The REAL Challenge Begins Now!

IgotuWhat happens when 100 adults and 500 teenagers “lower the waterline” and let others really know them?  What is the affect of bullies telling their victims they are sorry in front of a large crowd of their peers?  How do students react when they find out that many of their school peers have experienced some horrible emotional situations?  What is it like for students when their teachers, school administrators, school board members, and other community members share true stories about their lives and shed a tear or two?  What is the affect of six hours of laughing, dancing, listening, crying, hugging, and caring for people in ways you have never done before?  CULTURE CHANGE!  The building of empathy and understanding. The realization that we are all so much more alike than different.  The awareness of what we say, do with and to others has a major effect that can be both life affirming or devastating.  BUT, it will only happen if we care enough to carry through with it….and it all begins with YOU!

I have said before, many times, that our students don’t care what we know until they know we care.  We have tried very hard to build school community and trust here the past several years in an effort to improve school performance.  I think we may have really turned a corner this past week.  We shut down the bell system, slowed down the prescribed learning and perhaps learned the most important lesson of all; We all matter!  I hope what we have seen the past several days is a new normal.  That we can all continue to have each others’ back and be real with one another.  I know that initially this past week’s activities have made an impact.  You can see it and feel it in the hallways and classrooms.  Our new challenge is to keep this new “attitude” alive!  I know it is up to me and I am the change!  I hope you will join me and commit the same pledge.

My Thanks this Thanksgiving–A Letter to Staff

It seems impossible that this is the day before we take a well deserved break for the Thanksgiving holiday.  This year I do not have to look far to see and feel inspiration for the coming holiday.  I am so lucky and thankful to work with such a wonderful group of caring professionals and students.  In all of my twenty five years working here, I have never been so “touched” by the kindness and caring of both our staff and our students.  Your understanding and compassion during these past couple of months has been nothing short of amazing!  Even though it was very scary to watch and hold Molly (my sophomore daughter) during one of her spells, I never felt more comforted by that fact that I knew that both students and staff “had her back”.  I will never forget that her “drama family” worked so hard to make sure she was able play her role in the fall play. They planned right down to the details of what they would do to make the show go on if she were to have an episode during a performance.  I WAS COMPLETELY AMAZED at the lengths they went to. WOW!  I am sure that each of you in your own way did your part to make her feel comfortable enough to continue to come to school despite seizing several times a day.  When you say “I see you, I got you, I love you,” you really do mean it!  What a phenomenal place to work and send my children everyday!  Again, words cannot express my thanks to you all.  I think we have a handle on the cause of her issues now and she seems to be on the road to recovery!
This weeks stuff I read is short.  I am intrigued at using MOOC’s (you will have to read to understand what they are) to enhance student course offerings here at PHS.  Heather Seaton won the contest to get her article included in the “paper”  She correctly used the #phsread hash tag when she “tweeted” the link to her article about differentiation.  I will provide a special prize for her homeroom before Christmas break.  Please feel free to share interesting articles you find while browsing by using the #phsread hashtag on Twitter.  By the way, I still think Twitter is a great place to find and learn stuff…..
Yesterday I shared a lot of data with you via your Google Drive.  The 5Essentials data from the survey we took last spring is available for you to view there.  We will have a staff meeting on Monday, December 2, right after school and our main topic will be the surveys.
Thanks for all you do!

The Road Forward

photo (10)Sometimes I get an idea in my head that will not go away.  Not all of these ideas are good ones but they make me feel like Richard Dreyfuss’ character in the Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (most of you will have to Google it), where he had to keep trying to shape things into Devil’s Tower. The following idea is one that continues to take shape in my mind and I am not sure where it is going (and like the linked clip, folks are probably looking at me kind of funny).  Using some funds from our vending machines, I bought a college pennant for every member of our staff.  The pennant represents either where the staff member went to school themselves or where their children attended college.  People are usually proud of their alma mater and are proud to talk about it.  I bought pennants with the idea that they would be talking points for teachers and students alike as the discuss education, both in the future tense and in the past tense.  A few weeks after the pennants showed up I got the idea about each faculty member telling their story in a short video.  This idea crystallized during a meeting I attended about community mentoring in schools.  We were discussing how hard it was to get people to come in during the school day and I mentioned the video idea to the group.  How adults could share their stories via video with the local students and they could connect using social media.  The idea morphed as I talked about it.  It came to me as I was speaking, that since the goal was to get students to contemplate their future, why not have students also make videos about their plans for the future and the action steps they need to do to get there.  The adult videos will be grouped into a genre called the “Road Followed” and the students’ work will be grouped together in a collection called “The Road Forward”.  Not sure if I know where this is going yet?  Or if I even am sure I want to pursue it?  But, in order to get others to think about the possibilities, I made a sample video about my “Road Followed”  The challenge was to try to make it informative yet short.  It may seem self serving, (and maybe it is) but I want to know if my idea has any merit….so, here is the video.  Any thoughts, ideas, or criticisms would be appreciated in the comments section!  If the video does not work, follow this link:

