems like nature’s way of reminding us that we are in a constant state of change.
At a school, change is apparent everywhere. We often use the words change and growth together. After all, it takes change to grow. Children are growing right before our eyes. Their skills and abilities are developing. Their level and type of need changes with time. And of course, physically, children are literally growing! School communities change too. New families move into an area. Programs and initiatives change to address the needs of a different world. Teachers come and go, and leadership changes. Change at school is simply part of the process. How we as members of a school community work together to be a positive part of the change is what matters and allows for growth. We have to examine our current state, see how it aligns with our goals, and make a plan for being part of the change to get us where we aim to go.
Last school year, after a several year hiatus, Arizona re-instituted the Arizona School Letter Grade law which requires the state to develop an annual achievement profile for every public school in the state based on an A through F scale measuring year to year student academic growth, proficiency on English language arts, math and science. The formula put a greater emphasis on growth than ever before, and last year, while Tarwater’s proficiency score stayed as steady as ever, the new emphasis on growth showed a need for improvement. The school letter grade was a C. As a staff we looked at the data; saw where our goals were, and set about to make some changes. Teachers used data to track student progress more carefully. Greater emphasis was placed on challenging our most capable students so that they could make gains, and small group instruction allowed students to be taught at their level and need. Concerted efforts were placed on reading informational text and teacher teams met to determine best practices for teaching math and reading. These were changes to our practice, to produce just what we needed – growth. This month, Arizona has released the letter grade data once again. Tarwater students made such significant gains in growth that our letter grade jumped from a C to an A – a rare and impressive jump for a school of our size. Our growth score alone jumped almost 14 points. Tarwater’s growth data is now ranked among the top schools in our district. Positive change for long term growth is something we have shown we know how to do at Tarwater.
Recently, there have been some concerns about how we handle student behaviors on campus. Once again staff has looked at data and has noted where changes need to be made to align with our goals. Recently a committee of teachers met to establish curriculum for teaching social skills and expected school behaviors. Another committee is focusing on recognition for students who exhibit positive behaviors, and kind acts. I am working with our district and site administration teams to establish clear protocols for responding to misbehaviors and misconduct. I’ll be meeting with Student Council leaders to gather their input after the break, and I’ll be sharing data with the school’s Site Council Committee as well. I’m confident that this is another case where focused efforts of a committed staff and community can produce not just change, but real and lasting growth.
I look forward to Quarter Two with unique optimism. We have the can-do spirit of an amazing school community and staff working together to be a positive part of the change; change that is inevitable and certainly, a good indicator of growth.
Take Responsibility by the HornsPosted by Diane Hale on 7/10/2018 4:00:00 PM
Summer time - an educators favorite time to recharge, relax, and to take a break from responsibilities. Or so, I thought. It was the middle of June and I was looking forward to my exotic summer vacation so that I could take a rest from all of my responsibilities. I needed a break from expectations and accountability and I needed it now!
What I learned this summer, however, is that our responsibilities are part of who we are and we cannot, nor should we, take a rest from them. We owe it to our best selves to be responsible for our personal well-being, our attitudes, and our relationships with the people around us. As Winston Churchill said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
My first clue that I would not be escaping responsibilities was at the airport. There are so many signs and messages that remind us to watch our bags, to follow the rules, and to be aware of our surroundings. Of course these responsibilities are for our safety and the safety of our world. Yea, it’s not fun, but the alternative is far worse. I get it and I decided I wasn’t actually ON vacation yet, so a little responsibility was for the greater good.
On the plane I was seated in an emergency exit row. You know what that means. It means the flight attendant comes by and tells you that in exchange for a tiny bit of extra leg room you have been asked to be responsible for an entire section of the airplane should an accident occur. That you, and the other lucky, long-legged folk in your row, will be asked to open the emergency exit and help the other passengers deplane if the inevitable happens. “Ma’am, are you comfortable with these responsibilities?” she asked. I nodded realizing once again, I hadn’t escaped the responsibility trap… yet. “I need a verbal confirmation please,” she scolded. “yes,” I replied. Apparently there is no “emergency exit” for escaping responsibilities.
