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Running With The Bulls
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.
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.