Monday, August 26, 2013

Two days and counting

A letter to my homeroom students:

Before I begin, I want to personally thank Annie Fox who permitted me to quote and cite her blog entry.

My amused homeroom students,

Two days and counting... it's hard to believe! I am sure that many of you are prepping for school - be it buying supplies, finishing up summer homework, and taking the last precious moments of summer to enjoy, relax, and refresh. 
         Many of you have been here since Kindergarten whereas some of you are brand new to KSA. But, this year, you all are new... in the sense of being in a homeroom together. As my previous email to you mentioned, we are a community and our homeroom represents it - in that, you are not just 7th graders or 8th graders, you are a member of Halutzim. 
         With that said, I want to share with you some thoughts on what it is like to be a new student at a school. I connected with another educator, Annie Fox, who wrote a fantastic piece about being a new student along with some suggestions on how to make the transition easier. She has graciously allowed me to share her blog entry. Below her wise words are my additions to the suggestions. Please take a moment (or two) to read through it for I bet at one point in your life (be it now, or before), you were "the new kid"... and as I wrote above, we are all new this year. 

What if you’re the New Kid at school?

August 14, 2013

For many girls and guys the start of this school year means starting over in a new community. That may include leaving behind good friends and a town you loved. Even if you didn’t love everything about your old school, you may not have wanted to move. In the middle of dealing with those emotions, you now have to get used to living in a new place. Once you locate the new school (Thank you, GPS!) you’ve got to get used to new teachers and a new schedule without getting totally lost on your way to class. On top of all this is the major challenge of figuring out where you fit in with hundreds of kids you don’t know.
If you are the New Kid in school, this blog is for you. (It’s part of my upcoming Girls’ Friendship Q&A Book, illustrated by the infinitely talented Erica DeChavez ) If you’re not the New Kid, read on anyway. Then, hopefully you’ll be on the look-out for anyone at school (new or old) who needs a friend.

Yikes! I don't know anybody here.
Q: My family just moved to a new state. I had to leave all of my friends. Now I’m at a new school. How do I make new friends?
A: Welcome to your new school! You’re probably excited and a little sad because you left some friends behind when you moved. Being in a new school without friends is like watching a movie without popcorn. Making new friends will help you feel more at home in your new home. But how do you make friends? Here are some tips:
1. Be friendly. That means act like someone who wants friends. Smile. Say, “Hi, I’m ____. What’s your name?” That lets kids know what a nice girl you are.
2. Be a good listener. Ask kids what your new school is like and listen to what they say. When people ask you questions, don’t brag (“I was the most popular girl at my old school.”) or make stuff up (“My old school had flying unicorns the students could ride on.”)
3. Ask to be included. This takes courage, so you may need some slow deep breaths before you say, “Hi. Can I play?”
4. Find a buddy. Be on the lookout for at least one girl who seems like she could become a good friend for you. Then follow the directions for #1.
Good luck and have a great school year!
In friendship,
PS If you want a couple more “sneak peeks” of The Girls’ Friendship Q&A Book you’ll find them here and here.
- See more at:

Here are my additions to Annie Fox's great list! 

5. Join in activities and clubs - it's a great way to meet kids with similar interests in a smaller setting.

6. Connect with adults in the building - not just the teachers but also the secretaries, custodians, lunch service people - most have been around for a while and know the ins and outs of the school's culture. It's also worthwhile to make the connection with your guidance counselor.

7. Don't hold your feelings in - it's ok and normal to feel anxious,  hesitant, and sad (especially if you switched schools or moved to a new town). Talk to your parents, guidance counselor, teachers, support staff (see #6) older relatives and friends. At one point, they were all in your shoes, which leads to the next one:

8. You are not alone - you are not the only new student in the building (most likely). Keep reminding yourself that. And in no time, you won't be the "new kid" anymore...

9. After a year, and you see a "new kid" remember what it was like for you and put yourself in his/her shoes. Reach out to that person just as you wanted people to reach out and welcome you. Some of the best friendships are made that way.

I hope these tools will be helpful to you. Can't wait to see you all!


Mr. M.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Learning from a mistake

I sent my letter out to my homeroom students two weeks ago (it is my 2nd posting on this blog). The first round of responses were these questions, "Umm... Mr. M., why are we with 7th graders?" "Why is our grade split up when we there are 13 students in our 7th grade?" and "How are we going to bond as a class if we are with kids who are not in our grade?"

My first thought was... oops!

With all the planning and designing by the teachers and administrators, a communication glitch occurred; the students were not told ahead of time that this was going to happen. Yes, the teachers were told and yes, the parents were informed and bought into it. But, a "head's up" to a (if not the) very important stakeholder group - the kids - never happened.

My next thought was... ok, how should this be fixed? I first had to ask myself, "Well, why are the grades mixed?"

Below is what I shared with them (and their parents and the teachers):

Erev tov (good evening) my ambitious homeroom students,

       I am enjoying reading your responses to the journal assignments I asked you to do for the first day of school. A common question that I have seen is, "Why are the 7th and 8th graders mixed into two homerooms instead of being separate by grade?"

      My first response to you is this: I am sorry for not giving you a head's up about it before school let out. This idea was formed in the Spring, and presented to both the teachers and your parents. Yet, it was never brought to you guys - and this impacts you! Duh!  I have learned as a teacher, former principal, father, and husband to say when I make a mistake, "You are right. I am sorry. Please let me help fix it," (I learned these lines from Professor Randy Pausch, whom I will share more of his teachings with you later this year).

     Now, to answer your question. Part of the school's mission and vision is to help foster a sense of a kehillah (community) in our Kehillat Halutzim. Why? To help enlarge our circle of friends and classmates. To concretize our sense of what it means to be part of a larger group and how each individual is valued. To learn from one another (the 8th graders have a lot of wisdom and experience to pass on to the 7th graders, and the 7th graders will see what is in store for 8th grade directly and have a voice as to how they want their 8th grade to be). Some of you already have connections with kids in the other grade, but not everyone does. For those of you who do, have you ever thought about how it impacts you to have friends in the other grade? For those of you who do not, have you thought about what you might be missing? (In a separate note, I will share a blog response from a new colleague who talks about what it means to be "a new student" for in a sense each of you is now a new student because you are in a mixed grade homeroom).

       In years' past, the only time we were physically together were: lunch, recess, and tifillot (prayer) twice a week. That's it. The rest of the time, we were separate by grade and for those of you who were in 7th grade last year, we were separate by sections (think about it... how many times were you together as a grade let alone as a Kehillah compared to a section?). But, to be blunt, we didn't meet our goal last year. So, we're trying this.

What exactly does it mean and what will it look like? Structurally, we will have a short homeroom period each day. Additionally, we will have a Kehillah period once a week. But, what we do will depend on you all. We will play games, have some discussions, and have the opportunity to learn from one another. The hope and dream is that we are more connected in June and that we are able to value each individuals' contributions to the group.

At the same time, we value each grade's individuality and know that there are unique concerns for each grade (e.g., 8th grade spends a lot of time preparing for the transition to high-school and for the Israel trip and 7th grade spends time talking about bnei-mitzvah and bonding as a class). So, once a week, in addition to classes, there will be opportunity for each grade to meet as a whole to discuss those and other issues, in addition to playing grade-building games. Additionally, the privileges associated with each grade will remain as they have been.

Before I end, I want to say the following two things: I promise to work very hard WITH YOU to make this year the best year ever for you guys. And I promise to do a better job communicating with you. As I believe, we are all learners (teachers and students, adults and kids) and it is through our mistakes that we learn best!

If you have any questions, please email me.


Mr. M.