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.

(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

Game Changer!

mirrorFor 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.

Saturday Morning Musings: Chromebook Out of the Box

chromebookMy staff and family will not believe this but I actually bought myself a new toy this week (which goes with my two iPads, laptop, iPhone…you get the picture). I have a gadget problem.  The first part of getting help is admitting you have a problem, right?  I was surfing along on my Google Chrome app on my iPad and saw THE AD.  Acer Chomebook, $199! What is $200 dollars when working to solve the great education crisis?  Right? Okay, making excuses will not end my problem, but still……

First Impressions:  A good looking computer.  Plastic, not the metal alloys of my Dell XPS, but it seems durable.  I had to put the battery in out of the box (time elapsed: 5 seconds). I was pleasantly surprised to find the battery charged when I turned it on.  It immediately went into a download mode to update itself.  I honestly do not know how much time it took to do this as I walked away and came back sometime later (about 30 minutes) and the thing was ready to go.  I signed in with my Google account, synchronized Chrome and in under two minutes was using this thing just like my regular computer in my office.  Cold boot up time for writing this post?  38 seconds including typing in my Google password.

As a computer user, I use Google a lot.  I compose and use spreadsheets in Google Drive more than I use the Office 20?? suite on my desktop.  I find it convenient to get to all my “stuff” on whatever computer I am on.  Using a Chromebook fits my habits nicely.  You may not find it as useful if you are not a regular Google apps user.

It has a speaker, not a good one alas, but you can hook a better set of speakers to it.  I plugged it into our library speaker system (totally disrupting a class, but research sometimes is messy), and it sounded fine. I hooked it up to the library SmartBoard and projector.  It worked fine.  Not sure if you can use it with the Smart Notebook. Pretty sure there is no app for that.  Basically, I can use this thing for all my presentations. It has all the capabilities I need.

Drawbacks???  I am sure there are plenty.  You need to have an Internet connection.  There is an offline function for Google Drive.  I have not used it yet……  Battery life may be a concern?  I used it most of yesterday morning for taking notes at an building project meeting and the battery was 70% used after about 3 hours.  I was using Tweetdeck and doing some web-browsing while taking notes on a Google doc.

I am pleased to find so many apps for it.  Evernote, Edmodo, WordPress (I am writing this post using it (except for the picture which I uploaded from my iPhone) and many others.

At this point, I do think this could be used for a school-wide 1:1 deployment.  Might, dare I say, a better choice than iPads????  I am sure the honeymoon will end soon.  Till next time.

goofyIt has a camera with crazy filters.  What more could you ask for?

Mom, you really need to figure out how to find me using Ruzzle.  No one else will play me.

Saturday Morning Musings 2/2/2013

groundhog

Groundhog’s Day.  Officially, according to the famous Pennsylvania rodent, spring will be early this year!  Maybe we can get through another school year with no snow days?

 

 

phsread

I have decided to revive using a hashtag on Twitter to cultivate information and articles that I think deserve consideration by staff and the school community.  For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter and hashtags, no worry, I plan to publish a link to the cultivated content on this blog as well as our school Facebook page.  I spend up to three to four hours a week reading education based articles and blogs shared on Twitter by colleagues across the nation (actually the world).  Reading the thoughts and ideas of others about education and related issues keeps me informed about trends and key developments in our quest to make our school the best it can be for our students.

A couple of articles from the #phsread stream that have me thinking:

http://t.co/bVZRTZWv  (link to blogpost) “On Task” is not a waypoint on the route to engagement. By Gerald W. Aungst.   My thoughts after reading:

Engagement, as a condition that exists in the classroom, is not always easily defined.  To steal a quote from Justice Potter Stewart: “I know it when I see it.” There is a certain energy in a classroom of engaged students.  There is movement, chatter, discussion, disagreement, and no one person is the center of attention.  We can say all we want about student centered learning, but until we realize that students want to be in charge of their own learning, we are going to have a hard time engaging them.  Do not get me wrong, we have to guide, persuade, sell, and curate their direction, but learners want to be actively involved in the lesson.  So many times I walk down the halls at PHS and notice the varied degrees of active student learning.  When students are not passively listening or completing deskwork, they are much more involved….engaged.  I can watch the same student in various classes and see the difference an active classroom has.  The engaged class is not waiting for the bell to ring, they are disappointed that it does.  The challenge for teachers is to make the content available in an active exercise.  In an engaging classroom students interact with information, resources, each other, and perhaps the world at large instead of being dependent on a text or the teacher for their learning.

