Why?

Motivational Speaker, Simon Sinek, has built a career on guiding organizations and organizational leaders on finding their purpose or “why”. Sinek argues that organizations that can articulate why they do things over what they do or how they do it are far more successful and that they are more appealing to their consumers. While his focus in on corporate structures or businesses, the same principles can apply in education as well.

Many teachers have a very clear understanding of why they are teachers. One might say that they want to make a difference in a child’s life. Some might speak to their content area and to pass along an area of expertise or passion. In my opinion, both of those areas speak to building relationships with students. And, schools or districts can offer why they offer certain programs over another or provide special services like free lunch depending on their demographics.

However, on a smaller scale, when teachers move into leadership roles, the why might feel a bit more difficult to discern. I doubt anyone signed up for administrative roles for losing their summers off and a little bit of a raise. In addition, being a school leader can also a bit disconnected from the students we serve at times, but a school can only be as successful as its leadership team. As with every aspect of an organization, leaders must also articulate their “why” to all of their constituents–faculty, students, and families.

Here are a few of my whys for transitioning and continuing to serve in leadership roles within schools:
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Student Travel

 

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Students in Iceland, 2017

 

One of the things I have enjoyed the most about teaching and leading independent middle schools is the opportunity to travel with my students. Day trips, overnight trips, or service trips are all unique and provide me with a unique perspective of my students. I am such a huge proponent of student travel that I practically had to force my daughter to go on her eighth-grade trip a few years ago. She was one of those kids who never wanted to spend the night at a friend’s house or go away to sleep-away camp. I felt it was such a valuable learning lesson that I insisted she go with her peers to Washington D.C.

Having spent many years coordinating trips for students, I often have heard that it is too expensive, students have been there before, or “I” will just take them there on our next family vacation. All of those are valid reasons why you might not want to send a child on a school trip, but here are just a few reasons why I think that student travel (without parents) is so important:

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Student Voice

A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Nancy Doda and Mark Springer at a Middle-Level professional conference. Their passion for education, especially the education of middle schoolers, was inspiring. Attending sessions with them led to a lot of the work we do as a seventh-grade team, but it also has influenced how I teach.

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As a teacher, I am always striving to improve my craft. In addition, as I become more comfortable with transitioning from a more traditional pedagogy to leaving the stage, I have looked for ways to incorporate more student voice in my classroom. In an ideal world, I would love for students to drive the curriculum more than I do, but one of the common constraints many teachers feel is a lack of time and a more-or-less mandated curriculum. I am fortunate that I do not have to worry about state mandated testing, but unless we move away from a structured grading system, I will never be able to fully relinquish my mandated curriculum.

A personal goal that I have for myself is to generate lessons where students are able to construct meaning on their own within the confines of my structured curriculum. Each year, I get better at doing this, but the students are different every year. What works for one group of students does not work for others. That is still a work in progress. However, I have been finding other ways to incorporate student voice in my classroom:

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Building Community

Anyone who has taught middle school for any length of time will tell you that seventh grade is a rough year for many students. Parents will probably tell you the same thing. Therefore, as a team one of our goals was to create a community among seventh graders. The idea was to get students working together effectively and create a sense of connectedness. In other words, we wanted to ensure that seventh graders do not feel like the forgotten middle children of middle school. Our team has worked on various strategies to meet those goals, but this month I feel we were exceptionally successful.

Last year, I was inspired by a photo essay project called the Fearless Project. The Fearless Project focuses on LGBT athletes. While I didn’t think that would be fitting for our goals, I liked the idea of a photo project. I wanted a way for students to be publicly acknowledged and allow people get to know one another in a different way besides as students in a class. When I brought the idea to the team, they were on board immediately.

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