Friday, January 3, 2014

2013 Reflections - In Pictures

As we turn the page on another calendar year, I thought I'd share (or reshare) some shots from the past year, along with some reflections as to why I love what I do - both personally and professionally.

Pioneer Days - Not only is this a meaningful and memorable day for our students, providing them with some hands on learning of some skills they would never otherwise experience, it brings some of our community's greatest assets into our school.



Reading Incentives - I made an effort to better promote our media center and their reading programs.  The majority of our staff has participated in sharing their own choices of literature and I participated in a reading challenge reading ten of the Iowa Teen Award books. 


Developing  & Maintaining Relationships - Some days, the highlight of my day is the time I spent outside of our building welcoming students to a new day.  This has proven to be a great time to catch students to touch base on a variety of issues without it being a disruption to their day (or mine).  The elementary students waiting for the shuttle bus also provide a frequent bright spot, as is illustrated below during a game of "hide-and-seek."
  

The Herdliska Kids - My own kids, along with their peers, always provide me with plenty to smile about, reflect up on, and learn from.  While both of my girls are soccer players, and I've seen my share of games, I still don't claim to understand the sport as well as I do others, but I continue to learn.  Pictured below are the WaMaC Champions, and a classic header to the goal - in my opinion, one of the coolest feats in sports. 



Serving Others - One of the more inspiring things about working with middle school children is seeing them get excited about helping others.  A newer tradition at Solon Middle School is our annual knitting of scarves for students less fortunate than our own.  In addition to being a service to others, students participating in this activity learn a skill they might not otherwise pick up. 


Learning from Others - Each year a number of 7th grade families host students from Japan through an abbreviated exchange program.  This opportunity not only benefits our guests, providing them an experience in American education, but it also allows our students an exposure to a different culture. 

Softball - I told Ali as the season started, "It's not how you start - it's how you finish.  Make your last 10 games better than your first."  She did that, developing some leadership skills along the way and appeared to be coachable, which impressed me because I sometimes wonder if she hears what her father says.  She even shared some things along the way that made it clear she was listening, and putting her new learning to use.  That made me both happy and proud.  As irony would have it, the girls did learn that it isn't how you start, but how you finish.  After a great season, a stumble at the wrong time kept them from realizing their dream.  Hopefully they will stumble early this summer, regain their balance and finish stronger and better than they started.


Baseball - One of the neat things about smaller town youth sports is that you get to watch a group of kids grow up together.  I captured the picture below with the idea that one day it will provide them with something to laugh at and maybe spark a story at a graduation party - or later. 


Softball - Yes, that's how softball goes for us.  It doesn't even really get over and then it begins again.  Ali's fall season ended at sunny Florida and Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.  In addition to some great softball and developing lasting friendships with her club teammates, Ali and I continued our commitment to make our trips about more than just softball.  We especially enjoyed our stop at the St. Louis Museum and dipping our feet in the Atlantic Ocean.  

























Take Your Child To Work Day - The fall marked the 10th year that I've have one of my own children attending SMS.  While this does present a variety of awkward and uncomfortable situations, especially given we are talking young adolescence, I do feel blessed that I've been able to indirectly be a part of my children's school day for a good portion of their academic careers.  It's easy to keep my distance, and let them be themselves.  They are, after all, middle schoolers and for the most part don't want Dad too close - unless, of course, they need lunch money or forgot to get something signed.

The College Kid - Although I'm much too young to have a child in college, I found myself a parent of a college Junior in the fall.  Danielle's experiences have confirmed two of my beliefs about the college experience.  First of all, if one keeps an open mind throughout the college selection process and makes an independent decision based on both their heart and their head, there is a right fit for everyone when it comes to post secondary planning.  Secondly, involved kids (the busier the better) do better in the classroom.  Despite playing two sports, and probably carrying a more challenging course load, she's bringing home better grades than her father did. 

 

Special Events -  Through the outstanding support of our PTO and parent volunteers, we continue to offer students age appropriate social opportunities with their peers.  Our 5th & 6th grade Lock-Ins and 7th and 8th grade dances attract a high percentage of our student population, and surprisingly don't require a lot of advertisement.  For some reason, the students always seem to know when the next lock-in or dance is.  

