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 have learned so much from efforts to end open defecation.
Let me explain. I am reading The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, and they devote the second major section of their book to how to create opportunities for people to "trip over the truth." In other words, to discover what is right in front of them.
The centerpiece of this concept is a story about efforts to help people see the importance of using sanitation devices like latrines instead of just going, well, wherever. The story features copious amounts of the s-word, but there is a reason- the scientists trying to change behavior did want to sugar coat the truth. They needed a visceral response to effect change. I HIGHLY recommend you get this book, because I will never be able to effectively tell this story. But the big takeaway for me was that we do not really need to tell people the truth, we need to create opportunities for them to recognize the truth they never knew they were looking right at.
People where stepping in and walking through feces everywhere.
And in this story, feces was the "truth."
In education, I see it working like this. We have a practice we do. We do it all the time. We assume it is working great. So we continue it. What we do not do is really look into it. Ask others how the practice impacts them.
In my second year of teaching, a really bad set of test scores made me evaluate my practices. I could assume I was doing everything right and blame lazy students (let's be honest, we have all had that temptation). But instead, I asked students what I could do better. I was able to learn from the people I was there to teach.
I think one area educators always feel they are good at is listening to their students. Educators think they know what students think or feel.
Unless you have talked to them, really listened-
Watching them in the hallways is not listening. When you tell them to be quite when the lesson needs to start, pay attention to what conversations are going on. When you greet them, pay attention to their mood, their face, their posture. That tells a bigger truth than their words.
I am not immune to this.
A former student of mine posted a message on Facebook recently. This student is a graduate, and they posted an article about a new state law in Texas that required schools to give students a full lunch even if they had insufficient funds. The article stated that our district did not have that policy in place. The former student said essentially "Of course the district doesn't do this. Why would they do something that shows they care about students."
First, I recognize that there is way more in the reasoning behind district policy than many of know. I am NOT judging the district policy. This is about the fact that at least one student felt their school district did not care about students. A student who passed through MY classroom felt this way. It means I could have done more.
If you think that is just one opinion, you have not been listening to your students.
Yes, students are dramatic at times.
Yes, students overreact.
Yes, they do not have all the facts.
Yes, they have social media and they WILL share their opinions.
Back to open defecation. (That may be the most disgusting transition I have ever made.) The people who practiced that knew they were defecating everywhere, they just did not see why it was a problem until a worker helped them see things from a different perspective.
Educators, we are walking, talking, and living in a lot of crap and we are totally not aware. We are focused on a lot of important things, but we are also missing a lot of important things. We need to open our eyes and be INTENTIONAL about listening to and engaging with our students. What does that mean?
-You have a student that is tardy daily? Ask why. Are they walking from the farthest point possible from your classroom? Take a chance to to walk that distance during your conference, see if you can see why it is difficult.
-You have a student that is always sleeping? Find out what is going on. Are they working late hours? Maybe go visit their place of business to say hi.
-You have a student that is always hungry? Hand them a snack.
-A student complains about unfairness being displayed by a fellow educator? Listen, encourage them to talk with the teacher, and do not stab your colleague in the back.
-Students complaining about dress code? Find out their complaints, and see if you can discover the "why" behind it being a rule. I have found 'why' is the biggest reason students complain- they do not understand the reasoning. They may still disagree with it, but at least we show them respect enough to help them try to make sense of things.
-You have a fellow teacher that you never see? Take a walk to visit them.
-Your administrators overwhelmed with discipline issues AND regular daily responsibilities? Offer some help from time to time.
Our district had the opportunity for some administrators and few teachers to spend a day as a student last year. Though my opportunity fell through, my friends who did it were truly inspired. They came away with a new understanding of what students experience everyday. I wish we could have every teacher spend a day as a student.
The empathy that would create!
But here is the thing- I can make all sorts of suggestions about what we could do better, but you need to discover for yourself what your campus, your district, or your classroom's issue is. In the same way a student's disciplinary action has greater power because of their involvement in the process, our development as educators needs our personal touch.
Chip and Dan Heath say it this way in The Power of Moments:
"You can't appreciate the solution until you appreciate the problem. So when we talk about "tripping over the truth," we mean the truth about the problem or harm. That's what sparks sudden insight." (pg 106)
That leads us to the final point. We must APPRECIATE the problem. The problem must be given attention and it's due respect. Far too often, our students express a problem, and we do not take it seriously. We dismiss it as one opinion or struggle.
