Seeking to Understand

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24th, 2017 by dkerr

So it’s been almost a month since we began the new school year, and for all of us I’m sure it’s felt exciting and incredibly busy and challenging and in many ways, super rewarding. We’ve had a great start as a team, and honestly I’m thrilled with how we’ve set ourselves up for success moving forward. For me personally however, coming to a new school in a new country, the learning curve has been steep, and the amount of information that I’ve had to process has been staggering. From trying to get my head around the culture, to figuring out all of the personal and group dynamics, to understanding the expectations of the community, and learning about the many, many strengths of our school (and areas for growth), it’s left me with a lot on my mind.

One of the things that I’ve been trying to do over the last several weeks to help sort through all of this has been to just simply listen…really, truly listen…and to seek to understand without bias or judgment. This strategy has been helpful for sure, but I have to say, it’s much harder than it sounds. True active listening is a skill that needs to be constantly worked on, and my recent transition has helped me to reconnect with the power of this intentional approach to all my interactions. I’ve caught myself on many occasions fighting the urge to interrupt, and desperate to chime in before someone has finished their thought, and I’ve noticed that I’ve been putting together my rebuttal or response without even pausing to process what someone else is trying to communicate. Active listening is tricky, and I think that we’re all guilty of listening with an intent to reply, instead of with an intent to understand (See Quote below).

In my experience, miscommunications and misunderstandings are often related to a simple lack of active and intentional listening, and I’ve certainly been guilty of this over the years…rushing to judgement without really taking the time to unpack the true intention behind someone else’s thoughts or opinions or feedback. It’s easy to take things personally and to jump to conclusions and to rush to judgement without first trying to understand another person’s point of view. I’ve been working hard on my active listening skills over the last few weeks, and I think it’s helped me in part to transition successfully.

I’m going to continue to work on this strategy in the months to come, and I want to challenge the rest of you to do the same. Watch yourself this week in meetings and in conversations and take note of how well you are really listening to another person. Are you interrupting, are you pausing to reflect, are you asking clarifying questions, are you seeking to understand? If not, then try to do better moving forward…I think this is something that all of us can get better at, and if we do, we’ll find that ultimately we’ll be communicating more effectively, and with more positive outcomes…let’s really listen to each other this year, and approach every interaction with an intent to understand. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply

– Stephen R. Covey

 

Related Articles – 

Hear What People are Really Saying

Listening to Understand

Tips for Effective Listening

Become a Better Listener

Listen Well – An Active Exercise

 

Interesting TED Talks –

Julian Treasure

Stanley McChrystal

 

Funny Clips (Listening) –

Everybody Loves Raymond

The Big Bang Theory

The Office

Feeling Grateful

Posted in Uncategorized on September 17th, 2017 by dkerr

So over the summer I read a wonderful book titled, The Gratitude Diaries, by Janice Kaplan, and it was a much needed reminder for me to always look on the bright side, and to positively reframe the experiences, challenges, and opportunities that I have in my day to day life. More than anything though, it has helped me to refocus my approach to each new day, and to see the world through a lens of gratitude, particularly as I enter into a new chapter here at ASP…so much to be grateful for indeed. It also reminded me of a blog post that I shared a couple of years ago, that I have re-worked here for you today, in hopes that you might find your own gratitude lens as we settle into a new school year. Here is a non-exhaustive list of what I am grateful for as I walk through the Lower School doors at the American School of Paris each and every day…I hope some of these resonate with you, and please know that at the top of this list is the gratefulness that I feel to be working with all of you this year…here we go.

The Noise – Have you ever taken a few minutes throughout the day to just stop and listen to the white noise of a school? If you haven’t then do it on Monday morning…it might just be the most beautiful sound you’ll ever hear. It’s a constant hum of laughing and learning and failure and success, and teaching and determination and love. One of the best parts of my day is to walk down a hallway and to listen from outside the door to the sounds of kids engaged…or to stand off in the corner of the playground during recess time and listen to the shouts and squeals of happiness, as kids play and make new friends and learn how to fit in…it is definitely music to my ears, and without a doubt, the soundtrack to a beautiful day.

