5 tools for student, leader growth

Educators got more tools, helps and ideas from their peers during sessions and the general keynote with Manny Scott on day two of Empower18. Here are five tips we got from presenters.

Choose love. “Love is the strongest, most powerful choice we can make,” Scarlett Lewis told a full room of attendees Saturday morning. Lewis, the mother of a victim of the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., began spreading the message of choosing love following the tragedy, and describes her purpose as a gift from her son, Jesse. The program she has created for schools, the Choose Love Enrichment Program, is based on the idea that love is a choice – one that promises a solution, she contends, to the prevalence of disconnection, isolation and anxiety so many of today’s students are experiencing. “We can always respond with love … that’s how we take our personal power back,” she says.

Give students opportunities to support their peers. Third-grade teacher Kyle Schwartz, creator of the #IWishMyTeacherKnew lesson, described a strategy she uses for responding to her students’ needs. She schedules CQC time with her class, during which students can share with the class celebrations, questions or concerns. Students often are eager to talk about what is going on in their lives, and the exercise creates opportunities for students to support each other, she notes. Schwartz told the story of a student whose mother had died. The student put a photo of her mother on the background of her Chromebook. Schwartz noticed several other students had followed suit; they had the same photo on their Chromebooks. When she asked why they did that, one of the students told her, "Oh we just thought that as she looked around the room, she'd want to see her mom." This type of behavior has become routine for many of the students in her class, says Schwartz.

Help students manage grief. More students are experiencing grief today and many don't process it well. If students are acting up in your class, it's possible that their bad behavior is misplaced grief, according to Schwartz. She told attendees about two students in her class—one a small child with a learning delay and the other a "big, tough kid." The bigger student often bullied the small student. Schwartz tried several interventions to stop the behavior but none were effective. At the end of the year, the aunt of the student who was bullying, came to the classroom and Schwartz told her what had been happening. The aunt collapsed in tears, said Schwartz. As it turns out, the cousin of the student who was bullying—the daughter of the aunt—had died at the beginning of the school year and the two had been very close. The cousin had the same learning delay as the small student in class had, Schwartz said. "As it turns out, we didn't need to teach him how to behave," said Schwartz, "we needed to teach him how to grieve."

Systems should guide, not constrict. Principals must know how to apply technical solutions but in an adaptive way, says Elden Esmeralda, principal-in-residence at the Leadership Institute in Hawaii. Esmeralda told the story of a student who was struggling and needed an adjusted schedule, one that would allow him to take some coursework online, plus reduce the amount of time he spent on campus each day. The student's counselor said that the school's system did not allow for that type of schedule. This mentality is flawed, according to Esmeralda. Systems should guide but not constrict, he maintains—systems should serve students' needs and give them every opportunity to succeed. "It's not about black and white—it's not about the rule that's there," Esmeralda says. "It's about how do you go back to your 'why'? What is your 'why' and how do you adjust for that?"

Stick together. Leader networks help veteran principals continue their work and stay fresh, says to Carmielita Minami of the Leadership Institute in Hawaii. Minami oversees professional networking groups for established principals on the islands of Oahu and Maui in Hawaii. These groups bring principals together to dialog about common issues and work together on solutions. Minami told the story of a principal who missed the networking meetings for two months. When the principal returned, she told her colleagues that she had been overwhelmed by work. Her peers were quick to rally around her, Minami says. "You should have come here!" the principals told their colleague. "We would have helped you." These networks help principals maintain enthusiasm and energy for their work, says Minami. "The network is what is keeping that alive," says Minami.

Kanoe Namahoe and Katharine Haber are editors with SmartBrief Education.