Two farmers lived side by side.
One walked out to his fields and poured the seeds on top of the ground and left them to grow.
The other took time to hook up a plow, and go and till the soil. Once the earth was broken, he sowed the seed in the broken dirt.
At harvest time, the first farmer reaped some crops- the hardiest seed had taken root and grown, pretty much despite the farmer.
The second farmer reaped a full crop- having first prepared the soil for the seeds.
Every educator knows that relationships matter.
But knowing and acting on knowledge are NOT the same thing.
When I was younger, before I taught in schools, I believed that it was the content that mattered, not the relationship. To be fair to myself, I was a minister at the time, and was attempting to diminish my role in my congregations spiritual development.
While content absolutely matters in education, it does not matter to our students.
In the parable, the content is the seed, the students the soil. Many of us are the first farmer- we toss out content expecting it to take root on its own merit. Some of the content we share finds its way into the soil and takes root. But it relies on a method that means only the strongest content and only the most accepting students will connect for learning.
We have a lot of content to go through. I added World History to my classes this year, meaning I have to cover all of human history in 36 weeks. That is a lot of seed to sow. But I still endeavor to act as the second farmer- I till the soil first so that the content can take root.
Our plow is relationship building. For me, that means discussion and conversation. I have done student led discussion to open my debate, sociology and psychology classes for the last two years, and now it is a part of a core content area- world history. I believe it is having a the same effect as tilled soil- knowledge is taking root and growing.
See, when soil is tilled, it is not simply opened up for knowledge, it is mingled in with the soil around it. Class discussion not only opens minds, it mingles them. Students share themselves with teachers and with each other, and learning can become collaborative.
This is the tilled soil of a learner-centered classroom.
My children decided to be born early in the morning, after a long night of not being born. So my recollection of their births is tainted a bit by time and a lot by exhaustion (nothing compared to what my wife experienced- to be clear!).
But I do remember this. My children were born in a room designed to usher new life into the world. There was space for doctors and nurses to work, tools to check their health and tools to quickly address any concerns, and of course the right furniture to address the needs of the delivery process.
Delivery rooms are designed with purpose. Walk into one, and you know immediately why the room exists. Intentionality is dripping from the walls.
Now, walk into a classroom, and what does it tell you? Does it convey that ideas are born here? Or does it tell you that this is where standardization reigns supreme?
I believe that a classroom should be a delivery room of ideas. Space must be created for students to collaborate, find and use necessary tools, and for urgent needs to be addressed. Creating that space could mean physical spaces using flexible seating or simply intentional design when it comes to decor and seating arrangement.
Creating a space should also- or at its core- be cultural, philosophical, and relational. No matter how well designed a room is physically, if the cultural, philosophical, and relational culture is not present, ideas will be stillborn. Students need to know they can share their ideas and be heard. Students also need to develop the skills to critique and receive criticism of their ideas so that they can refine and develop them. Ideas are born in the collective, and we need to create interactions to foster that.
Ideas are also born out of what looks like chaos. Sometimes, idea birth is scary because it means letting go of some of the control . A student may have an idea that scares you because it is new, different, or not the way you would have done it. And maybe that is for the best. After all, if the old way of doing it is not the best for someone, why not dream up a new way?
Additionally, the Delivery Room of Ideas is not just the classroom, it is the campus. Those delivering ideas may be teachers or administrators. When I read about or see stories on places like Ron Clark Academy or this school in Houston, I see these as delivery rooms of ideas- from students AND educators.
I want to challenge you to think intentionally about the spaces you create. Design Delivery Rooms of Ideas- a place to bring new life and innovation to the world. And for motivation check out this great TED Talk:
Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.
- Harold S. Geneen
The art of communication is the language of leadership.
Teaching debate classes will inevitably lead to discussions of leadership. Communication is how one leads, after all. And debate is really arguing- it is persuasion.
Over the last few years it has become clear to me that our students are keenly aware of what leadership is and is not- but are consistently confused to see those labeled "leaders" amongst their peers, faculty, community, country and world not demonstrating it. They are frustrated, they feel as though a "do as I say, not as I do" mentality is pervasive amongst "leaders."
I share their frustration.
