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.
My wife is telling me I need to take a break.
For the last few weeks, I have been spending my time outside of school responsibilities painting and updating our house to be ready for sale. And as it is debate season, most weekends are full of early morning leave times, long days of judging and coaching, and late nights. At the same time, I am developing district programs and brainstorming ideas for administrative initiatives to propose if I get a chance to be an administrator in the next year or so.
I did not use to be a workaholic, so what changed?
For me, it was a desire to prove myself. I want to conquer challenges, and I thrive on challenges. I do not do well just sitting. But lately, even I must admit that I am burning the candle at both ends. And why?
To prove I can be successful.
When I type that, it sounds selfish. But I swear it is not. I strive to work on the house to provide a better one for my family. I strive to coach my students in debate so they will have strong communication skills to serve them well in adulthood. I strive to develop LEADS because I believe our students can make a difference NOW. I strive get an administrative position because I want to IMPACT education by empowering teachers to be the best they can be- in a way I cannot do as a classroom teacher.
See, my success in these endeavors will also be success for others. I do not need to succeed for the success of others to be possible, but I want to be a part of that.
I believe in my family, in my students, in the potential for innovative education, and in my fellow educators.
That is why I strive.
Why do you?
"Don't Tell Me What I Can't Do."
My class motto.
Students, for some reason, have put limits on themselves. "I can't speak in class." "I can never do better than a C." "I have to conform to a rubric to get this grade." "I need to play it safe to get into the right school."
I do not believe that any of those limitations are natural. I believe that students have accepted lies about themselves and imposed limits on themselves.
And I believe educators have done the same.
Somewhere between our childhood dreams of being an astronaut or superhero, we begin to let our lives be dominated by the phrase "I can't." We are told by well-meaning friends and parents and yes, teachers, that we have limits.
We are told by systems that only some can achieve greatness.
Implied in that is that the "some" is not me.
There are definitely examples of humans who go above and beyond- who become leaders and kings and astronauts and our world's version of superheroes. But too few reach that peak. Not because there are only a few who can, but there are only a few who believe they can.
In spite of what the world tells them.
David was told he couldn't kill Goliath. He did.
Theodore Roosevelt was told he might not live to adulthood because of poor health. The least dangerous thing he did was become president.
Rosa Parks was told she couldn't sit there. She showed us she could.
And today, a student will sit in your class, a teacher will stand down the hall from you believing that the thing they wanted most in this world is beyond their grasp.
They will believe that they "can't."
DO NOT LET THEM GO ON BELIEVING THAT.
Samsung has captured our mission as educators.
We must not let a generation believe the lie of "can't." We must not let educators believe it either.
I love the line that says "We're born to do what can't be done." It is true, but we have grown to believe something else. We are born to do more than we think we can.
It is not arrogance that makes us think we can accomplish the impossible.
It is raw human nature.
Don't tell us what we can't do.
I stood in the hallway today, watching my students drink from the water fountain. I spent a good deal of time laughing at them as they tried and failed to connect water stream to mouth. As I stood in the hall, a cafeteria full of students at my back, and an administrator looking curiously at what was going on, I created a moment for my students.
See, they were not simply drinking water, they were wearing perception goggles for a psychology lesson on sensation and perception. This was a sequel to a lesson earlier in the week where they wore the same goggles to navigate obstacle courses, stack cups, and shoot Nerf Guns at targets. That lesson ended with a video simulation of what sensory overload feels like for their peers on the Autism Spectrum followed by a discussion of how we could help our friends when everything gets to be too much- or when we have a difference in perspective.
I love the opportunity to create moments like these. Things that break the norm of typical classroom discussion. Moments where students get to take the lead, run with the lesson, and make it what they want it to be. Even if the lesson plan might go in a different direction. To some, breaking from the established plan is an unreasonable expectation.
I am currently reading the Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, and I came across this quote:
The book points out that creating moments is what makes experiences stand out. They argue that while taking care of small concerns is important, sometimes you need to do something that is not necessary, not even really functional, to make a memory. For us as educators, this unreasonable act means doing something that makes the learning stick.
The goggles and simulation teach students about perspective- how to adjust when one of your senses is compromised and how to see the world in a different way. I could teach that with slides and discussion in five minutes- that is reasonable. It is just a speed bump in a day. But the goggles, or tag team debates (one student starts a topic and the rest of the class jumps up to argue, support or change the subject entirely) or having the students "go to war" with rival groups in class in a trivia game to test knowledge of content are all unreasonable, they lack efficiency.
But they are Everests.
Students will remember these moments. And they will remember the things they learned in them.
