Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

One Thing Differently...

"While we can't continue to do more things, we can do things differently." ~Unmapped Potential, by Julie Hasson and Missy Lennard, pg. 109

Ain't that the truth!

This is one point that made me go "Ooooh! I have an idea for our T-Wolves of the month!"

What? You might not know what I mean, so let me back up... First off, Julie and Missy (authors of the above quote) want teachers to uncover - and tap into - the limitless potential of their students. Secondly, this was in the chapter right after the chapter about better ways to lead a team. My brain, therefore, was on my team and a struggle we often have - coming up with "T-Wolves of the month."

We currently have six teams at my middle school (two in 6th, 7th, and 8th), and each team chooses two boys and two girls (I'm waiting for the gender stipulation to be lifted soon) to receive the designation of "T-Wolf of the month." Usually our team starts the year by making a list of students that have made an impact on their class right away, and then we go from there. Some months (March or April, anyone?!) are tougher than others, when it seems even the students who are excellent in character all year suddenly are... how should I put it... not living up to their potential. Remember - this is middle school. They have a lot of growing still to do. During our 40 minutes of team time, this decision could take up to 20 minutes - as we all see students in different situations, and (even though it's a team of ELA, math, PE/health, science, and social studies) we don't each see ALL students.

As I read the above quote, I had an "aha" moment - let's invite the students to help!

First, we'd have to explain to students what the process is that the team goes through to choose this person ("character counts" traits, consistency, etc.), and then we can let them know there is a spot for them to nominate someone - this form, ideally, would be on each of our homeroom web pages. When it comes time to choose, we can use their responses as a resource! Their ideas will be taken into consideration. We'll need to let them know that the team will look at every response, and the person they nominated may or may not be chosen that month, depending on our discussion and other student names we're bringing to the table.

You KNOW the kids see a lot of what we don't see - and I'm excited to see the more quiet students step up in this fashion. I've made the form only for students in our district (yes, it will collect their name automatically), so you cannot view it, but I took a screen shot of it here for you to see the simplicity...

Thoughts? Ideas to add? Wording to change? I thought I'd bring it to my online PLN before I share it with the team school in August, so let me know! Thanks for the spark of inspiration, Julie & Missy!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Unmapped Potential

Unmapped Potential by Julie Hasson and Missy Lennard (PurposefulPrincipals) went on my list to
read after a few quotes came at me from Twitter. This is not a review; this is simply one of my take-aways.

I think I got something out of this book that might not have been the authors' intent... I believe most of the focus (except for the stellar chapter 8 which gave GREAT information about how to lead your team) was supposed to be about the potential in our students. I learned better ways to work more effectively with colleagues that don't necessarily work the same way I do - to recognize and use my colleagues' potential. Bear with me here...

"If you want to change the world, start by making your bed." This quote, by Admiral Charles McRaven, came across my twitter feed a few days ago, and then I read it in Unmapped Potential - right on page four! The authors go on to say, "Simple steps done with consistency and conviction can create a big impact. And making a small, positive change in one area will positively impact all other areas." My thoughts went right to teacher interactions.

If you've got a pretty good rapport in class with students, in the hallways and after school, and you're anything like the readers of Shift This, the most difficult part of your day might be when you interact with other staff members. I've been getting many direct messages and emails from teachers who say that chapter ten on "Resistance" from Shift This resonated with them, because they feel they have no one they can go to during the day. They're thought of as the "crazy" teacher who has "loud" classes or tries "weird" activities, where no one is learning (grrr). And since there's only a certain amount of time during the day, these teachers that encounter this resistance decide to only focus on their students, and not on their relationships with their peers. Many of them have "given up." They'd rather put their energy into their students, because INSIDE the classroom is where they see the most collaboration and growth.

My mind was on these readers when I picked up Unmapped Potential, so I kept substituting "students" for "teachers" as I read. Next, I read, "...belief plus action helps you realize your goals." Julie and Missy went on to say that what we believe is what will happen. They shared a story about a boy who lost his eraser. He BELIEVED that another student had taken it, and he became very angry. Even though his teacher gave him another, he was still angry - at his BELIEF - not at the actual situation (which had been resolved). This story will stick with me for a long time, because I do this.

I do this. I think one thing about a person, and it stays with me. I've often that "that teacher doesn't want to change. That teacher is happy with the status quo." The authors say "Your struggle to connect with some people is likely rooted in your thoughts about them" (57). My thoughts/beliefs have driven a rut into my map about this person. It's so deep, and I don't even know if it's true. "If we focus on changing our thoughts about them, we can improve our relationships with them" (58). I realized I had to take a break from the book and come up with new beliefs. Stop reading here for a moment. Think of a person you believe "doesn't care" or "is negative" or "thinks my work is crazy." Then think of a POSITIVE belief you could honestly believe about that person. Once you've done this, please keep reading... 


If the person is a teacher, we can most likely be correct believing that "all teachers want their students to learn." Another belief - on our part - could be, "I believe this will be my best school year ever." I can see how saying this daily when you get ready for school could actually work!

We need to put up the "road closed" signs on that rutted road (belief) for now, hoping weeds will sprout through the cracks in the asphalt and that our new belief will take hold - a brand new road, clean, smooth, and ready for us to travel many times. (Did you know - this new road has stops along the way for refreshments? And most likely chocolate?)

What's next after creating a new belief? When we get agitated, frustrated, angry or worried, we need to repeat the new beliefs, and not let feelings influence our actions.

Prior to this happening, however, we need to visualize how we will respond to negativity if (when) it appears. At the end of each chapter there is a section called "Map-Changing Actions." The authors give great suggestions as to how to visualize your response (at the end of the fourth chapter).  "Close your eyes and see yourself successfully performing something challenging... (this could be a conversation with that teacher) ...Imagine the sensory details - what you see, hear and feel - as you perform the task. Envisioning your state may also be helpful. For example, seeing yourself in a calm state may decrease physical symptoms of stress when the time comes to perform it. Finally, envisioning success can enhance motivation and confidence, making you more likely to continue despite challenges."

Visualization has been used for how many years? For how many reasons? Yes. This could work. We need to make the time. (Heck, why not right now??)  When I think back on situations that might arise again at my own school, I can visualize how to keep calm and patient, and then what I might ask to get the conversation going. I'll try to ask more questions than give answers, and I'll put my focus into listening to responses.

If you've got an issue with a colleague, you've got your reasons - your purpose - for mending these issues. If it affects you negatively, you want that out of your life. You can only control so much. What you can control is your new beliefs. Spend some time shutting down those negative roads on your mind map. Spend more time setting up new beliefs to latch on to. Focus and apply your efforts on what you can control. Notice and appreciate the strengths in this person, and respond in ways that make both of you better, instead of bitter (29). If you try to avoid the challenge, "you cheat yourself out of an opportunity to grow" (50). And "...you will likely regret being angry, but you will never regret being kind" (61). "Your new way of responding to this person might just reduce the very behavior frustrating you" (64).

I can see how teachers can use the authors' messages to develop better relationships with colleagues. Looking through this lens will hopefully help those that encounter resistance throughout their day! Please share with me in the comments what beliefs you may have had and any new beliefs on which you choose to focus!