Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Learning and Dancing

Ellie is my oldest, and she is 5.  Sometime in the past year or two she said to me, "Daddy, I don't ever want to stop learning and dancing."  Once the goosebumps subsided and the tears of joy dried up, I composed myself and gave her a big hug and told her how proud of her I was and that I also hoped she would never stop learning and dancing.

Yesterday our superintendent forwarded us this article.  This is a discussion and a debate that has been going on for quite sometime now in our country, and one I've enjoyed engaging in (though not nearly enough publicly).  I'm a vice principal at a public middle school, with aspirations of one day being a school principal.  So what is my hope and vision for my students and my children?

Well, quite simply, I don't ever want them to stop learning and dancing.  You see, Ellie feels that learning is fun.  She has never been told what she was going to learn or even that she was going to learn.  She has just gone about her business for the last 5+ years living life and learning to be a person.  Ellie embraces learning the same way she embraces dancing - as something to be experienced and enjoyed.

We adults lose sight of that.  We think we are so smart as to determine for someone else what they should learn and when they should learn it and at what pace they should learn it.  (The word curriculum, ironically, is a Latin word which means "a race.")  We are, as evidenced by Ellie, inherently born with a desire to learn.  Our job as educators first and foremost should be, must be, to cultivate that desire, not to quench it.  Once we have made that shift, we will view the debate about homework and honors classes and SAT scores from a very, very different perspective.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

#caedchat Part 2

About a year-and-a-half ago I wrote this entry, detailing my first experience with #edchats.  Since then I have participated in several #edchats, including this one that I was invited to because it was based on a talk I gave at a TEDx event!

As I said previously, these #edchats are an amazing way to develop professionally.  I recently emailed our district leadership team to explain how #edchats work and encouraging them to participate.  I participated in #caedchat this past Sunday evening and recorded THIS screen capture of my phone as a way to show how #edchats work and also to illustrate the power of twitter as a tool for professional development.

Coincidentally, this article came through my Twitter feed the very next day.  Sure is a fun time to be an educator!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Back to School - But Different

Counting thirteen years of K-12 schooling, (so many I shouldn't say) eight years of college and graduate school, and eleven years as an educator, this past Monday was my 32nd first day of school.  This year is different, however, because it is the first year I have my own child that is having her first day of school.  Being a daddy makes everything different.

My first day at work the day after we found out we were pregnant with Ellie was different.  My students were no longer just my students; they were someone else's children.  The drive home from the hospital with Ellie was different; I had never been such a cautious driver.  So while the first day of school this year brought many of the same feelings it has brought in past years, it also brought new feelings.  With that, I offer this letter to all educators from all mommies and daddies, especially this one.

Dear Educator,

Today you take my most prized possession into your hands.  There is nothing I wouldn't do for her.  Nothing.  If you are a parent you understand what I feel for her.  If you are not, it is nearly impossible to describe.  She's my world.  And now, she's under your watch.

She is a human, and therefore inherently deserving of respect, kindness, and patience.  I know how tough your job is.  I know firsthand.  Please, always give her the respect, kindness, and patience she deserves.

She is eager to learn.  She once said to me, "Daddy, I never want to stop learning and dancing."  I hope that spirit never dissipates.  I fear that it will.  But you can help with this!  Inspire her, challenge her, believe in her.  Appeal to her natural curiousity.  Remember that she came into this world knowing nothing and being able to do nothing (besides cry, eat, and poop).  From there, without any lesson plans, she learned to walk, talk, sing, count, dance, laugh, and think.  She chose to learn how to do each of those, and so many more, on her own.  Please help me keep that spirit burning.

She is unique.  As many first-time parents do, we watched her progress as an infant to a toddler and compared her to other children.  Is she talking yet?  Should she be walking yet?  My child knows where her toes are!  However, we quickly came to realize that none of that matters.  She would develop as she would develop.  She may be better than her elbow-partner at math and not-better-than her table group at science.  She may be shy in class, or (more likely) may want to answer every question.  Regardless, she is unique.  There are no other models of her.  Please remember that.

And finally, she is mine.  As I said, there is nothing I wouldn't do for her.  Sirens sound different when you become a parent, because even though you know your wife and daughter are at home safe and sound, you wonder - could that be my family?  So please, I beg of you, keep her safe.  Watch over her, because during those hours that she is with you, I cannot.

Thank you so much.  I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate it.

Respectfully,

Ellie's Daddy



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tough Day, Good Day

Most days I love my job, but today was a tough day.  Ironically it was a tough day because it was a good day.

This year we implemented WEB at our school.  WEB stands for Where Everybody Belongs, and it is a program where 8th graders serve as mentors for the incoming 6th graders.  The year is kicked off with a highly energetic assembly that welcomes the 6th graders to their new school.  Highly energetic is actually low-balling it.  It's wild.