But it is real to that student.
We may not be able to solve the problem- there may not even be a problem to us- but we need to appreciate the problem that that student feels. That means listening and connecting. That means asking questions of those involved in the problem. It means thinking with the student on ways to address it.
How can I get you to "trip over your truth?"
Talk a walk around your school. Look for how your students are acting- not for disciplinary reasons, but to gauge their morale, their emotional state. Look for equity- is treatment of students fair. Look for smiles and frowns, then ask them why they smile or frown. Try to put yourself back in your school days- how would you want to be treated, how would you hope every day went?
And watch your step. There is truth all over the place.
For the last two years, I have been championing student voice. I believe that our students have something to say, and we need to be listening to them.
So, with March for Our Lives, a student voice movement has gone big-time. And I am excited to see adults hearing what students are saying.
But I am also soberly reminded of how far the student voice process still has to go.
For too long, teachers have felt they were talking to a brick wall of students, and for too long students have felt they were talking to a brick wall of adults.
Unfortunately, it seems it took a tragic school shooting to break down those walls and open communication. The students behind the March for Our Lives movement have seen more progress that many other student movements. Already, Florida has begun rolling out responses to their concerns- but therein lies the first issue.
Student Voice is Impatient
Florida is requiring clear backpacks and IDs for all students and the governor broke with the NRA in a first step. Instead of celebrating a first victory, many in the student movement immediately complained it wasn't enough.
Of course it isn't. Massive changes to how we address mental health, gun laws, and even the way schools are run takes time. But many students may not quite grasp the intricacies of this- so instead of dismissing their frustration as immaturity, we need to make it a teachable moment. Explain that it will take time, and that the victories (which they may not see as victories) are in fact important steps. Student voice must learn persistence. And patience.
Support is Not Necessarily Total Agreement
I watched some of the student leaders on Meet the Press this morning. What I heard were some great things, but I also heard an assumption in their interviews and in their rhetoric that indicated that the marchers completely agreed with all of their ideas. One, that is simply not plausible. But two, assuming total support is risky. Hearing the students assume that everyone who wants to do something about school shootings wants more gun control equates to every supporter of the 2nd Amendment assuming that those who agree with them want NO gun control.
This is dangerous because you ignore elements of your movement that have differing- and perhaps valid- ideas. Ideas that when incorporated and compromised with can make the movement stronger, and the voice louder. There is also a rush that comes from a huge day like yesterday. It was a tremendous victory for awareness, but yes, not everyone there was there in passionate support. I saw one interview with some marchers that had a very different understanding of what the march was. Numbers get attention, but numbers also mean a message is in danger of being diluted and misrepresented. The students who want their voice heard on this need to engage in conversations with different viewpoints, and look for ways they can find common ground. Which leads to...
Marches Get Attention, Conversations Make Changes
There is no doubt the march got people talking. The student leaders deserve tremendous credit for keeping the message alive. But marches will fade from memory unless there are conversations that follow.
The best example of this is Martin Luther King Jr and John F. Kennedy. Following the March on Washington- the march all other marches strive to be- King met with Kennedy. It was a conversation that built on the moment of the March.
I hope that these students continue to seek conversations with leaders. More importantly, I hope our leaders listen. This is key- not just hear, LISTEN.
Listening is more than acknowledging a viewpoint, it is engaging with it. It is hearing the pain and passion and hope and strength- and it is hearing the things that need to be course corrected.
I will have students tomorrow who want to talk about the March. You might as well. They may agree or disagree with it, they may share views that only half-formed, or that are in direct contradiction to your own.
Then, engage. Not to prove wrong or right, but to understand, and to support. Not necessarily their view, but their right to explore their opinions, fears, and hopes.
Students and adults can learn from the March for Our Lives. We can learn about more than just ending gun violence, we can learn about how to have a tough conversation. What to say, what not to say, what to do, what not to do.
My view of the March for Our Lives is this- it is a chance to start some tough, but necessary discussions.
That means the plants are blooming, the sun is shining, and senioritis is in full epidemic mode.
We are in the backstretch of the year, half a semester left. The students and teachers can smell summer break. Standing in the way is about nine weeks of school that include state testing, end of year conferences, and students asking what they can do to salvage their grade.
At this point in the year, it becomes easy to give in to the mundane and mediocre. To enter survival mode. But I want to challenge you:
Don't be that teacher.
Remember why you chose this calling- and why, perhaps, it chose you.
It has been an...interesting year in education. Teachers have had a lot to deal with outside the classroom in this election cycle. Remember that as difficult as some new laws or budget constraints from the state are, you chose this calling because you wanted to reach students, to make a difference. It can be straining and scary to have so little control over your career- believe me, I know- but you chose this serve others. Remember them.
I have seen advertisements for several television shows that are about teachers- all of them have the stereotypical "teacher behaving badly for comedic purposes." Remember that teaching is a noble calling. That we have an impact on the next generation that is potentially greater than any other influencer in their life. Be that teacher that makes them love learning by being present and patient and by TRULY LISTENING to them. Choose to focus on the positives each day- celebrate the amazing things your students and your peers are doing everyday and don't choose to air petty complaints or humorous (but demeaning) teacher memes. I am not saying to share legitimate concerns and struggles- transparency is important- but do not neglect to remember why we believe educators accept a calling, not just a contract.
Remember that there is a student that needs a kind word.
Remember that there is a fellow educator who needs a pat on the back.
Remember that EOCs and STAARS are not the measure of our students' value- or our own.
Remember that as our time with our students draws to a close, we still have time to make a difference.
Remember that you started this year with hope for things to come- it would be best to end with hope for the seeds you've planted.
Remember that you are the story of your school that your non-educator friends hear.
Remember that as long as there is breath in your lungs and days on the calendar, you can still reach THAT kid.
Remember that as much as we chose to teach, education chose us, too.
Remember why you do what you do.
I have been toying with the idea of a podcast for since last summer, and I finally took the bait and created one. My concept is called Didactic Cafe, and the general theme is ethics and morality as it relates to education. I would love to see discussion around student and teacher interactions, the ethics of instructional practices, and peer-to-peer relationships of educators. But I also want to get your feedback- what topics would you like to share in this discussion? Also, if you are interested in guest co-hosting with me, let me know in the comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the first podcast- let me know what you think!
If you put a group of high school juniors and seniors in a room of elementary students, who learns more?
This is at the heart of a field I took today with my psychology students. My students are asking questions, observing behaviors, gauging interactions, and reviewing the work of the elementary students for the purpose of collecting data on developmental psychology. They are supposed to learn about what developmental changes are occurring from grade to grade. They are also discovering the differences between elementary today and what they experienced a decade ago.
The elementary students are learning about lots of content, but when my students walk in, they get a picture of what their future looks like. They get to see that learning is more than just what happens during their class, they learn that you can gain knowledge in many ways.
The teachers with me are learning things, too. We are noticing that students at elementary are learning a lot of things that are still impactful a decade later. So much foundation is laid at the elementary level that directly relates to student successes at the secondary level.
Here is what I have learned: more collaboration across grades is needed. One of the fourth grade teachers, Amanda Mann, has been asking for the last few years for us to come spend a full day. I think there is power in the connections we make- the elementary students are excited and engaged by the high schoolers, and there is a joy I do not normally see on the faces of my teenagers.
So, fellow educators, how can we increase these sorts of inter-grade interactions?
I love the stage of life that my daughters are in right now. They are 11 and 13, and my wife Kristin and I are blessed to have two amazing girls that are bright, well mannered, funny, creative, and actually want to hang out with us. (They are also beautiful, but that might not be a blessing for me as we enter these teenage years.)
The truth is, I really selfishly do not want this age to end. I want my kids to be around my wife and I because I love their company and the joy they bring to our lives. But I also recognize that I want to see the people they become as adults. The careers they choose, the family they build and the future they create. I am content and happy with them now, but I am not satisfied with keeping them this age. I want them to reach a point where they do not need me anymore.
This is my heart as a parent and as a teacher. I love the discussions I have with my students and the learning going on in our classroom. I love the interactions and the insights they have. But if that is all they ever have, all they ever learn, then I am not satisfied for them.
I want my students to grow to the point where they do not need me guiding them anymore.
True growth, I believe, lies in gaining independence. That is the goal of parenting. That is the goal I have for my own professional and personal growth.
That is the goal we should have for education.
Content, but never satisfied.
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.