Too Much Technology?

What is it that makes a public school valuable?  Is it the information it provides?  Is it the opportunities that available there? Going forward in these times of inter-connectivity, where the physical school building and the learning experiences are not synonymous, what do public schools provide that is exclusive?  What do individual schools have available that is not available anywhere else including other public schools? The answer: Relationships.  The face to face, regular social relationships that almost all of us crave are available there (or at least they should be).  I certainly remember that favorite teacher, the good times in classes, and the interactions I had that made my “schooling” a valuable experience.  After all, if Salmon Kahn can teach all the kids in the school Algebra better than the teachers employed there, why does the school keep those teachers employed?  Technology in the form of computers, smartphones, netbooks, web 2.0 tools…etc, are great things, as long as there is an allowance made for nurturing relationships where students feel valued and their learning is important enough for a personal touch by a caring teacher. Using online tools to grade student work, to set up outside of class meeting for students, and to schedule when things are due, can make a lot of what we do in school convenient, but when the use of those modes of communication crowd out meaningful, face to face contact, schools loose that one advantage they have: real, live, meaningful social relationships. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to lining up to drink from the fire hose of information available via Twitter or other social media tools, I have been a frequent costumer for a long time.  Although I am not the most savvy user, I would like to think I am pretty proficient at finding and using the information that is useful for me to further my own professional development.  The beauty of the Internet and its connectivity is its ability to connect people and resources in ways that were not available a decade ago.  I believe the connectivity and sharing of ideas and resources has revolutionized many parts of our culture. Schools need to take advantage of and change their structure to accommodate the possibilities available via these technologies, but they cannot forget to leverage the one thing they have over the budding industry of online schools…real, live, meaningful interactions.  Need some proof of the human need for this live interaction?  Follow the tweets of the folks attending the annual ISTE Summer Conference in San Diego this June.  Inevitably they will talk about how amazing it is to connect with their personal learning network, live and in person.  It will be the most incredible PD available…..why?  Because they will get what they crave:  Real, live, face-to-face interaction with people they usually only interact with online.  Do we depend to much on technology?  No.  But we must not forget to emphasize the one thing that truly differentiates and gives value to our brick and mortar schools: real, meaningful, face-to-face relationships!

Photo courtesy of the humansocietyoftheunitedstates photostream on Flickr

Do What Matters!

Yesterday I was watching the news and a story came on about how crowded the amusement resorts were in Orlando, Florida this past week.  The story made the presumption that people were tired of putting off vacations and being frugal because of the  (now easing?) recession and are ready to live a little.  That story was followed by a quick blurb on how stocks were up because of good news on job creation and orders for durable goods.  I actually said aloud to myself, “People just maybe sick of living in the economic and political malaise that we have endured for the past three or so years.” I started thinking to myself that maybe people are willing to quit listening to how bad things are, think for themselves a little and try to quit living in fear of tomorrow.  As I contemplated this I rephrased the previous thought into this: I have to quit listening to how bad things are in my profession!  I need to think for myself a little more and not let the popular media create a cloud to darken my day.  I have to quit living in fear of what is coming next, control the factors that I can, and do the best I can for the students in my charge.  This was a fleeting moment, the thought of writing a blog about my reasoning came and went, and I was on to my next task.  This morning though, as I was browsing though the new titles in my reader I came across and read, Chris Lehmann’s latest post and the same thoughts from yesterday came flooding back to me.  His words crystallized my problem.  I spend way too much time in crisis mode and allow too many things to become a crisis.  I have a hard time shutting down the “Mr. Meister” school persona and just living in the moment and enjoying the wonderful things that go on around me every day, both in and out of school.

