Looking in the Mirror

mirrorAs an educator and father, I think it is important to remind myself of the most important lessons to impart.  In times of uneasiness and fear about the direction of the world they live in, children are very vulnerable and need examples of adult guidance and comfort as they try to make sense of all that goes on around them.  As this school year starts I find myself looking inward and thinking about how my actions and reactions might influence those around me.  The following are thoughts I have had while “looking in the mirror”.

Our children have seen the best of us.  How we react on instinct to help our neighbors. That in time of need we are willing to give our last bit of energy, our last hour, willing to give our last breath to help one another.  The human spirit is capable of such amazing strength, courage, and selflessness.  Heroes are real and they live among us and affect us every day.  Our children watch, they remember, and they imitate us.

They have also seen the worst of us.  They see how we turn our back on our neighbor because helping is inconvenient.  They see how we horde what we own, envy what we do not have and attack others out of spite and physical differences.  The human animal is capable of such indifference, uncaring, and outright cruelty.  Our children watch, they remember, and they imitate us.

Stop.  Look around you.  What message are you sending?  Are we doing what it takes to be that role model that can transcend the basic human needs and therefore able to personify what is best about the human spirit?

As I look in the mirror these days, I am sure that I need to resolve to be better.  Whether I like it or not, as an educator I am in a position of influence and I must make sure I model what is best for my children, my family, and my school community.  I know that it is easy to be the critic.  To find fault and shine a light on what will not work is the easiest job in the world, for it takes no true talent.  What takes talent and intelligence is to find ways to get things done, to bring people together, find common ground, procure resources, and build what did not exist before.  To me, this is the most important lesson we have to give.  These are the lessons I want my children and the students of my community to take to heart.  Let us resolve to build, not tear down; to find solutions, not find fault; to identify common ground and work toward a common goal.  We owe this to our children, to ourselves, and the people who have made it possible to live in a society where we are free to discuss such things.

Our children watch, they remember and they imitate us.

Photo courtesy of ulalume’s Flickr Photostream

Learn, Reflect, Communicate….Lead #LeadershipDay2014

leadershipday2014_01-300x240The year was 1995.  The school had just installed its first Internet connected computer lab.  I wanted kids to publish web pages and demonstrate what they had learned about the Vietnamese War.  We (the class and I) worked at learning how to use a WYSIWYG HTML editor to make web pages. I assigned groups different aspects of the era and we published pages about what we had learned.  The kids were astounded when they started getting email from veterans and students from across the world commenting on their work. Several of those students actually went to work in an industry where web publishing was part of how they make a living.  They probably don’t remember much about the Vietnam war, but some of them started building a skill that was important to them.  Because of this experience,  I knew I had a new tool to get kids excited about what we were learning, and better yet, (I think?) my use of technology caught the eye of the superintendent and he soon took an interest in me and encouraged me to be an administrator.  The great thing about this web page project was I did not have to be the expert, I just had to show a desire to learn. The kids really did the rest.  A leader must learn and demonstrate the importance of a continuous commitment to it for the school community in order to be effective.  I have since become a SmartBoard certified instructor, a Google Apps certified trainer and have written many grants for technology acquisition for our school.  A commitment to learning is very important.

Not all of my endeavors as an educator have been great successes.  I know that many times I have had the best intentions, but because I failed to understand the point(s) of view of those who disagreed with me, I alienated colleagues and staff which in turn impeded progress and several times caused an initiative to fail.  Empathy is so important.  If you cannot put yourself in the shoes of others, many times you will fail to gain the insight you need to motivate and move people toward an important goal.  A good leader reflects and makes note of success and failure, analyzes their causes, and plans for the future based on the lessons learned.

A teacher’s time is so limited.  There are so many things to do outside of teaching in the classroom to be effective that teachers have very little time to commit to a new initiative.  Communication is so important when initiating any new program.  If the staff does not understand the why and how of any new program it is bound to fail.  I know, I might hold a record for the number of things that failed to take off because the staff did not understand why we were doing it or how they were supposed to do it.  Finding a clear, effective, and concise way to communicate an initiative is a key component to it success.

Leading others is an amazing experience that presents numerous challenges and great opportunities for personal satisfaction.  Leading is not demanding or making things happen.  Leading is causing change by making it the product of others.  Working to capitalize on the strengths of staff and letting them help plan the direction of the path to follow can make the trip worthwhile and the destination productive.