A Child’s Beauty – Children are the best teachers that any of us could possibly have, and the most beautiful creatures that exist in our world. It is next to impossible for someone to spend a day with a child and not come away inspired and changed for the better. If you really listen to what children say, and if you take the time to watch them interact with the world, your heart will fill with joy and your smile will stretch across your face. The way they notice the little things in life that we often take for granted, the way that they are constantly curious, the utter joy that spills from their bodies when they learn something new and find a little success, and their imagination, creativity, and willingness to fail and to try, try, try again…wow…there is nothing in our world like the beauty of a child.

Committed Educators – Teaching is the most noble, honorable and important profession that we have in society, and quality teachers are as close to true and living superheroes that we have in our world. Committed educators are change agents…they are sculptors…they are artists…they are mentors…they are role models, and they are oftentimes under appreciated. No professional works harder than a committed educator in my opinion, with the sole focus and responsibility of moulding their students into leaders for our world, and into empathetic, compassionate, critical thinking, and creative members of our communities. Quality teachers are truly amazing and deserve to be lauded for their tremendous efforts and contributions to the future of our planet.

The Opportunity – The opportunity that we have as educators is incredible, and the responsibility is immense. The opportunity to re-imagine education and to break free from traditional schooling is in our collective hands, and there is no more exciting time to be an educator than right now. We have the ability to transform how we teach our kids, and how we design and redesign learning spaces, and how we write and deliver curriculum, and how we prepare our students for a rapidly changing world…awesome! We have the opportunity to be courageous and innovative and transformational…let’s seize it!

The Struggle – Watching kids learn, and grow, and fail, and develop is a beautiful struggle, and one that I will never get tired of being a part of. Growing up is hard, and trying to find your way in this world is difficult at the best of times. I love this struggle, and I love each child’s journey into becoming who they will eventually become for our world. They all burn so bright, and their joy and pain is so open and honest and so on display. The struggle is incredible to watch, and it brings you back to that time in your life that shaped who you are. It’ll make you laugh and cry and get frustrated, and it will make you proud…but most importantly it will make you feel, and become a part of something truly special, which is each child’s journey into finding themselves, and their purpose…this struggle is at the core of what is beautiful about education.

The Constant Learning – Each and every day I learn (and re-learn) something new. Being in classrooms and interacting with students and teachers is a constant learning process that makes me a better person. I learn from my mistakes, I learn from the mistakes of others, and I learn about people and how to best support and challenge them. I learn about current educational trends and research, I learn about what’s being successful in other quality schools, I learn from our outstanding ASP leadership team, and like I said before, I learn from the best teachers that we have…our kids. They teach me everyday about the importance of being my best self for others, and to be humble and honest and a good listener. It’s staggering how much you can learn in the run of a school day if you just open yourself up to it.

The Unexpected – An educator’s day never goes as planned and I love it. The thing about school is that you never know from one second to the next what will come your way, and this uncertainty makes me love my job. There’s always an unexpected mini crisis or a student celebration or an issue with a parent or a teacher or a kid, and it keeps us on our toes in the best possible way. From one hour to the next you can be floored by a student accomplishment, you can be bewildered by a decision that a student or adult has made, you can have a belly laugh from something that a kid says to you, and you can be thrown into a situation that will break your heart…and it’s all good. An individual school day is just like a student…ever-changing, unpredictable, surprising, and always beautiful!

