Why You Should Focus On Your Students’ Needs Today

dalai lama final

As educators, we are often caught in a cycle of analyzing students from their past behaviors and test results, and then trying to determine what it is we need to do in the future to help them succeed. The same goes for administrators working with teachers. While this is a powerful and effective model, we can easily overlook a person’s present needs. When this happens, we lose the opportunity to help someone grow.

I vividly remember one of my past students, Josh. I met Josh in his senior year as a student in my AP Language and Composition class. He was intelligent, insightful, and dedicated to learning. One week, Josh was visibly irritable. He was unfocused, terse towards both his peers and me, and his performance was not consistent with that of the young man I had grown to admire over the preceding two months. When I asked him if everything was ok, he simply said he was fine, and I chalked it off as a teenage boy having a bad couple of days. The goal was about preparing my students for their AP test, and as the weeks progressed, it seemed to me that he had worked out whatever it was that was bothering him.

Towards the close of the semester, I asked my students to synthesize all that we had discussed and read, and answer one question: What is a well-lived meaningful life? Josh’s essay was beautifully written, with every word coming straight from his heart. I learned a lot about him reading that essay. I learned that he lost his mother to breast cancer in his freshman year. The woman that was his world and best friend. His father traveled constantly for work, leaving Josh with a nanny during the remainder of his freshman and sophomore years. And even though he admitted that he wanted for nothing, he would give up every creature comfort to have his mother back in his life. It was at that time I realized that his off week coincided with the anniversary of his mother’s passing.

His was the first student essay that brought me to tears.

I missed an opportunity to connect with Josh and help him through a difficult time, as I am sure I have done countless times with other students, both as a classroom teacher and assistant principal. If I were more present with my students back then, maybe I could have helped him process his loss in some way. Instead, I was focused on who I thought he was, and where I thought he needed to go. His score on a test didn’t matter, having someone to talk to and empathize with him did, and in that, I failed him.

When a student walks into our classrooms or offices, they are not the same person they were the last time we met, nor will they be those same people the next time we cross paths. We cannot control their yesterday or tomorrow. What we can do is support them the best way we can today, so that they can process their baggage from the past, better prepared for the challenges ahead.

This year, I am going to place my energy in the student or staff member in front of me. Focusing on what they need today is about providing them what they need in the moment so that they can move forward with confidence, hopefully looking back at yesterday with a smile.

I challenge you to find ways to focus on today, and stay in the moment with those you serve and those you love. And if you have time, I invite you to share your story.

How Defining Three Words Others Use To Describe You Can Change Your Leadership Style

In her 2012 TED talk, Rachel Botsman, best known for her work as a global thought leader on collaboration and human interaction, discusses how our reputation is one of our most prized possessions. She asks a simple question, What three words describe your reputation?

This got me thinking. If I were to ask my colleagues what three words they would use to describe me, what would they say? While I am sure some people would seize the opportunity to crack a joke or take a jab, there would be thoughtful and honest replies. These responses would be critical in helping me not only reflect on my current practices, but allow me to begin the journey of improving my leadership practice and developing the characteristics that would help me better serve the needs of the staff.

So, here is the plan. When I return to work on Monday, January 4, 2016, my first email will be to the entire staff. This is what I intend to ask: If you had to describe the way I lead to someone who has never met me, what three words would you use? I intend to use a Google form to keep this anonymous, and leave it open for the week.

At the end of the week, I will categorize the responses and look for recurring themes. After analyzing the information, I will have to decide where I need to go from there.

As an educational leader, I place a high value on my relationships with stakeholders. So, with the new year about to crack from its proverbial egg, I though this would be a great time to begin this journey.

I know the three words I would like to hear from my colleagues, and it would be the words that I would use to describe myself as a leader: trustworthy, empathetic, and creative. But, I am going to listen and stay open minded through this process. Hopefully, I will find out something new about myself.

I challenge you to use this approach in any way you see fit. Maybe with students, friends, family, or colleagues. If you do decide to do this, I would love to hear your results. Regardless of the road you choose, it is about the journey. And if we play our cards right, we can make 2016 a journey worth talking about.

We Have To Stop Pretending…

Here is my addition to Scott McLeoud’s #makeschooldifferent challenge. If you have not read his post, you can find it here.

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending…

  • that a student’s GPA is an indication of their future success
  • that students who don’t do homework and pass every quiz and test should still fail a class
  • that suspending student’s changes their behavior
  • that students learn best listening to lectures while seated at desks in straight rows
  • that technology is the best tool for student remediation

Please join that conversation and share your ideas with the #makeschooldifferent hashtag.