Monday, July 22, 2013

When you just need a hug

There are moments in my life that I remember when words have been completely unnecessary.  Some of the moments are sheer joy and others are sadness.  The joyful moments were the birth of my boys.  The day I proposed to my wife.  When I spoke at my dad's Hall of Fame ceremony and when I made my college golf coach cry tears of joy after the second round of the national championships.  

On the flip side I've had moments that have crushed me.  I struggled when my wife lost her grandpa. Bob was great!  He was funny, smart and always had a twinkle in his eye when he saw Amy.  She really struggled with his death and in turn I struggled to be her rock.  I was torn up when I was contacted by my 5th grade student right after we went on Holiday break.  She told me her dad had just died in a car accident.  All I wanted to do was give her a hug.  Words could do nothing.  My heart and head hurt as I watched my secretary Katie struggle with her late husband's illness.  I felt so bad for her, and I knew all I could do was pray.  I struggled when our Golden Retriever Reggie passed away.  The big lug of a dog loved everyone and I was sad to see him go. 

Today is another one of those sad days.

My little buddy Cooper just died.  Cooper was our one year old rescue puppy.  He was the happiest dog in the world.  He would run with me, he would chase deer in the back yard, he would lick my face in the morning, he was a great dog.  It hurts to tell this, I know he was just being Cooper.  He went out to play and then he saw a cat.  He chased her and got by the road.  He knew he wasn't supposed to be there.  He wasn't being bad, he was just being Cooper.

The quote says, "Dogs leave paw prints on our hearts."  Dogs do more than that.  My dogs teach me lessons.  As a father and a principal I try to unconditionally love.  I love my boys dearly, but they can also frustrate the dickens out of me.  I care deeply for all my staff and students.  I wish I could be more like Cooper was.  Cooper was always wagging his tail and happy to see everyone.  Cooper never complained, he just made time for me when ever I asked.  He was my buddy.  He UNCONDITIONALLY loved me and everyone he came in contact with.  This is what my boy Cooper taught me.  Yes you can unconditionally love.  I'm human and it's hard, but I hope to learn from Cooper.

Every day we are thrown situations that we have to deal with.  Today I just cried.  I buried my buddy today and it hurts.

I decided to write because I'm hurting.  I didn't want to talk, it just brings more tears, I just wanted to write.  

As I wrap up I have two deeper thoughts.  My first is, How will I be there for all of my staff and students this year?  Undoubtedly things will happen that force us to adjust, as a leader I must have empathy and support my entire building.  

This afternoon I wanted to be strong for my two boys, yet all I could do was cry.  

The second is, I need to learn to look past certain things.  I need to unconditionally love like Cooper did.  

I told my son that we need to remember all the great things.  We need to hold onto the memories of Cooper.  If we hold onto the memories he'll always be with us.  I stopped there.  Nothing else can be said, sometimes words are insignificant When you just need a hug.

Articles Worth Reading:

Be the Unexpected  by @8Amber8

Classroom Design Ideas  by @KleinErin

Analogies to Edu  by @twhitford

Fly on a wall at NAESP  by @Joe_Mazza

I named a Cat after a Vampire  by @KleinErin

Summer Learning Series: Doing more with YouTube  by @web20classroom

How big is your brave?  by @Joesanfelippofc

Videos Worth Watching:

Be the Unexpected (6 min)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dinged for being honest?

Last week I participated in the first annual #nErDcampBC. This took place in Battle Creek, Michigan and was wonderfully organized by @colbysharp @sharpsgalore @Suz_Gibbs @BrianWyzlic @mentortexts @daydreamreader @glo & @donalynbooks. I thoroughly enjoyed #nErDcampBC!  There were so many intriguing sessions.  The second session of the day that I attended was titled Reflection with Evaluation.  This session was being led by a student from Albion College. Her name was Becca.  The group attending this session was small, but excellent.  Everyone was sharing and listening.  I was the lone administrator in the room, but I was fine with this.  My goal was to share some of the things I currently do and receive feedback.  I also wanted to hear what other schools are doing with evaluations.

The first question that was brought up for discussion was, "As teachers, are you honest with your administrator about your weaknesses?"  Becca asked the question and she then went on to share that her mom is a teacher in Detroit and her mom struggles with this.  At this point in the conversation I listened, but I also thought of Warner Elementary.

I remember this year when a teacher told me she was struggling with Everyday Math.  I remember when another teacher sat down with me and we discussed integrating technology as a way to increase engagement.  I thought back to the time when another teacher told me that standard based grading was not going as smooth as they hoped for.  I also remember a teacher openly asking me for input on reading.  I relished these conversations!  This is collaborating and being a true PLC school.

Then I listened to other teachers sitting in our session.  The stories were very different from my thoughts.  The comment that stuck out to me the most was, "I'm afraid to be honest with my principal because in the past I've been dinged on my evaluation for sharing my weaknesses."