The Joy – If you’re like me then coming to ASP everyday brings you tremendous joy…how could it not? We get to hang out with our kids all day long, we get to spend time with our colleagues who are also our friends, we get to learn and feel and become better human beings because of our daily interactions with our students and each other, and we get to shape the future of our little (and not so little) kids. What other profession can offer such a joyful and purposeful existence? Just when you start to feel stressed or frustrated or overworked, you turn the corner and run into a beautiful little kid, with a huge smile on their face, and so much joy in their heart, and they run up to you and they give you a big hug and you just melt as their energy reminds you why you love school so much. I’m so grateful for what children bring to my life!

So there you have it…I’m sure I could go on and on but that’s a decent start I think. Moving forward, and as we inch closer to our Open House on Thursday, I want to challenge you to embrace everything in your life that you should be grateful for, and to let it spill out of you for all to appreciate…I’ll do the same. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be grateful for our lives and our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it –

William Arthur Ward

 

Related Websites – 

http://gratefulness.org/

https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-ted-talks-videos/

https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/what_we_do/major_initiatives/expanding_gratitude

 


Inspiring Videos –

What Actually Feeds a Family

Students Discover the Power of Gratitude

Kid President – 25 Reasons to Feel Thankful

A Reminder to Care

Nature.Beauty.Gratitude

Tell Me a Story

Posted in Uncategorized on September 10th, 2017 by dkerr

So I spent some time last week pushing into a few classrooms to tell stories to our kids, and it was easily the best part of my week. I love telling stories and I love listening to stories (who doesn’t), and I’ve come to believe that engaging students through storytelling can be a powerful strategy that all educators should have in their toolbox. Since I began my teaching career all those years ago, telling stories has always been my favorite thing to do, and in my opinion it’s one of the best ways to get learning to “stick”. Think about your own experience with stories, whether it’s with a great book or movie, or even with a simple anecdote from a friend, storytelling engages not only our minds but our emotions as well, and that’s where learning really takes hold.

 

The great thing about telling stories is that they always find a way to access a personal connection or experience with the listener, which ultimately makes it partly their own. How may times have you read or told a story to someone and the immediate response is, “that reminds me of when”, or “I can relate to that”. I’ve been reading a lot about the science behind storytelling lately, and the research around how our brains become more active when we tell and listen to stories is really interesting. I think that we have an opportunity as educators to tap into the power of storytelling with our students even more than we already do, to better engage them in their learning. I know that teachers are already natural storytellers but I think we can be more purposeful in how we deliver our curriculum, and how we approach our lesson and unit planning with this in mind.

 

Stories I think, can truly help reshape knowledge into something personal and meaningful, and ultimately, stories can make kids really care about what they are learning and motivate them into doing. There’s a great example out there by Hans Rosling, of how information can be brought to life when it’s presented in the context of a story. Take a look. Anyway, I guess my challenge to you this week is to see if you can find more ways to engage our kids through storytelling. I also want to thank you in advance for allowing me to take a few minutes of your time to tell a story or two to our kids…it’s a great way to help them get to know me, and a great way to model this idea for them early on in the year.

 

If we take this idea even further, I want to empower you all to tell your own story with your students, and to find ways to get them to tell theirs. The story of who you are and where you’re going as a person and educator, and the story of your classroom and the journey that you’ll be on together this year. Like us, kids have incredible storytelling tools at their disposal these days, and so many opportunities to tell their learning story through digital tools. What a way to use technology as well to enhance student learning, and what a way to bring their learning and imagination to life.Telling our story as a division and as a school is also something that is very much on our radar, and together we can make our Lower School come alive even more than it already is…let’s start with our kids and watch our collective story unfold from there. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

The world is not made of atoms. It is made of stories – Muriel Ruykeser

 

Related Articles –

http://www.teachhub.com/storytelling-classroom-teaching-strategy
https://www.edutopia.org/blog/storytelling-in-the-classroom-matters-matthew-friday

https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/enhancement/starter-tools/learning-through-storytelling

http://www.consider-ed.org.uk/the-importance-of-storytelling/

https://teach.com/great-educational-resources-the-power-of-storytelling/

 

TED Talk – Andrew Stanton (Excuse the language at the beginning) –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxDwieKpawg

