While I am somewhat famous (infamous) amongst my students for my Dr. Pepper consumption, I also have quite a taste for sweet tea. Like, real, Southern Sweet Tea- no lemon. The sweeter the better.
But for years, when I went to restaurants that only had tea with sugar in packets or sweeteners, I was constantly dissatisfied with my beverage. No matter how hard I stirred, the sugar just settled to the bottom. Sure, I could stir it up in a cloud and drink quickly, but then I just got the granulated tasted of sugar. I could also put saccharine in, but it would be just that- a chemically sweet flavor that was not ideal for my consumption.
So, I went for Dr. Pepper.
Then a few years ago, I got some Earl Grey. I thought I would give it a whirl- literally- and try it out. To my astonishment, when I put sugar in the hot tea and stirred, the sugar dissolved and became one with the tea and water. The missing element was the heat- I had motion, I had the right chemicals, but I needed the heat agent to create the tea I was longing for.
That, my friends, is when I learned the relevance of chemistry.
And there is a chemistry to teaching. Our students are part, are content is part, and we are the stirrer. We try to mix our students with the content, but often what happens is a cloud in which some flavor of learning is present, but ultimately the students and the content separate. We are missing the heat needed to break down each part so it can be more completely combined.
I believe the heat for this particular mixture- students and content- is relevance. Just like I did not see the need for chemistry until I discovered the chemical process of heating the tea to blend the sugar and tea and water to make my tea, students do not see the value of our content until they see why it benefits them.
As educators, let me encourage you to find your heat source for making your content relevant to your students. Then grab a spoon!
It will be a great blend.
It is that wonderful time of the year when there is cool in the air, early morning sun, malls filled with the sounds and shoppers of the season, and thought of sugar plums dancing in our heads.
For teachers, it is also that season when just showing a video is really tempting.
On Thanksgiving day, we speak of the turkey coma that follows our meal, but for education, there is a similar coma that is looming for the 3-4 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. We are in a rush to finish up content, so we fall into doing the quick thing, the easy thing to cover that ground. Innovation takes a back seat to convenience, deeper development cedes to doing what we know.
It has been said that if we always do what we've always done, we will always get what we always got. In the fast paced, ever changing world of education, that has now become- "If we always do what we have always done, we are not keeping up."
I am taking the challenge this stretch to try something new, or to shake things up a bit to fight off the beast of complacency. I'll be trying to create more opportunities for students to interact with each other, and to practice choice in instruction.
Today, my students presented their classroom design projects and an idea struck me- what if we presented our students with a blank room- our room- and asked them to design their learning space? It is something I will be considering for next semester, as I start fresh with some new students in new classes. I have to ask myself these questions:
Would it make us uncomfortable, would it push us to try new things? Would it empower students?
And when fighting the beast of complacency, those questions are the best weapons at our disposal.
Watching an episode of Girl Meets World with my wife and daughters, we saw a story unfold where a character (Farkle, for the uninitiated) begins questioning what he has done with his wealth and brilliance. He feels that there is more he could do, but overwhelmed with where to start. With the help of Mark Cuban in a Shark Tank style scene, he realizes that he would help someone near to him, because he believes in them and their capacity to change the world.
I turned to my eleven and thirteen year old daughters, and I asked them, "How would you change the world?" They mentioned some things, and then Leslie, the teenager (that hurts me to type, by the way) said she would help with homelessness. She said she knew we had some homeless students in our district, then Kenna chimed in that she had heard a story about a young man that had once gone to her school who had been homeless.
With the world going as it is these days, mass shootings, nuclear fears, natural disasters, vitriol and distrust everywhere we turn, I think we need a change. I think our way of doing things is broken, and perhaps turning to our next generation to help effect change is an answer, if not the answer.
But when I first turned the question on my kids, who are deep thinkers and pretty compassionate, they struggled at first. See, I think kids have answers, but they feel we do not believe in them or listen or trust. So, they are afraid of their own brilliance. Afraid that their ideas will be overlooked.
Occasionally, I get this feeling. It is a deep thing, it seems to be churning in my gut, stirring in my heart and clawing in my head. It is a feeling that I am on the verge of getting something transformational. Something that will change things- at least for me. I got that tonight.
