• Take Responsibility by the Horns

    Posted 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.

    Comments (0)
  • For the Love of Teaching

    Posted 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.  


    To Parents: 


    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.  


    To Teachers: 


    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.”  

    Comments (0)
  • The Struggle is Real... and Really Important

    Posted 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. 


    1. 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. 
    2. 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. 
    3. 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. 
    4. 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. 
    5. 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. 



    Comments (0)
  • Ready to Grow

    Posted 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. 




    Comments (0)
  • Teaching Civil Discourse

    Posted 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. 

    Comments (0)
  • A Day We'll Never Forget

    Posted 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. 

    Comments (0)
  • Sharing the Story of Success

    Posted by Diane Hale on 8/7/2016

    It's an Olympic year and the games have begun! I love watching the Olympics. There is something very satisfying about rooting for your team, but in the Olympics it feels like more than your team. You're rooting for your country and watching the athletes represent and experience great success is very satisfying. This weekend I found, however that I was more interested in watching the story behind the success than the actual game or competition. The stories of struggle, of extreme commitment, and of the incredible mindset and will to win is what I find most interesting. I think I appreciate those stories the most because it is the truth of the human condition. True success doesn't come from luck or being in the "right place at the right time". True success comes from hard work and the belief that you will succeed. 


    The positive mindset and aim toward success is what I hope we are instilling in every student at Tarwater. When students struggle they need to know that the struggle is part of the story. The struggle is what will make their ultimate success that much more meaningful. As the adults in their lives we can help students tell their own success story. 


    • Praise Carefully - When we praise students for a job well done, we are only focusing on the outcome. Make sure to praise and recognize the journey and the hard work it took to complete that job. When your child brings home a paper with a prefect score, take time to ask, "What did you do to get to this point?" We seem to ask "what went wrong?" when an assignment doesn't show success, but sometimes we forget to praise and recognize the work that goes into the success itself. 


    • Share Your Story - Children don't often get a front row seat to the struggle of adults. We  tend to want to shelter them from our bad days, but having a bad day is part of life, and having the grit to get through it is integral to success. It's okay to share with a child when you've made a mistake or found difficulty in something. It allows them to see that success doesn't come easily for any of us and how we deal with it, is what makes us stronger and more convicted. Along with sharing your story of success and struggle, show them that you still try. Saying that you can't draw, or run, or cook only reinforces the idea that there are things we just can't do no matter how hard we try. Instead, let your child know that you don't draw as well as you could or you once did, but maybe it's because you don't practice it very much. That is a far better message. 


    • Track Progress - The best way to recognize growth is to track it and see that progress is being made. Whether it is a family goal, a homework goal, or a fitness goal, help children by tracking it with them. Set small goals and celebrate achievements. Know that there may be dips in the road, but that is not a reason to abandon the goal. All great Olympic athletes faced adversity, and yet they continued on. By tracking progress we make the statement "I don't draw very well... yet" a true statement. 


    • Keep on Keeping on - The start of the school year is a great time to set new goals for students and families. Students tend to start off very strong, and parents vow to follow through even better this year. As routines set in, old habits will creep in, but that doesn't mean all is lost. Set points on the calendar to revisit the goals and talk about the plan to getting there. 


    There is nothing that makes us feel as good as watching excellence. If you watch the Olympic Games with your family talk about how you imagine that level of victory must feel. Celebrate along with the athletes how great we all feel when our hard work pays off. Remind kids that you don't have to be an athlete to feel that amazing feeling of success. Teachers feel that success when a child learns. Parents feel success at work, and children can experience it too. Share the success stories and the journey to meeting the success and we'll help you celebrate. Use #torostory on Twitter if you want to share your story publicly. We'd love to hear it!

    Comments (0)
  • Finding Our Courage

    Posted by Diane Hale on 7/8/2016

    Today is July 8th. It is the second day of the long standing cultural festival of the running of the bulls in Pamplona Spain. This tradition has been a part of Spain's history and heritage since the 13th century. The running of the bulls began as a way to move bulls from Pamplona's corral to its bullfighting ring. The animals would run the half-mile stretch as Spaniards herded them with shouts and sticks. I can't help but draw a parallel to this event and another event that happens this time every year (at least in Chandler) - - The start of a new school year.


    While I hope parents don't have to herd their children back to school with shouts and sticks, the transition of moving students from lazy summer days filled with freedom and fun to the more formal setting of school is a little like entering that big ring where we behave in a way that recognizes tradition, pomp and circumstance and of course, rules. Children are usually filled with strong emotions about this transition. They don't want to leave the comfort of the corral, but the thrill of entering a new ring is exciting and challenging. There is some fear of course. Who will be in the ring with me? How will I perform? Can I live up to higher expectations? They know it takes courage to face those fears, and perhaps that is part of the thrill. 


    The transition for the bulls of Pamplona lasts from July 7 to July 14. Each day another group of bulls runs the half-mile course through town amidst cheers, shouts and fan fare. Each run lasts only about three minutes a day. Since 1926 people from all over the world go to Pamplona for the three minute thrill of running with the bulls. For Chandler teachers and all school personnel this same week each year is a similar physical and mental feat to the finish. Like many people who run with bulls say they do it for the exhilaration, the thrill, the passion. There is no question that Tarwater teachers are filled with a similar exhilarated spirit and passion to start a new school year. The physical work involved in getting a classroom ready is more labor-intensive than most people imagine. Teachers move furniture, decorate, and clean classrooms. Their mad dash to the finish line feels like only three minutes, but it is a long course filled with twists and turns through cobblestone streets. One minute they have to analyze test score data and plan lessons, and the next minute they have to colorfully label book bins and remember to clear a spot in the classroom for lunch boxes. It requires decision making and quick thinking and strong stamina and agility, all at the same time. 


    As we make this transition from our comfortable corrals to the big ring of school that starts on July 25th let's do it with the courage of the matadors, the runners, and the toros. As I enter this arena for the first time as a principal, I feel like those runners. I know now that a little bit of fear is actually thrilling and exhilarating and is good for us. This school year, I challenge you to find courage and do something that scares you. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or a student, let's push ourselves to our limits. Let's feel the fear and go for it anyway! 


    This school year will probably feel like a three minute run through Pamplona for me, but I've got my red scarf on and am ready to run. Thank you for running with me. 


    Comments (0)
Last Modified on July 10, 2018