Being in a constant state of crisis is so counterproductive.  How many opportunities do I miss to have positive interactions with staff and students while worrying about the current “big” issue.  The “real” problems are going to find me whether I have worried about them or not.  Good problem solvers solve problems. They don’t let problems define what they do or who they are.  They don’t let themselves become part of the problem because the daily routines keep them from focusing the important vision and mission of the school.  I need to consistently discipline myself to stay out crisis mode…except of course, when there is a crisis.  The fact that current popular education reformers have no clue what they are talking about does not make everyday a crisis for me…they are not my problem to solve.  My job is to educate my school community about what is in the best interests of our kids.  I have to communicate with the stakeholders that I serve and consistently link our school actions to the mission we have built for ourselves.

My daily mantra will include the following somehow:

  • The vision or direction needs to be the priority.
  • Do something today to inform stakeholders about learning activities and accomplishments in our school
  • Problems happen.  Take the direct steps to ameliorate the situation and let it go.  Is it going to matter five days from now?  Five hours from now?  Five minutes?  Make sure the response matches the situation.
  • Talk with students everyday
  • Talk with at least one teacher about instruction every day
  • Exercise
  • Play more golf….(a guy has to have goals right?)
  • Start racing again
  • Try not to be such a Troll Dad (my kids know what that means)

Thanks for the Memories

O.K. I am really going to date myself here, but whenever I hear “Thanks for the Memories”, Bob Hope’s theme song, I feel a warm wave calmness come over me. It brings back strong memories of a childhood being brought up in a home where no Bob Hope special went unwatched. Those memories are blended with emotions of happy times spent with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Even though those days of childhood are long gone, the memories and visceral feelings are as strong as ever.

Ask yourself what are the aspects of your day that are really memorable? When you reflect about the past year on a personal level, what are the things that stand out? Take few moments right now and think about the things that really stand out, the great memories you have in your lifetime. What do they have in common? Emotions! Winning a championship, participating in a play, getting married, witnessing the birth of a child, spending time with loved ones, these are the events bring back memories charged with emotion. Memories of the people and the relationships we had with those people are what truly make an event meaningful. Do you remember the first great grade you earned on a test or do you remember how people reacted to it? You especially remember the reactions of those people about which you cared about and wanted them to think positively about you. Bad memories are made of emotions too. Being left out, feeling unwanted, not being noticed, having your flaws endlessly put on display. Emotions have a way of etching events into our memories so strongly that we cannot forget them even if we try…(and in the case of severe trauma, the opposite, we can’t remember even if we try).

You may now ask yourself where I am going with this….my point is that a truly effective educator builds strong, positive, professional relationships with students. An environment of shared respect and genuine caring will help foster a strong learning experience. As I think back on my education certain memories remain strong and most of them involve how teachers helped me feel worthy of their time. The most effective teachers I can remember combined high expectations with a “we can do it” attitude and a real rapport with their class. Teachers like Mrs. Eicher and her game of scrabble, Mrs. Gardner and a great Spanish class, Mr. Pigg and his cousins in a blanket, Mr. Tyndle and his undying love of science, and Dr. Bev Findley and her unequalled enthusiasm every day  are the ones that made great learning experiences and memories for me. What kind of memories are you creating for your students?

A Cheerful Anecdote


Staff, The other day I was asked to present at one of the local service clubs about our proposed academy program for next year. When I was finished, I asked if there were any questions or comments. A parent stood (I was thinking oh no….here we go) and said, “Mr. Meister, I just want to say (and she paused for effect) that I am so pleased with how your teachers are so open and willing to help us!” “I have received more phone calls this year from your staff than I ever have and they have either been complimentary toward our (student) or very helpful.” “At open house, everyone was so friendly and all the teachers took the time to have a personal conversation with us.” “Staff was out in the hallways, smiling and very helpful while we tried to find our way around.” “We really appreciate what your staff has done to keep us informed and make us feel welcome.” “We also love the lessons and grades online.”

Needless to say, I was very proud to have this said in front of a large audience of community leaders and several of our Board members! We can win over students and their parents one conversation at a time. THANK YOU! and keep up the EXCELLENT work! Communication is so important!