If our students are fearful that their ideas to change the world will be ill-received, it is our job as educators to give them a parachute, a safety net to explore vision. This is not a project, not a program, not a plan or a formula. This is a culture. This is an attitude. This is a world changing idea.
I am excited to be a part of something that will ask students how they want to change the world- then equip them to do it. Our district initiative, LEADS, will create these opportunities. Over the last few weeks I have been building a team from campuses all over town. Teachers who are innovative in their classrooms and who get students, who have a knack for bringing better things out of students than even the students know they are capable of.
I will ask them- how would YOU change the world? Because their answer will help them equip students to change their world- starting near to them. On their campus, in their community. With their friends.
Too often, we set out to change the world by trying to lasso the world. Maybe world change starts with the person next to you. The person with skills you do not possess, but who shares a passion to make things better. These teachers I have been meeting with have different skills- they get how to teach reflection, how to dig deep into the motivations of students, how to bring out hidden talents, how to design and build teams. They are going to change the world together.
That is not hyperbole, by the way. I believe the LEADS Innovators (not advisers) will change the world because they all understand this truth:
Students want to change the world, and as educators, we are the fuse that lights their fire.
I cannot wait to get started!
Once upon a time...
It was a dark and stormy night...
Call me Ishmael...
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
So, my cousin's best friend's sister told me...
In the beginning...
Words have power, and when those words connect us to a story, the power is exponential. Stories wrap us up in a blanket of imagination, and drift us off to new places and new experiences- some fantastical, some mundane, others terrifying.
Stories are our escape.
But our lives and the lives of students are stories, too. And they are not an escape, but reality.
For many of us, our story is a comedy or a drama, for some it is a horror. Our stories can be full of intrigue and adventure- but unlike the thrill we experience when we read these stories, these lives can lead to stress and emotional pressure. Every day you encounter students and fellow teachers living out a story, and the pages you need to turn are the emotions written in their eyes, they intonation of the voice, the posture with which they stand. When determining the stories going on around you, yours is a detective story, piecing together these emotions and inflections and looks and sighs- suble variations that tell you if this story you are seeing started out "Once upon a time, " or "It was a dark and stormy night."
It is important to remember that not all stories end the way they start, too. Beauty and the Beast ends better than it starts, but Romeo and Juliet does not. And not all stories are a single plot line. That teacher down the hall that seems to be struggling with their class is showing you just one storyline- what is going on at home, or with their health is a unique storyline but it is affecting the story you read as their neighbor.
My campus has talked about the danger of the single story this year, recognizing that when we believe one thing about a person- even if it is the dominant thing- we are not getting their whole story. That superstar student or teacher may seem to have it all together, but maybe they are hiding a deeper hurt, or masking a need for approval with a constant strive for success. That student or teacher who is struggling may have some epic tragedy unfolding.
A story can be a comedy and a tragedy all at once- I can use dark humor to deal emotionally with a trial- but no everyone gets it. While it is important that I strive to explain the narrative of my life, it is also my call to seek to understand the meaning in others'.
Your story is not just your own, and it informs the stories of others. And no matter how your story- or theirs- started, there is a chance to change the ending.
But it means being willing to get wrapped up in the stories of those around us- and embrace our own.
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how to begin building a classroom culture of team. Looking back, that idea was a bit short-sighted. See, a team needs to exist not just in your classroom but also on your campus. Your teachers and administrators have unique skills- and personalities- that can mesh for success, or clash for implosion. If you are a leader on your campus and a teacher in the classroom, you need to develop a bit of psychological prowess to identify and approach your team. How do you motivate and engage diverse learners in the class and on the campus? By recognizing their strengths and weaknesses- along with their interests.
In short, differentiation.
Pros: Wonder Woman is the perfect Idealist model- she believes things can get better, and will fight to see it happen. The Idealist often sees the world in black and white. They clearly see a path to follow and will pursue it doggedly to its conclusion. The Idealist is usually positive, and sees the best in people, so they are often the ones that are compassionate and helpful towards others. They will defend the bullied or champion the underdog because they see potential where others do not. They probably make great mentors and class/campus cheerleaders.
