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....