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Showcasing Linda Walker and FISH!

FISH! is a philosophy based on four interconnected principles -- Play, Make Their Day, Choose Your Attitude, and Be There -- that was designed to "make people feel inspired about the work they do." Click the links to learn more about the FISH! philosophy and about FISH! For Schools.

"Actually, FISH! was living here even before we brought it to our school," Linda Walker told Education World. "Ours always has been a very positive, child-centered staff with high morale. What FISH! has done is provide shorthand language for the good things that already were happening here. It has been fun to use the techniques of FISH! with one another, and to remind ourselves that, although we take our work very seriously, our school can be a center for the light-hearted spirit."

A counselor at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina, Walker attended a FISH! for Schools seminar in Minnesota that inspired her to share the methodology with the rest of her school community.

"The FISH! philosophy is a simple approach, based on standard, healthy practices for living a happy, connected, and productive life," explained Walker. "We found the common language of the four principles provided a structure of approach and practices across grade levels. We first investigated FISH! and brought it to our school as a staff development tool, but it quickly spread to students too."

Last year, the school year began with a FISH! "experience" provided by ChartHouse Learning. Staff members worked hard to create an inspiring environment for the meeting; the fun underwater setting included more than 100 paper fish swimming from the ceiling, and tables covered with beach-themed centerpieces, toys, and snacks.

Throughout the rest of the year, Walker presented mini-lessons or experiences at nearly every faculty meeting. By spring, almost all the classroom teachers, as well as a core group of special-area teachers, had been trained in the FISH! philosophy. The four concepts of that philosophy -- play, make their day, be there, and choose your attitude -- really caught on.

"Training continued during the summer, and we opened the current school year with another morning workshop," Walker said. "This time we used clips from the movie Mary Poppins as our central theme. The room was decorated to resemble the scene in the movie in which Bert and Mary take the children on a jump through the sidewalk drawings to have a jolly holiday." The goal of the workshop was to provide opportunities for teachers to explore FISH! lessons -- which they did in creative style.

Although the original intent was for FISH! to be a morale booster for teachers, it was too good not to introduce to students too. When school officially began this year, a student assembly was held. Walker rewrote the story of "Johnny and the Fish Market," and teachers acted it out in humorous fashion. Big Mylar balloon fish floated above the heads of the children who sat on the floor in the gymnasium. It was a hit!

"Because FISH! is a philosophy -- a way of life -- teachers have been free to introduce the principles however they wish," reported Walker. "Some are using the curriculum; some are using the principles as part of interdisciplinary units; some are incorporating FISH! into their regular management systems. We have told stories, written poems, used puppetsall kinds of things."

Walker suggests it's important to keep in mind that philosophies like FISH! can't be mandated. Instead, her school offers teachers an invitation to join others in choosing to bring more attention to the affective atmosphere of the school, and to model a set of principles in the way they deal with peers, students, and parents. Equally important is the celebration of the "natural fish" in every school, those who are essential to promoting the plan.

"It's thrilling when we overhear students resolving disagreements using the FISH! concepts," observed Walker. "We love being able to enter conversations with them about important ideas and feelings. We love teaching them that the power of choice is theirs, and then seeing them use that choice productively. We love seeing members of our community being more aware of the needs and feelings of others and actively working to 'make their day.'"

A favorite FISH! story for Walker came from a new faculty member. At the opening meeting of school, Walker asked each staff member to choose a fish from a bowl. On the back of each fish was the name of a staff person. Walker encouraged each staff member to take special care of his or her "secret pal." "I suggested they might be helpful with room set up, write little notes of encouragement, or something like that," Walker recalled.

"Later, the new teacher told me she had tried to figure out who her secret fish was, but had been unable to do so. It seems that everyone was so nice and helpful and welcoming, she just couldn't tell! How much fun is that?"

The next big project for Walker and her fellow FISH!-lovers is a parent workshop entitled FISH! for Families. Using the concepts from the FISH! philosophy, and research findings from Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, the school now will include parents in its program. Everyone at Providence Day School is very excited about the new addition to FISH!, and registration already has exceeded expectations.

Coming Soon...

If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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