Cons: They can burn out if they do not take time for themselves. They can get frustrated with others who are negative or do not try as hard as they could. They can become Social Justice Warriors- which is not necessarily bad, but they can get wrapped up in a cause and lose sight of the bigger picture. Their positivity is a clash with the Cynics and realists, and while that can result in compromise, it can also result in conflict.
Role: Mentors, cheerleaders, social chairs, greeters, and tutors. Give them jobs that let them spread hope and positivity, and a chance to serve others.
The Energetic Funny One
Pros: You know this kid/teacher, they make you laugh. Witty and quick thinking, they always have a joke. They are entertaining. They are Flash-y. They come to class awake and ready to go...somewhere. They tend to be easily excited by things you talk about, and are usually pretty positive. They feed on attention, and when they feel appreciated, they are very loyal. They are the first to volunteer for new oppportunities. If they feel you genuinely care about them, then they will be your biggest supporter. But....
Cons: ...without the right attention they can be your biggest problem. Imagine a whirlwind of activity that exists solely to disrupt your class. They need encouragement, but when they do not get it, they burn out or act up. You need to be intentional with them because any attention can reinforce their actions, so make sure you properly reinforce the right actions.
Role: They want to be comic relief, so let them be. Give them a time for jokes, let them be a sort of funny man to your straight man. In class, give them jobs involving movement- cleaning up, rearranging the room, setting up activities. As teachers, they can make great "product testers." They are always willing to try new things, so let them troubleshoot new strategies or tools.
The Tech Guy
Pros: They know technology. Better than you. Like Cyborg, they almost live by and for tech. They know the new apps, the new codes, the new systems almost as soon as they drop. With minimal clues, they can diagnose your tech issue quickly- and they want to do it. By nature, they are problem solvers as long as the problem is mathematical or tech based. They often have the patience needed for longer projects and are good at spotting the flaws in systems.
Cons: They struggle socially. Computers and tech have clear-cut answers for problems and with time they can be figured out- human relationships are less defined. They can be distant or fragile, or a sort of tech bully akin to the old SNL skit "Nick Burns, Your Company's Computer Guy." If they have been marginalized in the past, when they get power, they could become difficult to deal with.
Role: Students make great "roadies." They can help you optimize your tech, be testers of new edtech, and maybe even innovate some new solutions. Because they identify problems well, they make excellent troubleshooters. Let them help you set up presentations, or be the "go-to" student when a sub has tech difficulties.
The Superman (woman)
Pros: They ooze charisma and confidence. People like them because they are competent and successful. They are good at what they do, and everyone knows it. They are usually trustworthy, and are intentionally in pursuit of integrity. They are, for lack of a better word- a superstar. They succeed at whatever they do...
Cons: ...And they know it. This could lead to humility or arrogance. Also, popular superstars are not always popular for the right reasons. While most Supermen/women pursue integrity, some pursue glory no matter the cost. They can become so successful that they become almost alien- unrelatable to the average student.
Role: Play into that charisma and help them be a leader in the classroom. But do not start by putting them out front. Let them lead from behind the scenes. Teach them about servant leadership. If you are looking at teacher leaders, letting them experience humility will keep them grounded, and prevent them from eventually becoming that immovable old teacher who refuses to compromise. That servant leader role humanizes them for other students, teachers, and even themselves. Once that is in place, they will be a stronger and more relatable leader for all.
Pros: Yes, Rebels have Pros. In fact, a Rebel is really just a potential Superman that has a different perspective than the establishment. They are often charismatic and capable- even holding a sort of leadership quality- if not successful like the Superman. But they disagree with the status quo. Like the Cyborg, Aquamen are able to see the flaws in the system, but they prefer not to fix the problem, just create a new solution. They are excellent problem solvers.
Cons: The issue is, their creative problem solving may not exactly follow the established rules and expectations. They lack the social grace to respectfully challenge the status quo and instead want to reject social norms altogether, or substitute their opinion. They are hard headed, and often unwilling to use their natural charisma to help others, unless those others want the same thing they want.
Roles: Rebels can be innovators. Engaging them in the process of troubleshooting ideas, of being the voice of the unheard (because they will share their voice) and even having an official role as the "devil's advocate" empowers the Rebel to use their powers for good, rather than evil.