Of course these examples are responsibilities we must take for the safety of ourselves and others. That always makes sense. We tell children to walk instead of run, to look both ways before crossing, to hold our hand in a crowd, to cover sneezes, and to wash hands. It is about taking care of ourselves and our community.
My next reminder of ever-present responsibilities was, perhaps, even more important than the safety examples. It was a small sign I saw hanging in a restaurant. The sign read “Please Take Responsibility for the Attitude You Bring into This Space”. I paused to think about that sign. It was hung on a wall with many other framed signs and pictures with pithy quotes and cute sayings. Perhaps it was meant to be taken as a tongue in cheek message to potential Yelp reviewers, but I took it to heart.
Our mindset as we approach a new situation can set the tone for our ultimate success. As educators and parents we should model a good attitude for our children for every new endeavor that we take on and in every new space where we find ourselves. Children are experiencing new things and finding themselves in new places all the time. By modeling for them a good attitude we are sealing the deal on their ultimate success in life. It is our responsibility how we choose to think about a situation, and how we choose to problem solve. Our children may not like every new experience or situation. In fact, we may not like it either, but we must take responsibility and know that our attitude is up to us.
This school year at Tarwater, we focus on the Toro Target of Responsibility. While at first blush it doesn’t sound like a fun one, or a flashy one, it is an important value. I challenge you to think beyond the responsibilities of getting to school on time, doing homework, and trying our best and think about the responsibilities that are always with us. Taking care of ourselves, our attitudes, and the people around us.
For the Love of TeachingPosted by Diane Hale on 3/22/2018 2:00:00 PM
It’s a tough time to be in education. As the expression goes, if the country has the sniffles, America’s schools get the flu. Those of us who work in public schools today feel the ills of the entire country.
The burdens and pressures teachers face continue to mount. Our teachers worry about kids who don’t have enough to eat, who struggle with learning, and they worry most about those students who act out for reasons none of us know. They teach children to be kind to each other, to tie their own shoes, to say please and thank you. They teach about the importance of accepting one another and how to behave in a drill so that we are all safe. They teach how to be a good audience member, how to accept praise, and how to show pride in a respectful way. Oh, and they teach math, reading, science, social studies and all at more rigorous standards than we’ve seen ever before in this country. Meanwhile, the accountability for student learning on schools is greater, and the pay is less. Teachers have to think about protecting their students from anything that might harm them physically, and emotionally, every day. They work long hours, take work home, and often spend time with their own kids last.
As a principal, I think about the weight on my teachers’ shoulders. I worry not only about the safety and well-being of our staff and students during the day, but the well-being of the people who do the heavy lifting when they go home exhausted to their families at night. So, with this grim picture, one might wonder, why? Why do it at all? While I can only speak for myself, I have a hunch I know why most educators do it. The answer is simple – BECAUSE IT MATTERS.
The greatest thing we can do for our country is to support our public schools. There are a million clichés about making a difference that would be very apropos here, but my seventh grade English teacher taught me not to use clichés to make a point, so I won’t. Instead I will make a plea.
Don’t feel sorry for teachers, instead thank them, empower them, and most importantly listen to them. They want what is best for your child. Vote for candidates that support public schools when you go to the polls and champion the hard work you see ALL school employees do. Your donations mean a lot; your volunteer hours mean even more. Stand by us. We need you.
Stay focused on what matters. Remember your “why” every day. Help each other find the humor in the funny stuff, the joy in the happy stuff, and the successes along the way. Compliment your colleagues publicly and share the good news of education. Good things happen every day in schools, we need to champion our own cause.
To Everyone Else:
Visit a public school if you haven’t been to one in a while. Invite an educator to your next dinner party (we only get invited as spouses) and listen to them. Ask questions, learn about the work of a public school educator today. Vote for candidates who support public schools. Give your tax credit to a local school. The next time someone says, “I’m a teacher” don’t say, ‘how fun!’ instead say, “thank you for your service to our country.”