So, educators, are you being unreasonable? How can you create moments that impact student learning for the long term- for more than just getting a good grade?
I think we still need to create those rational, reasonable speed bumps. If every day was an Everest, we would crash. But if all we do is make the reasonable decision, will our students remember the things that really do matter?
I am all for being a bit unreasonable. Are you?
Today was the big day, the day that the vision I and others have been working toward for almost a year.
LEADS (Lead, Empower, Act, Develop, Serve) is a program that at its core is about students. How to teach them to be leaders and servants of their campus and beyond. It is about innovation and compassion, practical actions and big visions.
It is difficult to quantify because it is new. Really new. As in, first of its kind new.
Now, it looks a bit like Student Council with its leadership, AVID with its empowerment, FFA with its action, Mentoring programs with its development, and National Honor Society with its service. But it is unique in many ways. For one, students from grades 5 through 12 will be taking part. The numbers are smaller, simply 2 per grade (at this point), and the service is both larger in scale and smaller in scope. A big project that is focused on the campus the students come from. The students are ambassadors for the school district, but they may not be the students that are always chosen, At least, we do not want to see the same kids in those organizations listed above to the exclusion of those students with big ideas, but not necessarily the same opportunities or results.
LEADS is for the Crazy Ones, like those in this Apple commercial.
But the Crazy Ones does not simply apply to the students. (And PLEASE see that I am using 'crazy ones' in the most positive way possible!)
The Teacher Innovators, as we are calling them, must be willing to take a risk. To step out and try something new, to create, to lead, empower, act, develop and serve themselves.
The big day involved no students, because before we can let them loose, we need to create the best possible field for student work to succeed. That means vision, that means expectation, that means finding the right people to take on the task.
For the last three months, I have been meeting one-on-one with about a dozen teachers from CSISD. Some I knew were interested in this sort of thing, some had applied, and some were recommended. I went to them with a pitch for a new program that would test them, challenge them, and give them the chance to make a difference in students's lives beyond the walls of their classroom. Today we gathered for vision casting and team building.
The first task was to complete the Marshmallow Challenge using 20 pieces of spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow. Oh, and they could only use one hand per person to do the task The results differed.
Two teams used very different techniques and designs, yet both accomplished their goal- to hold a marshmallow up with spaghetti. Our Teacher Innovators discussed how different methods are not necessarily wrong or right, but they might need some guidance and some correction. Or more tape.
Success is measured by the accomplishment. In this case, working together to overcome challenges and deficits was a success, as much as getting the marshmallow higher.
Our second activity was Give 1 Take 1- after reading an article, we wrote three takeaways on note cards, then shared them with each other. One person would share, their partner would take one they liked and sign their name. The other would do the same. The ideas that were signed the most were shared. Essentially, the takeaway was that we need to start small and build with integrity any program we develop.
I then shared the vision of LEADS- seen here via Periscope: https://www.pscp.tv/w/bT-8uzFlUkV4cWVxZU1XUXd8MURYeHlFcVdhQnl4Tbm9aZmk1zpUtMXKZjVRaGRVSXlx7iIAcQsJ1EQIMV82
After lunch we watched a video over Nintendo LABO:
Thinking that was a good idea, we had our teachers use cardboard to meet a need- how to stop pencils from rolling off standing desks. Again, the results were different- yet creative. One was more complex, the other more simple. Both, again, accomplished the task.
As we completed this task, our Innovators were mindful that we would be asking our students to use common tools to uniquely solve needs. If we as teachers could not embrace creative problem solving, how could we expect our students? We must model this in LEADS- and our classrooms.
Lastly, we began to create posters that define for us the components of LEADS. Our braindump will continue to develop into clearer visions of what the program is and will be.
This is symbolic of what today was. It was a start. A small step. Many ideas were shared, questions asked, and processes started. Some of these thoughts will move forward, some will stall out, others with change and adapt. My goal for today was to bridge the gap between those teachers who were nervous to take this on and those who were eager and excited to jump right in. As the day concluded, I definitely felt that the Teacher Innovators were excited and eager- but sober in their perspective of the task ahead. There is much work, but I believe that today, the empowerment was offered to these teachers to take ownership of LEADS.
See, the conclusion today was that LEADS CANNOT be just our vision. It must be the students' vision, their passion. So, for now, we build a foundation. When the students join us, we build for the stars.
We are, after all, the Crazy Ones.
I talk a great deal about student voice and how impactful it is to education and student empowerment.
But there are times when student voice has an even more important role for our students.
