Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Student Mentoring Program

Last week I blogged about an amazing day I had. (http://spartansocialstudies.blogspot.com/2015/09/what-day.html)    This day included working with our student mentors.  I had many requests to explain the program, so here you go! :)

In the Spring, we request staff members to nominate upperclassmen (current Sophomores and Juniors) who exhibit Spartan spirit, leadership qualities, dedication to their studies (does not have to be one of the top students) and who are respected by the faculty, staff and student body.  Based on those recommendations, I send out invitations to become a mentor.  It is rare that we have a student not accept the invitation.

Once I have a list of students, they sign up for the Remind group and we continue to monitor them to make sure that the qualities that got them invited do not take a sharp turn for the worse.  (We have never encountered this, but we are diligent for the sake of the program).

During the summer we have a training session that introduces the students to the program.  I'm going to explain the program to you as I would do for them.

We have 9th grade only study halls every period of the day.  The mentors, based on their availability, are assigned to a study hall.  Next, I assign two students to push into AIS sections in Math and English.  Next, I assign 4-5 students to be in the lunch room.  Lastly, I assign students to our 10th period (Activity period).

Here's what the responsibilities of each entail:

Study hall: the mentors create lessons based on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Leadership and Anti-Bullying initiatives (Here is the calendar: https://goo.gl/dmWZ20).  These lessons need to be engaging and 5-10 minutes in length.  Each day they deliver a new lesson/activity, that they created, based on the theme of that week.  After that, they work with the students on any homework that they owe (we are able to generate what we call the Owed List from Power School that identifies each student who has an assignment that the teacher has indicated is missing).  They also tutor students who are struggling.  The most important part of this interaction are the relationships that are built, the trust that is gained and the sense of belonging that the 9th graders now have.  How cool is it when the captain of the football team makes it his mission to make you feel welcome in HS?  How cool is it when the Valedictorian is willing to help you on your Spanish homework?  How cool would it be if a student who appears to grasp everything so easily shares their work ethic and the amount of time they put in on their classwork/homework with the students and that reasonates with one of the ninth graders? I could go on about every activity and every sports team because they are all represented in our mentor group. Eventually, if a student is continually struggling, they are pulled out of study hall for one on one tutoring with one of the mentors in a quiet location.  Once they show improvement, they have the option to opt out of the tutoring or to continue it.  Surprisingly, most choose to continue the tutoring. The lessons go for the first 10 weeks and then it is the focus of the mentors to support the 9th graders in whatever they need.  Need help approaching a faculty member? They help with that.  Need help figuring out where your classes are next semester? They help with that.  It's kind of like "there's an app for that."  "There's a mentor for that!"

AIS: Students do basically what is described above, but they also help the AIS teacher by providing targeted tutoring.

Lunch: We found this to be so beneficial, we were bummed we hadn't thought of it earlier!  The mentors in here are tasked with making sure no one sits alone (unless they need the time to decompress/unwind) and that they mingle with all of the kids (but mostly the 9th graders).  They sit at different tables each day and get to know the kids at the table.  They answer questions, provide guidance, help with homework, etc.  They are our eyes and ears on the ground (as are all the mentors) since a lot of problems manifest themselves in the lunchroom.  We had an example the very first day.  We had a student who has anger management problems come out with his lunch and was about to have one of his epic meltdowns heard round the world because he couldn't find a seat.  One of our kids instantly saw this and went to him and asked him to sit with them.  The entire incident took about 20 seconds, but it saved a meltdown and all that would have come with that in the cafeteria.

10th period: Our mentors that typically do not have a free period are assigned (based on their preference) to one or two days a week to tutor kids who need assistance or are in need of guidance. Just yesterday,  I had an email from two teachers regarding 4 kids who were struggling and needed a connection.  They have been assigned to stay with our mentors during 10th period.  10th period does not have the stigma of being a punitive assignment, it is simply an extension of the day.

During the training the students talk about how to have empathy, why it is so important, the role of the mentors, and conduct activities centered around anti-bullying.  The most important part of this program is the discussion about school culture and the role they have (in school and outside of it) in fostering a positive school culture.  I end with Kid President's Go Be More Awesome clip (I ask them to think of themselves as both the teacher and the student) (here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwlhUcSGqgs) and we use that as a montra each day.  How can we be more awesome than yesterday?

The things that make this entire system work:
1. The commitment our upperclassmen have to the culture of the building.  We do NOT have the stereotypical hierarchy in our building.  I say that with 100% confidence.  Don't believe me? I'll find as many kids as you want to talk to you about it.
2. We have what we call the Spartan Academy.  Twice a month, all the teachers who teach 9th grade get together and talk about needs they see arising with the 9th graders and strategies that have worked in other classes. They plan common strategies and collaborate so it mimics team teaching. 
3. Administration that is proactive and supportive.  I can't stress just how great our administration is! This starts at the top with the Superintendent as well as our building administrative staff.

