Thanksgiving Thoughts

Gratitude has become a daily intentional practice for me. I’m first and foremost grateful for my family and friends. I’m also extremely thankful for a lifetime spent in schools with colleagues who’ve taught me so much and made such a difference in my life. So, I’d like to share a few simple thoughts and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

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For over 30 years I have been helping teachers use technology in their classrooms. I believe in the power of Social Media to connect and communicate. Every day, I interact with colleagues, school leaders, teachers, and students I taught. Some, over 30 years ago and now many miles away.

Here’s what I’m hearing: Teachers feel more overwhelmed and frustrated than I’ve ever seen. Many teachers feel scared, lonely, and more than a little lost. Many miss the familiarity, security, and comfort of their classrooms. Because so many make sure their classrooms are warm and inviting places for all. But mostly… teachers miss their students!

So, I’ve been listening closely to what I’m hearing from educators right now and thinking about how we can best support each other during these difficult days. I’d like to share 3 things I hope we can keep in mind:

1. We Must Acknowledge What Fear Does to the Brain

My research for, The Chemistry of Culture, has convinced me that fear and anxiety often “slam the door” to our brain’s pre-frontal cortex. The area we depend on for problem-solving and critical thinking. Forcing so many teachers into distance learning overnight, often without training or support, has created the most challenging cultural dilemma we have faced. Now, more than at any time in my career, we must put Maslow before Bloom, and focus on Relationships before Rigor.

2. We Must Maslow Before We Bloom

We must put relationships first. Before we expect teachers to meet the needs of their students, school leaders must be willing to do the same for teachers. We must all actively listen, acknowledge, empathize, and most importantly: Trust in trust.

On top of that are the very real fears of this virus. I know outstanding teachers who have underlying health concerns who are being forced into classrooms where they do not feel safe. Some have told me they feel they must choose between the career they love and their health and family. That is a terrible place. And it is real.

3. We Must Celebrate and Affirm

All of us… school leaders, teachers, parents and students are doing the best that we can, the best that we know how to do. We must begin with that assumption and clearly communicate that we know how hard everyone is trying and working. We must be patient as we release control. If we want them to try new things, this will be the hard part: We must give them permission to fail. The only failure is not to try.

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About Jim Warford

Jim Warford is the author of, The Chemistry of Culture: Strategies You Can Use to Create a Culture of Learning. For 15 years Jim Warford was Senior Advisor and Keynote Speaker for the International Center for Leadership in Education. Jim is an author, speaker, Leadership and Instructional Coach. He was named in March 2003 as Florida’s first Chancellor of K12 Public Schools. He stepped down in September, 2005 to become Executive Director of the Florida Association of School Administrators, representing over 10,000 Florida school leaders. As a Senior Advisor for the International Center for Leadership in Education, he works with states, districts and schools to provide coaching and executive training and support to school leaders and their staffs. As Florida’s Chancellor, he led the creation and state-wide implementation of Florida’s Continuous Improvement Model, FCIM, which resulted in that state’s dramatic gains in student achievement and an 80% reduction in the number low-performing schools. FCIM remains Florida’s required intervention for all low-performing schools. As Superintendent of the Marion County, Florida Public Schools, he first implemented the Continuous Improvement Model district-wide. As a result, school grades went from three “F”, eight “D” and only one “A” school in 1999 to twenty “A”, 16 “B” and no “F” schools in 2003. Under his leadership the high school dropout rate was cut in half. He taught applied technology courses at the high school level for 17 years and created a Computer Graphics/Video Production program that won many national and state awards. He was named Vanguard High School Teacher of the Year three separate times.
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