#ThankfulatSAMS

It’s easy to have gratitude walking the halls of SAMS these days.  Not because it’s been a particularly slick year (though it has been a pretty good one), not because the grades have all been As (though there has been deep learning going on), not because no kids are getting in trouble (let’s be real, they are middle schoolers).  The feelings of gratitude I have about SAMS is rooted in a deep knowing.  A knowing that allows me to speak with certainty about the ways in which we are a school where all will learn and contribute.  I can share stories and lift up student voices as evidence of the ways in which we are growing, moving, and getting better at authentic learning in a caring environment.  Every kid, every day.  Every family welcome here. This is what I know about SAMS, and this is why I’m grateful.

This deep knowing that gives me gratitude doesn’t mean we get it right every day, every time.  And it’s uncomfortable, to say the least, when we get it wrong.  But, as Renee and I learned from Dr. Tyrone Howard (look him up, seriously, he’s brilliant) last summer, that’s where courage comes in. I’m grateful to be working with a school and a community where we have systems and networks in place to learn to do better and do right by our kids. Just this past week, as a group of CORE teachers led staff development for the rest of us, and the conversations were designed to get us to examine all the ways we can overcome barriers while doing our work.  This reflective practice helps us guarantee we will find the courage to do what’s right by our kids, all kids. For this, I am grateful.

This deep knowing that gives me gratitude doesn’t mean our SAMS team doesn’t have important learning still to do.  At the end of the first quarter earlier this month, Mr. Anthony Galloway joined us to help us understand more precisely the patterns and practices that have existed for centuries that guarantee an inequitable, fragmented, hurtful experience for many of our students and families not just in our schools but throughout our St. Anthony community and beyond. As one of our teachers wrote in response to the learning we did with Mr. Galloway, “The past matters, people’s stories matter, and there’s so much I haven’t learned.”  Yet that wasn’t a bad thing, our work together that day was an experience that focused our team’s work toward building classrooms and a school where all belong, where systems of racism and whiteness are interrupted.  Community leaders were there, even a neighboring educator, and our experience together built our sense of collective efficacy.  As another teacher wrote, “We have a group of largely willing learners, which is pretty fantastic.” And this is why I’m grateful.

Lastly, this deep knowing that gives me gratitude doesn’t mean only serious, contemplative work is valued here at SAMS.  There’s joy here too.  Six men grew beards throughout the past month, and they are allowing kids to vote on who among them should be the pie-in-the-face victim in front of the entire school at our Thankful assembly (while raising money for cancer research simultaneously).  8th graders stayed after-school with Ms. Schwintek and Mr. Geske to start a Pet Rock Club. 6th graders had a whole science lesson on what type of Halloween candy is the most dense.  Research shows us again and again that non-cognitive skills are MORE important than cognitive factors when it comes to raising and educating successful, engaged citizens and grown-ups.  In these light-hearted, jovial opportunities, our students and staff share themselves more completely with each other.  So great, and so, more gratitude.

Dr. Jay McTighe spoke to a group of metro area teachers last week at the West Metro Education Program (WMEP).  Four of our teacher-leaders, Renee, and I attended (plus some school board members and a few staff from our other schools).  He opened his workshop with a quote:  “Do not confine your children’s learning to your own experiences for they were born at a different time.”  I can’t remember who said it, but I can’t forget these words.  This is a different time.  The information our kids have access to is wide and vast, the messages they get from media can seem scary and toxic, and the future is unpredictable.  At SAMS, we are more focused than ever to do right by every kid, every day.  We are more committed than ever to stay engaged in learning, reflecting, and refining our practices to become more open, equitable, and welcoming for all .  We are more eager than ever to pursue this hard and important work in a school where it’s okay to be silly, have fun, and be ourselves.  This is what I know about SAMS, and this sense of deep knowing is why I’m so grateful to be a part of the SAMS family.   

And so with gratitude, we say thank you to all of you, our larger SAMS community. Thank for your partnership, your trust, your hard work, and, most importantly, for your kids. Wishes for a safe and healthy holiday season to everyone.

 

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

Last spring, as we began to formulate the path we would start to take as a middle school staff to deepen our understanding of the role race plays in our lives, our students’ lives, and in the life of our school, we didn’t know exactly how it would go.

The evidence suggested the experiences of students and families of color here at SAMS were different than the experiences of families who were white.  This school, the one we hope to build into a place where all will learn and contribute, was perpetuating whiteness.  Ignoring the evidence that told us our kids and families of color were predictably more likely to experience SAMS as a place unconducive to learning and contributing only sustained racial injustice.

For a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment, we had to make changes so as to guarantee the mission and the vision of our school could become a reality.  Our mission and vision required us to come to terms with the notion that all students, regardless of their racial identities, are far less prepared for our globally-networked, perpetually-evolving economic, political, and social world when we fail to dig deeper into the role race and racism plays in our lives, their lives and in our school.