#Gearingup Here We Go 2014-15!

orange PHSThe final weeks of preparation for the new school year are quickly slipping by and I am gearing up for the beginning of the last year of education in this grand old building we call Paris High School.  She has seen a lot of things in her time and has served her purpose well.  I am not sure about the rest of you (folks here in Paris), but this last year here will be somewhat bittersweet.  We have sent out into the world many successful young people from this place.  Through over a hundred years of service this building has seen many changes in the way high school students are educated, but the goals really remain the same: Preparing well educated individuals, ready for the next step, their potential fostered and refined with the hope they will contribute the betterment of their community, state and country.  The students that have left this institution meeting those goals did so because a staff was dedicated to those students as individuals and willing to make the effort to see that each individual was challenged and pushed to meet the requirements in front of them.  This year I am going to take a simple approach with goals.  Goals can be complex and lengthy and I know from experience that the focus is hard to keep when the mission is too complex. Goal one:  Work to build on the strengths of staff members and facilitate growth by encouraging them to share their strengths with others.  We have a very talented staff and we need to quit getting bogged down and demoralized by talking about what we do not do well.  We must build on our strengths, of which there are many. Goal two:  Find the positive in every situation.  Every crisis and every challenge creates an opportunity.  I need to set a tone for the building that shows we can handle each and every challenge and turn out better off for the effort.  The building climate needs to be a top priority for me and the students will be the benefactors. I can’t wait for the students to get here in a week and a half.  They always show up with what seems to be a boundless amount of energy and we need to capitalize on it and give them reasons to want to continue to come back everyday!  Here is to a great 2014-15!

(From out of the past) A Note in the Bottle

Recently a note in a bottle washed in upon my shore as if by magic (thanks magic!) Inside was the following quote:

A ship in the harbor is safe – but that’s not what ships are for.

- John A. Shedd (yes he is going nautical again!)

After considering this quote for a while I found that it had many meanings for me as an educator and the instructional leader at PHS. The following are a few of the things that came to mind:

  1. RiskOf course it is always easiest to stay with what is known. Staying within one’s comfort zone, not attempting to try new things, is easy (until the hull rots and the ship sinks) for there is no challenge. But if we choose to set sail, risk the unknown, we learn a lot about ourself during the journey and could possibly find a whole new world at the end! Whether it is trying a new strategy in class, attempting a new schedule for classes, taking on a new responsiblity, or cutting ties and moving on, we will certainly gain (if only experience) for making the attempt.
  2. DestinationSometimes it is not the destination that matters at all. It is the richness of the journey that is most important. O.K. so getting there is only half the fun. I think that as I gather more experience as an educator, the more I am moved to believe that there has got to be a better way to prepare high schoolers for the real world. Maybe the destination should be, if we’re willing to take the risk, a remodeled high school where students collaborate with each other, with teachers(as facilitators) and professionals from the real world of work to prepare for their life’s vocation.
  3. DoldrumsDefined as period with no wind to catch the sails, leaving a ship “stranded” in place on the ocean. If we are not making progress or we see hard work having no effect, we are like a ship stuck in the doldrums. Although not technically anchored in the harbor, sometimes we feel no progress is being made despite all of our effort. We must maintain our effort to make the journey happen even though it seems like we have lost all momentum. We must not let those who would take the wind away from us stop us from making progress!
  4. Discovery–The reward for leaving the comfort zone. The satisfaction of conquering the unknown. The feeling of accomplishment after reaching a goal. So many times I have found that it is the risk takers who are the ones who enjoy their tasks and make the most progress. Even though I doubted I could ever run 13 miles at one time, I found that not only could I do it, but I could enjoy it and feel better about myself for having attempted it. The same is true in our profession. I know several teachers who were afraid of using technology until they tried and now they are pioneering new things in their classrooms for the benefit of their students.

What about you? Are you willing to take some risks….step out of your comfort zone? Start by clicking on the comment link below a start a discussion on change!

Photo courtesy of Alejandro Groenewold’s Flickr photostream

Alejandro Groen

Cutting Loose (or losing your mind….)!

In the course of administrating a school building, it is sometimes required to step up and perform.  Although the position is very rewarding, sometimes it takes a little bit of humor to make the “raw edges” of the daily grind a little smoother.  I have been made a fool of on the basketball court many times both as a player and a coach, but up until this past May, I had never been quite this kind of fool on the court. I guess if there is any lesson for others to take from this craziness, it is that you sometimes need to relax and not take yourself too seriously!  Please let the Beatles and Ferris Bueller forgive me…..

Hey Students! About That Tweet….

(I originally posted this five months ago, today I see things that make me wonder how else to get this point across to you!)

