We Are Better Than This!

I was caught off guard the other day by a Facebook post adamantly stating that an incident had occurred at school and nothing had been done about it.  An investigation found there was never a complaint filed, there were no witnesses that could verify the occurrence, in fact everyone contacted about it seemed very perplexed about any such issue having happened.  I am puzzled.  Why do people make such public pronouncements about things they have not substantiated with evidence? I partially blame our infotainment obsession.  The reality media has blurred the line between what is real and what is simply entertainment.  Public attacks on others is the norm.  Our politicians do it, the media does it, AND we do it to each other.  It seems as though we have become polarized over such small differences, like the name of our political party, that we forget we have so much more in common than we have differences.  The lure of “likes”, “retweets”, and sympathetic comments have pushed people to believe in a false sense of security and popularity where the most outlandish statement, true or not, garners self esteem boosting notoriety despite negative affect it may have on someone or group.  The adults have to set a better example!  The children are always watching us and WILL imitate our behavior!  As we watch the horrible calamity unfold in Texas, please realize we all have blue blood flowing through our veins and our tears are all the same.  Observe the amazing capacity we humans have to show compassion towards each other in times of need.  We need to capture this spirit and make it a part of our everyday lives.   WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS!

Photo courtesy of SynergyByDesign’s Flickr Photostream

Are You Ready for the Journey?

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

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

(This is a rewritten post from several years back)

After considering this quote for a while I found that it had many meanings for me as an educator and the instructional leader at Morrisonville CUSD #1. 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 our young people for the real world. Maybe the destination should be, if we’re willing to take the risk, a school system 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

Because I Knew You…….

“A mind that is stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.”

                                                                               Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

I am sure the entire Paris area knows by now, it is with mixed emotions and a lot of excitement that I announce my resignation from the position of director of Paris High School.  I have accepted the position of superintendent of Morrisonville Community Unit School District No. 1.  My last day in the office at Paris High School will be June 30, 2017.

It is hard to know exactly what to say about a decision to leave a place you have loved to work for the past 28 years.  Paris High School is a place where I have worked alongside some of the best people: the kind who made me a better person everyday. It was a place where I knew my own children were safe and challenged to become their very best.  I do know that I have been very blessed by my decision to come here to teach back in 1989.

The experiences I have had here are invaluable!  I was lucky enough to work for The State of Illinois’ first cooperative high school and be a part of a team that oversaw the design and construction of an amazing new campus. Every day I was able to work with outstanding people who really cared about students and did their best to challenge and engage them in innovative ways. I had the incredible support of a great Board of Education and cooperating superintendents.  BUT…best of all, I was entrusted with the safety and education of some of the most amazing young men and women!  I will miss you all very much!

The decision to leave here was not an easy one.  For many years I have had held the credentials to be a superintendent of schools and have had the goal of eventually becoming one.  Now that my children have finished their public education, my wife and I have decided it is time for me to pursue my goal of working for an educational community as a school superintendent.  I am excited, and even though that excitement is tempered with the thought of leaving the only location I have ever worked as an educator, I know it is the right time for me to go.   I will never forget the wonderful people that have supported my family and me, you simply are the best!

There will always be a part of me that bleeds orange and black!

 

Between the Lines

I have been troubled the past 24 hours or so.  I have this feeling that there is an important lesson from experience to be taught to a group of young men and women, but I am not sure I am the one to do it, or if the principle I think is important is valued by society today.  I am willing to admit that I am of a generation that is pretty far removed from being young….(see how I have to admit to being old?) but I am sure that what defines excellence and being a winner has not changed.  We watched the Patriots come back from a record Super Bowl deficit to earn their fifth world championship ring of the current era.  That is a phenomenal accomplishment!  They have become the penultimate example of winning and excellence.  I want that same excellence to be a goal for our students and student athletes.  Winning is an attitude. Winning is a work ethic.  Winning is dedicating both mind and body to TRY to do what it takes (ethically) to be successful and reach a predetermined goal.  I have never seen a winner that spends more time talking about why they don’t win than talking about what they need to do to get better.  Winners do not spend more time and energy talking trash than giving their opponent a tenacious opposition between the lines.  Above all, a true sportsperson is about competing at a high level and making themselves and their team mates better each time they have the opportunity. Great competitors do not always have the winning score on the board at the end of a game, but their opponents know they had true competition and respect the effort. Spectators at games should also work to encourage their team to do their best, applaud them when they do well, and encourage them when the team needs a lift.  If a spectator feels the need to show up an opponent,  put in the work, pull on the uniform, and do your talking between the lines!

Problem Solving- There is no Formula for Some Situations!

8289305455_c0d1b1db22_o (1)Some problems do not have an immediate answer.  Some problems may not ever have an understood formula, but circumstances will dictate a reasoned solution, and a life may be depending on it.  My son’s medical condition defied conventional thinking, at least from my perspective.  The syndrome never quite fit any typical pathology.  It took some unconventional thinking and a team of experienced doctors to figure out how to attack the problem that was causing our son’s health crisis.  The immunologist that headed his bone marrow transplant team, who has done hundreds of bone marrow transplants, said that he had never done one on a patient with this type of immune deficiency.  What is the lesson in all this? Obviously I have had plenty of time to frame this situation in terms of how does public education contribute to our ability to creatively problem solve.  I know that students spend time solving problems, but do they really develop deep problem solving experience when we concentrate on getting them ready for the PARCC exam or whatever the next accountability measure is?  If we are teaching them and requiring them to problem solve in formulaic ways, will they be prepared to solve the “real” problems that come their way in a non-school environment? Schools need to be implementing programs and curriculum that have students using integrated skills, working in teams, to problem solve and create new content.  Our current practice of assessment and focus on teacher accountability has forced the focus of the education system away from engaging students in way in which they practice these crucial problem solving skills.

