Back to School

“It’s from my School!”

It’s back-to-school week, and we had an amazing motivational speaker during our fall workshop. He was funny; he was emotional; he was inspiring.  He challenged us to be innovative. He challenged us to see the joy in the eyes of every child when they come into school, and he challenged us to be sure that we do not squelch that joy. Children are, by nature, learners. It is our job to fuel that fire, not to put that fire out. It was a solid message. It struck a chord. It was good stuff.

But in the midst of his message, a family movie from Hunter’s childhood came to mind. We’ve watched it over and over and over again in our family. It’s a classic. We have always looked to it as evidence of her sass and her spunk. But suddenly, sitting in that auditorium, the video came to mind and everything about it changed. I saw a different lesson.

First, let me apologize for the quality of this video. Clearly I should not be the videographer in the family.  But I’m glad we have it.

Take a listen…

Now, like I said, we used to focus on that moment when she says, “I did not want this book.”  We used to laugh as I tried to convince her that she should say thank you to the person who had given her the gift. But here’s what I saw this week. My child who has been read to every day of her life is less than excited by the prospect of a book.  My child who has an English teacher for a mother “did not want that book.”  Until…she saw the connection to school.  There is a moment, it’s my favorite moment, when her face lights up.  “Mom, it’s, it’s from my school.”  And everything changes!

School has that power.  Teachers have that power.  You have that power.  Engaging lessons, exciting content, and powerful relationships matter.  We can light a fire!

My nephew starts kindergarten in our district tomorrow.  My wish for him is an experience that make his face light up when he realizes, “it’s from my school.”  I am grateful for all of the teachers and teacher leaders, the librarians, the administrators, and the many other school staff who lit that fire for my children.  Thank you!

Our challenge this week is to do it all over again.  Have an amazing first week of school!

Monday

Tomorrow is Monday.

Mondays bring to mind Facebook posts full of anxiety and worry and dread.  Mondays inspire angry cat posters and memes.  Do a Google search.  They’ll make you laugh, but I think they miss the mark.

Mondays are not fully appreciated, not fully embraced for the gift that they are.  Mondays are a fresh start.  Mondays are a new beginning.  And tomorrow is our ultimate Monday.  Tomorrow is the day all teachers report back to work in our district.  It is day one.  It is a fresh start, a new beginning.  It is one of the things I enjoy the most about my work.

Every year I have the same feeling as we start a new school year.  I think it is the same feeling I had as a child.  I love school.  I love the sharpened pencils and the college rule notebooks and the locker shelves.  I love Open House and Curriculum Night and the first football game of the year.  But most of all I love the opportunity.  I love the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends, the chance to learn and grow, and the challenge to do more and be more than we have been before.  We get a fresh start every year.  Every child, every adult, every one of us gets to start anew on Monday.  Every Monday.

Last year was amazing, but I did not handle every situation and every conversation as well as I would have liked.  Probably no one did.  I am grateful that I get to try again.  I am grateful that no matter what challenges or obstacles I have faced in the past, I get to learn from them and start again.  I am grateful that the people in my life are understanding and accepting.  They teach me; they show me grace; and they inspire me every day to be a better person.  And that is what I want for our staff and for our students.

I know that not every child loves school.  I know that for some of them the anxiety is real and the fear is not a joke.  It is our mission, our purpose, to do what we can for those who need us the most.  And I feel blessed to be surrounded by dedicated professionals who have made that their life’s work.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Summer was amazing.  Weekends are amazing.  Time to recharge and reconnect is vital.  But we work in the greatest profession in the world, and tomorrow is day one.  Monday.  And I for one am ready!

Friday Night Lights

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I love football, especially high school football.  There is something so fun about standing on the sidelines on a 73 degree night watching our kids play their hearts out.  There are rivalries and comebacks.  There are trick plays and Hail Mary’s.  There is always excitement in the air.

But when I got home Friday and checked Facebook and Twitter, I was truly overwhelmed by post after post of pictures from the game (or one of the many games played across the city, state, and country on Friday night).  And while there were some fantastic pictures of football, most of the pictures had almost nothing to do the game.

There were little kids sitting in the grass playing with each other while the game was happening in the background.  There were cheerleaders and dance teams and band members.  There were middle schoolers and high schoolers.  There were veterans and a JROTC.  There were moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas wearing school colors and cheering.