As an educator, I watch the government at the state and national level talk of the importance of education while ignoring the plight of the educator. I have spoken with other educators from around my state who have administrations that want "innovation," but only when it matches their concept of innovation. I see students broken over their peers who are "leaders" yet behave inappropriately and see no consequences.
So, we need to have a talk.
We need to talk about promises...
Just last week, the governor of Texas talked about raising teacher salaries to the six figure mark. Collectively, we Texas teachers rolled our eyes. We know this is not real, and even if it is, there is ABSOLUTELY a catch. See, that promise stands in stark contrast to the ACTIONS of our state government. One that has cut funding so that some school districts essentially get ZERO financial support from the state. My district is one of them. But, hey, it is an election year, so, this is to be expected.
Where are the politicians that will actually support, defend, and FIGHT FOR public education? Without the catch?
But politicians are easy targets. Educators make hollow promises as well. Have we not had administrators that promise support, but get busy? Who offer opportunities for growth because we want to grow professionally, but do not follow through? Have we not BEEN the educator who promises our students to be on top of lessons and grading and communication- but then we weren't? Who promise equity- true equity, not the buzzword version going around- but fall back into giving disproportionately to the same students?
Our students have learned that when their peers promise an end to homework to get elected class president that it is false and hollow. They see us doing the same thing. They are savvy. They are wise beyond their years. So we need to FOLLOW THROUGH on our promises as adults. And when we inevitably fail to do so (we all do)- we need to OWN IT. We need to apologize and seek to restore that trust, not brush it under the rug of the past.
We need to talk about the WHY...
TEKS. STAAR. T-TESS.
Expectations. Rules. Standards.
Homework. Goals. Seating.
Why do we do these things?
Our campus has embraced the need to explain the WHY to our students when it comes to expectations and rules. But I think it is time to take a deeper dive into the WHY of state standards, of why we sometimes practice equity poorly, of why sometimes it looks like we have and practice double standards. Because again, our students see it.
Our politicians need to explain why they do what they do- regarding standards and school funding. Our administrators should explain why they make the tough decisions. It is incumbent on teachers to explain the WHY to their students- call it relevance if you like. I just think it is demonstrating respect to students as human beings to explain the purpose of assignments and expectations.
We need to talk about Integrity...
I mentioned earlier that we know our politicians are lying when they make promises. That right there is why we struggle to find integrity in all levels of leadership. It seems that we EXPECT dishonesty, selfish ambition, and cutting corners. Integrity is about holding ourselves to a higher standard.
Making a mistake means owning it- not hiding it.
Breaking a rule means facing a consequence- not hiding it.
Getting caught in a lie means admitting it and seeking to correct it- not hiding it.
When students see their peers who are leaders get treated differently- getting softer, lesser or no consequences- it conveys to them that with great power comes no responsibility. They lose trust in their student leaders, and by extension their adult leaders. It creates an avalanche of cynicism into their adulthood that leads to believe as we do- leaders cannot be trusted.
We CANNOT let this generation drink that poison.
We need to hold ourselves to better standards. We need to face the consequences when we fail. We need to model integrity- doing the right thing even when it is not easy or popular. We need to hold our student leaders to higher standards and not dismiss moral failures because "they are usually pretty good kids."
We need to take Actions...
Talk is cheap.
And when we just talk, and never act, our students see our hypocrisy.
So, today, when you read this, do something. Follow through on a promise. Explain and MODEL a why. Show integrity- and celebrate it when you see it in others.
Really, we do not need to talk about leadership- we need to start DOING it.
That is what was spent on my two kids' school supplies this year. Throw in their backpacks, and it is closer to $250. We have not yet bought school clothes, and having just had a decently costly knee surgery, bought a house and had a car brake light (the one that you have to get a part from the dealer and not Auto Zone) go out as I was getting the car inspected- it may be a bit.
All this was in my head as I checked out at Target, the first of two baskets we had of paper and pens and stuff. But there was something else.
I am thankful.
Thankful that I can buy my kids supplies- even with the other stuff. Sure, it stretches our two teacher household paycheck more than I like or am comfortable with. But I can do it.