 

TED Talk – David JP Phillips –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj-hdQMa3uA

 

A Whiteboard History of Storytelling –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6E8jpFasR0

 

Visual Storytelling on the Web –

https://www.dtelepathy.com/blog/inspiration/30-compelling-examples-of-visual-storytelling-on-the-web

First Things First

Posted in Uncategorized on September 3rd, 2017 by dkerr

So we made it through the first three days of school, and what a first week it was! For me, there’s nothing more exciting and heart warming than watching our kids spill off of the buses on the first few days of school. They are excited, and nervous, and full of hopes and dreams for the upcoming year ahead. They are wondering what their teachers will be like and who their friends will be, and they are all desperately hoping that their experience will be everything that they are silently wishing for…If you’re like me, you can’t help but to love this time of the year.

 

Inevitably, the first few days of school always get me thinking about my own grade school experience, and all of those special memories that I still cling to all these years later. Funny enough, the memories that continuously pop up for me have very little to do with what I learned in any particular grade, but rather with the people that I met and the relationships that I developed over the years, which ultimately impacted me in very profound ways as I grew into an adult.

 

It’s no coincidence that my favorite years as an elementary school student were directly related to the relationship that I had with my teachers that year, and the effort that they made to get to know me as a young person. The years that I had those “relationship first” kind of teachers are the years that have stood the test of time for me, and funny enough, when I think back, also the years where I just happened to learn the most. It’s funny how when you feel safe as a child, and trusted, and loved, and appreciated, you actually end up tying harder and taking risks and opening yourself up to learning…In my opinion, there is nothing more important than the student-teacher relationship to inspire learning, and to get kids literally sprinting off those buses to get to class in the morning.

 

So, with all that said, I bet that if you think about the teachers that made the biggest impact in your own lives, it will be the ones who were at the time like second mothers and fathers to you…the ones who knew what you loved and how you best learned, and the ones who knew your strengths and your areas of growth that they helped you to identify and to work on…the ones who loved you and the ones who you loved back. The longer I remain in education, the more convinced I am that it’s the relationships that drive everything positive around student learning. If we can get these relationships right, then we can truly inspire our kids to exceed expectations, and to truly maximize their potential. I’m asking you all to take the time over the first couple of weeks of school to put relationships first. Get to know your kids, get them to know each other, and let them into your lives as well…I guarantee that it will pay tremendous dividends as the year moves forward. The curriculum is important I know, and we’re all excited to dive into that, but first things first…the relationships with your kids is your biggest priority.

 

So when thinking about the opportunity that we all have this year, to develop the kind of strong and lasting relationships with our kids that will be remembered for a lifetime, think about these lines from a beautiful James Russell Lowell poem…think about these when considering how you’ll spend the first few weeks of school with your kids and with your colleagues…giving a little bit of yourself positively impacts everyone around you, and it boosts your own spirits too!

 

It’s not what we give, but what we share-

For the gift without the giver is bare;

Who gives himself with his alms feeds three

Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.

 

Have a fantastic first full week of school everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 

Quote of the week…

Who the teacher is, is more important than what they teach 

– Karl A. Menninger

 

Related Articles – 

https://www.pridesurveys.com/index.php/blog/4-beneficial-effects-of-student-teacher-relationships/

http://www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au/crash-course-evidence-based-teaching/teacher-student-relationships/

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/importance-teaching-through-relationships-stacey-goodman

http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/105124/chapters/Developing_Positive_Teacher-Student_Relations.aspx

https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/blog-posts/genia-connell/10-ways-build-relationships-students-year-1/

 
Inspiring Videos –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=19&v=TXFCCWzlCkU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=50&v=tZ7Y1-0bNeQ
http://www.upworthy.com/this-teachers-thank-you-letter-to-her-students-went-viral-because-we-all-needed-it

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wM_smbQAYv4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZOy6w6UsMY