The Struggle is Real... and Really ImportantPosted by Diane Hale on 10/23/2017
It’s almost becoming cliche to hear educators talk about how we have no idea what types of careers or world challenges our students of today will face as adults. While we know it is true, the fact that we can’t see into the future certainly does not negate the responsibility public school educators face in preparing our children for a future we can not predict.
This dilemma is why we must teach and reinforce what we know will inevitably be true for the adults of tomorrow. Our children today must be trained to be thinkers, problem-solvers, and creators. This can only be accomplished if we allow our students to struggle.
Watching a student struggle seems to go against every muscle in a teacher’s body. We are born to nurture, to support, and to help. Knowing, however, that when teachers identify the sweet spot of challenge for our students the gains students make in learning are the greatest. That “sweet spot” is the place where the concept is not too easy, but not out of reach either. When that spot is identified students struggle, and when struggle happens, learning is cemented. It still requires the deft skills of nurturing, supporting and helping of teachers, but the star of the show is the student and his struggle.
Parents can help create a safe place for struggle too. Here are five things all adults can do when working with children to make struggling (and learning) commonplace, but not comfortable.
- Just Right Reading - Kids need to find reading material that is at an appropriate level for them. Even exposing kids to books beyond their level and reading with them or to them helps expose students to that next level. Too easy books make learners complacent.
- Answering Questions With More Questions - We all know an inquisitive student is in a prime place for learning, but adults are often too quick to provide an answer. Respond to big questions with raised eyebrows, a hmmm, or another question and let the child grapple with their own wondering.
- Slowly Pull Support Away - There are times when you have to help with homework, with chores, or navigating life, but think about how you can slowly pull away from the help. If you normally sit with your child through her homework, start to leave after she gets started. If you are showing your child how to do something hand over hand, try sitting back and watching.
- Patience - The reason we jump in to help is more about us as adults than about the child. We lose patience in watching someone struggle with something we can do easily. Walk away if you have to, but let them try. It’s good for learning, but also in building confidence.
- Patience - It’s not an accident this tip is listed twice. It’s that important. Be patient!
This quarter make sure that “The Struggle is Real” is a reality in your home. It is the only way our children will make the gains required for a thinking, problem-solving, future.
Ready to GrowPosted by Diane Hale on 7/23/2017
I have always loved the First Day of school. In every role I have ever had in schools, I always feel that "something special" about the First Day. The First Day is ripe with possibilities and promise. On the First Day we embrace a fresh start, and embark on a journey that we know will change us forever. It’s a commitment we make as students, as teachers, as parents, and as administrators.
There’s a looming question that asks students, “Are you ready to grow?” and the First Day of school is how they answer, YES!
The commitment from parents is an incredible gesture of trust. Parents entrust their school to be part of their child’s journey in life, to keep them safe, and to shape who they will become.
Teachers commit to the immense responsibility of caring, nurturing, and teaching someone else’s child as if he or she were their own.
As a school administrator I think about my commitment to not only the families we serve, but to the institution that is public school. I vow to make a place not only for learning, but for social and emotional growth, and a place where community means family.
There is no turning back on this commitment we make on the First Day. Sure, there might be bumps in the road or detours along the path, but the journey itself changes us all forever.
Happy First Day of school! I look forward to celebrating the commitment we have all made to each other on this important day.
Teaching Civil DiscoursePosted by Diane Hale on 1/22/2017
Somewhere along the way, we gave children the idea that to get along, to be nice, to show respect means to agree. Now, maybe that is a broad generalization, but I began to think about the importance of civil disagreement as something to value when I became engaged in a heated debate with a friend and colleague. After the disagreement we were still friends, of course, but I walked away with new things to think about and a new found respect for my colleague for lighting that path for me. Whether it is sports, politics, or science, we must teach children that disagreement is not only okay, it's necessary for thinking people.
The following are benefits to learning to disagree respectfully:
Self-Advocacy - Learning to respectfully disagree teaches our students to advocate for themselves. A critical piece to being a good student and a life-long learner is being able to question the teacher, to recognize what you need as a learner, and to ask for it. Advocacy isn't only important for students, but for patients, spouses and friends. Teaching children to ask questions of the teacher or the doctor, or their best friend when things aren't going their way instills a sense of pride and self-respect.