My job today was to facilitate the assembly, a task I thoroughly enjoy.  I get to feel like I'm equal parts stand-up comedian, singer, motivational speaker, and, of course, vice principal.  I got up early today, was at school by 6:15 am getting things prepared, and by 8:30 am the assembly had started.  We finished around 11:45 am, and by 12:30 pm I was having lunch with our leadership team and planning our back to school professional development day.  That ended at 1:30 and I worked for a few more hours.  At roughly 5:45 pm I pulled out of the parking lot.

This isn't to complain, by any means.  (Side note, if it was to complain, I'd be switching my bracelet.)  Sure it was a physically tough and exhausting day, but that isn't why I said in the beginning it was a tough day.  It was a tough day because I came home and struggled as a daddy.

My kids are 5, 3, and 1.  They don't care that Daddy spent his morning rallying 320 kids to cheer, dance, laugh, sing, and feel welcomed.  They don't care that Daddy's morning was filled with screaming and clapping and silliness.  And they don't understand that when I came home I just couldn't bear to be around any more noise.  They didn't get my best tonight.  As a matter of fact, they didn't get much at all of me tonight.  I played a little, cuddled a little, but mostly I just sat, and after a while I had to step away because after today the noise was just too loud. 

That may sound cruel.  "What kind of dad is this guy?!"  There's nothing in the world more important to me than my children, and that certainly includes my job.  I just love my kids so much, and I hate that I struggled with them tonight.

But, and this is a very big but...(and I cannot lie),

I'm thankful.  If I have to struggle with my kids once every now and then due to the fact that I have a job that doesn't feel like a job, that's okay.  If a rare struggle as a daddy is a part of getting to wake up every morning and never feel like I'm going to work, that's okay.  If one bad night means that I'm going to come home 100 other nights inspired, thankful, grateful, and enthused because I've got an amazing career, that's okay.  It's okay because when my children visit me at school they get to see Daddy smiling, laughing, and enjoying his job.  

So I guess sometimes tough days are good days.







Thursday, September 11, 2014

Attention to Detail

A friend of mine had the opportunity to listen to one of the directors of Frozen speak about prepping for the movie.  Prior to creating the animation they took people to South Dakota during the winter.  They wanted to film a woman walking uphill in the snow.  They found out that there is a unique way by which her foot sunk in the snow with each step.  They videotaped this, and in looking at the video also analyzed the way her hair swayed as she walked.

Chip Kelly, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, has incorporated science into his coaching.  An article on grantland.com discusses how he uses the "latest wearable player-tracking technology" and monitors "resulting data in real time to determine how players and when they become injury risks."  Another article I read about him discussed how he monitors their sleep habits with the same technology, using the resulting data to determine how rested they are as practices and games approach.

This kind of attention to detail cultivates excellence.  What would this look like in schools?  What's stopping teachers from videotaping every lesson (every practice I participated in while playing college football was taped and reviewed) and sitting with colleagues to analyze?  What's stopping administrators from having a colleague shadow them and take notes along the way, and then sitting and reflecting at the end of the day, or during intervals throughout the day, to see what went well and what needs improvement?

What would this look like in your school?  And how would you make time for it?




Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Power Windows

Saying we need more technology in schools is like saying we need every car to have power windows.  Sure, the air is going to get into the car quicker, but it's still the same air.

To assume that more technology is going to result in more learning is inaccurate.  I've had the fortune of working with and/or watching some genuinely awesome teachers during my career.  A grand total of zero of them were awesome due to the use of technology, and a grand total of zero of them would experience a decrease in awesomeness as a result of a loss of technology.  They are awesome for a number of reasons, none of which have anything to do with technology.  Unless...

Unless they understand that technology is simply a tool to be used to strengthen their students' knowledge and develop their students' skills.  Unless they use twitter and blogs to widen their professional learning network and expose themselves to a variety of resources.  Unless they utilize technology to empower their students to think creatively and critically.

If we don't do these things, and so much more, we're just rolling up the car windows faster on a cold day.

Monday, August 25, 2014

New Job, Same Responsibilities

Today represents the first day of school at my new site, Mendenhall Middle School.  When people ask how I feel about being at a middle school (after 10+ years at high schools), my most common response has been, "Well, it's nice to finally be taller than the majority of my students."  But of course, there's a lot more to it than that.

When I say "same responsibilities" I'm not referring to job duties.  Those fall into a column on a spreadsheet and have names like master schedule or facilities or testing coordinator.  I don't see those as responsibilities.  They're just part of what I do each day and throughout the year.

My responsibilities are far greater, and include:

Keeping students and staff safe.
Supporting teachers.
Communicating with families.
Making kids smile.
Listening.
Laughing.

There's more.  But those are the first that come to mind.  And probably the most important.

And with that, I think I've started more than enough sentences with a conjunction.  Til' next time...