In a couple weeks, I will have students who cannot. I will have students who also cannot afford decent meals. I will have students who will not have parents willing or able to help them when they struggle on home work. I will have students who are sick, or have been abused, or been bullied, or have made mistakes that are coming back to haunt them. I will have students that are being abused by they peers- or used by them. I will have students that fear going home- or have none to go to.
There is a growing buzzword in education called "equity." Used correctly, it is an effort to address the issues in the paragraph above. Unfortunately, it is being used to tell teachers to "follow the plan" so one class does not feel they get a cool assignment while the others do not.
But I want to talk about the real equity. The one that matters.
How do we create equity when the field is so uneven? When abuse meets poverty meets stability meets illness meets guilt meets successful meets popular meets depressed?
I just returned from the grocery store where I bought the last vanilla ice cream so my kids could have root beer floats. The package was damaged, so the cashier asked if I wanted a different one. I explained it was the last one, he bagged it, and I went home. That mentality is necessary for retail- get rid of the damaged product. It's the mentality in almost everything in the world except good families and education.
To me, the ice cream carton was damaged, not the contents. If I was looking at the cartons and there had been more than one, I would have ignored the damaged one and taken another.
As educators, we cannot ignore the damaged carton because it is lesser.
And we cannot neglect the pristine carton either to devote all our time to the damaged.
If we want to create equity in the classroom, there is only one way.
Student voice that leads to empowerment.
We cannot create this as educators, we can merely encourage and equip it.
The depressed student has a voice.
The abused student has a voice.
The successful student has a voice.
The homeless kid has a voice.
The rich kid has a voice.
They need to be ALLOWED to use it. They need to be EQUIPPED on how. And they need to be EMPOWERED to enact it.
For the last year, I have lead an initiative in my district. I have recruited a team of educators and together we have developed a program called LEADS that will launch this year. It is a tool- we hope- that will help create equity. We will be leading a session at College Station ISD's You Matter this Friday, but in the meantime, here is our promo video:
As I checked out with my kids' school supplies and thought of all the kids that will struggle to pay for theirs, I hoped not that I could create equity for those students, but that I could help equip my students to fight for true equity- that through LEADS, or-better yet- through their own initiative they will serve those around them that have a need.
That they would consider others as greater than themselves.
Then I remembered that for them to learn that lesson- I need to first model it by serving others.
This will be the second in a series of blogs on things I learned from life and how they apply to life. The first is here: didacticchad.weebly.com/home/edu-life-lessons-injury
Moving is tough.
Even when it is a good thing, it is tedious, exhausting and hot. Especially when moving in Texas. In May-July.
This summer, I moved in three different ways- I moved out, I moved around, and I moved up.
I will start with the saddest parts of moving- when you leave. I spent the last couple days helping one of my best friends move out of their home and away from College Station. It hurts to see people we love leave, and at the same time, we are excited for their new journey. There is a mix of emotions that adds to the normal stress of moving out. When we moved out of our old home, I felt some of this- we were leaving where memories were made, experiences shared, and dreams birthed. But we where not leaving our town. Our friends are not just moving out, they are moving on (super secret 4th type of move coming up later).
Our students and fellow teachers move out as well. They leave their rooms yet sometimes stay in the same building. Things are mostly the same, but still different. We see them less, relationships change, and there is excitement yet sorrow at the loss of what once was.
As educational practice goes, we have to move out of doing things a certain way. We have to leave behind well developed lessons when standards change. We have to finally acknowledge that overhead projectors are NOT dynamic presentations. We have to accept that the way we learned it is not how our students learned it. So at the very least, we have to move around.
For the last two years, I have been in the basement of my school with limited interaction with other teachers.
This was not punishment.
I got the chance to move up to the second floor for next year which means some changes. Most notably for me- my Vitamin D levels should go back up as I will get some sunlight. It also means I need to alter my coffeehouse classroom design somewhat. Not a total overhaul, but adjust must be made. The first was the coffeebar lost the bookshelf backing. Mostly because there was no way I was taking a massive solid wood bookshelf up essentially three floors. Now it will be a window seat for students.
As educators, we sometimes move around. We teach new content areas, we try new things, but we are essentially rearranging the furniture a bit. We do not leave our school, maybe not even our room, but things are a bit different. This can be an exciting move, one that we choose to pursue to keep things fresh. Or, it may be mandated- in which case you still need to try to find a way to make the changes your own. Moving Around is a great way to take ownership of your educational career.
The final move I experienced was also the first move I did this summer. Or rather, moves. We moved into storage, then into a new house.
This is not recommended.
Moving Up is awesome. You move into something you define as better- perhaps bigger or newer or with something you never had before. For us, it was a spot to put the trashcan in the cabinets.
We have been using our pantry for ten years. My wife and I still go to the pantry at least once a day to throw out trash because one of the toughest parts about moving up is that you have to learn a new role.
That is true in education. I hope to move up to administration someday- and if I do, I cannot do some things the way I do them now. As a classroom teacher, my "trashcan" is in the "pantry" but as an admin, it is in the "cabinet." For me, this will be how I handle discipline. It will evolve somewhat- become more intensive and have more weight behind it, but it must still hold onto the soul of how I do it now- by focusing on relationship. See, I still put the trash in the trashcan, I do not change that key part of life when I moved up.
Finally, Moving On
I am not moving on. But someday, I might. To a new campus, a new district, a new state- even a new career. When I move on, it will not be sans all the things I have collected over time. I will take the things that matter with me.
When we Move On in education, remember to take the things that matter. The notes from parents and students, the relationships built, the memories made.
Take the things that have made you who you are- and they will move on with you.
This will be the first in a series of blogs on things I learned from life and how they apply to life.
In early April, while ACTIVELY monitoring during the STAAR EOC test, I planted my left knee and turned, immediately feeling a pop and some pain. My knees pop a lot despite my relative youth of 38- so I just thought I had sprained it. I carried on as normal for about a day, then realized it impacted my normal exercise routine that is essentially a sort of HIIT workout. So, I scaled back the workout.
By the last week of school, the knee was no better, so I went to the doctor. He did an x-ray and found nothing broken, and suggested that I get an MRI to confirm if it was a tear. We were moving over the summer, and would be on the road for two weeks before we moved into our new house, so I asked to wait. He gave me some meds, which helped a bit, but in the course of moving into storage then into the new house, the pain increased. I got the MRI and discovered I have a torn meniscus and will have surgery on July 30.
This all relates to our classrooms and campuses like this: our class/campus is our body. On any given day, a part of our body gets injured. Gets torn. A student has a bad day, gets in a fight, fails a test, gets bullied. A teacher feels alone, rejected, dejected, or gets bullied. (Yeah, it happens.) As an educator, we may feel it, recognize the pain of the injured party, but we have things to do. Lessons to prep, observations to do, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. We think the injury will go away if we just modify (or mollify) it for a bit. Give it space and time to heal. Rub the ointment of kind words on the hurt party, but do nothing to actually treat the injury.
I do not know if the tear got worse from the first injury or not. But I do know that my knee has been hurting for over three months, and ignoring it and thinking positively has not made it better. Here are the steps that have made (or will make) it better- be it my knew or your class/campus injury.
1. Got to a doctor
A doctor knows their stuff, yes, but they are primarily a different perspective. They lean on their knowledge and skill to assess your medical needs. As educators, our "doctors" are those we can go to with a different perspective than our own. Peers, friends of the teacher, even fellow students can provide a sort of expert insight into the pain in your school body. So when a teacher seems to be hurting, ask their teacher friends what is up- and when it is a student, ask their friends.
2. Get an MRI
An MRI gives a deeper picture of an injury. A school injury MRI is deeper diving into what the pain is. Asking hard questions of the one who is hurt is the best way to do this. And yes, it will hurt you. That MRI bill sure does not feel great right now. But it is needed to get to the heart of the injury.
3. Treat it
For me, it will be surgery to repair. For an EDU injury, it will- like a surgery- have risks. You will have to dig into the injury, whatever it is, and seek to repair it. Continue conversations, address wrongs and slight and actually make them right. Discipline and correction may be necessary. Change to your plan and approach may be needed. And even if it is repaired- if the rejected teacher is accepted, the bullied student gets relief- you are not done.
When my surgery is done, I will not be right back at my HIIT training and mud runs. I will be on crutches for week, then I will have to rehab. I will have to rebuild lost muscle and flexibility. When a teacher or student in our school body is injured, then repaired, they too need rehab. Broken trust or instilled fears cannot be corrected with one action. That person needs to be rehabbed- reinforced regularly- until they are strong enough to return to "activities as normal."
I am not exactly looking forward to surgery and rehab. I don't think anyone does. But I am looking forward to eventually returning to "activities as normal." If there is an injury that occurred your students or teachers over the summer, they may come back with an emotional limp. Do not wait to see if it will go away- treat it.
Do new things.
Try to find the things that have not been done and do them. Find the things that have not been done well, and do them better. Know that you will face resistance- from those who do things the old way and those you beat to the punch, but do those things anyway. You will be told "you cannot do that" and "it will never work." Respond with a kind, respectful-but firm-
"Don't tell me what I can't do."
See, the doers of new things are not followers, and they may not be the leader. But they are creators. And we need creators.
Even if they are not always valued right away.
People who try to do new things are the most valuable- and misunderstood- resource we have. See, they do not just complain and point out the flaws of the status quo. No, they do what others fear or resist or simply do not understand. They do not take the road less traveled- they make a new road where once there was nothing.
Make Your Mark
But if you are to be a doer of things not done, you have to map your journey. It will give you integrity- integrity like a building or a bridge needs integrity. You have to make sure that what you do is sound, secure, and as scientists know- it must be replicable.
Tell your story so others can follow it. Use social media for more than selfies and Snapchat streaks- tell a story worth hearing. Not just one that has structural integrity but also possesses moral integrity. Blog, podcast, vlog, write a book, make a movie, paint a picture, keep a journal, tell a friend over coffee.
But never forget that character will out. What you have skimped on, and taken the shortcut with up until know has brought success, and it might for a bit longer. But in the end, the person with moral integrity, sound character, and strong qualities will have more than just catchy slogans and motivational posters and team mantras to stand on.
They that have integrity will live as an open book because will have a life that does not lie or hide the truth of who they are.
And this is where it will all bring you.
The real you.
The you you have spent your whole life seeking is revealed when you take risks, when you try a new thing, and when you honestly reflect and what you have experienced. There is a hard truth about this elusive "you." It will always remain just a little ahead of where things are now, it will tease you forward, daring you to never be satisfied because the truth of "you" is that "you" are revealed in the journey, not the destination.
Never Stop Learning.
To the parents- this goes for you as well. You too are the Class of Every Year. So where your parents, and theirs and theirs. So will be your grandchildren and theirs and theirs. The hard lesson for us in this is that our journey is ours, and our children's journey is theirs. You will have to learn to let them take chances, to risk, to learn how to handle rejection and success. As parents, the new thing we become doers of is letting go, the mark we make is our children, and we will know ourselves when we look at our journey in conjunction with our children.
We will learn from our children if we let them teach us. And if we believe, truly believe that the next generation is capable of leading us now- not when they graduate, or when they graduate again, or again, or when they finally arrive- they lead now.
So let us, our generation, do the new thing today, and let the little children lead us.
In their journey lies my hope- and yours.
My family and I are moving across town to a new house. That means one thing:
In the course of packing, I am taking stock of the things we have accumulated. The things we needed, the things we wanted, and the gifts we gave.
That last one is what has me typing this out these thoughts.
A few years ago, we got my oldest daughter (Leslie) the Harry Potter series. She had never read them- heck, I had never read them- but she was interested and her friends were talking about it. So, we bought the whole series. We would all read the books and have shared experience as a family. And aside from Kenna having no interest in Harry Potter whatsoever, it has worked.
Leslie and Kenna have both always liked reading, but when we gave Leslie the Potter series, something powerful happened. Her reading comprehension increased, her analysis of text increased, and her excitement- really her JOY- of reading exploded. But something more important happened.
It changed our relationship as father and daughter.
We had a great relationship to begin with, but now we had deep discussions of literature. And when we both finished Potter, we moved on to other series. Percy Jackson, the Divergent series, now we are reading the Heroes of OIympus (and she is way ahead of me). Some have been mutually well-received, others not as much. But each page, each chapter has given us a chance to connect.
