At my former school, failure, or simply low or just meeting standards, is non-acceptable. We encourage students to reach beyond what they think they can do or what they tend to settle with. In fact, we had a problem with so many "lazy" students, that we often discussed at staff meetings how to change our student's mentality of their own learning success and classroom participation. We shared what type of actions we took in our own classrooms and what the results were from its implementation. Personally, along with many other of my colleagues, we do not accept incomplete work or even completed work that has been rushed or messy etc. We send the work back, and expect improvement before having it handed back in. We give opportunities to make up tests as well. When we expect more from our students, they expect more from themselves.
The protocol for students to put more effort and time into their work is an emphasized requirement for their own investment. They, the high school students, need to understand that if we, their teachers, are putting time aside for them, they need to give, at the least, the equivalent time and attention to their own work. Vice versa, if it's important to them, it is important to us. This is one mindset we try to have our students build, we don't just give up on each other. However, we do face some students, who end up not handing in their work at all. They fall behind in their coursework, and they follow the footsteps of their peers who choose not to aim for success. The problem we find in these students, are the lack of support from home, where their parents or family are too busy to monitor or reinforce school expectations in their learning; and they lack any positive influence from their social circle.
Students who have completely "checked out" are more likely the students to stop attending school, skip classes, and make other unhealthy choices that they cannot get away from with their own power. They need the assistance that they believe they didn't have, an intervention has to occur. Although learning still doesn't stop at this point, and this is not a state of failure. From my teaching career, I've seen students relocated to different schools to break up "gangs" and the dangerous situations that they may be facing. Parents have even moved cities and countries so that their child could be in a different learning system. Furthermore, students have been moved to programs that better support their needs that the regular classroom had failed to provide. In smaller cases, I have made plans with the students to work out alternative paths to meet the goals, such as extending time frames or modifying the assignments.
One incident that affected me personally, was of a grade 11 boy who became addicted to marijuana. He was often late to class, or absent altogether, to serve his cravings. I had a few talks with him, inquiring if there was any way I could assist him to be in class as his first steps to self control and to still be successful in class. He was evidently a capable student in his studies, but was quite affected by the drug. I noticed his effort lasted only a day. I tried meeting with his counsellor about my concerns and to see if anything was being done to help him. Her response was a bit disappointing. She simply stated that she had laid out the options for him and that was that. She can only do so much. In my head I thought, there must be so much more we could have done to help this student than to give up.
If I was in a position to make a difference, I would check in weekly, if needed, with students who are listed on the radar. I would encourage staff to make phone calls home for positive reasons other than negative ones. I would also try to get the staff to understand the importance of their role in building positive relationships with their students so that they know there is always someone there to aide them and help them build a plan away from failure. Workshops by workers who are in the field with "troubled teens" should be mandatory for all staff instead of optional, so that a student's actions are not their only leading factor to fail a student. Generally, students who slip through the cracks are the ones unnoticed and shouldn't be.
It is "never too late to learn" as a student and as a teacher. We need to relearn behaviors and recognize both positive and negative efforts in each other. Today, I could commit to the following:
1. Give students a break during long seated work time, this allows students to vent off any stress and to perform better upon returning to their work
2. Ask further guiding questions, expand their perception with reference to more relational topics to reach understanding
3. Inquire about my student's day or check in to see how they are, learn about them and be flexibly to accommodate assignments
4. If students get caught off task, simply remind them to get back to work and spend some extra time to assist them
5. Have high expectations but avoid using downgrading terms when low level work is handed in, instead point out what the expectations are again and ask them to explain their own thought process and their interpretation of the expectations
As students spend most of their time in school, in essentially their most important time of growth: physically, mentally, socially, all areas in developing their identity, it is crucial to know the high influence the teachers and the community have on them. Thus, the school has the responsibility to foster the best environment with positive examples from the adults, from the experiences, and more importantly, from the interactions with other students so that they could have agency, the capability to make independent choices with confidence and control.