It really does take a village!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me on Twitter at @mrsmurat or via email at rmurat@me.stier.org.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Learning and Connecting and Concussions, Oh My!

Last Spring, my Twitter friend (we've never actually met!) @robpennington9 DM'd me to ask if I would be interested in submitting a proposal for presentation at @NJPAECET2.  Never one to say no to an opportunity to learn and share, I said sure!!  To be honest, I had no idea what those letters (outside of the states) even meant!

Fast forward to this past weekend (September 19th and 20th).. Just in case you didn't catch that, it was a WEEKEND!  So many dedicated educators at this conference were willing to give up a weekend because they know how important it is to be life-long, engaged, learners!!

I had been looking forward to this weekend since then because I was finally going to be able to meet some of my PLN that I interact with on a regular basis!  Face to face meetings always warm my heart and reinforce just how amazing my PLN is!

Saturday morning, we were blessed to hear +Principal Kafele speak about the role of culture and the importance of the student vs the importance of curriculum.  He was inspiring and really should be heard by all educators, no matter what gender, race or ethnicity you are or what the diversity is in your school.  His message transcends race and ethnic lines.

Sunday morning, @joycevalenza raised my consciousness of gender issues both in the workplace and in the classroom.  Such an important conversation about what we are doing to perpetuate the inequity and what we can do to combat it.  It's easy to think that in 2015, gender inequity isn't a thing, but believe me, it is!

Also on Sunday morning, we heard @snydesn2 talk about his re-entry into the love of teaching.  I found myself nodding for 99% of his talk.  I've been there.  I wanted to leave teaching.  I thought I was done.  Thankfully, I am back in (http://spartansocialstudies.blogspot.com/2015/04/i-used-to-be-sitting-in-seat-17d.html) and so is he!  We need to help those educators around us who aren't feeling like this is their calling anymore.  When you re-enter,  you need to pay it forward! We owe it to the students to reignite the flame of their teachers!

I had signed up for some pretty awesome sessions this weekend (https://goo.gl/ODvHnp) so I was eager to get my learn on!

Here are the highlights of the weekend!

I was able to learn more about podcasting from the amazing (@mrnesi and @iruntech)!  They are podcasting gurus and always have so much to offer!  Thank you for reminding me how much I love podcasts and once again getting me hooked on repurposing my time in the car!

I learned some new tricks with the programs I use all time like +EDpuzzle and #Google Forms from Jennifer Mezzina.

I was able to have a thought provoking conversation with @daretochem regarding Flipped classrooms and asynchronous learning.  He helped me get through one of the mental hurdles I had regarding testing in an asynchronous environment.  It's amazing when you look at something from a different perspective, how easy it seemed to be to solve!

I was blown away (as always) by @geekyteach and her Google knowledge!  She showed us how to use Google Slides in ways I never knew was possible.  (this is where the concussion part of the title comes in.) When I left her session, I felt the same dazed feeling I've experienced after both of my physical concussions.  Thankfully, she gave us a user manual for everything because there was no way in my dazed condition I was going to remember everything!! Here is the link to the manual:  I will be using this daily!

I was inspired by @srtanrodriguez during her session on engaging learners!  I learned some new tricks for engagement strategies I currently use and about Go Formative!  Definitely incorporating that in my class TODAY! (Don't you just love when you can learn something on a weekend and use it on Monday!)  Her presentation can be found here: https://goo.gl/JYNqD

I learned how to use Blab from @mrnesi! This has awesome possibility for several of my classes!  It was great to see +Sarah Thomas on Blab and be able to converse with her!

The connections I made this weekend were inspiring, heart warming and lasting!  I was able to actually meet +Samantha Fecich in person this weekend!  She is a professor at Grove City College and I am a virtual co-operating teacher for her preservice teachers.  We have communicated on many occasions, but never actually met (you will see this trend a lot this weekend) but this weekend we hugged, walked and had awesome conversations about pedagogy, school culture and ideology!

I ate dinner with my tribe! @iruntech @MrSchoenbart +Dani Raskin @chrissyromano@TheConnectedEdu @whalen @TaliaArbit @mrnesi @tinamonte The conversation at dinner was varied, spirited and rejuvenating for my soul!  Making these connections is really what life is about.  Being able to bring a diverse group of welcoming educators together for a conversation and food should be a goal of every educator!

I FINALLY got to meet @mr_issacs and @iwearthecrowns in person! I have been connected with both of them on an almost daily basis on social media for two years.  The hugs and conversation will stay with me for a very long time!

Reconnecting with @spaul6414 @geekyteach and @kerszi always results in an amazing amount of learning on my part!  All three are passionate educators that are willing to share their knowledge and craft with everyone!

I got to meet @Xanth_K and @darriapizzuto who are part of our #BFC530 crew and an important part of my PLN!  They are inspiring educators who really are dedicated to our profession.

I finally got to meet +barry saide and @Glennr1809!  Two people who are nationally known for their efforts on behalf of eduactors, students and parents.  Talk about being star struck!  It's not everyday you get to mingle with two people who are educelebs!