 

After reading a little bit more on the subject of engagement, I came across this post on NPR’s Mind/Shift Blog: http://t.co/VNsnGgCg  7 Essential Principles of Innovative Learning  By Katrina Schwartz.  My thoughts after reading:

This is an account of a study that endeavors to identify those classroom qualities that create student engagement. It is easy to talk about engagement and quality learning environments without really saying much of anything.  Schwart’s post was helpful because it used some research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and a book they published about innovative learning environments,  The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice. Their top indicators of innovative and engaging learning environments:

1.Learners have to be at the center of what happens in the classroom with activities focused on their cognition and growth.

2. Learning is a social practice and can’t happen alone.

3. Emotions are an integral part of learning.

4. Learners are different and innovative learning environments reflect the various experiences and prior knowledge that each student brings to class.

5. Students need to be stretched, but not too much.

6. Assessment should be for learning, not of learning.

7. Learning needs to be connected across disciplines and reach out into the real world.

I really want to encourage staff to get out and watch other classrooms during your preparation time.  It does not have to be often.  We have some teachers who are really doing a great job of finding ways of doing these exact things in their classrooms and it is very  obvious that students are engaged therein!

17082816997Book Study Teaching With Poverty In Mind by Eric Jensen

 

I missed both discussions this week (Tuesday at noon and Thursday after school)but I was very encouraged by this email from the book study leader Nathan Ogle:

We had a great conversation yesterday. We spent a lot of time talking about the concept of students losing ground over summer vacation. We spent some time discussing the challenges of moving to a balanced schedule. Then, having decided that at least for now that isn’t a realistic solution, we came up with the idea of a summer enrichment program. The study being cited said that the problem with summer break is when that time is not “academically oriented”. So many of our at risk students aren’t spending their summer breaks going to the library, museums, the zoo, or anything else that would help their minds stay focused on learning. We all got pretty excited about the idea of having a summer program designed to give that experience. We envisioned a program that contained a book club and a few field trips. It wouldn’t be prescribed like summer school, but would be open to any student who is interested. For those on free and reduced lunch, we could maybe get community support to not only help fund the program, but also to waive any fees for those students. For those who are able to pay their own way, we could come up with a fee similar to that of summer school. We could even make it more appealing by awarding some elective credit for satisfactory participation.

Our challenge will be how to fund it, but we have to try find a way!

If you have read this far….thank you! (Mom) Until next week, let’s continue to make a difference in every student’s life.

 

Owning Who We Are

17082816997This semester a teacher on staff asked if we could do a faculty book study on a title he had read in one of his administration classes.  When staff members step forward to lead learning and change, I think it is very important to support them as well participate in their efforts.  We managed to scrape up the resources to purchase enough copies for a group of teachers to read and discuss.

The book we are reading is Teaching with Poverty in Mind | What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, by Eric Jensen.  As a school in a small and shrinking mid-west community, we see the devastating effects of poverty on our student population.  In the past twenty years, our school has shrunk from a student population of 800+ to a student body of 550.  Although our student body has shrunk, the percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch has increased from just under 20% to 55% over the same time span.  The demographics of our school are a reflection of a community that has lost many of its middle class wage earning positions and has seen many of our local businesses close up, unable to compete with the new local mega store. Our community is very dependent on the agribusinesses that are associated with the farming industry located in our region.  The nature of farming has also changed.  Smaller farms are disappearing as land is being consolidated under larger land holders.  There are families who send their children to our schools still, but many of them are now farmers that “cash rent” as opposed to owning their own land.

Although we know we have a high population of students who experience the effects of poverty, we (I) fall into the trap of misunderstanding why our students act the way they do.  I know I often lose sight of the fact that I come from a background where education was valued.  I was rewarded for doing what school expected me to do well.  I was taught to set goals and take steps to achieve them.  Teachers as a whole are people with very similar backgrounds.  They usually did well in school and at times it becomes easy for them to  forget that they did not experience some of the physical and environmental variables that cause their students to misbehave, not care, and in many cases, not show up.  I know that I have fallen into the trap of blaming students, parents, state policy, …etc, for why some students seem bound to fail.  What this book is forcing me to do is to look into the mirror and find what I can change, what we as a school can change to better accommodate the students in our charge.  The real challenge is to be a school that can challenge all of our students.  In order to that, we have to own who we are.  Next in this series: What are we doing well.  What are we doing wrong.  What needs to change NOW.