 

Generosity and Care Do Exist

(Lesson No. 1)

4232232092_2be61c1467_qSitting here on a Saturday morning following a week of protest, turmoil, and violence has me in a deep state of reflection.  Why do we turn on each other?  Why do people that have so much more in common than differences chose to see only the differences?  From the nastiness of our presidential campaign rhetoric, the gratuitous violence in entertainment, and the real violence on our streets, one does really wonder at times about what in the world are we headed for.  Our family’s experience over the past year and half has allowed us to see the other side of human nature, thank goodness!  Once people in our community (and beyond) found out that our son was gravely ill, the outpouring of care and concern has really lifted us.  The efforts of so many to help comfort us will never be forgotten and has played no small part in the fact that our son is still with us!  There have been so many things done on the behalf of my family that there is no way I can begin to think about them without being overwhelmed by the compassion showered upon us!  There have been fundraisers, meal trains, hats passed in church, gift cards, monetary gifts, shoulders to cry on, dishes washed, clothes cleaned, school tasks completed…etc!!!!  The list could go for paragraphs!  Complete strangers have sent us care boxes, the community held a bone marrow donor drive.   The town in which we live gets run down a lot, both from those from the outside and those who live here.  I will tell you this, there is has never been a more generous place in my life experience.  I am completely humbled by the efforts of this community!  Thank you!  I can only hope I can pay forward your amazing kindness.  There is hope!  Humankind has a great capacity for love and generosity and this place is a great example of that!

Picture courtesy of Darren Tunnicliff’s Flickr Photostream

Epilogue

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Be a bone marrow donor!

Yesterday I wrote in my post “Where Have I Been?” about my child becoming quite ill in October of 2014.  The post was written with the assumption that most of those who would read it already knew how he was doing presently.  Sorry to those who have an interest in this story but were left wondering about his status. For those of you who know the story, you are excused from reading further.  My wonderful spouse has written a much more cogent and readable blog about our experience called Blessings in Disguise. If you have not read the musings of my wife Marianne, I suggest you should!  My purpose here is not to talk about his journey through a medical nightmare, but to try to apply the lessons learned and share the thoughts that streamed through my conscience during his many days in the hospital.  For those that are curious, here is a very brief synopsis of what he has experienced.  He was diagnosed with an undefined immune disorder in which his natural killer cells did not function normally in 2012.  Which means when he gets sick, HE GETS SICK! Not really sick more often, but out for long periods of time when he does get sick with what was usually a bronchial infection or pneumonia.  When he became really ill in October of 2014, he was initially diagnosed with meningitis, but when no infectious agent was found, he was diagnosed with neuro-sarcoidosis.  When the normal treatments to combat sarcoidosis did not make him better, further investigation found a MAC infection in his lung.  Which came first?  The MAC infection or sarcoidosis?  We will never know.  He responded well to treatment of the MAC infection.  He felt good enough to finish his senior year and give a speech at commencement while graduating with highest honors.  In the Fall of 2015, he started school at one of the nation’s most prestigious undergraduate engineering schools.  He was able to complete one quarter of his freshman year.  On the third day of the second quarter he called and said he could not catch his breath, and walking anywhere was next to impossible because he was so fatigued.  He was admitted to the hospital and after several weeks of medical testing, he was diagnosed with AML Leukemia.  He was given a round of chemotherapy to put it in remission.  The team treating him scheduled a bone marrow transplant to generate a “new and healthy” immune system.  The transplant was three months ago.  He is home now, recovering from the transplant and the effects of the chemotherapy that was used to “kill” his defective immune system.  The good news is that he is (knock on wood) making progress towards recovery.  He has good days and bad but his recovery looks very good according to the doctors.  We have hope! (next….I promise I will start talking about the kinds of lessons that can be taken from an experience like this!)

Where Have I Been?

jakesrpicI am not sure how to start this entry.  I have not written a serious blogpost in almost two years.  I look back and I see drafts, full of thought, yet not published for one reason or another.  Two years ago I was a self proclaimed social media guru.  I presented to groups of educators about, pushed staff to adopt, and cajoled the community to follow the many ways social media could enhance learning and connectedness.  Yes, connectedness, not even a word really, yet this network of social media had me plugged into the best things being done in schools. Things all changed for me in October of 2014 with this simple question:  “Dad, am I going to die?” My just turned 18 year old son was having an intense headache.  My response was “of course not.”  Little did I realize how harrowing the experience we would have on our journey to make that “of course not” come true.  By the end of that day my son had been tied to a hospital bed for fear he could hurt a hospital staff member or himself.  What would become the most unreal of realities unfolded in the next year and a half.  The best doctors we could find were totally puzzled by what was happening to our child.  Instantaneous answers for his problem did not exist and connecting to experts did not produce an answer to what was wrong.  Google could not give me an explanation to what was happening. My son went from being a straight A, top of the class student, to not even being able to recognize me as his father.  My beliefs about our system of education and the purpose for what we do were about to be turned upside down forever.  In my next several posts I hope to share how this experience has shaped the lives of my family and has emboldened me to fight for what is right in education for the years I have left in my career.