What is your walk-up song? You know the one, the one you hear on the radio and immediately turn it up and begin to belt out even off tune a little bit? The one that you begin dancing , or swaying to, when you hear it . . . ever? My walk-up song is Don't Stop Believing, by Journey. I always thought it was because it came out my 9th grade year in high school and it just stuck with me. However, when I look deep into the lyrics, I realize that it was a song putting me on the path to where I am today.
The first line says a lot! "Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world." I was a small town girl. I grew up in Twentynine Palms, California, a town of 5,000 people when you exclude the marine base population. We had a graduating class of about 100 students. Because we lived in a military town, students rotated through our high school each year; in with the newcomers, out with those that were transferring on so to speak. We were a close nit bunch, saying goodbye to some and welcoming the newbies. We clung to each other knowing that we were all we had. "Just a small town girl." Small town girl I relate to!
"Livin' in a lonely world." This was not me, but it is a place where my students live on a daily basis. My students come from dark places, lonely places, dirty places; places I can only imagine. I was not so surprisingly reminded of this just today when a student was in an escalated state, crying and yelling, "You don't know how it feels not to see your brother or sisters. I've been in three foster homes in that last year! They shipped my sister out to another state to residential treatment. And my older brother and sister, I haven't talked to in over a year. OCS (the Office of Children's Services) has let me down over and over again and they want to send me out of state; I'm not crazy! I'm just going to do what I can to get out of this place." He didn't mean this in a good sense. He meant destroying every opportunity put in front of him. It broke my heart. He's been stripped of all that he knows, his dad who's health is failing, him mom who is an addict, and his nine brothers and sisters some adults, and some younger ones all in different foster homes. But I keep trying to open up his world from being lonely to know that we care for him now, and we will care for him always; this is how I want all my students to feel!
The line, "Streetlights, people, livin' just to find emotion, hidin' somewhere in the night," says a lot about where I am day to day at Whaley School. Our students are trying to find emotions at our school. Some are escalated on a regular basis, some are escalated once in a while, and some are just trying to find their way, whether it's cutting, stating they want to harm themselves, or trying to escape from life itself using drugs or alcohol. That same student I spoke about told me that the reason that he smokes weed and drinks is because he is trying to escape the real that is his life. I encourage him everyday to come to school so that we can get help for him; we have a therapeutic counselor here on site. I told him here he can get the care and love he needs while he's working on himself to become strong and fight for what he needs and wants. He wants his family back together, he wants 'normal' again; he's broken into a million pieces right now and I am just white space speaking at this point. Emotions, mostly negative, are seen everyday here at Whaley. Our staff tries to help our students to regulate their emotions in many ways. We have a calming room, a sensory room, enough staff to take a student for a walk, counting down, changing the scenery all together, and much, much, more. We are equipped to help. However, I've found that some students are not ready for that help, they'd rather be "hidin' somewhere in the night."
The Movie Never Ends
Each day we come to work we could sing, "Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues; oh the movie never ends it goes on and on, and on, and on." At Whaley, students who feel they will win are those that are getting their behaviors under control. But for me, the winners are every student in the building because they come to a caring and nurturing staff each day. Students have staff who help them to regulate behavior, make good decisions, and staff who just listen to them when they are in need of a ear that listens and understands.
Students who feel that they will lose are those still having major behaviors, not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and/or not adapting to change. These are the students stuck in the movie that never ends. Or so they think. Actually, these are our students that may take a little longer to realize the caring staff that is there for them, or the behaviors that need to be changed are still interfering with their academic, social, and emotional learning.
Sometimes, staff, on the other hand, also feel like they are stuck in a "movie that never ends it goes on and on, and on and on." This is due to our groundhog day effect. We work hard with our students every day to see little successes at times, little bits of progress, then send them home to sometimes unravel that success. But, we pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and start all over again the next day. We make sure that we are giving all students what they need each day using the Maslow before Bloom theory. Our students are not going to show any signs of success or progression (or little) unless we give them all of their basic needs when they enter our building. It's a hard job each day, but we come back strong!