We began this work about one month after Mr. Castile was shot and killed and two weeks before school started, and we invited all staff, parents, school board representatives, community members and students to come listen to how we intended to go about this equity work. That night in August, we shared that our school’s learning goals this year would be about racial equity and whiteness.  Specifically, the goal was for all of us, the grown-ups at SAMS, to grow deeper in our understanding about how race and racism impact our lives, our students’ lives, and our school community.

Now, we are months into this racial equity work.  Without diving into the all of the details of our journey, it’s been an extraordinary one.  We’ve heard from many stakeholders, we’ve heard from many kids, we’ve heard from many parents.  As teachers, we’ve tried to reflect on our own racial identities, and we’ve tried to expand our compassion for the perspectives of others.  We were warned by experts and school leaders who have been doing this work for far longer than we have that this would be a difficult year.  When we don’t know what we don’t know, we are going to make mistakes.  When we have limited experience talking about race, we aren’t going to be very effective when we first try.  When we start inviting our students into this conversations, we are going to have commit to listening to their perspectives and helping them understand the perspectives of others.

So, we are retelling all of this in the blog today because we see an uptick in racial conflicts in our school.  Not many, but more than we are used to.  We take them seriously, and we respond as appropriately and thoroughly as our vision, values, policies, and practices demand us too.  In the past week or so, we’ve investigated and responded to five incidents that include actively racist statements (like the use of the n-word) and passively racist situations (when ignorance allows everyday racism to go unaddressed). SAMS remains a safe, open, and authentic place to learn and contribute.

As we struggle with situations where race plays a significant role, we remain more committed than ever to our racial equity work.  Our urgency to do this work and get it right drives us to always be open to conversations, emails, meetings with anyone interested.  Monday at SAMSA, we had an engaging, diverse, deep conversation, and it made a positive impact on the ways in which we went about this important work today.

Our request for you today is to stay engaged, stay in touch, and keep us accountable in this work.  When we model trying to live racially just lives and when we help students do the same, we are serving the children well. And the children are all ours.

Work Hard Play Hard – SAMS Style

Here at SAMS we take working hard seriously and we take playing hard seriously too! Today we had an unsledding day (no snow in Minnesota, amazing) so we built mini-golf courses and played the links. At the end of the day we all gathered in the auditorium and talked about how we care at SAMS — by being respectful, working hard, and showing that all belong. Please enjoy the show below (just click on the slides) – there are some awesome, student produced videos embedded too. Unfortunately, the only thing missing is the live music performed by our 8th grade band and choir. One more thing, all the music you hear in the background of the videos were created by students in Music Appreciation class – using Garage Band.

I’m not sure how to express how proud I am as the Principal of SAMS. The teachers, the staff, and all the students had so much fun today. Working hard and playing hard, it really is the SAMS Way!

“No Way for Robots”

At SAMS, we like to use the story of the Lamborghini car company as a metaphor for building a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment.  Watch this short video clip from 60 minutes, it is Scott Pelley (reporter) asking the Industrial Director of Lamborghini about how Lamborghini cars are made.

I love technology, I love using technology to connect and build relationships, I even blogged about this a few months ago. But like this video shows, I have also learned how the work we do at SAMS is some what “old-fashioned”– there’s no room for robots in this work. It is important to meet people where they are at and build meaningful connections. We cannot make decisions about kids, families, staff, each other if we aren’t talking with one another, being in each other’s company, and learning and growing together.  Just like doctors cannot make health decisions about people who are ill by only looking at their charts, we cannot do this work without one another.  There’s just no way for robots just like on the floor of the Lamborghini factory where only 11 cars are made each day.  – “each piece of glass is eyed and each bolt is tightened by feel”.

The fractions quote gets a lot of play time here at SAMS.  I read it before most staff meetings, parent meetings, and community meetings. We want to emulate the fractions quote by becoming a school… “where teachers and students live together, talk with each other, and take delight in each other’s company”. We feel that by caring deliberately and passionately for the students and the adults at SAMS, we will be reaching our goal of becoming a school dedicated to authentic learning in a caring environment.

 

Dare to Care

 

“At a time when the traditional structures of caring have deteriorated, schools must become places where teachers and students live together, talk with each other, take delight in each other’s company. My guess is that when schools focus on what really matters in life, the cognitive ends we now pursue so painfully and artificially will be achieved somewhat more naturally. It is obvious that children will work harder and do things–even odd things like adding fractions–for people they love and trust.” – Nel Nodding

“Take delight in each other’s company”

On Friday Jan. 29th, during our staff development day we did just that, we took delight in each other’s company. As a staff, we took the advice of Ms. Gerard (6th grade Language Arts teacher) and wrote each other “love notes”. Why…the better question is why not? We work in a middle school, and it is the middle of the year, and middle schools are not always fun places, plus, it is cold, snowy, and grades are due. So sometimes as the adults in the building we can dare to care. We can care deeply for each other as we work toward making SAMS a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment. Thank you SAMS staff for being vulnerable and awesome. We really are building something great.

