Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

This week at Almond Acres, we are studying Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood. Seeking to understand often requires the skill of listening. Whether as a student, an employee or in a relationship, the skill of listening is essential to learning and knowing a subject or a person deeply.

An Almond Acres Charter Academy student listens intently to another student at the same desk. She is making eye contact and has her body facing the speaker. There are 4 students in red uniform shirts sitting together at a table.

Habit 5 teaches us that good communication begins with empathetic listening. Empathic listening is listening with the sole intent to understand another person within his or her frame of reference. It requires both intent and skill. The key is to truly, honestly desire to understand the other person. We can probably all relate to not being listened to at some point in our lives. It feels terrible–this is the first step to empathy!

Our ego commonly gets in the way of being a good listener. Instead of listening, we make sure that people understand our own point of view first, or only listen autobiographically. When we listen autobiographically, we filter what others say through our own story, experiences, prejudices, biases, and values. We probe by asking questions from our own frame of reference or agenda. We evaluate by agreeing or disagreeing. We advise by giving counsel, advice, and solutions to problems. We interpret by trying to figure out or analyze the other person. In short, we are putting ourselves first.

The productive and positive influence is to truly understand another’s point of view first. This practice expresses respect, mutual understanding, empathy, and courage. Great relationships, whether at home, school, or work are built on mutual respect. Loving and respecting others is an act of good listening because we tend to find better solutions to challenges in life when we consider the ideas from both sides to create the best idea. 

When it comes to learning, listening is obviously a must! Students who practice good listening skills become great thinkers. They can’t understand academic skills if they are distracted and not following a lesson. Moreover, asking questions and getting clarification develops greater understanding and makes meaningful connections between subjects and skills.

We believe teaching listening skills is as essential as reading and writing skills. We use a simple 3-step framework to illuminate this practice for all of our K-8 students: 

  1. Practice empathetic listening by asking clarifying questions and not judging the situation as you first see it. Some examples include: 
  • Can you tell me what happened?
  • How do you feel about _____?
  • What do you think led to this situation?
  • You sound really _______. 
  • What do you think is the next right thing to do?
  1. When emotions are high, stand your peaceful ground and don’t jump into the excitement. This will help the other person to connect to their thinking brain because they see you modeling it. 
  1. Respectfully seek to be understood. Once the other person recognizes that you are there to understand and want to help, it’s time to add your input. 
  • “I feel _______ about ________.”
  • “You could be right, however, ________.”
  • “Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me. Would you like my opinion?”
  • “That sounds interesting. What do you think about ________?”

Empathetic listening says to the person that you care about who they are, what they are feeling, and are open to helping them. It is a simple skill with a profound impact that we can all practice in our day-to-day lives. 

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!

Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind

It may be the start of the school year, but our minds are at the end of the year at Almond Acres. The fresh, new school year is the perfect time to look to the future and make plans to grow towards our goals and dreams. 

Habit #2: Begin With the End in Mind is a natural fit for the start of the school year. Dr. Franklin Covey defines this habit as “beginning each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continuing by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.”

What does this look like at Almond Acres? Well, it starts with envisioning our future. We spend time identifying our goals and dreams and then make a plan to get there. We proactively determine where we want our actions to lead us, instead of waiting for someone else to guide our future. We also talk about obstacles that may get in the path of our dreams and how to safely get around such challenges.

An Almond Acres Charter Academy student focuses on a pyramid of cups that he has built. Other students nearby are watching.

Guiding Principles

A successful future is not only built on planning and dreams, but also a foundation of strong character. At Almond Acres, we incorporate a focus on the five TeRRiFiC citizenship traits: trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair and caring. 

Likely, your hopes and dreams for your child involve integrity and strong character, as well. Success and happiness stands on a foundation of strong character. We help to lay that foundation throughout a child’s entire K-8 experience at AACA. It is not a one-and-done lesson, rather a years-long journey to growing great kids. When our lives are grounded on sound principles, our actions can guide us toward a happier and more successful life.

There is an old saying that “living without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.” A captain with a hand on the rudder guides a ship to its destination. Without a rudder directed by our principles, we can easily stray from our course. Guided by the end in mind and strengthened with the power of positive principles, each and every child can achieve the success they seek and deserve.

Develop a Mission Statement

One of the best ways to incorporate Habit #2 into your life is to develop a personal or family mission statement. A mission statement is your plan for success. It reaffirms who you are, puts your goals in focus, and moves your ideas into the real world. Your mission statement makes you the leader of your own life and can help you keep focused especially when days are difficult. Together with your family, decide upon your guiding principles and dreams for the future and then write it down! Hang it somewhere your whole family can see regularly. 

