Interviewing the 2018 Scholarship Awardees: William

By Cynthia Boyadjian

This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.

William Rand has a great passion for physical, emotional and mental health and felt concerned about the current student wellness climate at his high school. After hearing interest from fellow students and teachers, as well as having past experience with wellness groups in his community, he was inspired to create OHBreathe at Ottawa Hills High School. The goal with this organization is to promote student wellness, and in doing so, he earned one of the $10,000 2018 HGU Build A Better Future scholarships.

OHBreathe has been fortunate enough to receive support from the school community as a whole. While the program this year performed with great success under a small budget, the dream is to expand the reach as well as the resources. The local school foundation has already pledged to support ventures to bring in wellness speakers high in their fields and to do so, William will be writing a grant later this year to ask for specific funds to be set aside for this purpose. OH21, an organization that promotes family wellness in his community gave their support to OHBreathe this year by purchasing t-shirts for the entire school and are already on board to make to the same donation for next year. OHSPAA, the school’s parent association, has also pledged to provide additional support TBD. However, William’s personal goal is to gain their support of the wellness day by helping to bring in local youth empowerment specialist Jon Schoonmaker to do a fully immersive wellness experience with all of the students at the school.

William’s biggest hope is that this will be less of an institutional program and more of a culture shift over time. He also hopes that they will reach enough people to be able to implement OHBreathe into more schools in the community. The community support thus far has been overwhelming. It has become clear to William that his community craves more immersive, in-depth experiences which has inspired him to gather all possible resources.

Through OHBreathe, William organized student-teacher workshops such as yoga, meditation, cooking, team building exercises, hiking, knitting, and gardening. William has sensed an overall positive impact on the participants and on the school as a whole. He hopes to gain a larger physical presence by placing posters and artifacts from each session around the school in hopes of having more meaningful symbols to remind students what it means to live in wellness every day.

William has developed several new skills over this process, including organizational skills, budgeting skills (within major financial constraints), and communication skills. He also learned to gain the attention of an entire auditorium by playing the emcee for OHBreathe assemblies. Most importantly, he learned how to remain calm and collected under the pressure of organizing hundreds of people. William uses music and meditation to release any trapped emotions, which helped him function when problems arose on the days of OHBreathe sessions. For William, as personal as the entire project became, he discovered that he can maintain a healthy internal separation from the drama of project management and learned to be okay regardless of the success or failure of the initiative.

Now that William has graduated from Ottawa Hills High School, he is confident that with the students taking over for next year, OHBreathe will continue to grow and inspire students along the way. He will be attending St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota in the fall. The college has a wide selection of student run organizations and William is excited to see what is available. He hopes to implement something similar to OHBreathe to promote wellness, culture and a sense of community.

Inquiry Into Being A Scientist

This is part of a series of provocations on learner identities. Discussing what it means to be a scientist certainly lends itself more to inquiry, but it’s still a valuable step to purposefully take. After all, as long as we insist on rigid science fairs, some students may feel that they only qualify as scientists if the Scientific Method is in play (complete with a tri-fold board).

Use the following resources to provoke thinking and discussion on what it really means to be a scientist!

Resource #1: Why I Study Physics by Shixie

Resource #2: Insight: From Migrant Farming to Mars via The Kid Should See This

Resource #3: Patterns in Nature by National  Geographic

Resource #4: Photography by Sebastião Salgado

This photo series is awe-inspiring. Compilation via Ted-Ed.

Resource #5: Tiny Perfect Things by M. H. Clark

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a scientist?
  • What is the impact of seeing ourselves as scientists? (on ourselves, on our world?)
  • What is our responsibility to be scientists?
  • How does being a scientist relate to citizenship?
  • What is the connection between exploration and being a scientist?
  • What skills do scientists use?
  • What tools do scientists use?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Creating Flexible Yet Significant Parent Volunteer Opportunities

Here’s the catch 22 of parent volunteers: you want them in your classroom, so you provide meaningful opportunities. They want to volunteer, but with other children, sicknesses, and other commitments, they don’t necessarily show up as planned. So teachers make their volunteer opportunities a bit less consequential — or even give up on providing opportunities altogether — so that no-shows won’t cause too much trouble.  And then when parents do come, they feel disappointed at the lackluster opportunity.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are some suggestions:

1) First, stick with meaningful opportunities. Keep those one-on-one reading slots, small group math work, and science stations. Focus instead on finding a system featuring built-in reminders for parents — with everything else going on, most teachers really don’t have time to send reminders, let alone coordinate cancellations! Keep reading to find an option that might work for you!

