Saturday, September 8, 2007

La Rentrée, C’est Complètement Effréné (part 1)!

This school year has certainly gotten off to a wild start! I’ll share with you more, I hope, over the next several posts, but for now let me just give you the basics:

I began the year a week ahead of my actual return date. This, in and of itself, is not unusual. I’m the school’s equivalent of an Athletic Director and I coach our co-ed varsity soccer team, so the beginning of the year is always busy with getting stuff ready for the fall season of sports. This year, there’s been more of that than usual because we’re adding cross country to our list of offerings. Lots of end-of-summer phone tag with other schools, trying to coordinate a last-minute set of meets; extra forms, letters and purchase orders to shuffle around; more than a few emails to send, so that no one can complain they didn’t know what was going on. I’m constantly amazed at how much paperwork is necessary simply to allow kids to play at school.

As it got closer to D-Day for the staff, I needed to devote time to a workshop that I run for new students during their 3 days of orientation. It’s on Multiple Learning Styles, and it is required of all incoming students at my school. This is the second year I’ve done this workshop, and there was a sizeable amount of 11th hour retooling to adapt it to a longer timeframe and a larger and more diverse audience. I also needed to train 5 other staff members in how to run their own workshops on this topic, using the materials I developed as a guide. New scripts, new visuals, a more comprehensive guide with supplies and handouts for students all needed to be finished in about 3 days. It’s a good thing I can type pretty fast!

The first day back for staff included time in the morning for sharing and fellowship—there were lots of hugs and genuinely interested inquiries about summer activities. We always take time to introduce new members of staff, work ourselves up into a lather with rah-rah speeches and inspirational activities, then get down to the business of welcoming back the students. For me, this includes 46,000 meetings with everyone from my department colleagues to the academic support staff. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a chance to put my classroom together, but usually this has to wait until orientation (I have mornings free during those 3 days).

This year, I had all 46,000 meetings, but they took twice as long as they normally would. One big reason for this is that I have a new group of advisees this year (these are students I work with closely during the year, helping them with scheduling and, in general, negotiating the academic red tape that is part of high school). It is a smaller group than I normally have, but they are all students who have organizational or motivational issues that have impeded their success at my school. I got this advisory group because of my relative success last year with a small collection of students (only one of which was my actual advisee) in completing coursework and earning credit for classes they would likely have not passed otherwise. I’m looking forward to working with this new lot, but there is a whole lot of prep work that goes into this. In order to properly help them succeed this year, it is important to know exactly what contributed to their problems the year before. Do they have IEPs or 504 paperwork? Were the difficulties behavioral, organizational, motivational? What can they do well (write, sing, dance, draw, etc)? What do their teachers have to say (objectively--I don’t need personal opinions)? What is their home life like? Are their folks helping or hurting the cause (the best successes I had last year involved my telling parents exactly what they needed to do to support their students)? Do they have any goals or aspirations? Where are they, truly, in adolescent development? A lot of questions to ask, and for even a small number of students requires a lot of time to get answers.

I'll tell you about New Student Orientation tomorrow.

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