How have you helped your family begin with the end in mind this school year? Have you set goals for the future? Dinner is a fabulous time to talk with your child about Habit #2 and how to begin with the end in mind.

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids! 

Brain Power: What Kind of Learner Am I?

Smart is not
Just being best
At spelling bees,
A tricky test.
Or knowing all the answers ever…
Other things are just as clever.
Every hour of every day,
We’re smart in our own special way.
And nobody will ever do…
The very same smart thing as you.

All the Ways to Be Smart by Davina Bell

You have probably heard of book smarts. Even street smarts and people smarts. But have you heard of nature smart? Or music smart? How about word smart? 

At Almond Acres Charter Academy (AACA), we believe that all kids are smart, born with their own unique set of gifts. Our job is to affirm, stretch and celebrate the unique gifts we are all given–from book smart to number smart and everything in between. 

At the beginning of each school year, AACA teachers empower our K-8 students to uncover how they are smart. The goal is to help students shift the question away from “am I smart?” to “how am I smart?” We begin this work with self-reflection, a study of the brain and by diving into the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. 

Self-Reflection & Self-Awareness

The journey of self-discovery at AACA is focused on a reflection of personal interests, strengths and personality traits. Our students spend time observing their own behavior and answering questions about things they enjoy doing, what comes easy, and what things are challenging. They work with their parents and teachers to identify strengths and struggles in all areas of their lives: heart, mind, body, and soul.  
In a student-led parent-teacher conference following this self-discovery period, students share what they’ve learned about themselves and challenge themselves to grow – or stretch – their skills. For example, a student may choose to learn to play an instrument, participate in the school play, or improve their reading fluency by learning 100 sight words.

Brain Power!

Even in kindergarten, AACA teachers begin to explain how our brains work. We include the biology and mechanics of the brain. Our brains do so much for us – from recognizing objects, to problem-solving, to processing emotions. Understanding this from a young age can help demystify learning and everyday habits we never think about like breathing and digestion. Knowledge is power when it comes to ownership for our bodies, our actions and our lives.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Our work at AACA is deeply based on Harvard professor Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Gardner’s theory of the 8 intelligences graphic

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences explains the different ways we learn and express our innate intelligence. We explore ways that we can learn new concepts, paying attention to which type comes most naturally to us and which types are more challenging. No person has just a single intelligence—we are a beautiful combination of all the different ways to learn. 

Here are a couple of examples of the multiple intelligences in action:  

  • Someone who has strong interpersonal skills may learn best when working with a partner or team.  
  • A person with strong linguistic skills may be a word-smith or skilled at picking up new languages.
  • Someone with strong kinesthetic abilities may learn sight words better if they do jumping jacks while they spell words out loud.

This philosophy is so important to us that we’ve even installed the 8 symbols in the courtyard of our new building. It’s also tied in with our mascot and kite philosophy. Affirming, stretching and celebrating our smarts is a huge part of who we are.

The courtyard of the new Almond Acres Charter Academy building. There are 4 windows displayed and above each window is a round plaque with a symbol and word illustrating the multiple intelligences.

Boosting Knowledge & Confidence

AACA teachers use this new-found knowledge to boost student’s self-worth and confidence. Teachers incorporate the different ways of learning into lessons, being sure to vary the way new information is presented for all types of learners. We look for ways to draw out individual talents and recognize students for their unique contributions, while not ignoring areas that may need more nurturing and stretching. 

Understanding ourselves also helps understand others. When our students uncover all the ways they are smart, we notice an increase in empathy toward classmates. Everyone is smart in their own way! 

AACA celebrates all the ways we are smart. We believe our individual intelligences are gifts that bring color to our world and teach us that we can accomplish so much together. How are you smart? 

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!

Parents as Partners

An Almond Acres administrator and student smile at the camera. The student is wearing a blue AACA uniform.

When schools and families work together, good things happen for children. At Almond Acres (AACA), we see good things popping up all around: in children’s smiles, the achievements of our students, and the positive connections between students and teachers. 

Our goal is the same as yours: to grow great kids. When we combine our efforts, we all flourish. We are honored that you trust us to continue the hard work you do to help your child become the best version of themselves. It’s a goal that we nurture day in and day out at Almond Acres. 

Home & School Links

The foundation of our strong community is even stronger communication, the key to understanding each other and making sure everyone’s needs are met. We build trust with you by promising to provide honest and open communication between all parents, staff, students and families. 

We primarily utilize ParentSquare to keep you informed and up-to-date with school events, our calendar, and notifications from teachers. We love the simple, uniform app that makes communication a snap. Be sure to turn on alerts!