Dear Students,

You might be surprised to find out I have been tweeting since 2007.  My first tweet from November, 2007:

I know, pretty profound, right?  As I write this post, I have tweeted 15,369 times.  Most of them have been about school or education is some fashion.  A few have been personal about family or sports…etc.  I have also been on Instragram, Flickr, Google +, and Facebook for quite some time.  My point in addressing this with you is not to get you to follow me or read what I have put on social media.  Rather it is to address your posting on social media. I do not purposely try to find what our students are putting on social media, but from time to time what students put on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even in text messages gets brought to my attention because of what was said or pictured.  Schools have an interest when what is said in cyberspace ends up disrupting the school day or makes someone feel unsafe or shamed at school.  I have to be honest.  Some of the stuff that has been posted shocks me!  People often post things on Twitter as though they are having a private conversation yet it is in full public view and can be found with almost any search engine.  It is not my intention to punish students for what they post, although sometimes discipline is doled out when rules are broken.  It is my intention though, to try to show you that what you put on social media can have consequences outside of school.  If your applying for school or for a job, you may want to consider what you have posted.  Read how tweets may keep you out of your school of choice or may get you fired.  You may have heard of the concept of a digital footprint, or a history of your interactions on the Internet.  What would people find if they followed your digital footsteps?  Would you want your future boss (or spouse) to read what you have written?  Once you put it out there it really never goes away, even if you delete it.  People can save, screenshot, archive, printout…etc, all the things you put out there.  Even if you have your Facebook (or Twitter) “locked down” so only friends can see what you post, they might not be your friend forever.  Former friends might just share those postings when you thought they were private.  Same with snapchat.  You think those pictures go up in smoke after ten seconds…..  Avoiding embarrassment or worse is really pretty easy though.  Answer this question before you post:  Do I want everyone to read what I am posting?  If the answer is no, then why are you posting it in a public place?  If you have made posts that could cause you problems in the future, go back and delete them.  Delete profiles on services that could cause you issues in the future.  Build a positive reputation online and do your best to post responsibly.  Social media is fun.  It allows us to stay connected to those most important to us.  Be careful to use it in a positive manner and follow the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. (Tweet as though your Grandma reads your tweets!)

think

Yes! We Are Going To Be Able To Do That!

Wall construction in STEM Lab

Wall construction in STEM Lab

Imagine a space in a school building where students spend time working with research specialists from throughout the region in a state of the art research laboratory.  A student may work along side a research professional from Lilly Labs researching pharmaceutical health solutions, collaborate with a chemist from Cargill to create tasty new corn products, communicate with a bio-medical research team in Israel about a current local experiment involving the study of cancer cells at PHS, or study the latest in robotics and their applications at local industries such as North American Lighting or Simonton Windows.

The goal of the inclusion of this lab in the new Paris High School is to create “real life” learning experiences where students are linked to the rest of the world through research projects.  The STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) room will be larger than the size of four regular classrooms and will be zoned to have biological, chemistry, and physics centers where regular classes can go to conduct research and participate in various projects related to course curriculum.  The room can also serve as a center for advance projects done by upperclassmen under the mentorship of classroom teachers and outside experts.  

The students will be able to present findings in media rich environment in the room’s “think tank” area which will be equipped with monitors, speakers, and computer that will connect them with the world as both an audience and an academic resource.  Over all our goal will be to have students conduct high-level research, communicate with local, community, and worldwide audiences via web-based videoconferencing, and partner with a number of universities and corporations to learn practical applications of current science and technical studies.  The room will allow students from vocational and academic courses to co-mingle as they prepare for further academic study or entry into the workforce after leaving high school.  The funding for this venture is available because local philanthropists care about the education of the youth of this community and we could not create a space like this without their help.  If you would like to know how you can become involved in this venture, please contact us at PHS (217) 466-1175.

Architect's rendering at night

Architect’s rendering at night

MICE 2014

social_mediaAcceptable Use Policy that defines student, teacher, staff, and administrative use. A specific citation of social media and its use for educational means.  It needs to delineate how use is a privilege and how the privilege can be lost.

 

 

facebook

 

 

 

 

 

Go where the parents are!  If you are not telling your story, someone else is and you may not like how you are being portrayed!