Yesterday, in Italy, Texas, there was a school shooting. A male student allegedly approached a female student he liked and for some reason, shot her. She was injured but survived, the suspect was arrested. (according to CBS News- www.cbsnews.com/news/italy-high-school-shooting-in-texas-today-2018-01-22-live-updates/)
But that is not the whole story.
A student at the school posted on her Facebook page (my home town is near Italy and often competed against them, friends from my hometown posted the student's comments) that this young man had numerous instances of violence and dangerous behavior reported- yet there was nothing done, no discipline applied. Students who reported, according to this person, were given a politically correct response and nothing more.
As an educator, I know there are laws to follow, and I also know there is definitely more than one side to the story. I know students can be prone to exaggeration, and in this case may be doing just that. For all I know, Italy officials did everything right, and this shooting just happened.
But reading the words of this student's account, I was struck by this statement in the student's post:
"The result of this had many parents upset and many made the point “do we just wait until someone gets shot before something is done” today the worst possible thing happened. He ended up doing the worst."
Whether or not the administration at the school had taken action prior to this or not is not the point. The point is, students and parents felt they did not, and were now sharing those views publicly.
Their perspective is their reality.
As teachers and and educators, if we have students or parents with concerns, and they feel they are not being heard, we have a responsibility to help them understand our actions. Obviously, this is withing the limits of our FERPA laws of confidentiality- but if students do not feel heard or safe, we need to find a way to alleviate these concerns.
So, today, I am asking myself these questions:
* Do I really listen to the students' concerns AND make efforts to address them?
* Am I creating a culture of security and trust in my classroom, or one that has students lacking confidence in my words that I care about them?
* What perspectives do my students have about my concern for their well-being?
* Have I been consistent in listening to and taking action on student reports of bullying, harassment, depression, abuse, or dangerous behavior?
And perhaps the biggest question:
* If I were a student, would I trust me to be sensitive and proactive in addressing my concerns and fears as a student?
Today, let us listen to our students' voices and work with them to make our schools a safer and more encouraging place.
A hiker climbed to the top of a mountain after a long, difficult trek through the valleys below. When they reached the peak, they decided that the difficult journey through the peaks was more than they wanted to endure again. Besides, the view was spectacular, and just being on top of the mountain felt so good, like such an accomplishment.
The first day and night were not so bad, but they soon ran out of food. Looking around, there was scarce vegetation, and no wildlife to hunt. Starting a fire was difficult due to the wind and the lack of firewood. There was no structure, and no means to make one, so the first time the weather turned bad, the hiker had no place to hide.
Reluctantly, the hiker realized that as tough as the valleys are, it is to the valleys we must turn for shelter and food.
Without the valleys, we would never survive the mountaintops.
We all want to be on the mountaintops.
We want the wins, the victories, the promotions, and the successes. We want to stay in those moments, dwelling there, setting up camp- living in the successes.
But it is simply not feasible.
The truth is, mountaintop moments do not provide us strength, or sustenance, or protection. It is the valleys we must go through that endow us with these things. We struggle and fight and suffer in the valley so we can reach the mountaintop, but it is these trials in the valley that make us strong enough to reach the peak. When we get there, we need to soak up those moments, use the success to motivate us, but we cannot live in the moments there because mountain tops are not made to sustain life, they are moments that stand out from life. They are not meant to be lived on, but to be pursued, chased after, achieved, then abandoned on a search for grander and higher peaks.
So when you or your students reaches a mountaintop, and fears descending into the valley again, remember, the descent into the valley is just a journey to be made that will give you strength for the next summit you seek. Without the valley, you cannot survive the mountaintop.
When our house was on the market this past fall, one comment that we kept hearing from realtors and buyers was "I don't like the paint choices."
Now, I am of the school that if you do not like the paint in a house, you can buy it and paint it yourself, but since our house did not sell last fall, and we want to put it on the market again this spring, I am painting.
Now, painting is not a terribly intellectually stimulating exercise, so I began to try to think a way to make this task more worthwhile and engaging. First, I drew pictures in the paint. That got boring quickly. But then I began to think about why we paint, and what painting actually does. Paint is a decoration, it does not change the structure of the house at all, it just makes it look fresh and clean- and hopefully attractive. Good paint choices can highlight the strengths of a house, and hide imperfections.
Paint makes the old look new.
Now, either I just made painting an intellectual pursuit or the fumes got to me.
I think we can find ways to "repaint" our lessons. They may be our tried and true go-to lessons, but even the best ones need to be refreshed from time to time. This is not a structural change, not a remodel, just a layer of fresh, clean new "paint" on sound teaching. Here are three tips for "repainting" your old lessons.