2) Rely on room parents. If you have a room parent, leave it up to him or her to coordinate opportunities with volunteers. This might include sending text reminders to parents who have signed up or helping to arrange subs.

3) Leverage Google appointments. Google appointments only work with school or business accounts, and they are wonderfully simple to use! You can add a single slot, or multiple slots with the duration you’ve set. You can also add a description so parents know exactly what they are signing up for! Then, simply give parents the link to your school’s “calendar appointment page” (which will be built in with your school account), and let them sign up. There are even instructions for cancellation. Full details here.

Bonus: use a URL shortener to get a short-link for your calendar appointment page and print it out on a handout to go home to reach parents that don’t check email. Do this throughout the year to remind them of opportunities you’ve added!

4) Use the Remind app. Send texts to all your students’ parents to let them know about volunteer opportunities, whatever your platform.

5) Pick a volunteer sign-up platform. I’ve seen SignUp.com and VolunteerSignUp.org. I’m especially impressed with the simplicity of VolunteerSignUp.org — it is very quick to add opportunities, and it automatically generates an email and a shortened URL to share with parents on social media or on flyers.

6) Work with your working parents. A post in Edutopia gave some great ideas here, including:

  • Scheduling reading circles and volunteer shifts at the start of the day so that parents can help before work
  • Using telecommunication platforms like Skype or Google Hangouts so that parents can read to the class or help with pre-scheduled assignments without being physically present in the classroom
  • Inviting parents to update the class website and social media
  • Preparing learning center materials from home
  • Helping in the school garden on the weekends

7) Solicit for special skills. Perhaps you have a graphics-savvy parent that might be willing to help with logos and posters. Maybe some even have connections with community members that might enhance your students’ unit of study.

8) Focus on cultivating genuine relationships with families. This goes beyond just sending an email when we need volunteers or when a child is struggling with behavior. As eloquently summarized by Larry Ferlazzo on ASCD:

“A school striving for family involvement often leads with its mouth—identifying projects, needs, and goals and then telling parents how they can contribute. A school striving for parent engagement, on the other hand, tends to lead with its ears—listening to what parents think, dream, and worry about. The goal of family engagement is not to serve clients but to gain partners.”

The above article describes possibilities like home visits and doing more listening than talking. I also wrote a few months ago about 10 ways we can partner with parents.

Above all else, we need to remember that we exist to support families, not the other way around. Volunteer work and all other aspects of the home-school relationship will be enhanced when we bear this in mind.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

I Was Right To Fear Lack of Routine #TeacherMom

When I became a stay-at-home mom 4 years ago, it was the first time I didn’t have bells telling me where to be for the first time since I was 5. And I was terrified.

How was I supposed to structure my time wisely without anyone checking off my attendance?

How was I supposed to feel productive without someone to report my work to?

How was I supposed to find routines that worked my (then) 2 very small students as well as myself?

I can now say with confidence that I was right to have all these fears. They are exactly what makes being an at-home parent so difficult. They are some of the things I miss about being in the classroom even now.

But having navigated them for the last 4 years, I can say that I am grateful to have experienced them. They give me more insight on why it’s so important to honor student agency and teach them to be masters of their own time and learning before they leave the structure of the bells.

They have also given me a lens to how messy real life is — and to accept and even celebrate it. Reality is…

….some days, we feel like we’re on our A-game, and other days, we just don’t.

…some days, we feel inspired and energized, and other days, we have trouble even remembering that we were once capable of energy.

…some days, the very small students in our lives are agreeable and engaged, and other days, they are cranky and irrational (this one tends to change by the hour or even minute at times).

All of this is not only ok, it’s what makes life rich.

I continue to take my current role as an at-home parent one day at a time. I still look forward to classroom teaching again in a few years. But I now know that each day of this messy, bell-less life is a blessing for me now, and will be for years to come.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into Being a Mathematician

This is the 3rd installment of learning identities provocations (completed: Inquiry into being a Writer, Reader).

Inquiring into what it means to be a mathematician is near and dear to my heart because I certainly never identified as such during my school years. So many of us are/were of this mindset: convinced that mathematicians are those people, with little to do with us.

But the truth is we can all start telling  ourselves a much more inclusive story. Being bad at recalling math facts does not exclude one from being a mathematician; nor does being a pro at reciting math facts automatically create a mathematician. Rather, we must all reframe our thinking, identifying our own very real, practicable, and even creative mathematical applications, that do, in fact, make us mathematicians.