Through these relationships we need to be careful of how we speak to our students and know that their social skills are still emerging. The way we understand certain phrases or words sometimes have more or less meaning than we intend because they could be perceived differently by the students. For example, sarcasm; I had to learn the wrong way that this type of humor was offensive to some students. They would get confused or interpret it as literal. I quickly stopped. It is quite easy for my colleagues and I to forget that our students are still very young; despite how they pretend that they are mature enough to be treated as adults. I know at the elementary level, words are chosen a lot more carefully.
In high school, I'm not entirely sure how my colleagues choose their words, but I know the interactions we have between each student really depends on the history of the student, the struggles they're going through, the topic of discussion, and many other factors that you could never prepare for. However, I think there is a general rule followed by many. The "sandwich" tactic. To give a student constructive criticism, start with a positive statement, give the feedback, then end with another positive. Although, when I think back to the times that I may have tried this, I'm wondering if I had used the word "but" in the middle and then negate the whole concept of being positive. Another example of focused speech is when I give feedback to correct or teach a hands-on skill. I would limit each instruction with one feedback at a time so that they don't get flustered with all the things they are doing wrong. Instead they focus on fixing one problem per step and feel the success of each improvement.
To encourage the whole school to be accountable for their own word choices would be equivalent to asking students to be mindful of their actions. It is practiced often already in schools to start thinking about their words, to be conscious of those around them and how it may affect others. We promote diversity and ban sexual or racial slanders. If we have school staff meetings about what is appropriate and what is not, there could be better cohesion of expectations from staff and students. There could be workshops for both staff and students to practice proper communication skills; with posters around the school as ongoing reinforcements and reminders. Renewed policies with student contribution could give students an opportunity to express their experiences of what they find as positive or negative word choices.
Personally, to be more conscious and accountable to my own words, I would like to take more time to check in with my students, (when I have my own classroom). Word choices are easier when you know who you're talking to. When you know a student, you also know how you can help them. Only time and commitment will tell. Until then, as I float amongst various schools, I will try to do the following to help set an example:
1. Make positive acknowledgments about task and skill efforts.
2. Rotate through the students, ensure everyone is acknowledged, no one is missed.
3. Avoid using the word "but" after making an positive comment.
4. When giving feedback, try to use guiding questions instead of only direct instruction.
5. Give more pause time, to allow students to think and respond
When considering the concept of "Do No Harm" my elementary school's motto of Courtesy, Consideration, and Care (the three C's), flashes before me. Having been exposed to it for 8 years through song and its corresponding dance, I can't help but reflect on how it had established a respectful and safe environment for the staff, students and guests; and while still engrained in my own practices today.
As a school leader, I would really want to encourage the same kind of thinking, the encouragement to be empathetic, kind, and polite amongst one another, especially through discipline policies and practices. Where each "rule" needs to be understood and communicated clearly as a standard that may vary between circumstances depending on the student's environmental and family influences. Consequences, will be focused on teaching, rather than punishment; teaching the students how to reflect on their behavior and being conscious of their decisions and how they might affect others. Teaching applies to teachers as well, and how they need to learn more about their students and how to address behavioral problems in a positive way rather than negative. Every person is different, so we can't treat them all the same. We can have high expectations and expect the best, but we also need to realize that everyone's best is limited to each individual.
As for program practices and initiatives, to apply the "Do No Harm" we must keep students' learning first and to then relay the message clearly to the rest of the school and its stakeholders to be able to summon a full body support. When an idea is presented, it is only as strong as the hands that hold it up; and to get enough hands in, they need to know what they are reaching for, what the goals are and what benefits will arise for the students. If there is reluctance for change and improvement, then the teachers' needs must also be considered. Staff are part of the learning community so it is only appropriate to provide proper training and sufficient time for them to enhance their skills and their learning. Again, it's about having a clear line of communication to build relationships, and to essentially grow comfortable in collaborating with one another.
When I think back to my past experiences; I've seen inconsistant ways teachers have dealt with disapproving behavior such as tardiness. Many that I know, would lock their students out if they are not inside by the time the bell goes, high school students tend to simply sleep in late because they stay up too late doing miscellaneous activities, some irrelevant to any positive development. However, we forget there are some who are late because they have other younger siblings to take care of, they have to pick up an after school shift of work, or they have community sport practices in the evening. How could we use the same "punishment" for both types of students?