Don't Stop Believin'
I think that this is the best part of the song AND the best part of my job. I never stop believing in my students. . . ever. No matter the behavior, I'll continue to work with students to find the best way to manage that behavior. In most all cases the behavior we see is the result of environmental or chemical reaction before, during or after the student was born. Kids do well if they can, right? We must always continue to believe, encourage, motivate and inspire our students each and every day toward progress and success; they deserve it! Don't Stop Believin' in your students- it's why we're here folks. . . and it's my walk-up song!
I've recently been reflecting on my years as an administrator at Whaley School. I've been at Whaley for 8 years; no other administrator can say they've stayed at this school as long as I have, and I am proud to say that I have accomplished such a great feat!
Whaley School is a separate day school for students that exhibit profound behaviors. Whaley is deemed their LRE, or Least Restrictive Environment for a period of time (it varies) in order for students to gain the tools and strategies necessary for them to successfully enter back into their neighborhood school.
When I first entered as administrator at Whaley School, the walls were all stark white, and with the metal detector located at the entrance of the building, it looked more like an institution than a school. Some staff were set in the ways in which they worked with our population of students, and "this is how we've always done it" seemed to be a regular phrase.
The particular year I began, our district had recently switched from MANDT to NCI as a system for de-escalation techniques. Our staff was very new to this system and would frequently ask if they could just revert back to what they knew; it was easier. I instituted regular practice on a quarterly basis so that our staff was apprised of the techniques and they could become second nature. While NCI only requires you to have a refresher every year, I wanted our staff to know the techniques thoroughly, so every quarter they "refreshed". I took it even one step further by becoming a trainer myself. How can I call myself an instructional leader to all when I am not knowledgeable in an area we are required to use daily?
A hallway situated in the middle of the school was used to help de-escalate students when they would leave class; it was originally called the Practice Hall. This hall was meant to be used to "Practice the correct behavior" in order to return to class. Intervention coaches ran the hallway and would help students to figure out what happened in class and what they needed to do to successfully reenter their classroom without reoccurring behaviors (side note: an intervention coach at Whaley is a beefed-up security person specializing in de-escalation techniques). Sometimes, the students would stay an "extra-long" amount of time to stay out of class, to play cards, and more.
FAST FORWARD TO TODAY
While we still have our metal detector up front, we also have our mission posted directly next to it for all to see and know. Our walls and ceilings have been splattered with positive sayings and color; Whaley looks like a school. It not only looks like a school; it feels warm and inviting to come into each day. Music plays as the students arrive and I stand up front to greet each and every student and staff as they walk in the door.
We've developed a unique database system that houses data surrounding engagement, goals and objectives, behavior data, intervention data, and check-in/check-out data. This data systems helps our staff understand the how, when, why, what and who of a student. . . on paper. But the real understanding comes from the relationships we build at Whaley!
Each year I ask teachers to start their first week or two building relationships with their students and creating activities that allow our students to build relationships with one another. Of course, staff go over what the expectations are within the classroom and the school, however, building rapport with students from the get-go is most important aspect of the beginning of school. Staff carry this same idea when students arrive back from Winter break; two weeks is a long time and a lot can happen in that time frame, so we work on those relationship skills once again-and always.
It's here where I need to tell you why relationship building at Whaley School is so important (I know, it's important at every school). But at Whaley, our students are 100% at risk. Well over 70% of our students are in foster care, another 20% of our students are being raised by relatives other than their biological mother and father, and all of our students are very vulnerable in many different ways. Our students come in with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) at very high numbers. Caring relationships at school are important to our students and to our families because it's truly what our students need before any learning can take place. In some cases, breakfast and lunch at Whaley are the only meals a student will have each day. Adult students continue to come to school, not only to earn necessary credits for graduation, but to eat. Staff have become the second family for our students as they can count on us every day and in some cases at night, as well. Our staff have been known to create dinners for students, knowing they have siblings at home that need meals, too.
