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 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.