Being a Learner

cheesecake<——Looks good huh?  Double Mocha Cheesecake.  Made by yours truly. Two layers even! Don’t ask me why, but for some reason I had a yearning to learn how to make cheesecake.  The effort you see here is cheesecake number four for me….in the last two weeks.  My family thinks I am off my rocker a bit.  This new learned skill is a little tough on the waistline, but it is palette pleasing.  Why do I share my new passion?  I would not be a school leader if I did not demonstrate a little imbalance from time to time. It may be a little weird for me to be making cheesecakes but I am stretching my abilities.  I think it is important for all educators to show that they continue to learn on a regular basis.  We should not expect our students or staff to stretch themselves if we are not willing to.  My school community knows that we are building a new building and I cannot begin to describe how steep the learning curve is for me.  The new building and all of the research and decision making will affect education in Paris for years to come.  With all the energy expended with the new building, I cannot help but think that I have been neglecting current staff development and student learning.  A few weeks ago I announced I will be considering buying some Chromebooks for several classrooms.  As we move closer to a 1:1  learning environment, I want my staff to learn more ways to engage student using in-class technology.  Edmodo is one online system to manage classroom activities and resources.  I do not know much about it, but that is going to change.  Cheesecakes may become a little less common. (my belt will be thankful!) I am going to learn to use Edmodo and challenge my staff to do the same.  Ok, so I never really answered the question: What do cheesecakes and Edmodo have in common?….They are “things” I must conquer!  Learn on my friends!

A sM*A*S*H*ing Performance!

Sam Sottosanto: Paris Beacon News

This weekend the PHS Drama students presented their fall play, M*A*S*H*, I always enjoy working with the stage crew when the kids do their thing. It gives me the chance to change roles and work with our students and parent volunteers as someone behind the scenes(literally). The students involved in our program really are amazing. Some of them are balancing school work, participating in a fall sport or a job, and a multitude of other teenage activities. I love watching our students grow in this program. Some of them find something inside themselves that they never knew existed! They inspire themselves and one another! One of my favorite parts of the weekend is seeing alumni from the  program come back to see what the present students are doing with their legacy. So many of them have gone on to do some really fantastic things. We have to do everything we can to preserve these programs in these precarious times of budget crises and education reform agendas where many schools are cutting anything and everthing that is not measured by the high stakes exams. The quote of the weekend came from a student who has just accepted a full ride scholarship to a grad school, “It all started here Mr. Meister.” Indeed, many of our highest achieving students are those students that have challenged themselves to grow in one of our extra curricular programs. A second quote that stuck with me is from a student who was participating in the play: “Mr. Meister, this is such hard work, but I love every minute of it. I will never forget this!” These types of programs are truly the staging grounds for our kids that have launched themselves to some pretty fantastic accomplishments!

 

One Hundred and Thirty Fortnights Ago…..(35 in dog years)

September 18, 2007, I posted my first blog on what would become the PCHSdirectorBLOG.  I had no idea what to write so I simply copied a description of the school I had written for a brochure and published it.  As I wrote more entries, I found that I was writing to myself about my thoughts and ideas about Paris High School.  My focus early on was about the use of technology in the classroom and engaging students with learner centered activities.  As I grew more comfortable expressing myself in this space, I started criticizing education policy and advocating for changes in our school system based on the work of practicing educators, not politicians or philanthropists.  I have written to students, parents, our local staff, and to the education world in general.  I am not sure that I have changed anything but me, but I know this, writing is a cathartic activity that forces me to grow and examine my own thoughts and philosophies about the profession I love.  On this fifth “Blogoversary” I have decided to rededicate myself to writing in this space and pushing myself and the learning community to consider new ideas and follow my lead.  In order to get my staff to follow, I must lead by example and continue to learn transparently here.

Photo courtesy of sonson’s photostream of Flickr

#Leadership Day 2012

To All Who Lead by Design, by Proxy, or by Accident,

Dare to take risks, dare to put yourself out there, dare to fail, most of all be a transparent learner. Write to yourself in a public place, like a blog. Make videos. Put them online for students, teachers and parents to view and learn with and about you. Use technology to engage your staff. If you are not willing to be the change you want to see to make education better for students, maybe it is time to sell insurance or take up some other noble profession. You need to connect with resources outside of your local networks. Be bold enough to try connecting using Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. Better yet, try all three. Be the person your staff, colleagues, and students can look to and say, “See, she/he was able to do that, I should be able to as well.” Most of  all, push the envelope enough to make it comfortable for people around you to try something new. Schools need to be places where innovation, creativity, and risk taking are valued. If you as a leader show that you value those qualities and actions by being a doer, your learning community will likely follow! Most of all be bold!