Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving thoughts

Ahhhh, Thanksgiving - such a sweet time of year. A time to count your blessings and give thanks. At the risk of getting a little “out there” I want to share my thoughts about what Thanksgiving means to me.

The desert fathers of the 3rd century described seven cardinal sins, one of which was greed. In their struggle for spiritual perfection, these early monks found that one antidote for greed was thanksgiving. More about that later. Many authors have written about greed’s effects on humanity. But no author captured the powerful pull of greed more poignantly than Leo Tolstoy in his story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”

Written in 1886, the story tells of a man named Pahom who complains that he does not own enough land to satisfy him. He sets out to acquire more land but the more he acquires, the more dissatisfied he becomes. Finally he meets the Bashkirs and is told they are simple-minded people who own a huge amount of land. He approaches them to take as much of their land for as low a price as he can negotiate. Their offer is unusual: for a sum of 1,000 rubles, Pahom can walk around as large an area as he wants, starting at daybreak, marking his route with a spade as he goes. If he reaches his starting point by sunset of that day, the entire area he marked out is his. He is delighted believing he can cover a great distance and thinking he has stumbled upon the bargain of a lifetime.

His journey starts well. He covers a great deal of land but he is not satisfied and decides to walk even farther extending his boundaries as he goes. As the sun is setting however, he realizes his error and runs back as fast as he can to the awaiting Bashkirs. He finally arrives at the starting point as the sun sets. The Bashkirs cheer his return saying “Ah, that’s a fine fellow. He has gained much land!” Unfortunately, Pahom, exhausted from the run, drops dead. Tolstoy concludes: “His servant picked up his spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from head to his heels was all he needed.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon said the same thing in fewer words when he said: “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”

And so this Thanksgiving season, I pause to reflect on the much that I have rather than the more that I don’t have (and don’t need). The much I do have includes a loving wife and family, my faith, good friends, great coworkers, good health, a sound mind (mostly), a sense of humor (usually) and a great place to work. Concerning Taylor, I give thanks every day for the opportunity to work in such a fine school set in stunning surroundings working with great people educating wonderful children.

Like William Shakespeare in Twelfth-Night, I can honestly say:
“I can no other answer make but thanks,
And thanks, and ever thanks!”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Report cards and honor roll

As a child, my parents religiously checked my report cards at the end of each nine weeks. Report cards then were the old-fashioned hand written kind (think “Leave It To Beaver” era). My parents had high expectations when it came to my grades – A’s were expected and B’s were tolerated but anything less was cause for a serious discussion. But when I did manage straight A’s or mostly A’s and one or two B’s, my parents applauded my efforts and life went on. I don’t remember my school recognizing my efforts but I very much remember the look on my dad and mom’s face when I showed them my grades. This recognition was important to me, perhaps too much so in retrospect. Nonetheless I have come to realize in my years as a father, teacher, and principal that recognition matters. Each of us regardless of age wants to be recognized for doing something well. So we have chosen to recognize students who demonstrate academic excellence.

We were pleased to honor our straight-A and honor roll students this week. The following table shows the number of student earning honor roll recognition out of a student body of 640 kids.

4.0 3.5 - 3.99 3.0 - 3.49 Total
6th Grade 19 62 57 138
7th Grade 27 61 50 138
8th Grade 25 41 48 114
Total 71 164 155 390

This is an outstanding record – one which I hope our students will equal or exceed next grading period. But what if your child didn’t make the honor roll? Here are some tips that might help:
1. Set clear, reasonable, and achievable expectations for your child’s grades. “I want you to raise your math grade from a C to a B by winter break.”
2. Make sure your child agrees that the expectation is both reasonable and achievable. A student who has all C’s is probably not going to achieve straight A’s but they might be able to raise the C’s to B’s.
3. Set short-term goals. Help your child set a reasonable goal that you know she can achieve. Then set a new one.
4. Praise progress and effort. If your child is trying, let her know you notice even if she doesn’t meet ALL her goals.
5. Keep an open mind. Be willing to revisit and adjust any goals that seem out of reach. If she can’t reach it, there may be another explanation.

Grades matter but they aren’t the only measure of your child’s success at Taylor. While I am delighted that over 60% of our students made the honor roll, I am equally thrilled when I see our students serving the community, raising funds for worthy causes, and demonstrating good character. And for the record, students do not become honor roll students in isolation. Academic success starts at home with the support of parents, grandparents, siblings, and guardians. By providing a quiet place to study, encouraging reading and checking your child’s agenda every night, you contribute to your child’s success. Thanks!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Praying for snow?

Yesterday’s brief snow shower was a wonderful foretaste of the delights of winter in New Mexico. If we do have an El Nino winter it is likely we will days of snowy weather. School closures and delays are the purview of APS leadership and not of school principals although I had a number of excited students ask me if I was going to declare a snow day on Friday. It was a joy to see the excited looks on the faces of students and staff alike at the prospects of a snow storm. It was a reminder to me that no matter our age, a snow storm still evokes a child’s sense of excitement and wonder.

That being said, in the event of snow, most parents know to turn on the local TV or radio stations to check for closures or delays. If we have a two-hour delay, we will use our abbreviated day schedule which is on page 4 of your student’s agenda. The cafeteria will begin serving breakfast at 10:00 am. The first bell will ring at 10:15 and classes will begin at 10:20. All classes will be 34 rather than 50 minutes long. Each class will meet. Lunches will be 30 minutes long as usual. Students will be dismissed at the regular time of 3:08.

Whether we have any snow days remains to be seen. What is certain is that even though our highest courts have told us prayer is forbidden in school, yesterday there were more than a few Thunderbirds praying for snow. “The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?” -- J.B Priestley