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?

At SAMS We Give

“The only love we keep is the love we give away” Mother Teresa

As many of you know our Dean of Students Amy Kujawski was on maternity leave for the first quarter of the school year. And while on maternity leave she had the opportunity (many actually) to listen to podcasts like On Being, with Kirsta Tippett. During one of these listens, she heard professor of psychology Adam Grant discuss the concept of Givers. Immediately Amy emailed me and said, “listen to this, it is SAMS, it is what and who we are at SAMS, givers”. So, I listened and I agreed. SAMS is a place full of givers.

So what is a giver? A giver, defined by Professor Grant is someone who “looks for ways to improve the lives of others, they want to help others, and enjoy helping without expecting anything in return”. The research shows, over and over again, that givers, do not have to compromise their own professional success by being committed to improving the lives of others. This concept of giving is directly aligned with the underlying belief and vision of SAMS. At SAMS we believe it is our responsibility, as adults in care of children, to show children we care. To give them our love, unconditionally. We are givers!

Dr. Grant shares in this podcast, how the concept of giving is too often a contradiction in the workplace. That the work place is the last place generosity is discussed. But, when you ask people, what do they value, generosity is high on the list.  So why would we have to remove a core value upon entering our workplace? By being a giver, we don’t have to compromise who we are, but we can rather incorporate our giving in genuine ways.  The recipients of our generosity gain, but so do we.

Who are the givers in your life? When given the opportunity to reflect I know so many givers. First and foremost, my mother is the most giving person I know. Her unconditional love still grounds me. In addition, I am allowed to work in a profession that gives me the opportunity to give authentically and to love without embarrassment.

Please take a few minutes this Thanksgiving to think about the givers in your life (listen to the podcast too) and thank them. Thank you to the givers at SAMS.