Sunday, August 28, 2016

What if we listened to Daniel Tiger?

If you are around young children, you no doubt know Daniel Tiger and his neighborhood friends. And if you grew up with Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. you will certainly know this cast of characters from the Land of Make Believe. My son Justin, who is two, loves Daniel Tiger,  Katerina Kittycat, O the Owl, and the rest. As parents, we love the messages the show sends and creates wonderful opportunities to talk, share, learn, and grow together as a family.  In fact, there is some research that indicates that Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood can actually help our preschooler to develop stronger empathy and social skills through viewing.

While it's certainly easy to tune out when hearing a song like "Find a Way to Play Together " when you've heard it for the umpteenth time, I have actually found myself paying attention to the lyrics. This could be because Justin has started to sing along and it helps me to make sense of what he is actually singing. It could also be because I just can't tune it out any longer.

Even though there are parents out there who may not like Daniel Tiger, I think we can all agree that he's not nearly as bad as Caillou.

When I was younger, I read a book called "All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum. Essentially, it was a collection of essays reminding us that we overcomplicate our lives and that we should embrace being present with one another. I found it poignant then and still often think about how much of our adult lives would be better spent trying to embrace those social-emotional lessons that were the heart of preschool and kindergarten learning.

In many ways, I have found that same poignancy in the songs and messages of Daniel Tiger.  It's easy to dismiss a cartoon and songs as "just for kids", but I will argue that the vitriol and lack of common courtesy and kindness this election cycle has produced should be proof positive we need to listen to Daniel and his friends. Being nice to one another, being able to disagree without being disagreeable, and sharing ideas with one another are just as important for adults. Check just about any message board or facebook post and it should be alarmingly obvious it may be MORE important for adults.

As educators, there are tons of great messages too. In an era of misguided and harmful policy and implementation, it can be hard to find much worth holding onto. Yet, Daniel reminds us that  Friends Help Each Other, Yes They Do!, and that When Something Seems Bad, Turn It Around and Find Something Good!. He also explains that When We Do Something New, Let's Talk About What We'll Do and that we should Stop, Think, and Choose.

My intention is not to diminish the professionalism of teachers by referencing a show for pre-schoolers. Teaching has become a complicated minefield of challenges and difficulties and those who are not in schools do not necessarily understand how different the politics of teaching is today compared to 15 years ago.  Statistics tell us that fewer and fewer college graduates are entering the teaching profession and morale is at an all time low. And any teacher who hears Daniel sing   When you have to go Potty, Stop and Go Right Away! is silently laughing to themselves because they recognize they chose  a profession which hardly allows for bathroom breaks or even a lunch break that does not involve supporting students, making parent phone calls, or answering the plethora of emails mounting in their inbox.

As we begin a new school year, my hope for teachers everywhere is to be a little bit like Daniel Tiger. Remember what it felt like to learn with your friends, to play, to imagine, to wonder, and to look for the good in everything.  Bring that type of joy and learning to your classroom.

What if we listened to Daniel Tiger?

Monday, August 15, 2016

What if we treated every day like the first day of school?

Although the students in our district are not officially starting for two more weeks, today was my "first day of school" as I, along with several of my colleagues, begin to work with the new teachers to our district.  And although I do not formally teach students I still found myself struggling to fall asleep last night and rising early this morning in anticipation and excitement.

A few hours ago, a group of diverse, excited, nervous, and anxious new colleagues walked through the door ready to begin their learning journey here. Most of them have taught before. Some of them are brand new to the profession. Some of them will be here next year. Some of them will be elsewhere in new opportunities. 

The first day with new teachers is a whirlwind. The first week with new teachers in our "academy" can be intense. But it also creates an opportunity to forge new relationships and establish our own little culture of support that leads into a job-embedded instructional coaching model. As a teacher myself, I am grateful that we have the opportunity to lead and learn alongside these new colleagues. 

I can't help but find myself wondering around the following questions. 
  • How will our community develop?
  • How will they fit into the community of their school?
  • How will they fit into the community of our district?
  • How will they grow as teachers and leaders?
  • How will they grow as learners?
  • How will they change our community and culture for the better?

In two weeks, our students will walk into their classrooms and into the communities they create. I have no doubt that these teachers will share my nervous excitement.  I hope that between the significant worries over rules and procedures and routines,   that they too will be wondering about community and learning. 

The first days of school are always an exciting time, full of hope and promise. Students are eager to learn, teachers are eager to teach. Everyone is excited for the new opportunities and challenges ahead of them. Optimism and joy seep out of classrooms into the hallways and beyond. The best teachers are the ones who make those feelings last through the holiday season and far past the  testing season.  

What if we treated every day like the first day of school?