We started our PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) implementation almost five years ago. At first, buy in was tough; giving kids PACK cash for doing what they should already be doing? I'd respond- Don't we get paid for our jobs? We slowly gained momentum with staff, and in fact, staff members are our biggest contributors to our school store! PBIS brought structure to our hallways, lunchroom, entryway, bathrooms, and classrooms. Students knew what they were expected to do in all of these areas now and a routine was in place.
SEL (Social Emotional Learning) in our school has grown exponentially. Staff infuse SEL in their lessons each day creating community and connection. Teams work together at the Elementary, Middle, High School and Life Skills levels to talk about what works for kids in their classrooms so that others can benefit from the same successes across all school settings.
About that hallway where students went down to talk about what happened in class and how to get back to class successfully? It still exists. However, now we call it a crisis recovery room. When students are upset or angry, they are essentially in crisis, they need more, they need us to listen. They also need to help us figure out (with their help) what went wrong and what we can do together to help solve these problems so they are successful more often. We did take it a step further; we created a sensory room for our students. When they feel anxious or on edge, students are able to access this room in order to meet their needs for sensory integration in order to de-escalate, or better yet, avoid escalation altogether.
We continue to look for ways to support our students. We seek out new and innovative ways to offer purposeful professional development and continued intentional training so that we meet every student's need, every day!
It's been an amazing transformation and has taken some time for Whaley to look and feel as it does today. In fact, two weeks ago, a retired teacher from Whaley School came in to substitute teach. At the end of the day he made it a point to come into my office and say, "I just wanted to tell you that you have a really great routine here; everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing, and it really works for kids."
On Thursday, Whaley was about to embark on our third annual Gala and Silent Auction. This event was designed to not only raise money for our school store and activities our students attend, but it was designed to raise awareness about what we do, the extensive training we've acquired, and our amazing staff and students that walk through our halls each day.
Sure, every school can say this about their own school, staff and students, but let me give you a little background information about Whaley School.
Whaley school is a separate day school for students with profound behaviors seeking strategies and supports in order to transition back to their neighborhood school; it's in our mission statement. Whaley School’s mission is to align with the academic curriculum of the Anchorage School District while advancing the social-emotional development of students within an intensive and supportive learning environment. Whaley staff is committed to provide positive behavioral interventions and support to guide students successfully in transitioning back to their neighborhood school and into the Anchorage Community.
Back to the Gala Day. While everyone was running around getting last minute items completed for our Gala, I was on the phone with a student. This adult student left school early saying that she was tired, and signed herself out. However, right after school, she called me hysterical. She was sobbing and telling me that she didn't want to live. She kept telling me how she missed her mother (who had passed away a little over a year ago) and she wanted to be with her. This student had also just recently lost two of her cousins to suicide. She was depressed. She began saying that she was going to run out in traffic and get hit. I asked her to find a place to sit so that she could calm down and talk to me; she hung up. I immediately called our school resource officers (SRO's) and let them know where the student was, based on the information I knew from the beginning of the phone call. They headed out to what they thought was her location. While on the phone with the SRO's my student called back. This time sobbing so hard that I could barely understand her--I left her on speaker phone so that the SRO could hear her and so they could try to ping her phone.
She continued to tell me how much she wanted to be with her mom and stepping out into traffic would help her to do that; you could hear the cars passing by her as she walked near the street. I continued to ask her where she was and if she could possibly sit down to relax and better talk to me. She gave me a pretty vague idea of where she was, and the SRO's headed to that location.
Luckily, the SRO's found her and picked her up and took her to the hospital. Their recommendation was a 72 hour watch due to her mental state. I thanked the SRO's and got back to the Gala event a little deflated, but I knew she was in good hands.
After the Gala, I received another phone call from my student stating that she was leaving the hospital. I asked her why she was leaving, she knew she needed the help. She basically stated that she was going to continue her out of control behavior, I gave my rebuttal and she knew the consequences of her actions and she knew the right decisions—after all, I was talking to an adult student, but she chose to hang up the phone.