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Using Relationships to Build a Caring Environment.

This past week a few of us attended the TIES conference in Downtown Minneapolis. Although TIES is known for technology, the conference allowed many of us to see the power of relationships. And how relationships can be created, formed, and kept active with the use of technology. Plus, George Couros, gave an awesome keynote!

Relationships and human connections are seen as non-existent now-days with the increased use of technology. We have all heard “no one ever talks to each other anymore” or “kids only text now”.  We believe we can leverage technology to be even more deliberate and thoughtful as we work to build a caring environment at SAMS. Please understand, technology is not the goal, rather building relationships is the goal – we just use technology to enhance this!

For example, we use Twitter to showcase the many awesome things at SAMS.  Starting this week, look for #todayatSAMS on Twitter to see this daily feed.  We love it when we come across moments here that are funny or inspirational or really cool.  When we see our work- authentic learning in a caring environment- in action, we want the world to know. We can use Twitter to share the experience.  And it makes us smile knowing we are spreading the SAMS joy with the rest of the world.

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A lot of people have told us they just can’t do Twitter. It’s one more thing, they don’t know how it works, who will they follow..but it’s an easy way to connect. Here’s a couple of ways to learn more about Twitter.

There’s a formal way…this website on Twitter.

And here are 2nd graders teaching us about Twitter.

And the 2nd graders teaching an advanced course on Twitter 🙂

Have a great break and please take the time to connect with us on Twitter.

Here are few names to start following:

@SAMS282 – Renee Corneille

@abskujawski – Amy Kujawski

@alammers06 – Ms. Shaffer

@Joe_Krasselt – Mr. Krasselt

@mamussell – Ms. Mussell

@JohnnyNM23 – Mr. Mitsch

@sara_karch – Ms. Karch

@scruffles6 – Ms. Donohue

@Heidi_Haagenson – Ms. Haagenson

@MrPotts282 – Mr. Potts

@PottsAmber – Ms. Potts

@mindylee1107 – Ms. Gerard

@Nathn – Mr. Meyer

@tadams612 – Ms. Adams

@LErpeldingSAMS – Ms. Erpelding

 

 

 

 

Who you are and what you know…

During my teacher preparation program, a professor told the class, “as a teacher, you can only teach who you are and what you know” – for some reason that small statement stuck with me. Maybe due to my need to understand the context of things (I was a history teacher), or maybe, the statement started me thinking about how crucial it is to be authentic.

For the past two weeks I have attended two funerals. One for an amazing 102 year old woman named Mary Fuller. Grandma Mary was my husband Mike’s grandma and my children’s “Grandma the Great”. Her ability to live her life to the fullest for her entire 102 years is not only an inspiration, but also… just super fun. And fun, is what Grandma Mary was, she was always quick to laugh and always quick to say yes to an outing or adventure.

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This past weekend I attended the funeral of my Great Aunt Angela (aka Auntie A). For the past four years my aunt has been rather sick and not totally with-it, but her passing marked an end to a generation of people. The first generation Iafigliola family who in 1911 emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio from Gildone, Italy. The picture posted above is of Angelo Nicola and Maria Teresa, my great grandparents, who gave birth to eight children, the last being my Auntie A.

Being from the United States, many of us have stories of immigration. Stories of grandparents who for many reasons, moved from their native home to the promise of America. The story of the Iafigliolas is not much different, but one thing to note is the Iafigliolas did not measure the American Dream in units of money, housing, or work, but rather, in family.

My Aunt Phil (Philomena Marie, born 1915) would tell us “I am a millionaire…my family, my sisters, my brothers, are worth more than jewels”. If you knew Aunt Phil, you would know she did not say this with sweetness, but rather with strong conviction, it was her truth.

So, what is the value of family? What is the value in knowing who you are and knowing who came before you?  For me, it means everything.

For to know me, is to know my Uncle Mike, Patrick, John and Joe and to know my Aunt Phil, Theresa and Angela, and to know my Grandma Jean. Because it is due to them –  I understand what love is and what family means.FullSizeRender

We often talk at SAMS about the concept that there is “no such thing as other people’s children,” and, now that I think about it, I learned that concept from my family. When I learned about Auntie A’s death, Amy K asked me if Auntie A had any kids.  I replied, “No, she did not.  But she put a few through college.” Yep, it’s definitely something that’s been passed down; there’s no such thing as other people’s children.

I’m not sure why I needed to write this blog, but maybe it is because it goes back to what my professor stated, “you can only teach who you are and what you know” – I am Iafigliola and I know how to love.

I also think I needed to write this blog because, I don’t think knowing who you are and what you know is reserved just for teachers. It is crucial for all of us, in all aspects of our life…right?