Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An Ode to Ice Cube

There are often times, days, in education where we feel as though we didn't do much good.  Baseball players would call it a slump, though for some reason I've never viewed it as such in education.  It just seems different than that.  In a slump you're not hitting the ball.  Sure, you may be letting your team down, but only in terms of a game won or lost.  On the days in education where I don't do much good I feel that I'm letting PEOPLE down.  If I get overly frustrated with a student there isn't a game that's won or lost.  There's a relationship that may be damaged.  If I'm not supporting a teacher as he or she deserves, animosity can quickly develop.  There's another relationship that could be damaged.

But today wasn't one of those days.  Today was a good day.  I did two things today that made me very proud, and made me feel like I did a great job at my job.

The first was that I got into the classrooms and was an instructional leader.  Because of my unique role on campus (in a nutshell: split between a teacher and an administrator) I don't get to spend as much time in classrooms as I'd like to.  When I do it's usually for short chunks of time.  Today I got to spend nearly an hour straight in one classroom observing a new teacher.  This teacher is incredibly smart, very well versed in his subject matter.  He is also on his second career, and the learning curve for new teachers dropped into high school classrooms is a steep one.  Getting to spend an extended amount of time in his room allowed me to really see where the improvement is needed.  He's a true class act, and never hesitates to come to me with questions or concerns.  So I felt very comfortable telling him my suggestions.  I forgot to mention to him that he should reflect on my suggestions, think about it over break, and see what works for him when he comes back after the New Year.  Instead he says, "Thanks Alex.  I'll implement those suggestions in tomorrow's lesson."  WOW.  What a guy!!!  I can't wait to talk to him to see how it goes!

Another way I was an instructional leader was with assessment for learning.  We did an extensive study of Understanding by Design (UbD) this summer, and our teachers have done an amazingly awesome job of implementing "Big Ideas" and "Essential Questions" into their unit and lesson designs.  Perhaps the toughest part of UbD is creating authentic, performance based assessments whose purpose is to guide and inform.  One of our math teachers nailed it, creating an assessment that allows the students to use creativity and individuality to demonstrate knowledge about special quadrilaterals.  But she was stuck with her rubric.  It didn't align with the tasks.  She came to me, we talked, and she revamped the rubric in a way that will empower the students to better understand what "advanced" looks like.  The kids are not only going to demonstrate their knowledge but they're going to REMEMBER it long-term as a result of this assessment.  I have no doubt.

So while it felt great to be an instructional leader, in it's truest sense, I did something else today that was also good.  It was far better, actually.  I was a human being.

We have a few kids on campus with whom we are working VERY HARD to get to do the right thing and make the right choices.  One in particular I've butted heads with; often in the past and more so recently.  I genuinely like him as a person.  He's engaging, funny, smart, and complex.  He's also defensive, aggressive, argumentative, and been through more in his sixteen or so years than any young man deserves to go through.  I am quick to forget the latter.  I badly want our teachers to be able to teach and this young man seems to be going out of his way to prevent that.  This, of course, also prevents his peers from learning.  I see this as unfair and unjust.

At least I did until today.  I'm not sure what came over me, but for some reason today I only saw the good.  I saw a young kid who wants to learn, who wants to be cared for, who has perspective and wants to contribute.  I saw the boy hidden behind the anger.  So when I saw him in the hall, out of class (big surprise there), instead of hounding him I walked up to him and gave him a hug.  He didn't hug back, just kind of looked at me with a "WTF" expression on his face.  I said, "Come with me."  We walked outside and I told him, "I owe you an apology.  I feel like I could be a better person, a better educator, for you.  I'm going to do better, and I just wanted to tell you that."  He said thank you, that he appreciated it, and I quickly walked away before he could see my eyes welling up with tears.

It felt incredible.  Who knows when it will hit him.  Maybe today, maybe in five years.  But I'm going to be there for him no matter what from here on out.  I'm not going to let him down.  I'm going to show him, every day, that I care and that I'll support him.  Regardless of what he does or how he acts.  For him I'm going to be a better educator, a better person.  He deserves that.

No doubt.  Today was a good day.

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