Paris High School Facebook links

Twitter-LogoGo where the students are!  If we are not addressing student use of social media who is?  TWITTER 

Paris High School Twitter page

Paris High School Athletics on Twitter

Dave Meister’s Twitter Page

PHS Staff on Twitter

PHS Staff Tweets

Examples

Paper.li

Youtube

 

Dying on the Vine.

dyingonthevineI have not truly blogged here in some time.  I have reported on events here and tackled issues that our students face daily, but I have refrained from writing about the conditions that are affecting public education for a long time because I want our building to remain positive.  I want the staff to do everything they can to make learning positive for kids.  My job is to remove barriers and support the staff in every way possible to make that happen. I have to remain positive and help the school community move forward in every way it can…..but, I cannot help but feel it is also my responsibility to raise the awareness in our community and region about the plight of public education in an era of shrinking revenues and increasing mandates.  It is not my intention to make the job of a high school administrator to sound impossible nor distasteful.  I love what I do when I am in the building with staff and students! Yet, there are conditions that exist, if left unaddressed, may make the educational experiences of our students completely bereft of meaningful opportunities for growth that are offered in programs such as the fine arts, vocational education, and agricultural education. Because the federal government bribed states to adopt the common core standards, new computer based achievement testing, student information systems, and teacher evaluation systems with AARA monies, local schools are saddled with mandate to adopt these “reforms” with less funding than they were getting before the changes were became law.  Illinois never did get in on the funding bonanza, yet we promised to make changes both to get money and to get relief from the No Child Left Behind law that said every student would be proficient in math and reading by…..2014. Illinois has failed to fully fund its education obligations for several years now and small districts are paying the price.  In order to save money, so they can pay staff and bills, many districts have cut their programs to the bare bones.  Where there were once thriving vocational programs serving students and preparing them for real work, there are empty rooms that sit idly by while students prep for the next test.  Our lawmakers seem to be saying lets let the money dry up in order to force reform and small districts to consolidate, all the while rural communities do what they can to save their schools, and their identities, by cutting their school programs to the bone.  Great way to serve kids.  I challenge local legislators to come sit in our schools for more than it takes to do a short walkthrough to wave at everybody.  Sit in our empty vocational rooms, ask the kids what classes they wish they could take, feel the pain that is being inflicted on small rural schools.  Better yet, do the politically courageous thing and legislate solutions that do more than just add unfunded mandates.  Find more revenue, look at the research and what it says about learning and the affect of high stakes testing, teacher evaluation tied to test scores, and narrowed curriculum devoid of enriching electives. You owe it to our kids.  Forget about the next election and accepting money from organizations like Students First and find real solutions.  We are dying on the vine.

Photo courtesy of Andreanna Moya Photography on Flickr

Sage Advice–A Story of Community Service

jeffery martin and james russ wilhoitGuest Post by Brett Block- On Wednesday, January 15th, 2014, the PCHS junior homeroom classes of Mrs. Block and Mrs. Stallings went to the Paris Health Care Center to visit with residents. They interviewed them to learn about their pasts and keep them company for an hour or so. The students were given life advice and got to share experiences with some very interesting people. The residents gave much insight as to what life had been like here in Paris and the surrounding communities many years ago. They shared about their family life and some of their successes and tribulations in life. Their life advice was very helpful and ranged from “live life to the fullest” to “not everything’s rosy, but you can make it work if you try”.

“It was a great experience,” said Kennedy Gladding, “Joann Vice, the woman I interviewed, was a very sweet person! It was amazing to hear what her life has been like and how much it differed from life now”. Some of the students were very interested to hear about the cars, schools, dances, and technology of the time. “They have seen so much more life than we have, it makes me wonder what will be different when we are their age,” said Kaitlin Block.paige callaway and Martha Edington This experience was definitely a positive one, and every student would recommend a visit with these wonderful people if you want something to do in your free time. Contact the volunteer department at 465-5376 to set up a time to put together puzzles, play bingo, Skip-Bo, sing a song, play music, paint fingernails, read to the residents, garden in the flower beds, decorate cookies, or just talk and listen to the great residents of Paris HealthCare! Thanks to the PCHS students that went on our visit- Steven Bracken, Aaron Gates, Karen Cook, Brianna Blair, Karissa Gobin, Haley Gates, Sahvanna Board, Kylie Gess, Jeffery Martin, Kennedy Gladding, Kaitlin Block, Ashley Bracken, Breanna Bracken, Shelby Hollis, Devon Gobin, Brooklyn Gilbert, Jordon Brading, Cris Gosnell, Shawn Gray, Paige Callaway, Tyler Blue, Austin Brown, and Nathaniel Sapp.
Thanks to those residents being interviewed- Richard Mendenhall, Floyd Tresner, Julia Dailey, Bessie Maynard, Sharon Hutson, James “Russ” Wilhiot, Joan Vice, John Taylor, Harald Connelly, Kay Snyder, Irma Landes, Olivine Hart, Bert Egan, and Martha Edington.

A special thanks to Goody Wilken (employed at PHC for 34 years!!) and to Amy McGilvrey for setting up our visit and coming to the high school to speak with our students.

Link to powerpoint of life advice from residents (good stuff!) CLICK HERE!