Resource #1: Beauty of Mathematics by Parachutes

Resource #2: Tweet by Aviva Dunsinger

Resource #3: Which One Doesn’t Belong? collaborative website by Mary Bourassa

Resource #4: Infinity & Me by Kate Hosford & Gabi Swiatkowska

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a mathematician?
  • How does doing math compare to being a mathematician?
  • What is the connection between creativity and being a mathematician?
  • How can we build our sense of ourselves as mathematicians?
  • What is our responsibility to be a mathematician?
  • What impact does mathematics have on our lives? On our communities?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On A Sustainable School Year: An Open Letter to Parents I Wish I’d Sent

Dear Parents,

The year is still shiny and new. We’re feeling refreshed after the summer break, and ready to tackle a new year. In your renewal, you may be feeling tempted to sign up for all the programs and pack all the cute lunches and be all the things.

As teachers, we get it. We feel determined to apply for all the grants and find all the flexible seating and be all the buzz words.

And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do our best for those kids, especially when we feel like we have energy to spare.

But the truth for us all is, as any long distance runner will tell you, starting off at a sprint is just not sustainable. The crash will come, and if you’ve poured in all the energy at the beginning of the year, the crash will be swift and complete.

My personal favorite illustration of this burn-out effect was Jen Hatmaker’s hilarious blog post a few years back:

“[husband] Brandon: “You don’t have to do all that, you know. Just blow it off.”

Me, staring blankly:

“Well, what a lovely thought you’re having there in your brain. How nice for you to be thinking that thought. I want to live in your imaginary world where my failure to do the School Stuff doesn’t mean our kid is the only one not wearing a purple shirt or didn’t have his pictures in the slideshow or didn’t bring in a handmade card for his teacher like every other student. I’ll just ‘blow it off’ and our kids can work it out with their therapists later.”

If we start out feeling like we have to do it all, and do it all perfectly, I will be astonished if any of us make it to the New Year.

This year, let’s set a more sustainable pace from the start. The same blogger posted last Christmas about “Big Day Sabotage,” with suggestions on how to return to a calmer, healthier holiday season, like lowering stimulation, avoiding over-scheduling, casting a simple, manageable vision, and talking about big feelings. These tips absolutely apply to sustainability here as well. Here are a few more to consider:

Be mindful of pace, for your child, for yourself, and for your family. Talk with your students about how they are feeling, talk to them about how you are feeling, and share those feelings with me. While I can’t be all things to all people, I am happy to accommodate your needs the best I can.

Don’t be afraid to opt out. It’s not laziness to opt out of a program or event that doesn’t work for your child or your family. Read about the time I opted out of what I’m sure was a lovely home reading program here.

Work more on your culture of agency than on perfecting details. Instead of trying “keep up” with the level of involvement you might perceive from other kids and their families, focus your energy on letting your child take the reins. If it’s important to her to look like an amazing Amelia Earhart for the wax museum, don’t make it the default for you to do all the work — teach skills like sewing, planning shopping lists, or calling the school office to check for available butcher paper or old cardboard boxes. And be ok with what will inevitably be a messy rendition. (other ideas for a culture of agency at home here).

Stay in touch regarding your needs! I remember when a parent told me that her child had been spending hours on math homework each night. By the time she talked to me, they had clearly been maxed out for some time, and my heart sank — new teacher that I was, it never occurred to me that any of my students would be pouring in that much time on the work I had assigned. I was happy to have the chance to set it straight then, and I learned for the future that I need to consult parents much more thoroughly regarding homework moving forward.

Meanwhile, I will work toward greater sustainability as well by seeking out student voice, putting learning in students hands, and managing self-care.

Let’s work together, not just to “make it,” but to approach learning at a pace and tone that will be sustainable this year, and for many joyful years to come.

Thanks,

Mary Wade

Inquiry Into Being a Reader

In between larger series of my PYP essential elements provocations and soon-to-begin SDGs provocations, I’m doing a short series on learner identities. Last week was an inquiry into what it means to be a writer. This week is on what it means to be a reader!

Resource #1:  Reading Interest Inventories

There’s an abundance of reading interest inventories, but they all share the same goal: to help students learn and ponder more about themselves as readers. A definite must for this provocation! Explore a few below:

Resource #2: KidLit Childrens’ Books by Caroline Burgess animation

Resource #3: Night Reading by Brian Rea

Resource #4: Authors talking about themselves as readers (from my post, 18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors/Illustrators)

Resource #5: Picture Books

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a reader?
  • How does being a reader compare with the act of reading?
  • What is our responsibility to read? (for ourselves? for the world?)
  • How does reading shape our communities?
  • What are the different ways we read?
  • What are the perspectives on reading? Why are there different perspectives on reading?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto