Saturday, August 25, 2012

Leveraging Hope

There is one universal constant that will hold true for as long as we continue to use the current model of education:  there is no day of school like the first day of school.

Is it because of the weird schedule and near fanaticism to get our first day attendance right?  Is it chemical induced euphoria created by the scent of all the new markers? Is it the awe inspired by perfect rows of unused crayons? Flat, pristine paper?  Is it the extra long lunches that give teachers just a few more minutes to catch their breath?  Is it the secret joy the teachers hold knowing the parents have homework filling out all the forms and cards? Is it because they only job of a school on the first day is to get them in, get them fed, get them home?

All those are good reasons why the first day is so abstractly different than any other day of the year.  But, what really makes the first day special is the one thing we can't see:  hope.

Every human being who walks into a school building on the first day of school is hopeful.  The slate has been wiped clean, we have all been given a fresh start.  We hope that we can be better teachers, better parents, better students, better administrators, better ____________________.

Our challenge, as communities, is to keep the hope alive in the building as long as possible.  How do we leverage hope?

It always starts with building relationships, communicating, talking to others, walking a mile in their shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, empathy, perspective, taking a different POV.

I read a great blog post by seventh grade history teacher Elizabeth Miller about how she is connecting with students on the first day of school.  Read her post, it's brilliant.  I already plan to steal parts of it.

The key to Elizabeth's idea and what I have done in my classroom, which I will share in a moment, is that the students have a chance to communicate.  We keep forgetting, as a society and a system, that human beings are meaning makers.  And we make meaning in a tribal setting.  Banding together, working together, surviving together is hard wired into our DNA.  You remember the old adage:  live together, die alone.  It's the same with school.  Students want to share, to talk, to collaborate and technology gives us one platform to live together.  Unfortunately we have created too many classrooms where students are dying alone; trapped in their own development.

In order to build on my students sense of hope I did three things:
  • introduced myself to my students
  • asked them to tell me about themselves
  • sent a "letter of welcome" to each of their homes

The Introduction
Transitioning from elementary school to middle school is a big deal!  It is.  So I began my introduction with where I was 30 years ago, as a sixth grader in the early eighties and built from there.  Before a student ever steps foot in my class they know me.  Maybe, just maybe I have made them a little more hopeful about the upcoming school year.

The Survey

I created a Google Form and posted it on my website  You are more than welcome to borrow the questions and format. I already have about 20 responses and I will share some patterns I am already noticing in a later blog. But I am very excited to be able to have something to talk to the students about, to build a connection with them, to build hope.

Letter of Welcome
In my district we use Skyward (I often call it Skynet in reference to the Terminator movies) as our online grade book. Skyward has many nice features but one I appreciate is the ability to e-mail all of my students parents at one time. Very convenient. So my letter of welcome was sent out yesterday, with a link to my website and a few words of hope and excitement about the upcoming year.

Hope. How do we keep it alive? How do we leverage it build communities and schools that succeed? I think it begins with building a community in your classroom. Connect to your students, allow them to connect with others and then build from there.

No day is as hopeful as the first day, maybe we can change that.


  1. Thanks for the kind words! I'm always interested in what other people are doing, the level of sharing that goes on amongst teachers (especially in PLN's) is one of the great parts of the profession.

    I love what you've said about hope, it really is true. I consider myself lucky as a teacher that I get to have a "fresh start" each year. Just like my students I get those first day of school butterflies...isn't it great? In so many other professions the years go on with little change in routine. We get the opportunity to reboot, refresh and reinvent each year, its fabulous.

    I can't wait to hear what other people are doing on the first day!

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