Monthly Archives: March 2013

Being that engaged parent

This morning I was catching up on some reading of my often neglected feed of blog posts and came across two separate, yet very connected, blog posts. One was from George Couros, called Engaging Parents in the Learning Process. The other was over at Nerdy Book Club, called The Great (inbe) Tween by Lindsey Leavitt. George writes, “Being able to engage in the process with your child, like reading, will help improve their learning.  That type of engagement brings learning to a different level in the home.” As a mom to four elementary-aged children, I often consider  my own kids and how their interests and experiences apply to my work with kids at school. Likewise, as decisions are made at my school, I think about how I might feel in that parent role. This perspective often gives me common ground with our parents to acknowledge what we truly want for our kids.

This takes me back to a couple of weeks ago when my son, a huge fan or Star Wars, came home from school talking about Tom Angleberger‘s upcoming local author visit. My son and I had the opportunity to see Tom upon the release of his last book, too. That first night, Mark, my son, and I enjoyed the shared experience of a dinner out and seeing some of his classmates at the book signing. Most recently, my husband, Jim, took all of our kids and they were joined by his brother and our nieces, too.

In her post, author Lindsey Leavitt makes the following statements that stand out to me looking back to meeting an author when she was a student:

  • “I’ve long forgotten my locker combination, the classes I took, some of my teachers names, but I vividly remember meeting Alicia.” Such a great example of an authentic opportunity! This takes writing from a pencil-paper task to connecting with the people that make stories come alive. It moves from stand-alone skill practice to a real, powerful, memorable experience. 
  • “I also remember thinking how ordinary she looked.” After the most recent author visit, my husband noted how Tom took time to talk with the kids and presented as such an ordinary person. This down-to-earth person wearing a Star Wars shirt connected with his audience in a way that made them feel they could become authors themselves. This doesn’t take away from the goodness of his work or make it more ordinary, but it does inspire kids, including my 5th grade son in his Star Wars shirt, to think that they, too, have stories to share.
  • “My seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Mullaly, did that for me, and now teachers and librarians are doing the same thing with my books.” (Referring to teachers and librarians bringing books to the kids that will connect with them best.) This reminds me of both the power we have as educators to offer such opportunities and connections. It also speaks to the importance as a leader and as a parent to thank and encourage the people who do add such value to student learning.

So Mrs. Witcpalek and Ms. Shammas, thanks from the Melton family. We appreciate you sharing these opportunities with us and our children. And thanks, too, to authors like Tom and Lindsey who model their experience for our kids.

Using the ‘A’

Last weekend I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of the ASCD’s annual conference in Chicago, just a short drive away. This conference boasted some amazing speakers, but it also provided an opportunity to simply spend time with educators I’ve met through my Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter. Outside of the prescribed conference sessions, I enjoyed meals and conversation (and even a little karaoke) with some educators who have pushed my thinking and helped me see what is really possible when we work together and encourage one another.  I was also with some educators I have the privilege of working with on a regular basis in my local school district and immediate community.

Perhaps one of the best ‘non-session’ conference sessions came in the final hours of the conference when my assistant principal and friend, Katy Schafermeyer, and I sat to catch up and talk about what we had experienced over the course of the weekend and what we might contribute at a future conference. Before long we were sitting with George Couros and Tom Whitby talking about being connected educators and the compelling need to share with one another for the sake of improving our practice. George and I had connected on Twitter and met in person at the ISTE Leadership Forum. Tom and I also had connected on Twitter through mutual acquaintances and met in person the day before we served on a connected educator panel at the ICE Conference earlier this month.

In the hour and a half or so we spent together, George talked to us about staring Connected Principals and Tom shared about the beginning of #EdChat. Before long, what started as reflection moved on to action. For Katy, it meant starting her own blog. Over the course of this school year, Katy got started with Twitter. George’s perspective that afternoon reinforced that people who don’t know Katy could learn from her through the public sharing a blog provides. We talked about some of the ‘uncomfortable-ness’ that comes with public declaration of our thoughts. A barrier to my own writing has sometimes been my concern with making a blog post a finished piece of work rather than simply my thoughts at a point in time or an experience I’d like to share. I’d also sometimes  gone from considering too many topics to write about to not writing about any at all. Interestingly, I believe that the steps I’ve taken with blogging and Twitter have made me much more comfortable, confident, and purposeful in some face-to-face conversations with other educators.

For me, that time with Katy, George, and Tom also resulted in changing my Twitter handle and moving my blog to my own domain. That’s where the ‘A’ comes in to the story. My principal title was part of both my blog address and my Twitter identity as I used @principalkmelt.  As George and Tom explained, changing both to a version of my name allows for me to claim that space for the long term regardless of the role I hold and makes me more easily remembered and accessible to others. Likewise, that change keeps the focus on me as a learner rather than me as a title. Admittedly, I got a little held up on the Kathy A. part, as I’d rarely used my middle initial, especially without my full name of Kathleen. So I could continue to think about it and possibly lose that space or I could go for it. Why not?!

Learning a new blog platform has been challenging, but the key is that I don’t have to learn it on my own. In the past couple of days, I’ve reached out for help and recommendations and have not fallen short on replies (Thanks, too, to Dean Shareski!). When thinking about my PLN, I am consistently amazed at the willingness of individuals to share their time and their resources with people, in some cases, they have seldom or never met face-to-face. At the core of that willingness is an unwavering commitment to support learners in the ranks of students, parents, and educators.  I want in on that. You should want in on that, too. That ‘A’ (stands for Ann, in case you were wondering..) now reminds me to take that Action.

Shaping stories

This morning my fellow #ASCD13 attendees and I had the opportunity to hear Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Maya Angelou. Both were spirited, frank women with amazing experiences and accomplishments in their lifetimes. As Maya Angelou was speaking, I got a text from my 9-year-old daughter saying she missed me and hoping I was having fun. In response, I told her I loved her and missed her, too. I told her that I was listening to a famous author (and so much more) named Maya Angelou, and that I would have to tell her about her when I got home. Sending her that simple message was a powerful moment for me. How do I support my daughters growing into strong, funny, confident women like the ladies I had the privilege of learning from this morning? What are a couple of quick themes I’ll take from the morning conversations as an educator and a mom?

Every person has a history.

Both women were intentional in sharing their their history. O’Connor as a cowgirl on a ranch and Angelou as a toddler taking the train near cross country have evolved into some of the most influential women we’ll ever know. We need children to know and be proud of their history as they grow. As a mom, I have two Ethiopian-born children and two biological children all with their own unique experiences. In our schools, every one of our children has an evolving story impacted by factors that impact their own perceptions and actions. As adults we model the value that history by sharing our own stories, including both successes and times of challenge.

As educators we have a responsibility to honor & respect that history.

My friends and I also discussed what might have happened if these women were consistently told they couldn’t do what they aspired to along the way or didn’t have anyone that gave them an opportunity. What might we all have missed if these women had been totally stifled? Transferring to our current context, what might happen to our students if their stories are not honored and respected? Often we are asked to make decisions about children that simply don’t take these stories into account. Other times our decisions are challenged by those who don’t know a child’s whole story or philosophically believe in one-size-fits all approach with regard to discipline and student learning. Regardless of our role, we simply can’t ascribe to that; we need to shape consciousness of those around us (Fowler) to move this mindset forward.

How have you found ways to honor student stories? How have your tried or seen others worked to promote a philosophical shift to consider those stories as we support our students? Maya Angelou talked about being rainbows in the clouds for each other. Let’s do that for our kids and consider it a great privilege to be part of who they become.