If you are on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll also find highlights of sporting events and classroom accomplishments. You can join our closed Facebook group that is run by parent volunteers to be notified of fun reminders and event invites. 

And chances are good, since you are reading here, that you’ve already found the Almond Acres Blog. We update our blog weekly with notes and stories about our philosophy, student achievement, and recaps of special events. If we’re lucky, Mr. B will share a bit of his parenting/teaching wisdom and tell us more about the Habits of the Week. You’ll want to check in weekly so you won’t be alarmed when your child comes home and wants to talk about ways to sharpen her saw

An Almond Acres student in blue uniform eats lunch at the new AACA campus.

Student-Led Conferences

At AACA, you get frequent contact and honest dialog about your student’s growth. Our twice yearly, student-led conferences help students take an active role in identifying their own strengths and struggles. During conferences, young learners will identify personal and academic goals while seeking support from both their teachers and families to achieve these goals. You are an essential part of your child’s success! 

Growing Great Families

When you enroll your child at AACA you gain a community that rallies around children and families. One of the ways we give to our relationship with parents is through our Growing Great Families series led by Former Executive Director Bob Borgault, aka Mr. B. This is a weekly community event that welcomes parents and caregivers to come together to learn something new on topics of interest in education and parenting. We discuss the Habit of the Week and enjoy learning from each other. We hope you’ll join us!

Volunteering 

We lean on you to help make our school community great. There are many ways to get involved to make our school community stronger. One of the simplest ways is through the Parent Site Council (PSC), Almond Acres’ version of a PTA. The PSC provides support to both school families and the school administration. They assist with passive fundraising, the Uniform Swap, spirit wear, parade floats, staff appreciation, family events, and more! Whether you want to be a member of the council, or are interested in volunteering, the PSC is the place to start. 

The success of our children is our greatest collaboration. We are eternally thankful for the support of all of our families in lifting up the Almond Acres community. We make a great team! 

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids! 

Beating the Back-to-School Jitters

Are you beginning to feel the Back-to-School jitters? If so, you’re not alone! Everyone feels a little nervous about a new school year and a new adventure – students, parents and even teachers! We invited resident teaching and parenting expert Amy Brabenec to walk us through how to prepare for the first day of school and reduce our jitters to maybe just some gentle butterflies. 

An Almond Acres student in red uniform polo smiles while showing the inside of a book he is reading.

Take it away, Amy:

I am almost as excited for this school year as I was the very first year we opened! It feels like a fresh start with endless possibilities for creating our best school year yet! Here are some practical things to discuss and practice before school starts. 

You are safe! 

Teachers (all adults at school are teachers in some capacity!) have two jobs: keeping your students safe and learning. They take both jobs very seriously!

Meals

Some students are not used to making decisions about what to eat when, so they try to eat everything in their lunchbox during the morning snack time, leaving little to no food for lunch. That makes for a hungry afternoon! It’s worth a conversation ahead of time and maybe a practice run or two. 

Packaging and Containers 

Practice opening food packaging, juice pouches, and containers. I wish someone had suggested this to me when my children were little. I sent my son to school with containers he couldn’t open without making a giant mess, and I didn’t include any utensils! Did I think those would magically appear? Did I think the adults could open every child’s container for them? I don’t know. I’m just grateful his teachers were kind and non-judgmental when they explained what was happening! 

Lost & Found

Label everything with your child’s name. Label every little thing. 

Listening and Following Directions Fast, the First Time

Do your children stop and give you their attention when you say their name? When you give instructions, can they stop and do what you asked? For safety and scheduling reasons, we need students to respond to calls to attention and follow instructions. It takes practice, so make it fun. Try to beat yesterday’s record of how many times your child looked at you when you said their name, or track how fast they followed directions. 

Shoes 

If your child does not know how to tie shoes, consider whether they have the fine motor skills to learn right now. If so, teach them! If not, consider shoes without laces for school. 

Launch Pad

Consider a box or designated area as a launch pad for each child. The launch pad is where they will put everything they need for the next day. You could add a photo of the items or a written list to remind your child what they need!

Always Watching & Listening

We sometimes think our children are too busy playing to overhear our conversations. They pick up on more than we think. So, to prepare your child for school, consider how they might feel if they know you are sad because you will miss them while they are at school, or you are worried about how other students will treat them, etc. A child may think, “If my parents are sad or anxious, maybe I should be, too!” That isn’t to say we should be fake; our kiddos see right through that, too. But, we can be mindful of our impact.