This affected me emotionally and I was unable to pick up the phone anymore that night when she called. I considered blocking the calls, but I wasn't about to do that. . . she needed me and I wasn't about to allow the selfish thoughts to make me feel better affect what I do naturally each day. . . CARE. Finally, she emailed me the next day stating that she did not go out of control and did not do all the things she told me she was going to do, instead she cried and slept. I let her know that was wonderful and an important step for her and that we'd talk more extensively on Monday.
This was just one kid. . .one. . . kid. . . , one of 100 in ourschool that come to school with such emotional trauma! I reflect on the calls before and after the Gala realizing, for just this reason, we have the Gala. My vision for the Gala has always been to raise awareness about what we do for kid’s day in and day out.
We have to remember each day where our students are coming from before we require them to do that homework assignment, that class project or just respond to us in general. Our students come in hungry, sometimes unbathed, up all night, or just plain exhausted in living the life they lead outside our walls.
Care should be our most important core value in schools. As Donteh Devoe (@donteh_devoe) says in most of his speaking engagements, "Connection over Curriculum" to build rapport before any learning can occur.
For some, summer has just begun, but of course, as passionate educators, we think about our classrooms and our schools as we enjoy our summers. The question is, how will we open our school to create an environment where students, staff and parents are beating down the doors to get in . . . not out? (quote taken from Lead Like a Pirate by @bethhouf and @burgess_shelley). When summer is almost over, teachers and students are headed back into the classroom, what are your plans? Minds may still be on the sunshine and beaches, or the mountains and all the great hikes taken, but we've got to grab their attention and bring them into school. So, in order to get ready, get students excited, and have them wanting more time in your school, your classroom, and their seat, here are 7 ways to kick start your school year with passion and create the #BestYearEver.
As I reflect on the years that I have been at Whaley School, I think we ARE successful! Regardless of our scores and our small numbers, we are graduating more students each year, we are offering more elective classes that tie into what students want to do after graduation, and our teachers are working hard to create amazing lessons in and out of the classroom. We are building resiliency in our students!
Ways we build resiliency in our students:
Ways we build resiliency in our staff:
We can always stay positive! We can always share our smile with someone else! This is what we can and should do every day! We cannot move forward positively with a negative mind. Our kids DESERVE it! Our kids NEED us! Every day I wish my school was open 24 hours a day; we could feed, clothe, and provide a safe place when needed!
Lets keep on keepin' on Whaley School; our students need to see, hear and learn RESILIENCE! Their futures are BRIGHT!
In the wake of the school shootings in Florida, and well, around the country over the course of the year, I wondered to myself, are we giving enough to our students? Yes, we go home exhausted, and we plan for much, and sometimes see little complete; but are we doing enough?
At Whaley School we wrap our students in positive incentives throughout the day, we offer an SEL infused, innovative school day, we hold Parent University in order to give tools to families to be successful with behavior and academics, and we work tirelessly to create a positive culture within our walls each day. Are we doing enough?
I often stay awake late at night wondering what else I can do, short of creating a 24-hour environment where students feel safe and connected. As @bethhill2829 stated in her post about what our students bring into school and what we as educators should do everyday. . . . notice them and love them instead. Are we doing enough?
We are a trauma-sensitive school, our staff understand what our students bring in each day, and hope to lighten that load as they walk out. We only get 6.5 hours to help students overcome obstacles that we may never know ourselves; how do we accomplish that? Our job at Whaley school is mentally demanding each and every day. We, however, make sure that each day, each period, or each hiccup along the way is refreshed and we don't take things personally. Our staff is highly trained in interacting with students in a trauma-sensitive way. . . we live through it with our kids when they tell us their stories.
Look at the following statistics:
One out of every 4 children attending school has been exposed to a traumatic event that can affect learning and/or behavior.
Here is what we can do to help students who experience trauma:
What if you do all of these things every day, individually to all students, and our changes are minimal? It’s ok, we are doing enough for kids, we are working around the clock to provide the best environment for kids, we are becoming the innovative schools that kids deserve, we are changing the end result; whether it’s in small or large increments at a time. While I’d like to think that there is never enough we can do to help those who need us most, we are doing enough each day and we ARE the CHANGE!
