Leaning into Crisis as an Administrator

Guest post by Jane Core Yatzek

As I write this post many schools are still welcoming students for the first nine weeks of school and establishing routines and procedures.  Children are still learning classmates’ names and nuances, the new bus stop routes, and may even still have a few unsharpened pencils in their school supplies.  Everyone is enjoying the newness and hope that infuses the beginning of the school year.  This is a beautiful time in each school year; until abruptly, one day it is not.

Inevitably someone in your classes, on your staff, or in your school community will experience a crisis this year.  It will cause ripples across your school much like a stone thrown into a calm pool.  Crisis takes an infinite number of forms; it is the death of a parent, the house fire that displaces a family, the tragic accident that injures students in your community or on a national stage, or a staff member diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.  The crises may have different causes and names but they bring out the same fear, hurt, and vulnerability in our school families.  There will be similar symptoms too – tears, withdrawal, anger, acting out, and confusion.

crisis

Our response is what can be unique.  What if instead of just tissues, time, and “soldiering on” we encouraged our students, staff members, and school communities to share our raw feelings and lean into the crisis?  What if we talked openly about the fears and hurt, aware and kind to our own vulnerability and that of others?  What if we acknowledged our self-perceived weaknesses and defined the questions we have as we try to figure out if and how we move forward?  Could we model for our students how to not be paralyzed by our worry?  Would we find that we are almost always more supported than we ever thought possible just by sharing our crises with our trusted school friends, colleagues, and community?

There are many resources for administrators wanting to create a culture of trust for their staff and for helping teachers create a culture of trust in their classrooms.  One idea is to utilize the structures we use for inquiry to support our questions that arise in times of tragedy (Daniels, 2016).  Another idea is to work on building safe spaces to be open to our fearful or anxiety-ridden experiences (Brown, 2016).  Still another idea is to build upon our natural compassion for those feeling distress and reach out to folks within and beyond our circle when they express their uncertainty or discomfort, building a deeper and wider net of compassion and active listening. Finally, offering debriefing time and professional support for all school community members impacted initially or peripherally by crisis is important for physical and mental well-being (UCLA-SMHP, 2016).

Whatever the method, it is universally reassuring to know we are not alone when facing the situations that leave us struggling with hard emotions or feeling exposed.  It helps people to know that others care for them even when their emotions make them feel that they are unlovable. Crisis will happen this year, and when it does, let’s take time discover the growth that can occur in us as individuals and within our school communities when we grapple with the reality that our collective power may reside in our shared weaknesses.

Jane Core Yatzeck is a doctoral student in Curriculum Leadership at William & Mary School of Education.  She has 20 years of experience in education; first as a special education and general education elementary school teacher, and then as a school administrator at the middle and elementary levels.  She can be reached at jacor2@email.wm.edu or on Twitter @jcoreyatzeck.

Resources:

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead.  Gotham Books:  New York, New York.

Daniels, H. (2017) The curious classroom. Heinemann: Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Lichstein, R., Schonfield, D.J. & Kilne, M. (1994). School crisis response: Expecting the  unexpected.  Educational Leadership 52, 3, p. 79-83 Retrieved from:  http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov94/vol52/num03/School-Crisis-Response@-Expecting-the-Unexpected.aspx

University of California Los Angeles Mental Health in Schools Project (2016).  Responding to a crisis at school: A resource aid.  Retrieved from: http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/crisis/crisis.pdf

Nurturing Curiosity in Our Students and Our Teachers

By Sarah P. Hylton, M.Ed., SURN

We all want students who are inquisitive and engaged, and the 6th annual Joy of Children’s Literacy & Literature Conference on October 5 provided a multitude of ideas and strategies for creating classrooms that capitalize on students’ natural wonder, passion, and curiosity. Breakout sessions on using inquiry learning, teaching with images and dialectical journals, creating games and text sets, and engaging with poetry every day were bookended by keynote speakers Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Georgia Heard.

Pictured left to right: Associate Dean of Teacher Education and Community Engagement, Dr. Denise Johnson; SURN Director, Dr. Amy Colley; and Keynote Speakers Georgia Heard and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels.

Pictured left to right: Associate Dean of Teacher Education and Community Engagement, Dr. Denise Johnson; SURN Director, Dr. Amy Colley; and Keynote Speakers Georgia Heard and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels.

Smokey Daniels, author of The Curious Classroom, contends that our students are already curious; in fact, they come to us that way. Our task is to tap the power of their amazing and interesting questions by creating classrooms that honor this curiosity. Citing the research on curiosity, creativity, project-based learning, persistence, and genius hour, Daniels offers a “ladder” of ten key strategies for creating a culture of student-directed inquiry:

  1. Demonstrate your own curiosity
  2. Investigate ourselves and our classmates
  3. Capture and honor kids’ questions
  4. Begin the day with soft starts
  5. Check your news feed
  6. Hang out with an expert
  7. Pursue kids’ own questions with mini-inquiries
  8. Address curricular units with mini-inquiries
  9. Lean into a crisis
  10. Learn with partners and pioneers

Although Daniels’s ideas can certainly foster classrooms that engage primarily in inquiry learning, he encourages teachers to start with small commitments of time. Many of his ideas take fewer than fifteen minutes to implement, allowing teachers to start small and to continue as they see the positive results of engaging students in seeking answers to their own (and each other’s) questions.