This comment struck me as sad.  The comment also struck me as courageous. The overwhelming opinion was that teachers cannot be honest with principals for fear of being penalized for their honesty.

I pondered these responses.  What percentage of teachers are honest with principals?  I'll admit I googled this.  I couldn't find a definitive answer.  I think this raises a bigger issue: Is Honesty the best quality?  I had a great teacher growing up his name was Mr. Rod Hardy.  Mr. Hardy was my HS Gov't teacher.  I was fortunate to also have him as my golf coach.  I remember a time when Mr. Hardy talked to our class about honesty in politics.  He told us that an honest politician is tough to find, but when you find one you can be assured they are revered by the people.  He then gave examples of honest politicians, he mentioned George Washington, Abe Lincoln and a few others.  He then went on to say that our times are different.  Mr. Hardy pointed out that past generations truly valued "their" word and character meant more.  I listened intently.  Mr. Hardy and I talked often, sometimes in class and sometimes on the golf course.  I looked up to Mr. Hardy, he was a good teacher and a great person.  I'll never forget a comment he told our class, "An honest man doesn't have to remember what he said."  At first I didn't get it, but then it clicked!  

To get back on track, are teachers dinged for honestly reflecting?  I believe this is a culture question.

So how does the cycle end?  Here are my thoughts:

1)  Educators must view evaluations as a growth tool.
      - Too often I hear horror stories of Principals using evaluation as a punishment tool or as a way to force people out.  Strong administrators must have the courage to have difficult conversations.  I've learned that I must choose my words carefully, but I must be honest.

2)  Teachers must honestly reflect.
     - I attended MACUL this year.  I listened to many dynamic speakers, but I won't forget one message.  Nobody is PERFECT!  We all make mistakes.  This is true.  I do believe some teachers view themselves as A+ teachers.  I believe there are many highly effective teachers, but I would say a perfect teacher does not exist.  No one is perfect.  As I say this, I believe it is vital that teachers continuously reflect.  Through honest reflection will come growth.  Ask yourself, what went well?  What could I have done differently?

3)  Shift the culture.
    - This begins at a local level, but then it must grow.  I believe each building needs to have a growth mindset, a willingness to take risks, an open forum for collaboration, the willingness to honestly share and an administrator that is in classrooms often.  After this is established the culture must grow!  The community needs to hear "our" story.  Education is the best profession in the world!  We must share all the good and change the negative perceptions!  It starts small and builds.  Educators need to be telling "OUR" story.  If we continue to let the media or legislature tell our story we will continue to be beat up.

4)  It should NOT be about test scores.
    - Teacher evaluation, Principal evaluation, Schools and Districts should not be graded on test scores. I believe this is when things went downhill.  Standardized tests to my knowledge were never designed to be high stakes tests.  Unfortunately they are.  I don't know how, but this needs to change.  There is so much more to a child's education.  It shouldn't be about test scores.

The question was, are teachers dinged for honestly reflecting?  I believe some are.  I also believe this is a shame.  The cycle must end.  

When you sit down in the fall will you set goals that push you to improve?  When you search for PD will you be honest with what your weakness is?  Will you share your story this year?

Keeping You Up To Date:

*  This week interviews are taking place for RTI.  More to follow next week.

*  Next week I hope to interview for our open MiCI position.  More to follow next week.

*  The painting is going fantastic!  I love the camaraderie and conversation!  Huge thank you to everyone that has pitched in.  Tsk, Tsk, some of you have been hiding your artistic talent.

*  Classroom iPad pickup is scheduled on August 1st from 10am-noon or August 2nd from 10am-noon, location TBD.

Articles Worth Your Time:

Give Students a Voice Through Blogging  by +Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp

Why you should set soft goals for your classroom this year  by +Vicki Davis  @coolcatteacher

Teacher versus Class size in 10 steps  by +Anne Knock @anneknock

Teaching and Learning with Minecraft  shared by +Eric Sheninger  @NMHS_Principal

A rock star, not by choice  by +Tom Whitby  @tomwhitby

Summer learning with Ted Talks  by +Steven Anderson  @web20classroom

Ditching Desks in 2nd grade  by +Erin Klein  @KleinErin

Using Google Docs to set-up Parent/Teacher Conferences  by +Matt Gomez   @mattBgomez

6 Outdoor Educational Resources  by @EducationMatt

8 Life Quotes That Make You Think  by +Marc Chernoff   @marcandangel

I had a miniature breakdown, but it's okay  by @ShutUpRun

How to trigger students' inquiry through projects  shared by +Bill Powers  @MrPowersCMS

Window of Opportunity  by +Amber Teamann  @8Amber8

Don't Hate the Hammer  by +Tom Whitford  @twhitford

Videos Worth Watching:

Hilarious! Must see! (4 minutes)

Young Spieth on his way to Stardom! (2 min)

Amazing story! (10 minutes)

Looks aren't everything (9 min)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Fear of Sharing

Over the past few weeks I've been thinking and analyzing of ways to improve.  I've thought of ways I personally need to improve and I've thought of ways our school could improve.  As I analyzed myself I kept thinking of ways I could personally grow as a leader.  The first two that I came up with were, professional development opportunities and enhancing best practice throughout the school.  I also began brainstorming creative ways to recognize staff and strengthen relationships.