I know through each of our own experiences, we've determined what works and what doesn't. Sometimes, teachers need to use their discretion to gauge, evaluate, and decide the effectiveness of their means of a resolution. However, it needs to be consistent with the overall school culture and expectations. Is there more damage than good? Therefore, I think that in some of the schools I've worked at, discussion around policies need to be reevaluated; the same way my last school had recently gone over the use of electronic devices policy.
For myself, I could do more to enforce the "Do No Harm" concept:
1. Let students cool down and take them to the side to discuss the inappropriate behavior
2. Talk to students who are tardy later on in class to explore better outcomes for next class
3. Find moments to talk to students about outside of class related topics that they are interested in sharing
4. Take more time to learn about each student through their work
5. Explain how an offense that occurs affect myself or possibly others so the whole class can understand the reasoning behind my expectations - "learning moments"
From what I can remember,
The three C's song at Mount Pleasant Elementary (School Colours: Gold & Blue; School Mascot: Lion):
Back on the teacher-on-call list, after 3 years of teaching in a single school, I had already been to three different high schools in just two days. After reflecting on my experience and the amount of "welcome" I endured at each location, I sought out their mission statements:
We at Windermere are committed to developing the intellectual, social, aesthetic, and physical potential of all students in a challenging and safe environment. Our mission is to:
Provide resources for the acquisition of knowledge and skills
Enable students to adapt in a changing world
Promote mutual respect, self-esteem, and cooperation
Foster cultural and aesthetic awareness
Encourage physical fitness
Lay the foundation for life-long learning
Tupper Secondary School strives to motivate all students to embrace learning through challenging and relevant educational experiences in supportive environments.
We work together cooperatively as a larger school community to help our students achieve their unique potential and become thoughtful, contributing, and fulfilled members of a much larger society.
Magee Secondary is committed to:
Developing capable young people,
Promoting creative minds, healthy bodies, ethical values,
Providing a rigorous academic program, and
Leading students to take responsibility for learning.
Valuing community and the joy of learning.
From the first school, Windermere, I can recall my visit to the office was friendly, where one member actually escorted me to the sign-in book when I was having difficulties finding it. The second school, Tupper, has less of an emphasis on a "welcoming" culture in their mission statement, but the office staff there were cheerful and polite. The department head also dropped by the classroom to see how I was doing. The third school, Magee, is very vague on whether their mission statement focused on conveying a "welcoming" environment. And sure enough, when I was there, I felt the least welcomed. To give you an example, I had asked where the classroom was and they answered, "I'm not sure, somewhere upstairs in the corner."
Therefore, it is quite clear that the aspect of having a "Welcome Pillar" is quite relative to the school's mission statement, which would make it extremely challenging to establish if it hasn't already been defined or expected. However, I would like to note that despite my interactions inside the school offices, interactions with the students were all quite the same between all three schools.
Reflecting back to my last "permanent" school, I can recall, that being welcoming had nothing to do with our mission statement, and neither was it practiced as a whole school community. To further divide our school, we have specific classrooms of specialized programs that had so many visitors coming in and out that we never knew who really was a visitor or a student that we just haven't seen because they were segregated from the regular classes. Essentially, everyone could be welcomed more, especially new teachers. I remember when I first started teaching there, nearly every other new teacher was introduced except for me. Then what I found was that the new teachers, were rarely ever seen outside their classrooms and had kept mostly to themselves.
If I was the principal at that school or even the department head, I would make a great effort to document all new teachers, including teachers-on-call, and welcome them to the rest of the faculty personally, especially on their first time appearance. I would support more staff social events and activities to make the community more comfortable with each other and generally more aware of their existing colleagues. As a teacher-on-call now, the only way I think I could be welcoming in each school I visit, is to eliminate the title of "on-call," and instead have a permanent position under the district umbrella rather than a specific school.
So anywhere I go I would like to commit to the following for this term at the least to be more welcoming:
1. Introduce myself to at least one other person in the office other than to the necessary secretary
2. Keep my classroom door open during any preparation blocks
3. Say hello to a couple students in the hallway when possible
4. Make an effort to remember school layouts so that when I return I can assist any others
5. Greet each student as they enter the classroom