I know I am forgetting things I learned (I'm still processing this weekend as the effects of the learning concussion wear off) and people with whom I connected this weekend and for that I apologize.

This weekend will allow me to adjust several things in my craft and gave me many, many things to share with my both my brick and mortar colleagues as well as my Twitter colleagues.

I can't thank @NJPAECET2 enough for inviting me to this inspiring weekend.  I am now charged with making today better than yesterday!  I am on it!

Friday, September 11, 2015

What a day!

Today was day three of our school year.  I honestly cannot remember a year that has been this amazing this early on.  Let me tell you about my day.

It started 1st period with a +GoToMeeting by @mehsprincipal about the grand opening of our #makerspace.  The students were enthralled with the information and the possibilities that the makerspace could provide.  He asked students to tweet in (right then and there) an answer to a question to win prizes.  The students were excited that we were encouraging them to use Twitter to win prizes and to tweet their pictures out from the makerspace during the day.

2nd period I had a very meaningful meeting with the ELL teacher about a student who speaks Mandarin Chinese. This is so far outside my comfort zone it's not even in the same zip code.  I asked if it would help to translate all the tests, activities and notes into his native language to accompany the English version so that he was more comfortable learning US History.  She was astounded that I would offer that.  I just thought it was a normal thing to do.  We talked for 40 minutes and I felt so much better about it after we talked.

3rd period my AP Government and Politics students were working on earning their badges to show that they have acquired and mastered the tech skills we will be incorporating into class.  For many students, this is way outside their comfort zone.  Many didn't even know what badges were.  I was so excited to see the students who finished early and knew what they were doing circulating around the room to help problem solve and help the struggling students. I didn't even have to ask them.  They wanted to make sure everyone was helped.  I'm not sure if this is a product of me talking about the fact that the smartest person in the room is the room on the first day and that it was all of our responsibility to make sure everyone is getting it, but they were so great!!

4th-6th periods I held a training for our mentors.  We have 65 of them this year. We have a mentoring program where upperclassmen are nominated by the staff the previous spring to mentor the freshmen in the following school year.  We have freshmen only study halls and traditionally we had mentors in there that taught student created lessons from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and then tutor the freshmen who need help for the rest of the period. The relationships and connections that have come out of this program are too numerous to mention.  Most people when they hear I teach at a high school think to that traditional stereotype of seniors pushing the freshmen into the lockers.  I can 100% say we do not have that hierarchy in our building.  The upperclassmen take it to heart that helping the freshmen transition to the high school is their job.  We have a football team that currently holds the state record for consecutive wins.  We are third in the nation in active win streaks.  Many of our mentors are football players.  That usually astounds people.  We have athletes of all sports, members of the band/chorus/orchestra, Challenge Team, AP students, struggling students, video game club students, etc. as mentors.  This year we have an unusual situation because half of the freshmen class does not have a study hall because of math lab and English lab.  We had to think outside the box.  We decided to have mentors go into the AIS's as an assistance to the AIS teachers, go to the lunch room as well as work with 9th graders during 10th period (after the school day) in addition to being in the study halls.  The discussions I had with the mentors today about their role left me in awe of how awesome they are.  We finished by watching A Pep Talk by Kid President (https://youtu.be/RwlhUcSGqgs) I asked the kids two exit ticket questions: 1. What can  you do to be "more awesome" for the Spartan community? 2. What are you teaching the world?  The answers to these questions were put on sticky notes and put on the whiteboard as they left the room.  Answers included "I can smile more" "I can spread my love of school" "I can show kids that struggle, that you can still succeed".  The answers were such a reflection of just how awesome our kids really are.

9th-10th periods I had kids come in and ask if they could put in some extra work on their badges.  IT'S FRIDAY folks!  These kids inspire me.  They want to come in on a sunny, 80 degree Friday afternoon to put in extra work on their badges.  I had 20+ kids in my room.

After that I happened to pop into the Superintendent's office (@vanfossenjason).  He used to be my principal and he always has an open door policy.  I stopped by to simply tell him one thing that could have been accomplished in two sentences.  Instead, I was there for almost an hour.  We talked about an upcoming edcamp (@EdCamp_CNY), flipping his cabinet meetings, his incorporation of our LMS (@schoology) into his day to day work.  We talked about edtech, meaningful experiences for our kids and how we can better support our kids.  I left there in awe.  Not too many Superintendents would spend an hour talking with a teacher at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon.

I then sat down for my daily positive emails home.  My goal is 5 a day, but the last two days I've done 10+ each day.  They are so addicting!!

I then went to the swim meet to witness the first relay of our first home meet set a pool record! Wow!! Way to go, Lady Spartans!!

I would say that the start of my 20th year of teaching is off to an absolutely positive start!  I can't wait for each new day.  I can't wait to see the kids each morning.  I try to find at least 5 kids each day I don't know and say hi and smile.  I really do love what I do.  I can't possibly imagine doing anything else!

I hope your school year is off to a great start!