Then I shifted my thoughts to our school.  I started digging into data and trends.  I looked at our strengths and then I looked at areas I believe we should be better in.  The area that I pinpointed was Writing.  

I've read articles and books, I've attended conferences and the common message is that Reading and Writing go hand-in-hand.  I hear it, but then I think of my own personal experiences.  

As a student growing up I despised writing.  The first question out of my mouth would be, "How long does it need to be?"  Looking back I know exactly why I didn't like to write.  I was afraid.

The story begins in 6th grade.  Our class was given an assignment.  We were supposed to write a narrative piece about someone special in our life.  I wrote a four page paper about my grandpa.  I put my heart into my writing, I shared my true feelings and I didn't even bother to ask how long it needed to be.  I still remember writing about our nightly adventures on the golf course, our Sunday morning trips to every little diner in the county and the countless times he gave me advice.  A week later I got the paper back.  At the top of the paper it read, "C+".  Then I started looking at the paper and it was full of red markings.  My teacher said I needed to work on my use of commas and that I had a few run-on sentences.  On the last page the teacher said, "You had some nice thoughts, but you need to clean up your grammatical errors."  I was upset, not angry, my main feeling was sadness.  I felt like I just got slugged in the gut.  I now felt as though I couldn't share my paper with anyone.  I felt embarrassed that I had made grammatical errors.  This completely overshadowed my message.  The rest of the year I wrote in a very guarded fashion.  I kept things very short and very plain.  I focused only on grammar.  I despised writing.

As I got older I freely wrote in my journals, but my formal papers were mediocre, I had no desire to, "put myself out there."  Essentially I was a very timid writer that was afraid to make mistakes.

In college I wish I could say things turned around, but they didn't.  I had my girlfriend (future wife) check all my papers.  I'm sure this wore on her, but I was afraid to share.  I had very low confidence when it came to my writing.  She knew this, and I'm thankful she was there for me (and still is). 

As a teacher I vowed to not have this mentality with my students.  I urged my students to write descriptively, (I called it salsa writing).  I also encouraged them to use the five senses in their writing.  I tried hard to get my students to "paint a picture".  I felt as though I was getting a lot out of them.  Yet as we met as a grade level to assess each others student papers the main comments focused on conventions.  I would then go back to my class and teach grammar lessons.  I'll admit, my students hated these grammar lessons.  I can still remember the moans and groans when we discussed subjects and predicates.  

Then I transitioned to Principal...

About a year and half ago I read two blogs.  The first one by @PrincipalJ and the second by @CurtRees after I read these blogs I decided to begin blogging.  I believed and I still believe that I have experiences and thoughts that others may learn from.  I also thought it would help me to blog.  I could clarify thoughts and grow personally and professionally.  I still have fear to share.  Even after 60+ posts I feel apprehension.  I fear my posts will be full of errors.  I recently read a post by @ColinWikan (Your Perception is not always Realityit was his first post and it talked a lot about perseverance.  Each time I get ready to publish I pause, I remember the time I received the C+ and all the red markings.  I know I've got good ideas, but I also stress about putting myself out there.  I must persevere in my own small way.

As I now come full circle I focus on the area we need to improve on.  Writing.  I don't think we need to improve on the grammar, I believe we need to encourage our students to share.  My belief is simple, we as educators must help students take risks and not WRITE in fear.  Our focus must be on creating a passion for writing and sharing.  Too often our students have a fear of sharing.  As we look to next year I challenge you to bring a mindset of creating a culture of healthy risk takers.  Will your students blog?  Will your students journal?  Will your students share?  Will your students write each day?  How will you create a culture of writers?

The big questions this week are: Do you fear sharing?  Have you been contemplating blogging, if yes, what's stopping you?  If you have created a love of reading in your classroom/school, how will you create a passion for writing?  

Keeping You Up To Date:

*  The summer shuffle continues!  Mrs. Kristy Soper is now the new Young Five's teacher.  Congratulations Kristy : )

*  In less than a month there is a wonderful opportunity taking place in Grand Rapids.  Check out the site and let me know if you're interested in attending - RTI Conference in Grand Rapids

*  Summer get together, the painting has begun!  Don't miss out on the fun and join us as we brighten up Warner!

*  Summer Coffee Talk?  If anyone is interested in meeting at some point this summer I'd really like to get together.  Email me if you're interested : )

Articles Worth Reading:

Videos Worth Watching:

Student-Driven Learning (16 min)

#ISTE13 Closing Keynote by @adambellow (Powerful message! Inspiring!)