I did not just give my daughter the gift of reading, I gave the gift of relationship.
It struck me, looking at the collection of books growing on my daughters' shelves (both are avid readers now) that reading is relationship. You connect with characters and stories, and then you connect with others who love those same fictional people and events. You discuss and debate and dissect the prose, you share theories and predictions, and you learn more about the real people around you. Leslie is a Hermione, I am a strange Lupin/Snape hybrid. And we connect there.
When we as educators give our kids something to read, we are giving them a chance at a relationship- with literature and with each other and with us.
Next year, if I am a classroom teacher, I will have a library of books and graphic novels that relate to my subject matter for students and I to share and discuss. If I am able to become an administrator- I will have a library of books and graphic novels that relate to my subject matter for students and I to share and discuss. I want to create an environment that is conducive to building academic relationships around shared interests. I want to foster connections between myself and my students, and my students and literacy.
Things have come full circle: the gift I gave my daughter has now become a gift to me to now give to my students. I have learned a valuable lesson:
Reading is Relationship.
Think for a second about your favorite hero or heroine. Chances are, they are not perfect, they are not infallible, and they are very human. Even if they are not human, they display vulnerability and compassion and hope and resilience and very normal, everyday human emotions. They succeed. And they fail.
If a hero is unwavering, never questioning their mission, then they can become unrelatable. The great heroes look at their challenge and sometimes ask themselves, "Can this be done?" Aragorn, Frodo, Gandalf, and all the rest look at their mission and doubt that it can be accomplished. In the movies, Gandalf goes so far to say that their mission was a "fool's hope."
But that is what makes them heroes.
In the face of doubt, which they freely express, they have a hope. Even if it is small.
When our heroes never bleed, they become unrelatable. What is it that makes John McClane so heroic in the Die Hard movies? He gets banged up. A lot. Harry Potter cannot save Cedric, and this becomes the true turning point in the series because his failure both haunts and drives him to end Voldemort's threat. Tris loses her mom and dad in Divergent. John Keating gets fired in Dead Poets Society. William Wallace dies.
Our heroes need to fail to demonstrate why their actions are so heroic. If it were easy to win, everyone would. The important thing is these heroes either eventually overcome, or they create a legacy that drives others to take up their mission.
If a hero starts at the top, where do they go?
We need our heroes to come from obscurity. Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City after years missing to become Batman. Arthur pulls the sword from the stone and becomes a king. Frodo is just a hobbit. Mary Poppins literally comes from out of nowhere.
Heroes need a moment to rise, an opportunity to shine. and they cannot be afraid of the spotlight in that moment. They must realize they are a light to others. A beacon of hope that will inspire other heroes. As Theodore Roosevelt says,
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Ultimately, that is the key to heroes. They make new heroes. People take up the cause, continue the journey, finish the quest. People become heroes, who inspire other people who become heroes. And so on it goes.
What does this have to do with education?
Go back and read this passage. Everywhere you see the words hero, heroine, or heroes- replace it with teacher or teachers.
That is what makes a teacher.
In my first year of teaching, I tried to speak to every student that walked by my room, even if they were not my own. Nothing more than a "hi" or "good morning," but it was an impactful thing.
I have begun to realize that somewhere along the way, I stopped doing that. And, applying full correlation DOES equal causation, I think that has an affect on my mood. I tend to be grumpier and more negative when I do not cordially greet as many people as I can.
This morning, I went up from my basement classroom to the third floor to talk with a teacher who turned out to be out today. I was a bit frustrated that I walked all that way, with a knee that was hurt doing STAAR testing (seriously, that is not a joke).
But on the way down, I started saying "good morning" to everyone I encountered.
I found my mood improving with each interaction. I was smiling more, even when the recipient ignored it or did not hear it.
So here is a challenge- say "good morning" or some sort of greeting to as many people as you can today. (Or tomorrow, if you read this later.)
It not only makes a difference to the one you say it to, it makes a difference to you.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, World History Honors and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team, sponsor the TED Ed Club, and I am the Lead Innovator for LEADS CSISD (A student leadership empowerment program for 5th-8th graders). I am an aspiring administrator.