Response to Intervention - Staff members have begun a journey with a very important purpose.  Our goal is to design a systematic approach to insure all students experience success at school.  While that sounds somewhat like a mission statement, the difference is we are moving beyond what we want to do to how we will do it.  It sounds very similar, but in reality it is much more - so much more.  Our staff is off to a great start and I'm proud to say, our heart is truly in it.  We've divided our work up between two leadership teams with the following roles: 
  • Leadership Team - Unite the Solon Middle School staff towards our mission of collective responsibility, ensuring all students experience success in the core  instructional program. (Tier I) Coordinate student access to supporting resources when needed. (Tier II)
  • Intervention Team - Focus intensely on the individual needs of our school’s most at-risk students to determine the needs and a plan of action specific to each student. (Tier III)


 

MDA Lock-Up - My participation with the MDA "Lock-Up" proved to be much more rewarding than I initially expected.  While I'm not one to ask for much, I knew I had a fair number of contacts who might be willing to help out for a good cause.  The response I got from my family, friends, colleagues and SMS parents was amazing.  Furthermore, the experience gave me a greater understanding of the challenges that charities, such as MDA, face in raising needed funding.  We are fortunate to live in a community where so many have so much, and there are always individuals willing to help out in any of a number of ways.  I hope we don't lose sight of the fact that need, nor our ability to help those in need, is not limited to those we know or with whom we happen to share a zip code or area code.

Thank you for your role in making my 2013 a memorable learning experience.  Let's make it an even better 2014 as we work, and play, together. 


My Reading Goal - Updated


A few months ago I wrote about a reading goal I had for the school year.  I was attempting to earn my ticket to a pizza party:

"Every year I'm invited to an end of the year celebration by Kathy and Shari, our media center staff.  Every year I attend.  However, this year is going to be different.  This year I'm going to earn my invitation.
Each year our middle school students are encouraged to read from the Iowa Teen Award list.  Students that read ten of the fifteen books are invited to a pizza party, held in our courtyard.  It's a big event and it is an honor to recognize the students who manage to read what ends up being a variety of genres." 


I'm happy to report that I've already reached my goal.  I knew I'd reach it, one way or another, but I was honestly surprised when I'd checked the 10th book off the list before Christmas.  But what surprised me the most was what I'd learned, about myself and about reading, along my journey:
  • While I wanted to help Kathy and Shari by promoting their programs, my goal was simply to model reading to our students.  I wanted them to see me reading, and ask me about the book in my hand.  Truth is, they didn't.  But I found myself asking them more questions about the books they were reading - most of which weren't on the list, but might soon be on mine. 
  • While I wanted to engage in conversations with students about their reading, and mine, I found myself talking more to the adults in our building about what they were reading, both personally and professionally. 
  • I've never been a very fluent reader, but I do know that my fluency increases as I get into a book or get to know an author.  I do know that the last 50 pages of a book go much faster than the first 50. 
  • I know that my preferred genres are still my preferred genres, but it is motivating, rewarding, and exciting to read something outside of my preference or comfort zone. 
  • I found that in the past months I've finished several books that I had started at one point, but failed to finish. 
  • I've found that I've read more in general.  Yes, that is typically the intention of such reading incentives. 
  • I found it rewarding to have my book recommendations accepted by my middle school aged son, my college aged daughter, and my mother. 
  • I've added a lot to my "Mike's Reading" link to my blog:

For the record, my 10:
  • Between Shades of Gray - Ruth Sepetys
  • Bruiser - Neal Shusterman
  • Legend - Marie Lu
  • The Roar - Emma Clayton
  • Crazy - Han Nolan
  • Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 - Richard Paul Evans
  • The Name of the Star - Maureen Johnson
  • What Happened to Goodbye - Sarah Dessen
  • Wild Life - Cynthia DeFelice
  • Wonder - RJ Palacio
Thank you Kathy and Shari for motivating me and for your positive support and reinforcement along the way.  And by the way, I like Canadian Bacon....









Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Reading Goal - 2013-14

Every year I'm invited to an end of the year celebration by Kathy and Shari, our media center staff.  Every year I attend.  However, this year is going to be different.  This year I'm going to earn my invitation.