I set out this year to move forward positively; #PositivelyPassionate became my hashtag. While the hashtag never caught fire, I still use it to remind myself what brought me to where I am and what I continue to do each and everyday.
I crave positivity in my daily life. I have definitely learned about myself as a Lead Learner that negativity drags me down in ways I never imagined! The negativity of a small, yet large staff (I know sounds weird) gets to you each and everyday. I am the Lead Learner in a behavior school where negativity abounds each day, one way or another. However, while I can definitely be positive to each and every student every moment of every day, it becomes more difficult when the negativity comes from other sources around me.
In 2017/2018 SY, I made it my mission to move through the negativity, no matter what, in a variety of ways. The following are just a few things that were implemented first semester to create a more positive environment within our school:
As I reflected on what was needed to continue the trajectory of positivity I began to plan. Sometimes ideas are quite spontaneous with me, and I think that sometimes frustrates those around me. I have ideas and I want to begin NOW, and others want to go the "slow and steady" wins the race path, instead. I've taken a few days to begin to plan the next five months including all the important dates (as not to step on those days--assessments), and added what we need to do each month to keep us on the journey.
Because my ideas had been so spontaneous and stressful for those helping me plan the activities day in and day out, I wanted to make sure we had an organized plan in place so that those I surrounded myself with understood that I heard them; I understood that I asked them to do a lot, and I appreciated them, their voice, and made a plan to make it better!
I have these spontaneous ideas for staff and students because WE need to experience positive MOMENTS! While we, as adults, have experienced both good and bad moments, we generally remember those good moments. Unfortunately, students at my school may experience more bad moments than good outside of school. Seeing @bethhouf post "Makers of Moments", it inspired me to create more POSITIVE MOMENTS for our students and staff; MAKE SCHOOL AMAZING!
My passion continues to purposefully cultivate my staff along this journey. We are in it together, and while we may not have the same passions, we are still working toward the same purpose set forth in our school!
This year, I decided to start off very positive and ready to go, like all other years, of course, but this year was going to be the change, it was going to be the #BestYearEver. In fact, my hashtag became #PositivelyPassionate. I planned my opening days, I met with staff, opened up with students, and seemingly, positive was making a direct impact on my staff and students. One day, a staff member came to me and said, "This is the best opening year we've had since I've been here". He's been at our school long before I ever stepped in! I felt good about it; it was making a difference.
Then, something happened. All around I felt just like I did at the end of last year, frustrated, stressed, and exhausted. I couldn't, and still can't, put my finger on it, but it was like the shine lost it's luster and "ground hog day" was upon me once again.
I kept asking myself, what changed? Did we get back to this space because I changed up the meeting times and the way in which we meet this year? Did I create a sense of disconnect between staff when I changed it up? When I used to think we met too much, was that actually 'just right'? What else could it be? Was my open door policy too open, or not open enough? I've been leaving everyday scratching my head in question.
Then today, George Couros posted, "What you dwell on is what you become," a quote by Oprah Winfrey. This hit me like a ton of bricks! Of course, if I keep going round and round about what's different, and keep asking why do I feel this way, and make it a huge point of my every day, I will stay in 'gloom mode' rather than seeing the light, or the 'sunlight' mode.
After that post came another by Evan Robb, "Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining," by Teddy Roosevelt. It was like my PLN was talking right to me! Smacking me around so to speak and telling me to snap out of it! Find a solution, get it together, and throw that funk out!
Finally, I read the blogpost by Tara Martin, "That little girl with the crooked pigtails," and I instantly went back through my year, and more significantly, went back through Friday's events.
I had a student that felt very wronged on Friday (5 minutes before busses were loading). When this student feels wronged, he comes directly to me, right to my office, doesn't listen to many other adults in the school because he feels that I am the principal and can solve all the major issues within the school (so why bother talking to the middle man). Besides, it's taken us three years to build this relationship and I've gained enough trust, he feels free to talk to me about most things.