Post after post talked about how much fun people had.  Post after post demonstrated what our superintendent and our district athletic director have both shared recently in interviews, that high school football games are about so much more than football.

In those hours, under the lights, we become a community.

Friendships are formed.  Talents are unveiled.  Students and parents and community members spend time together talking and building relationships.

“There is so much more than football going on here.”  (Jim Sutfin)

People get the opportunity to see our students shine.  We showcase the hard work of so many groups who perform on those nights.  And it goes well beyond those on the field.  Our students sell concessions to raise money for their activities.  They support their fellow classmates with cheers and applause and respect when they perform.  And they represent their schools and districts with pride.

imageTeachers and administrators who have retired come to the games.  Elementary and middle school students come with their families and imagine what it will be like when they are in high school.  Current families and staff members spend time together outside the school day.

We build a community on those nights and on countless other nights at orchestra concerts and cross-country meets, at volleyball games and plays and musicals.

There is magic in these football stadiums.  There is a small town feeling in even the largest of cities.  There is opportunity there to connect and to become stronger together than we will ever be alone.

imageOn a side note, in Nebraska (and probably in other places too I’d imagine), we do something similar on Saturday nights. I went to my first Husker football game Saturday.  I have no idea how someone who loves the Huskers as much as I do has gone 46 years without going to a game in person, but wow!  For a few hours we became a community there too.

I hope you will continue to post your pictures.  I am moved by all of them, and I am reminded in them that I am #Proud2bMPS.

First Days

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This week as I made my way around the district on the first day of school, I was reminded that our experiences on first days are pretty similar.  Whether it was the first day of kindergarten, the first day of middle school, or the first day of high school, the pictures on Facebook looked the same….students smiling nervously, parents beaming with pride, and school staff excited for the beginning of another year.  The human experience is the human experience.  Starting an adventure in a new place is exciting. For our students, for our parents, and for our colleagues, finding a sense of belonging and establishing relationships in that new place is scary and hard and really important. Regardless of what’s new, we all tend to ask ourselves the same questions.

“What should I wear?”

This question feels oh so middle school, but it’s not.  I had tons of kindergarteners gushing as they showed me their new outfits on the first day.  And I know the high schoolers and their friends talked about what they were wearing for pictures at Orientation.  Will this help me fit in?  Will this help me stand-out?  Am I over-dressed?  Under-dressed?  Believe it or not, even as adults, we ask ourselves (and our friends) these same questions.  We all struggle with the simultaneous desire to fit in and to stand out.

“Will people like me?”image

It is easy to dismiss this as a superficial question, but we have all worried about this at some point in our lives.  Belonging is a powerful human need.  Friendship and relationships are cornerstones of our well-being.  This is true for five year olds,  eleven year olds, fourteen year olds, and adults.  People need a tribe, a community.

This is one of the most powerful ways we can work to make the world a better place.  There are tangible things each of us can do to help others feel accepted.  Children instinctively know this.  They are more likely to talk to someone they do not know, to invite others over to play with them on the playground, or to call someone a friend almost immediately.   We lose some of that as we age.  My hope for the first days of a new school year is that we all, students, staff, community, reach out to others and make people feel welcome.

And a beautiful side effect of focusing on helping others feel accepted is that it takes our minds off our own need to belong.

“Will I like them?”

I believe we are happier when we are surrounded by people we like, people who lift us up and make us better.  In school this can look like spending your time with others who share your academic, athletic, or extra-curricular interests.  We know that students who are involved in activities have higher GPAs and are more successful academically in school.  I don’t have to “like” you to learn from you and to get better because of you, but it’s sure more fun if I do.  Building a network of people you like is important.  At work this looks like finding colleagues who are also friends.

Our world gets better when we are accepting of each other.

This is my challenge to you for the new year.  Find ways to help others feel like they belong.  Focus on being inclusive.  Focus on reaching out to someone who is new at school or at work and asking them to join you.  Focus on the well-being of others.  You’ll be amazed at how much that helps your own well-being.

Awe

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It’s almost here.  The first day of school.  In a few days our kindergarteners will step into the building for their very first day of school ever.  And our seniors will step into the building for their very last first day of school ever.  There is something truly magical about this time of year.  It is a gift!

In fact, everything about this profession is a gift.  I am in awe of it.

