Notice Everything

How much do we notice as we go through a day? What do our students notice and remember about us and what they learn from us? As we prepare them to be college and career ready, maybe we should consider also our impact on making them consideration and compassion ready.

One Teacher’s Impact

As I reflect on this topic, I’m reminded of a story I heard shared by Lisa Beamer on Good Morning America. Lisa is the wife of Todd Beamer who said, ‘Let’s Roll!’ and helped take down the plane over Pennsylvania that was heading for Washington, DC September 11, 2001.  She said it’s the little things that she misses most about Todd, such as hearing the garage door open as he came home, and her children running to meet him. Lisa recalled this story about a teacher who had a special impact on her own life:

I had a very special teacher in high school many years ago whose husband died suddenly of a heart attack. About a week after his death, she shared some of her insight with a classroom of students. As the late afternoon sunlight came streaming in through the classroom windows and the class was nearly over, she moved a few things aside on the edge of her desk and sat down there.

With a gentle look of reflection on her face, she paused and said, ‘Class is over. I would like to share with all of you a thought that is unrelated to class, but which I feel is very important. Each of us is put here on earth to learn, share, love, appreciate and give of ourselves. None of us knows when this fantastic experience will end. It can be taken away at any moment.’ Her eyes, beginning to water, she went on, ‘So, I would like you all to make me a promise. From now on, on your way to school, or on your way home, find something beautiful to notice. It doesn’t have to be something you see, it could be a scent, perhaps of freshly baked bread wafting out of someone’s house, or it could be the sound of the breeze slightly rustling the leaves in the trees, or the way the morning light catches one autumn leaf as it falls gently to the ground. Please look for these things and cherish them. For, although it may sound trite to some, these things are the “stuff” of life. The little things we are put here on earth to enjoy. The things we often take for granted.’

The class was completely quiet. We all picked up our books and filed out of the room silently. That afternoon, I noticed more things on my way home from school than I had that whole semester. Every once in a while, I think of that teacher and remember what an impression she made on all of us, and I try to appreciate all of those things that sometimes we all overlook.

Take Notice of Something Special Around You Today

Go to the playground and listen to the conversations during play. Eat lunch at the cafeteria with students instead of in the teachers’ lounge. Try a new way of learning something with your kids – help them feel like the experts and see their faces light up. When I look back at my classroom experiences one day, it won’t be the things I did do that I might regret, but the things I didn’t do. Now when I am out in schools, I try to take the time to notice the rooms, the students and the teachers – trying to focus on something good can often act as a moment of meditation in an otherwise crazy day.

When we notice everything (or as much as we can carve out the time to notice), it makes us open to more.  Helping students learn how to make room for these ideas leads them to being compassion driven and consideration focused.  When your students have left, they are less likely to remember the facts that you taught them than they are the way you made them feel about themselves and the world around them.  Ultimately, those are life lessons that will have a huge impact for us all.

5 Challenges for School Districts

We conduct research interviews throughout the school year with K-12 educators and administrators as a continued effort to understand what is most important to school district leaders, including the initiatives that receive top priority in their districts and the main challenges their districts are facing. Over the course of these conversations, we identified 5 challenges that school districts of all sizes are experiencing.

1. Teacher Readiness & Training

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Ensuring that all teachers have the necessary training on resources that are available to them, and more specifically – finding the time to train their teachers, is a huge challenge for school districts. Teachers need to have the proper knowledge in place so they can most effectively use resources and methodologies to impact learning.

The director of technology at a large district in Florida tells us, “We are trying to provide the resources teachers need for the change, as far as how they are instructing students. We’re trying to make sure teachers have access to online training materials that will assist them with that.”

A 5th grade math teacher at a small district in North Carolina shares her view of training from a teacher perspective: “We’re very lucky that we keep a lot of the same teachers. For anyone who’s new, I can’t imagine walking into this district and trying to keep up with all of the trainings we’ve had over the last 5-7 years. We have certain things in place we use. We’re so used to having used it for the past umpteen years. If someone new comes in, it’s overwhelming.”

Finding the time to train teachers is also a challenge for a technology integrator at a school in Connecticut. Once her district finds a solution, they need to get substitute teachers to fill in so they can take their teachers out of class to train them.

2. Budget

Budget is frequently mentioned as an issue for school districts when we talk about the challenges and barriers they face. Although this is not new and will most likely continue to be a challenge over the years, it is worth mentioning in the context of this conversation.

For a technology integrator in Connecticut, budget is always an issue “because you have to pick and choose which pieces you want.” There is only so much money allocated for digital resources and programs, and districts want to get the best parts of those solutions for their teachers and students – sometimes this means only purchasing certain parts of a solution rather than the entire package.

Simply raising the funds needed for resources is a challenge for a Catholic school in Kentucky. This school also has difficulty deciding how to allocate the funds once they receive them.

3. Digital Divide

There exists a digital divide in many districts, where some students have greater access to technology away from school than others (such as wifi, laptops, tablets and smartphones they can use at home or on the go).

This unequal access to technology presents a unique issue. A library media specialist is finding that they can’t require certain technology in a BYOD program or when students are at home because not every student or parent has the ability to purchase what the district wants to require. She says, “We have some schools in low-income neighborhoods and those parents don’t have internet access.”

When students and parents in a district don’t all have the same level of access to technology outside the classroom, teachers need to look for ways to modify assignments and balance the use of technology in and out of the classroom to level the playing field and ensure that all students are able to learn effectively.

4. Solutions Don’t Work Together

Teachers want all of their online resources and programs to work together seamlessly, without any glitches. They want to be able to easily move from one application to another without having to log in and out multiple times.

A technology integrator shares with us, “At my school, the teachers are very receptive to technology. They welcome it and they are eager when I approach them with a new tool or device to make it a little easier. Sometimes it’s frustrating if bits and pieces work in isolation – you need to go to this browser for this, et cetera. I get the most response from teachers if a solution is all-inclusive.”

It’s encouraging to hear that teachers are receptive to new tools and devices, and it makes sense that teachers see more value in these new things if they all work together and are easy to use.

5. Teachers Have Multiple Responsibilities

Teachers feel overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities they have, both in and out of the classroom, related to their teaching careers.

A district instructional technology specialist at a large district in North Carolina tells us that teachers “have so much other stuff to do – grading and attendance program, Power Teacher, Common Core State Standards and so many tests, that sometimes it feels like they don’t have any time to actually teach the students.”

The first step to helping teachers manage their responsibilities to enable them to effectively impact students is to acknowledge everything they do and thank them.

What are your district’s challenges?

Feel free to add a comment below about the challenges in your district. Is your district experiencing the same things mentioned in this article? What other challenges are you facing in your district? Was there anything in this article that surprised you (and why?)?

Along with these challenges districts are experiencing, the educators and admins we spoke with also shared some key initiatives that are happening in their districts. Learn about their key district initiatives in this post: 5 Key District Initiatives.