Each year our middle school students are encouraged to read from the Iowa Teen Award list.  Students that read ten of the fifteen books are invited to a pizza party, held in our courtyard.  It's a big event and it is an honor to recognize the students who manage to read what ends up being a variety of genres. 

Last spring I looked up the list, with a goal in mind.  I wanted to earn my time with our students and of course, earn a piece of pizza.  I was pleased to find that I'd recently read one of the books listed, Wonder.  One down - nine to go.  


I asked Shari, our media associate to help me locate the others on the list, and she simply pointed me to the cart, with the Iowa Teen Award books already set aside for the fall.  I was all set, now it was time to get busy.  I knew which book I was starting with, so I grabbed a copy of Legend, by Marie Lu, and headed back to the office.  Surely I'd be back during the summer to grab the next book and have a good start on my list when students returned in the fall. 

I got right to work on Legend, and quickly became hooked.  Unfortunately, as much as I hate to admit it, Legend is still sitting on my dining room table, with a bookmark sticking out of the top.  This isn't a reflection of the book.  Quite the opposite in fact.  Sometimes life just gets in my way and I find myself reading and writing in different ways.  In addition, my secretary kindly pointed out that I hadn't blogged since last spring as well.  Trust me kids - I was reading and writing all summer.  Unfortunately, it wasn't Legend or Books, Balls & Blogs.

My goal still stands.  I WILL read ten of the Iowa Teen Award books and earn my spot in the courtyard, along with my piece of pizza.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Pioneer Days - 2013

A few random shots from this year's Pioneer Days....

 Thank you to Rochelle Fuller and our many volunteers.





Friday, February 22, 2013

What I'm Reading...


I've recently been picking the brain of our Media Specialist, Kathy Kaldenberg, in hopes of finding ways we can promote reading within our building.  First of all, if you don't know Kathy, or follow her on-line, you are missing out.  She is a great example of life long learning, leading, teaching, modeling and so much more.  Above all else she is passionate.  She is passionate about her 1,300 kids, 100 staff members, subordinates (although she'd never refer to them as such), administrators, on-line followers, and those she meets in passing.  And she is passionate about promoting reading.


Getting Kathy to help me was easy.  All I had to do was ask, "Kathy, I want to do some things to promote reading.  Can we talk sometime?"  Before we could talk in person, we'd exchanged e-mails and she'd forwarded some blogs and websites.  When we did sit down, the list of ideas was long, but one theme resonated in my mind - we wanted our kids to see that the adults in the building were readers.

Before I go any further, I'd better tell you about our building, as I'm guessing you aren't familiar.  As of this posting, my audience is rather limited.  However, knowing Kathy, by the time 'my readers' get this, she will have passed this around the globe. 

Solon Middle School is a 5th-8th grade building, housed in what was previously a 7-12 building, which was previously a K-12 building, which was previously THE schoolhouse - built 95 years ago.  It isn't your modern day middle school.  The classrooms are small, the hallways narrow.  There is no spacious media center or common learning area.  Students, and adults, move through the building with little knowledge of what is going on in the classrooms they pass.  It's an old high school building that just happens to house middle school students and teachers.  We make the most of it, but it isn't set up for communication and collaboration. 

So, if we couldn't expect kids to see adults reading, we figured we had to tell them.  What better way to tell them than by plastering signs around the building.  Middle school kids are surely to notice reminders, and the like, posted at eye-level, on or near the doors they pass in and out of every day, right?  We figured it was worth a shot anyway, so we stole an idea off Twitter. 

Kathy came up with the following design, which she had laminated and distributed to every staff member in our building.  I simply asked that staff participate - even if they didn't update, even if they weren't reading the most challenging material, even if they weren't reading young adolescent literature - just participate.


 



Some teachers couldn't decide which book to share...










Our office staff participated...




















Some teachers shared what they are reading with their students and what they are reading at home. 










Our associates even got into the action.







We've made a small step towards our goal.  It might not result in higher reading scores, but it has sparked conversations.  Its got students talking to adults, and adults talking to each other about reading. 

And of course, I love any opportunity I have to collaborate with Kathy.