Critical-Thinking - To really be good in an argument, one has to listen thoroughly and then apply logic and articulate clearly their own side. It's actually a very sophisticated skill. We all know someone who disagrees, but can't provide a clear argument. It is so important that we teach our children that to disagree respectfully means to provide reasoning, evidence, and logic to support he argument.
Anger Management - There is nothing worse than holding in that anger or opposing view. Teaching children to ignore something is okay sometimes, but in most cases, talking out issues is the real solution to conflict resolution. Teaching children to do this for themselves allows them to feel and experience emotion without feeling like they have to hold it in. No one says an argument needs to involve yelling, and certainly never violence. Learning to calmly express feelings is very good for the social and emotional health of children.
Mutual Respect - It seems like manners would be the last thing mentioned in a blog about disagreements, but mutual respect means respect in both directions and builds a sense of trust for a healthy environment for disagreements. When children can feel respect in the midst of disagreement, they feel safe. It makes children think "If my friends and classmates still treat me with respect even while disagreeing with me, I must be in a safe place to be myself."
As we look at the recent discourse in our country about issues and politics, let's take a minute to teach a better example for our children. Show them what it means to disagree respectfully, argue amicably, and protest positively. Don't turn off the TV and pretend it's not there. Don't tell your child to ignore it because it's "not nice", instead, take the time to teach what civil discourse looks like and why it is good for all of us.
A Day We'll Never ForgetPosted by Diane Hale on 9/11/2016
Like most Americans today I can't help but reflect on how the world was changed forever fifteen years ago. Of course, when you spend your day with people under the age of twelve it offers a different perspective. None of our students were alive on that fateful day fifteen years ago, but the events of September 11, 2001 changed how educators view their jobs and it should give you pause to remember what it means to be a teacher in America.
First Responders - When you hear the term "First Responder" you are supposed to think about our police, fire and other emergency personnel who are the first to respond in times of crisis. They are the heroes dressing the wounds and rushing into burning buildings to save lives. But now I also think about teachers who are often the first to respond when a child asks, "why?" or wonders, "am I safe here at school?" I know I am not the only educator who remembers putting on a brave face that day and telling my class of third graders, "we're going to be okay." When, I wasn't really sure if we were. We walk a fine line of what to share and what not to share. What is the job of the parent, and what needs immediate attention from a caring teacher? Educators are the ultimate surrogate parents for children when the unexpected occurs.
Heroes - Since that day, it is a normal occurrence at schools to practice lock-down drills and take measures to be vigilant protectors of our students. Teachers are taught to count heads, hide under desks, and report "all safe" in case of emergencies. Educators have to remain calm so as not to worry frightened children when it's just a drill, but also instill in them the importance of safety and order in case of the unthinkable. Even though these drills are just part of what we do now, it is still an incredible event to watch. With a simple signal, teachers are able to stop the cognitive load of academic instruction and go into survival mode. They can direct twenty five young people to stop, drop, and act in seconds for their own safety. Children are able to act accordingly in silence and with respect and order because their teacher has taught them how. She probably taught them this sometime between math and reading, but nonetheless, they were taught. The teacher keeps a smile on her face even though she might be thinking about the interruption of her lesson, the reason behind why we have to have drills, or her own family's safety. She knows that her students look to her face for reassurance and calm.
Patriots - Not only since that day, but especially since that day, we as educators know what it means to be American and feel the responsibility to pass that on to our students. They weren't there that day or the days following September 11 to see our country rally together, which makes the importance of teaching the pride, honor and respect for our country alive and well. In public school we say the Pledge of Allegiance every day. In music class children learn the patriotic songs, and in history class they learn about the amazing sacrifices those who have come before us have made for our freedoms. On special days (Like the week of September 11) we assemble the whole school together, wear red, white and blue and sing patriotic songs together. We do it because it makes us feel like good Americans, but also because we want to instill that sense of pride in a new generation.
So, today, as you reflect and remember where you were that day, you might stop and give thanks to our first responders, our war heroes and our patriots. I would ask that when you count your blessings, don't forget teachers. They are our children's first responders, heroes, and patriots.