We kicked off the new year with a welcome back celebration last week.  Our superintendent (@jsutfin) and Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger) spent the day inspiring us to celebrate our successes and to be better than we are now.   We are entrusted with an awesome responsibility.  And we were encouraged to focus on the awe.

I had no trouble doing that last week.

Everywhere I look in our schools, I find reasons to be in awe.

I am in awe of the teachers who build knowledge, instill curiosity, and create thinkers.  They meet each student where they are, find ways to engage them, and motivate them to be better than they ever knew they could be.  They meet needs as simple as tying shoes and as complex as making a child feel accepted.  I am in awe of the teachers who spend their evenings at soccer games for students who invited them, their weekends at Dance Team car washes, and their early mornings on the field at Marching Band practice.  They make home visits, call moms and dads to share successes, and pick just the right moment to tell a child how proud they are.

I am in awe of the administrators who build relationships with students, even when it is not easy, advocate for the resources their teachers need, and manage to lead in the midst of extreme challenges.  They buy toasters and pop-tarts for students who are hungry, show up at graduation years after struggling with a child through middle school, and sit with families in the hospital during some of their darkest days.  I am in awe of their deep dedication and willingness to do whatever it takes.

I am in awe of the willingness of educators to put their hearts out there over and over, every time, for every child.  This is not always easy.  Our students sometimes make poor choices, in some cases ones that have devastating consequences.  But in every case there is someone, a teacher, a principal, who cares about them and supports them through all of it.

I have watched teachers unpack boxes, refill school supplies, hang bulletin boards, fire up iPads, and launch new apps. I have watched administrators greet families at Orientation and facilitate engaging and meaningful professional development. I have watched these staff members work and learn and grow in the last week.  And I was in awe of them.

And I am certain too that they heard the message to inspire awe in their students.

How do we create a sense of wonder in our students?

How do we expose our students to things that will amaze them?

How do we challenge our students to take risks, to step outside of their comfort zones, and to push themselves beyond their fears in order to become the best versions of themselves?

Awe is complex.  It is an abundance of amazement that can almost overwhelm you. Embrace every moment of the first days of school.  Be in awe!  It’s so worth it.

A Letter to My Daughter

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Educators often think of graduation as the measure of our success.  It’s the moment we’ve been working for since that first day our students arrived at Kindergarten Round-up.

But I think we are wrong.  I think this week is actually that moment.  My social media feeds are full of pictures of teary-eyed parents and nervous young adults unpacking cars, hauling mini-fridges, and sporting new college gear.

I think the measure of our success really starts this week.  As our children head off to college, we get to find out if they are, in fact, “college and career ready”.

When we watch the seniors cross the stage at graduation, we hope that we have prepared them to be successful in whatever their next steps may be.  This week, as we send them off to Basic Trainings and Freshman Orientations, to first days at new jobs or to dorm rooms and apartments, we get to find out if we succeeded.

For you, my daughter, I think we did.

There are so many things I want for my kids.  Sometimes when I say “my kids”, I really mean my students.  But this week, I am talking about you and your sister.

So what do I hope for you?

I hope you are creative and collaborative.

I hope you are willing to take risks.

I hope you persevere when things get hard because there will be times when things get hard.

Mostly though, I hope you enjoy your life.

I want you to celebrate who you are and not devote time to comparing yourself to others.  Comparison is so often a source of frustration and disappointment.  It’s what we do to ourselves that makes us feel like less.  There will always be someone smarter, someone cuter, someone wealthier.  But there will never be another you.  The only person you ever need to compare yourself to is the you from the day before.

Reflect.  Learn.  Grow.

I want you to avoid judging other people.  That’s what we do that makes others feel like less.  There are few things you can be that are more important than being kind.  “We are how we treat each other and nothing more.” (Alternate Routes)

Content matters.  It’s important that you can write well and that you can make meaning of what you read.  You have number sense, and you understand our history.  All of that matters.  But without the rest of it, without the life skills, you would not be able to become who I know you are destined to be.

I am so proud of who you are right now.  I always have been.  I always will be.  I have faith that you are college and career ready. I am grateful for all of the teachers and administrators and family members and friends who helped shape you.  But mostly this week I am just grateful for you.

This is a hard week for all of us who are sending our babies off to college…maybe harder than when we started you on this journey in kindergarten.  But it is also a celebration.  This week we measure our success!