Pros: They take nothing at face value. They ask questions about everything. They need to have things proven to them before they accept them.
Yes, those are positives.
They are scientific, and they plan. Batman ALWAYS has a plan. They see potential outcomes, and their tendency toward negativity actually is a strength because they plan and counter-plan. Strangely, this leads to a weird sort of hybrid flexibility combined with rigidity. Also, they can be loners, so they can work independently, and make good risk takers- because they plan with flexibility.
Seriously, these are positives.
Cons: So, yeah. All the Pros are also Cons, if not properly motivated and aimed.
Roles: Students who are Batmen make excellent students to lead out in inquiry exercises. But make sure to monitor their questions, they can be deeper than the average question. They partner well with Flash, strangely, and provide a kind of counter to each other. Things can be tough for Teachers who are Batman. They ask hard questions and are loners. They need to make efforts to connect with others, but when they do, they emerge as leaders. They are excellent at planning things, and creating strategy.
But sometimes they really just want to be alone to think over their questions.
I love the idea of putting together a team. But rarely do we get the chance to build our own team of students or even teachers. Instead, we must learn to identify our Justice League that sits before us each day, or stands before our students. No team is without its issues, but identify the personalities and skills of those we work with is a great- and necessary start.
So, start with you- are you Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, Superman, Aquaman, or Batman?
And how does that affect your teaching/leading style?
One of my favorite tropes in media is the team building trope.
Someone sees a need and begins to cultivate a group of individuals to meet that need. You get to meet the individuals, see their particular skill set and just how they are introduced to the team. The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Avengers, and coming soon- the Justice League all have this trope.
What I love about it is how the individual's strengths play into the team's success. But at the same time, their individual personalities do not always mesh. The psychology of the team can drive or destroy a group. There is a line in the Avengers about this psychology.
Teams are a volatile mixture of talent and ego, skill and personality. Find the right mix, and you get amazing things. But find the wrong mix, and....
Personally, I am a Justice League guy more than Avengers. So I am eagerly awaiting November, and soaking up all the trailers being released. In each trailer, we see that there is a need for a team, but there will be some volatility. But I also think that volatility is why we love these team movies. If everyone just gelled immediately, it would be boring to watch.
But when it is our life, our classroom, we do not want volatility. We want cohesion, unity, collaboration. We want a team.
The truth is, our classroom is our team, our Justice League of Students. There are lots of personalities represented- we've got our Supermen, our Wonder Women, our Batmen. We also have our Cyborgs, Flashes and Aquamen. Each with skills, each with personalities, each with histories and struggles. In part two of this blog, I want to go into detail about dealing with these personalities, but for this blog, I want to focus on you, the teacher. Because, according to another great team movie, Remember the Titans:
It does not matter how talented or amazing a group is, if their leader reflects a poor attitude, so will the team. And....
Is your classroom chaotic, disorganized, and rebellious? Check your attitude to make sure you don't come off as random and unfocused.
Is your class sullen, disengaged, or checked out? Maybe you've been acting kinda cynical.
Is your class driven, focused and productive? Maybe you've set clear expectations and upheld them.
In short, check your attitude. It could be positive or negative, and the way you check is to read your kids. Their behavior is in many ways a mirror of how you teach. They can become like you, or respond to you. If you are condescending and treat with little respect, guess what? They will return in kind. When I am down, they can tell. When I am excited and ready to be there, they can tell.
You cannot control how students come to you, but you can control how you come to your students.
You may be a Batman or a Flash, a Wonder Woman or a Cyborg, but as the leader you must find a way to relate to each student. That starts with an intent and willingness to engage the students and meet them where they are. When you do that, you set the stage for uniting your class- or league.
The simple steps to start with today are these
1. Identify your attitude
2. Make needed adjustments to attitude
3. Read your students current state
4. Move to where they are
5. Create meaningful opportunities to connect there.
In Part Two, we will look at the students' various personalities- and maybe even identify your own.
Not surprisingly, the Coffee Talk (student led discussion) in four of my five classes today centered around the tragedy in Las Vegas. Students argued for gun control, countered with the difficulty of enforcement, and the fact that gun conrol laws will never stop all violence.