Keep looking for new colors
Paint companies are making new colors all the time. Or rebranding old ones. It pays to keep an eye out for the new colors, the new mixes that make the painting work better or easier. In education, it pays to keep an eye on the latest current events. Looking for new stories or connections to the lesson you are teaching is a great way to update an older lesson. Use a new example that is more current or fresh. Read an article or find a new video to spice up things for the visual learners in your room. This can really make a huge difference in your pursuit of making the content relevant for the students.
Get some new paint tools
I have painted a lot. Mostly because my wife and I have a terrible eye for what colors work. I have had to paint our last two houses twice because of this fatal flaw. (The first house looked like a McDonald's for a year.) I also paint a lot because we prefer earthier tones than the gray most folks prefer. And I like darker colors, too.
A couple years ago, I got a paint sprayer.
Worth. Every. Penny.
It is faster and smoother in application. It is why I was able to paint 8 rooms in less than a week and a half while at school. OK, I painted after school, and I do not have a self-painter. That'd be cool, though. (Paint fumes, sorry.)
Educators, you can "repaint" your lesson with some new tools. Tech tools are a good go-to. One of my fellow educators, Chris Kovacs, just used a Kahoot to spice up a lesson that he had done before. There are new edtech tools all the time, so shop around. But maybe you still prefer low-tech, how about turning to new (or new-to-you) techniques. A Socrative seminar, a debate, student led discussion, philosophical chairs, etc. However you repaint your lesson, try out a new tool. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much you like it.
Take a risk
As I stated, I have taken some risks in my painting choices. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. But you know what, it is just paint. I did not knock down a load baring wall or rewire the lights. Repainting to find the right color or texture next time is some work, but it is not that costly, not that difficult to fix.
So you repainted your lesson and the response was...not what you wanted. Do not be afraid to try again. To dabble in a new shade of red or purple or yellow- something to bring your students' attention to the content you need to teach. And if the repaint does not work, use it as an opportunity to solicit student feedback. Ask them the shades they prefer, or better yet, let them repaint the lesson, let them teach their peers.
OK, folks. I hope this helps you to think a little bit about how to make a cosmetic change to some sound, but maybe a bit dated, instruction. Now, what colors would you like to use?
(Any typos, or rambling, or anything that does not make since is due to copious amounts of paint fumes. My apologies.)
Riding in the car with the family over the break, the song "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse came on. My kids are pretty inquisitive, so they began asking questions, such as "Why do you always change the station when that song comes on?"
We explained that the singer was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and when people tried to get her help- rehab- she refused. She wrote a song about it, "Rehab" where she demonstrated a refusal to get help. She won Grammys for it, including Best Song. She was celebrated for her "amazing talent" demonstrated in a song that's lyrics go like this:
They tried to make me go to rehab
I said, "no, no, no"
Yes, I been black
But when I come back, you'll know, know, know
I ain't got the time
And if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab
I won't go, go, go
Then she drank herself to death. Literally.
I explained to my daughters- a teenager and a pre-teen- that sometimes society looks the other way when someone is talented, when someone is good at something. They let behaviors slip because they believe in the potential of a person. But those behaviors, unchecked, will end whatever potential- and even life- they could have.
Growing up, I heard stories about great high school athletes that had scholarships and lost them to drugs and alcohol. My parents would drive the point home by pointing these people out in the small town in which we lived. These folks would be nursing a brown paper bag covered bottle in the middle of the day. These cautionary tales gave me the worldview that talent without integrity would only get you so far.
Now, I am a teacher. I see talented students every day. Athletes, artists, and academics. I believe in the potential of these students, and want to see them succeed greatly. Not just in high school, but in college and career. I believe in grace, and offering these students a healthy dose of that grace. But I wonder where it stops being grace, and become enabling bad behavior.
Is my aide and support to a talented student making bad decisions enabling them to continue making bad choices? And on the other side, am I offering the same grace to students who are not as talented? Or do I have a shorter temper with them because they don't sing or paint as well as the other kid?
If I have a different set of standards for those with talent, those who stand out as leaders, then I am conveying the message that some students are more important than others.
In 2008, Amy Winehouse took home a bunch of awards for refusing to go to rehab in verse. In 2011, her behavior which was celebrated in song killed her. Do we as a society condone or even celebrate bad behavior when we look the other way?
The NFL has a problem with athletes and abuse of their significant others. They have known about it, but not spoken against it. Finally, protests are forcing some small changes.