While the incident in question was another student looking at him and maybe laughing for a split second, it was a very serious infraction according to the student. He wanted a sit down, a meet with that student ~ right now! He got right up in my face and told me exactly how he was wronged and why he needed to talk to the student. . . . right now! I told him that I didn't think that he was ready to calmly talk to the student at this time, one because he was still escalated, and two because I would need to see if the student was agreeable to talk with him, and by now, that student was getting on his bus.
We were walking toward the front of the buidling to get his bike that he rode to school and he was still very upset with what had happened. He was mid sentence when another staff member entered the hall we were in and my eyes diverted to the staff for a split second. The student reacted with, "whatever, you don't even care, you are not even listening to me!" Then preceded to say "B*%$&," as he was walking out the door. He turned back and looked at me and said, "and this time, yes, that was meant for you!"
I didn't follow him out; why didn't I follow him out? I invest in my students and staff every day, I try to make sure they are heard, and I truly listen. However, Friday, he didn't feel like he was listened to and I didn't follow him out!
What do I do Monday with the student? I know exactly what I am going to do Monday. I will pull the student in for two reasons. The first reason, I want to see if he still wants to talk to the student he felt wronged him; that was, of course, his request. But, more importantly, I am going to let him know that I did hear him, I did understand where he was coming from, and that I am there to help and continue to listen to him and every student in my building!
What do I do Monday with the funk I've gotten myself into? I know exactly what I am going to do Monday! I'm going to continue on the positive path I've set out for my school, my staff and myself. I am going to see if anyone is feeling disconnected and what I can do to help? I'm going to listen and proceed accordingly toward what helps to build a better climate and culture in our building! As Bethany Hill posted tonight, "It's ALWAYS too early to quit!"
Inspiration is easy when excitement is sparked within you and happens every day. I have to say that joining Twitter, hooking up with a great PLN, and discussing the most interesting, uplifting, and authentic topics for the last month or so, has been the best thing I've done for my career, and well. . . life!
If you ask people around me, they would probably tell you that I generally come up with new and innovative ideas to share with staff and students through my years at my current building. In fact, just last year, one of my staff said, "ok, so what are you going to do next year that will keep us on our toes?"
Remembering last year- we presented what we were doing at a Gala Event!
We worked tirelessly to create an atmosphere that was inviting and warm. I was determined to get out the message to our district about what amazing things were happening at our school. We've been a PBIS school for 3 years and our students are working hard on behaviors, they know our rules and expectations, and they're making great strides. Why wouldn't I want to yell from the rooftops to the district office, along with many, many community members (that, by the way, still feel our school's poor reputation from years of negative talk--"pre me")
We sent out 200 invitations. I wanted to make sure that other administrators in our district knew exactly how far we've come and what our plans were in the years to come. Yet, only about 50 people showed up, very few from other schools, a handful from the district office, and a bigger number from the community.
What did I do? I started planning for next year's Gala! It's going to be bigger and better and WE WILL get out there and talk about our school, how great it is, and what we're doing now and will continue to do as the years pass.
Fast Forward to June 2017
In June, after reading many books, I decided to open up a Twitter account to work on my Professional Learning Network and reignite my fire (that, well, dimmed after the poor attendance at our GALA). It worked! It's truly an inspiring environment when you get to interact with those that you've only read about, or read their work! So many inspiring folks with positive attitudes to move forward, not to mention all of the wonderful connections I've made to roll out the true STUDENT-LED/STUDENT-OWNED classrooms I have in my head. Twitter has created a fire within to take our team to the next level. You say, "some social media has done this"? YES! I know it's simple, but it's great!
My excitement has definitely boiled over to staff working with me this summer. I come to work every day with new ideas, new inspirations and I am not afraid to let all that wonderful information out of my mouth! In turn, staff has been inspired to create beautiful pictures/sayings on our bulletin boards, they've found new ways to interact with one another that can carry on into the classroom, and best of all, they are working with one another as a team; a family! My #PassionatelyPositive theme is coming together the way I've envisioned and we have not even started back to school for the regular school year yet!.
I am looking forward to our 17/18 School Year!