Students were, for the most part, humble and respectful and more than a little insightful. They were sad, some were fearful, but few where angry beyond what is normal when lives are lost for such...senselessness.
One student asked a pointed question, though- "Does it impact you personally?"
There intent was if we knew anyone there (I think), but the question is hinting at something that always lies just beneath the surface of most conversations in education:
"Why does it matter to you?"
In the face of yet another national tragedy, latest in a line far too long to count over the last few years, let alone decades, we can become desensitized, or even question why the things we teach daily even matter when there is such madness in the world.
But today, I say it matters all the more. We teach math, science, reading, writing, history, debate, art, athletics, career tech, and personal skills. But hopefully we teach so much more. Hopefully we teach character and kindness, patience and endurance. We should be teaching how to offer a hand not a judgment, and a second chance instead of a failing grade. We should, at the same time, teach consequences and expectations- though not in that order. We need to show that we care and are there- and approachable. We need to listen to the room even when the room is full of overactive kindergarteners (or seniors) because these are the voices that can save us from the mess we have made.
Why does Las Vegas matter to me?
Because if it is ever going to stop, it will not be because of legislation or destruction of guns or sweeping reform of mental health screening.
It will stop because people learn to be better. It will stop because we teach respect and honesty and integrity and the hard way that is sometimes the best way to make a difference.
It will stop because teachers- those professional educators and clergy and parents and peers and people on the street who are all in fact a part of our human education- show us why it matters to each of us.
It matters to me because I believe we can be better. And I believe we will be.
We just need to learn how.
And it starts with a conversation.
Join me, won't you?
I have never thought of myself as a control-freak. One look at my desk will tell you I am not neat and tidy, I believe that letting my own personal children figure things out on their own is the best path, and I am usually pretty laid back about life.
But over the last year, I have come to realize that I have control issues in regards to some big things in life. I want to make things happen, but get frustrated when I cannot.
I can start to relate to our students in this, and to a degree, I can relate to the struggles teachers have with the concept of student-centered instruction. At a training, I heard a teacher express this concern "Teachers have so little control in the decisions from outside their classroom, that they have difficulty letting go of control of the things inside their classroom."
I have control issues, sure, but not about surrendering control in the classroom. That being said, I completely understand and relate to the concerns of this and other teachers. Can we trust students to do the right thing when we give them power in the classroom? The short answer is not always, but the longer answer involves understanding that that is ok. There are a few steps and places where we can give our students ownership in class and also give them "structured freedom" to explore their ideas.
Every year, my students will ask some variation of "What is the rubric?" They have been conditioned to expect a rubric, and while there is nothing wrong with a rubric, I have begun to wonder if how we do them is limiting student creativity. What that means is this: are we teaching students to think, or think like us?
When a student asks for a rubric, what they mean is; What do I have to do to get the grade I want? They are looking for the quick path to an A. Students absolutely need to know the expectations, but do the expectations have to be so linear? I fear that traditional rubrics become more about getting students to align with our plan (and sometimes perspectives) than discover their own.
The issue is one of conformity. Now, when there is a right and a wrong way, we must teach the right. But more often than we want to admit, a student may be able to get to the right answer by a way other than the one we have used. Should we not encourage this creative thinking and problem solving? So I propose a method called the Balloon Rubric. We give a clear start and end point, and give some parameters to keep some focus, but we give a lot of room for students to explore and create.
What I have found is that students initially balk at this. They have truly come to need the strict guidelines of the traditional rubric. So, to get them thinking more in the Balloon style, I start by having them design their own rubric. It gives them the structure they have come to need, but one that they develop. And you have created ownership.
My classes have just finished their first round of blogs. What has impressed me is how quickly some have latched onto this method of reflection. Some blogs have been short and to the point, but others have had depth AND creativity. Some have made connections I was not expecting, and it is only the first attempt!
The first issue, however, relates back to the rubric question. Students immediately wanted to know what it needed to have. What lengh? What content? And I responded with a traditional style of rubric.