In 2017, a group of women spoke out about sexual abuse running rampant in Hollywood and beyond. Time magazine made them the person of the year. That is worth celebrating. But it seems that the abuse they were subjected to was a known activity for decades, and the abusers were continually celebrated. Because of their power and influence.
Numerous political figures were also taken down by the sexual abuse scandal, yet more accusations keep coming, and some continue to display the same behavior. And we continued to elect people with questionable actions.
These things are things that I have to talk about with students in Sociology, Debate, and Psychology. Impressionable students are seeing that power, talent, and success are bullet proofing against getting in trouble for poor behavior.
Does character still count?
I believe it does.
If the next superstar athlete, artist, or academic is my class, I believe I do them a disservice if I do not hold out high expectations in regard to character and integrity. If the next bus driver, custodian, store manager, teacher, or doctor is my class, I believe I do them a disservice if I do not hold out high expectations in regard to character and integrity. So that means I need to find that balance between grace and expectations in my interactions.
I leave you with these questions that I am asking myself in my search for instilling integrity:
-Do I offer grace equally to "superstars" and all other students?
-Does the grace I extend infringe on the rights of others? (Am I overlooking abuse, bullying, disruption or any behavior that negatively affects others?)
-Do my students feel that I am treating them equally, or do some get special treatment in their eyes? (Perception is reality, so I need to address that if I am perceived as doing this.)
-If a student has chosen to be a leader makes a mistake that is public, or does affect another person, how can make that a teachable moment for them and others that leads to growth for all?
-Am I displaying integrity by being honest and transparent with my students about my own mistakes and attempts to grow?
I do not believe in regrets.
I do believe, however, in years that were painful to endure.
I am more than ready for 2017 to go the way of Hans Gruber in Die Hard. It has been a year of "almost but not quite," of taking risks that did not pan out, having to spend a lot of money we were not planning to shell out, spending an inordinate amount of time having to teach students that even though politicians and famous people act that way we should not, and we capped it off with having to put our 15 year old border collie down- who has been with us since our first year of marriage.
I do not regret 2017, but I do eagerly await its passing. It is said that failure makes us grow, and after this year, I do agree with that part of growth mindset more fervently. I have come to take notice of things- from the way I present myself, to how others perceive me. I have learned that people always want to give you an encouraging word, but you sometimes need to be told the truth no matter how painful it is. I have learned that sometimes with loss comes a bit of freedom.
Between seeing my own year of trial (at one point I started a list of things that had not gone right- big things related to career, family, house and finances- and I could list 13 things)and seeing our world experiencing great turmoil, hope became hard to find.
In a year with more mass shootings and massive hurricanes, I have learned that the good guys do not always win. But they also never give up. I look at humanity in the wake of these tragedies and see hope.
My wife and I have been watching the Lord of The Rings with our oldest- her first time. At the end of the Two Towers, Samwise Gamgee speaks truth to me- and hopefully you.
2017 reminded me that up until then, I had had it easy. But if I want to make a difference- the kind of difference I talk about on Twitter and in blogs and to fellow educators- then I have to be willing to fight. Sometimes the fight will be about practice or to be taken seriously, sometimes the fight will be about ideology. But as I listened to Sam, and I watched Houston after Harvey where we came together for the goodness of all humankind, I realized I need to define what I am fighting for in 2018. Now, I have some personal goals to fight for in 2018, but for the sake of this blog, here are the BIG things I am fighting for that are not about me.
-For Students: It will ALWAYS be about students for me. A student's success and a student's safety trump anything else. If they cannot have one- safety or success- they cannot truly have either.
-Voice: Students and Teachers alike need to be heard. I want to find a way to spread that voice, and if needs be, be the voice for those who have none of their own.
-Empowerment: One of the best things that came out of 2017 for me was the opportunity to develop and lead a program that is devoted to student empowerment. Along the way, we realized that student empowerment like we are trying to develop cannot happen without teachers who are empowered as well.
-Vision: We need leaders in education and beyond that cast vision. They need to find the core idea of what makes school and classroom culture work for their specific situation and develop and share a vision that is clear and connected to their population.
-Innovation: Whether it is a small tweak to an existing idea, or a seismic shift of thought and practice, Innovation is worth fighting for- and celebrating. Too many innovators are overlooked or ignored because they lack voice or a platform to share their voice. If I myself cannot innovate a solution, I want to find and engage with others who can, and help them in whatever way I can to change our world.
After my year of living out the hard part of growth mindset, these are the things that I find important. These are the things I want to encourage and defend as a classroom teacher, a teacher leader, and hopefully someday as an administrator. These things MATTER to me.
What are your things worth fighting for in 2018?
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.