I 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.
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:
- Risk—Of 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.
- Destination—Sometimes 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.
- Doldrums—Defined 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!
- 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!
(I originally posted this five months ago, today I see things that make me wonder how else to get this point across to you!)
You might be surprised to find out I have been tweeting since 2007. My first tweet from November, 2007:
I am at a digital leader conference
— Dave Meister (@DaveMeister_) November 29, 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!)
I 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.
Last year we created a late work policy for our freshman class. We asked teachers to let them have two weeks past the due date to turn work in, and if they did so, as long as the work was satisfactory, the work would receive a passing grade. The idea was not to allow these students to take an F on an assignment. If a student had missing work, the assistant principal would literally hunt them down….well call them in, and design a plan to for them to get the work finished. This plan usually included a call home and assignment to stay after school and attend our teacher led study tables. This did not cure all of our freshmen, but it made a very big impact on a group of these students. It did make some more work for the staff, and I commend each and every one of those teachers for taking the extra time to make sure that students had their missing work and for grading those assignments. There are students who literally owe those staff members and Mr. Cox, our assistant principal, a huge debt of gratitude for saving them credits and possibly giving them a chance to graduate with their class. Okay. So that is the story about last year. It was semi-successful. So what should we do about it? We (admin team) decided that we should expand it school-wide. All students should be given extra time to complete work for passing credit. No student should be allowed to simply take a zero and not turn things in. I asked my staff what it is we are measuring? Are we measuring the behavior of turning things in on time? Or, are we measuring growth and learning? If we allow students to take zeros, we are saying that the learning is not important…..in my opinion. If assessing progress on a particular skill is important enough to assess it and make it a part of a student’s grade, then we should make sure they do it right? If we don’t, how do we know they can do it? How do we know if we successfully taught the skill or concept? Some of my staff and I do not see eye to eye on this and that is alright. What is not alright though is to continue to do things the way they have always been done and expect different results. I am malleable on this issue. If someone has a better idea than me, so be it. Last week I caught part of a chat on Twitter that was exploring about late policies and exchanged in a dialogue with a fellow administrator:
— Reed Gillespie (@rggillespie) October 10, 2013
I think Reed has some good reasoning in the linked policy above. What do you think? I realize that I may have made this top down decision without making all the considerations I should have. Maybe I should have spent more time with staff thinking about it out loud and addressing their concerns. In my mind, education is a practice much like medicine. Sometimes we find out what we have been doing was the exact opposite what we should have been doing. We (I) need to be smart enough to assess what we are doing, gather the evidence, do a little research, and try things to address the “what do I do to get kids to turn things in” question. I want your thoughts and opinions here! To be continued…..(are we just putting a band aid on a symptom here? Is the real issue the fact that we are asking our students to do things that are completely irrelevant to them? Tune in next week…..)
For whatever reason, during the last week I have been inundated with messages about items or ideas that are touted as the “real” game-changers for education. I guess it is human nature to look for the “magic” bullet that makes everything “right” (whatever that is). I have seen the be-all-to-end-all game changers masqueraded as devices, curriculum implementation strategies, applications bought from a cloud based store, conferences, professional development strategies, and test preparation programs (ugh!). The purpose of this little reflection is not to be cynical. I guess it is mainly a self reminder to look first in the image on the left of this short piece of…well, wisdom? I am sure many of the things that have me thinking do have value, but none of them have any real value without people who are willing to change, learn, take risks, and….FAIL! The real game changer is what you see when you look in the mirror.
What happens when 75 adults and 300 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 never thought of 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.
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.
Some very real tweets from PHS students this week:
So glad that #challengeday brought out the good side of people at pchs! Now let’s keep it that way
I will never forget what it felt like to cross the line today… Don’t be the reason to make anyone else. #challengeday
The most life changing day of my life… #challengeday
To those of you that went through
#challengeday today; know that “i see you, i got you & i love you”
Today was amazing & i hope everyone can become better people & always be there for others no matter what #ChallengeDay
When you realize you’re not alone ❤ #challengeday
(This is a rewritten post from awhile back. Seems to fit my spirit today. National bickering, a state that has no real leadership, and local politics that produces only finger pointing, has me reflecting on how I can be part of the solution.)
They have seen the best of us. How we react on instinct to help our neighbors. That we are willing to give our last bit of energy, our last hour, our last dime, maybe even willing to give our last breath to help one another. The human spirit is capable of such amazing strength, courage, and selflessness. 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 those who are different. 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? What is our ultimate obligation?
When I look in the mirror, 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 true human spirit. The one I want my children and the students of my community to exemplify. 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 to the generations who created the conditions in which we can thrive..
Our children watch, they remember and they imitate us.
Let us fulfill our ultimate obligation!