Then I realized that by given too much structure, I was actually limiting the range and depth of reflection. When I told them to include four specific things, I immediately cut down the possible insight they could have. Moving forward, it will simply be a completion grade where they can engage in higher order thinking without the limitations of a traditional rubric. I will still read them all, and comment on their blogs, of course. In fact, what I have read so far has thoroughly impressed- and impacted- me more than I had hoped or expected.
I may sound like a broken record to long time readers, but voice is the best way to student-center your classroom. Students want to talk. Letting them take a lead role in the class discussions - and even in instruction is incredibly empowering. It is also an excellent way to check student understanding. Much like the blogs, when students begin to engage each other in conversations about content, amazing things happen.
Not sure where to start? Have a student develop a question of the day. It can be done at the beginning of class as a review time, or at the end as a closer. I like the beginning, because it acts as a warm up for class discussion. Let your students develop a class problem, or give a literature review. But empower them to have opinions, and to express them. If you fear topics that might get risky, set some boundaries, have a "balloon rubric" in place to keep things on track.
For me, it really is like the Beatles sing- Let It Be. The hardest part about surrendering control is letting go. I hear teachers say all the time how much they believe in their students- it is the most common thing teachers say they wish their students knew.
So, let them know by giving them a chance to express themselves, and take ownership of their learning.
Let it be.
A few years ago, my students were learning about poetry interpretation in debate class. So, I promised to model for them what the performance should look like. I chose a poem to weave in with other poems (that's debate talk for 'edit') called "What Teachers Make" by Taylor Mali. And I chose the edited, version, for those who are aware of this particular piece. The piece starts with the question about teacher compensation, but over the course of the poem, Mali argues that teachers make kids learn, grow, mature, see the world uniquely and push the boundaries. He concludes with this:
"Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
Teachers make a --- difference! Now what about you?"
Even now, this resonates with me, and with countless other teachers. We want to make a difference. We want to inspire, to challenge and to have a hand in shaping our students. I think we are "Made to Make" as this Craftsman video explains/
I think we are made to make, but like the video says, somewhere we became more about assembly than creation, we make for convenience and simplicity.
Yet, I believe we long for impact greater than we see. We want to see students create, make, and make a difference in our world, but often we find ourselves bound to the structures and standards of our content. We want to see students make a difference, and we want to equip them.
We want students to see the needs of the world around them and address it. Two students from College Station did that a few years ago when they created Books and a Blanket. They observed that some students did not have access to books, and in some cases the comfort and needs of a blanket fo warmth. They went out and developed a plan and a program to meet the need. A small plan gained traction and exploded. Since 2012, they have distributed over 52,500 books to over 4,300 kids. They have brought national attention to a need. They have made a difference.
Another student named Srinidhi saw that there was a significant lack of interest in math among female students. So she began a program to reach them. Our local paper carried the story about how Srinidhi's program- meeting twice weekly at a local church- not only creates interest in math for girls but maintains it. Her impact is showing up in classrooms and extra-curriculars already simply because she saw a need, and sought to meet it.
Both of these stories are about students being leaders, being made to make a difference. And neither story was confined to a classroom.
This is where we as teachers struggle. How can we empower students to effect change beyond the classroom?
This question was at the heart of a discussion started last year in the College Station ISD Dream Team. Several educators met over the course of a few months and discussed this idea of turning student voice into student empowerment and action. Those discussions ultimately led to an idea now known as LEADS (Lead Empower Act Develop Serve).
At its heart, LEADS is about providing our students with an opportunity to become aware of the world around them- its needs and possibilities- and then help them to develop plans and programs to meet those needs and achieve those possibilities. The impact of Books and A Blanket and Srinidhi's math program has been significant, but LEADS is looking to amplify the power of students to effect change in their schools and community. Imagine not two or three students charging forward and taking a risk to better things, but four to six per campus, from all secondary campuses in a district. Imagine if these forty two students developed seven to twelve (or more) programs like those above, and impacted students, schools, communities and perhaps even more with thier passion, determination and drive.
What if we could harness the energy and excitement of a generation HUNGRY to make things better? What if we dared to look at them as leaders today- not just someday? What if we empowered them with a "YES!" instead of a "We'll see." What if we gave them time, resources and training to turn raw passion into a focused plan with materials and funding needed to make them happen?