Daniels also focuses on using images to spark student inquiry, reminding us that “text” can be interpreted broadly. He invites us to move beyond the narrow definition of text as printed words on a page and to understand that in addition to the written word, student wonder can be also be engaged by working with photographs, artwork, cartoons, diagrams, charts, and music.

If Daniels invites students to explore their curiosity by opening their minds, Georgia Heard invites them to do so by opening their hearts. Heard, author of Writing Toward Home, Awakening the Heart, Heart Maps and others, relayed her passion for helping students explore their innate sense of wonder through writing. Working from a simple heart drawn on the page, Heard urges students to explore those people, memories, places, and ideas about which they feel passionate by drawing and doodling images, supplemented by words and phrases for clarification or expansion, that resonate with them. The opportunity to slow down, to ponder their beliefs and ideas, and to commit them to paper creates the foundation upon which students build pieces of writing based on their own natural sense of wonder.

Although Daniels and Heard’s ideas center primarily on creating deeper student learning and engagement, savvy instructional leaders may well consider how to adapt Daniels and Heard’s ideas to promote a learning culture among their faculty.  Given that “today’s students urgently need to see as many thoughtful, curious, resourceful, and critical adults as they can” (Daniels, 2018, p. iii), it is incumbent upon school leaders to promote a school culture where faculty can develop their own curiosity and use it for school improvement. Design Thinking for School Leaders by Gallagher and Thordarson (2018) urges leaders to cultivate wonder intentionally by building empathy through curiosity, by routinely posing questions to all stakeholders, by honoring their creative ideas, and by designing opportunities to challenge the status quo.

Many of Daniels’s suggestions for how to honor and pursue students’ questions can easily be adapted to foster adult learning among faculty. Modeling curiosity, building relationships, honoring everyone’s ideas and questions, providing outside expertise, and engaging in research to satisfy our curiosity all promote a learning culture within our schools. Heard’s ideas, too, find a place in such leadership by inviting faculty to explore what they feel passionate about when it comes to students and teaching and learning.

The 5 Cs across the Disciplines

By Sarah P. Hylton, SURN

The Profile of a Virginia Graduate is a framework aimed at preparing our students to be life ready citizens. Positioned as part of the VDOE’s Standards of Accreditation, the Profile is the response to an essential question: “What knowledge, skills, and dispositions should a Virginia high school graduate possess?”

Focused on the four pillars of Content Knowledge, Workplace Skills, Community Engagement/Civic Responsibility, and Career Exploration, the Profile insists that creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and citizenship – which we commonly refer to as the 5Cs – be incorporated into learning experiences in every classroom, pre-K through 12.

The 5Cs are not the purview of secondary teachers only (a common misconception given the reference to graduation in the name), nor are they intended to reside primarily in one discipline or another. Rather, this focus on the 5 Cs obliges all teachers to develop a common understanding of these skills and attributes and to understand how the 5 Cs exist across the standards and goals of the various academic disciplines.

Creating opportunities to build teachers’ capacity to incorporate these skills is the work of all school leaders. As each division considers how it will begin to implement the Profile, consider having teachers review the strands and/or goals of the various disciplines to determine where the 5Cs are mentioned in the standards of their own discipline as well as in others. Such a task should provide a good starting point for teachers to develop operational definitions of this language and will give them insight into how they are working in tandem with their colleagues to ensure that all students are developing these critical skills. Because reading, discussing, and writing with purpose in every discipline is fundamental to developing the 5Cs, further faculty conversations might center on how to offer instruction rich in these opportunities.

5cs

Thankful for Partnerships

Administrators in the SURN Principal Academy help shape an educational partnership that spans the state.

Administrators in the SURN Principal Academy help shape an educational partnership that spans the state.

At this time of year, many of us engage in reflection on the many things for which we are grateful. At SURN we pause a moment this week to acknowledge our gratitude for the many meaningful partnerships that breathe life and purpose into the School Leadership Institute. Our connection with William & Mary School of Education runs deep, and the support we receive from faculty and staff provides a foundation for reaching beyond the university and into the K-12 classrooms and schools we serve.

We collaborate and work with our 30 Virginia school divisions to bring quality professional learning and development to educators across the Commonwealth. Through these collaborations and experiences at William & Mary School of Education, leaders have established relationships far beyond our walls. This fall principals willingly opened the doors of their schools to allow their colleagues an opportunity to develop their skills in instructional leadership as they complete collaborative walk throughs together.

The opportunity to network and to collaborate with peers is cited as a strength of virtually every workshop and program at SURN. Learning and innovating together to enhance student achievement is a hallmark of what we accomplish in partnership with each other, and relationships are at the core of this. We look forward to continued growth in our partnerships with all of you.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at SURN!