Dropping Off

I was the parent who hung out too long. If my daughter cried at drop off, I held her and sometimes I cried, too. I felt awful leaving her upset, and the guilt was crushing. Her teachers would tell me that “She’s just fine as soon as you leave!” That would drive me crazy and hurt my feelings. Fast forward to becoming a kindergarten teacher who would be in family counseling soon after. Sure enough, the students who had a hard time leaving their parents were just fine within a minute or two after the parents departed. Lingering only made things worse. Our daughter struggled with anxiety and had very few coping skills as she got older because I tried to rescue her out of ever being uncomfortable. I share this because if I could do it all again, I absolutely would. I would tell her I love her and I’ll see her later, and I’d leave her in the capable, caring hands of her teachers. The unspoken message is, “I love you. You are safe. I feel good about you being here. You got this!”

Grand Opening & Meet the Staff

The week before school starts we have our Grand Opening & Meet the Staff event. It’s a fun, informal way to meet your teachers before the first day of school, which can help with some of those new-school-year jitters! It’s also a great time to meet other families. See ParentSquare for more details!

All That in a Nutshell

  • The AACA staff are excited about our upcoming school year, and we are committed to making it a great experience for ALL students!
  • Productive struggle is important in learning, so let your child work through wrestling a granola bar wrapper or having big feelings. You can give some pointers, but let them practice and celebrate their independence. 
  • Practice now is freedom later. If we practice the routines we need for each day, we build productive habits. Our brains are then free to focus on learning and building relationships at school!

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids! 

How We Build Community

Without a doubt, the key to our success as a thriving charter school is due to the active and engaging community we enjoy at Almond Acres. This isn’t a community that happened accidentally. We believe that it takes a village to Grow Great Kids and we’ve intentionally built a community that not only rallies around our mission, but all members of Almond Acres and our greater community. We offer many opportunities to come together, connect and share our talents. Here are a few ways we hope to draw you in and make you feel that you belong here.

An Almond Acres student and adult speak in front of the class. The class is watching and raising hands to participate. The children are wearing brightly colored red, yellow and blue school uniforms.

New Families

Joining a new school community might be a little intimidating at first, whether you are 7 or 37. For new families, your first introduction to our school might be at our summer Meet the Staff Picnic. It’s an exciting time to meet your new teachers, see friends from last school year and mingle with other AACA families. Our Parent Site Council (PSC) also has a table at the event with information on how to get involved and to answer questions.  

On the first day of school, we host a coffee event at school for all AACA families. Whether it’s your first child or your baby, sending one of your kids off to kindergarten is both momentous and emotional. You are invited to gather with us and meet people who are going through the same thing.

You’ll also find that AACA has a variety of informal social gatherings throughout the year to help you connect with other families. We have moms who gather after drop off to walk and talk and parents who make plans to play bingo or hang out at a trivia night. There is a spot for everyone if you are interested. 

If you would rather ease into the social events, participating in zoom calls with Mr. B on Wednesdays for our Growing Great Families is an opportunity for you. We meet you where you are–virtual or in-person!

Many Hands Make Light Work

Our community is strengthened by the generous gift of time our families give to our school. After health and fingerprint clearance, parents are encouraged to share their strengths with our school. There are so many options, whether you want to be in the school during school hours or provide support from the comfort of your home. We can work with your schedule. Here’s a few examples of ways parents get involved: 

  • Recess supervision
  • Classroom helper
  • Pop up reader session
  • Weekend work day
  • Coach sports
  • Lead an enrichment class

Don’t see your specific skill listed? Tell us! We are a strengths-based school and we want to utilize your talents. Reach out to the Parent Site Council (PSC) and we will work with you to create an opportunity to make a difference in our community. Better yet, join the PSC and be a part of the planning! 

Two Almond Acres students stand with two adults dressed in US Navy and US Army uniforms. They are standing near a US flag.

Community Events

We also host a variety of events throughout the year that bring us together for a common goal and have fun. The annual Read and Run Relay brings out AACA families and our greater community to cheer on our kids every spring. You can be a lap marker, help distribute water, cheer on the kids as they pass by or sit with a student who chooses to read rather than run. This incredible fundraiser brings out one hundred volunteers in one day! 

Our Performing Arts Production is a chance for all AACA students to shine. Everyone from kindergarten to 8th grade is welcome to audition for our school play. It’s wonderful to see the kids use an ounce of courage to audition and do something that may be a bit outside of their comfort zone. When you volunteer to help with the production, you may even be helping kids discover an unknown talent! 

Our vibrant community is doing great things together for the kids of Paso Robles. Jump in and join us–we’ll find a spot for you.  

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!