What if the one that held that power to empower was you?
Because it can be.
See, LEADS needs teacher advisors. Teachers who want to see students empowered and equipped for world changing. LEADS needs educators that believe as much in their students as their students believe in their dreams. LEADS needs teachers that refuse to be told what they can't do, and refuse to let students accept that response from anyone else.
College Station ISD is looking for some teachers who are willing to take a risk and develop leadership and service ideas with students. Educators who want to connect with students that are inspiring and inspired should take a look at this application and submit it to their principal. This is an opportunity to help make something that is lasting, powerful and impactful to their students, school, and community.
This is an opportunity to make an even greater difference.
I hope you will join the LEADS team on this journey.
Feel free to contact me at email@example.com for more information about LEADS, or check the website linked above.
On Thursday, my debate class coffee talk was about dress code for the first time. This year. Cumulatively, it feels like it was the 1000th. It impacts our students a great deal, and I think it is high time that we as adults looked at it.
When I was in high school in the 90's in Mart, Texas, we had a pretty strict dress code. Even for guys. A friend of mine had really thick facial hair by the time he was a junior, and our school's rule was no facial hair. He would shave in the morning, and be given a warning and a razor by lunch.
My first day as a teacher at College Station High School, I mistook a sophomore for a teacher because he had a FULL beard. Like, Paul Bunyon would be jealous, full.
Times have changed, and in some ways, our school dress codes have as well. But now, I am seeing them not just as a former student and a teacher, but as a parent. While I was invested in my students' voice before, now that it is a personal connection, I am hyper invested.
Now, I am not writing this to complain about the dress code itself. I generally have no problem with what the dress code is consistent of. How it is interpreted, generated and applied, however, I do have questions about. And maybe some suggestions. But I also really want feedback. So, I want to briefly share my questions/suggestions, and then I would love to hear how various districts address this.
I have seen and heard stories of students reduced to tears by being dress-coded. I have also seen teachers and administrators make every effort to protect the emotional state of a student. It is an embarrassing thing to be called out for the way you dress, so we need to make sure we are still treating a student with respect and dignity. I think privacy and obviously same-gender dress-coding is most appropriate. What conversations do we need to be having about guarding our students hearts- and teaching them how to protect their own?
The most common complaint I hear is that the dress codes are heavy handed towards female students. I cannot deny this, as I have tried to reason it out. I cannot. So much of what is deemed out of dress code seems directed at female fashion. Beyond that, I hear the accusations that enforcement is not equal. There have been conversations about equality in how we discipline our students based on race and ethnicity as well as socioeconomic status, it may very well be time to devote similar energies to our treatment of students based on genders. Are your boys being held to the same expectations as the girls? If not, how can that be balanced out?
My daughter asked this, and I did not have a response: if we have not been dress coded by 3rd period, but suddenly are in 6th period, is that fair? I saw it as an issue that we have at our school- a student walks past dozens of teachers and three or four class periods before being coded, despite the best efforts of teachers. This creates an atmosphere of inconsistency for students, but it also can lead to friction between teachers. One teacher is seen as overly strict, another too lenient- and then judgment of each other is imminent. How can we address this issue effectively?
How is dress code developed in your district? I would imagine most come from the school board, or maybe even district administration- especially in larger districts with multiple campuses. One student asked me this in class, during our discussion. When I told them where it comes from in our district, one responded- "Why don't they ask us?"
Why don't we have student input on the dress code? I am not saying students design it all, but I think they should definitely be allowed to air their concerns.
As a teacher, a parent, and an aspiring administrator, I like to ask the questions about the systems we operate under. Like our students, I think we need to understand the why's behind our rules. Sometimes, when we ask the question, we realize that our why is not relevant any longer- or more relevant than it has ever been.
We cannot be afraid to talk about the issues that impact our schools on a day to day basis. In some ways, it is easier to talk about school finance or STAAR or teacher unions than it is things like dress code. All of those things have an effect on students, no doubt. But things like dress code are the things that the students are aware of, and therefore are the things THEY care about.
And if students care about it, so should we.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, Communication Applications and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team and co-sponsor Student Council. I am an aspiring administrator.