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.

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…..

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.









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





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!

Community Involvement

This past Saturday our gymnasium was transformed from its normal venue of basketball court and PE room into a large stage for our spring musical Cinderella.  I have not seen too many gyms turned into a full court stage like they do here in Paris.  It has taken the efforts of many people over the years to perfect this stage and turn this gym into a place where thespians shine!  The above video is a time lapse of the “building of the stage”.  I am not sure how many people showed up to spend half, or more, of their Saturday to put this together, but their help is priceless.  You cannot buy the experiences our kids will have over the next two weeks preparing for and putting on Cinderella.  By the time it is over, half of our student body will have participated in some way.  We could not do this without the community’s help!  From the donated hours from the parents to the donated dollars of the local businesses, the contributions are numerous and generous!  Our drama program has become a very important part of not just student life and experience, it has become an important training ground for students interested in entertainment and theater.  We have had many of our graduates of the program go on to work in theater, television, and the music industry. Thank you parents, community, and local businesses!

By all Means, Hold Us Accountable!

But…..you had better take into account the WHOLE PICTURE!

This past week a had an opportunity to travel to the Effingham, IL to take in the All Apollo Conference Band Concert.  What a wonderful evening of splendid music.  Eighty of the best musicians from local high schools brought together for an all-day clinic under the direction of Dr. Melissa Gustafson-Hinds from O’Fallon High School. The event made for awesome learning experience and a very memorable evening of concert sounds.  As students were motioned to stand to be recognized for their solo efforts at the end of every song, the warm applause from the audience of parents and other family members had the students bursting with pride.  It was definitely an experience that allowed me to acknowledge to myself that there are so many things right with what we do in public education.  The value that is provided to our students and communities is so much greater than the achievement that is measured on one day of the school year.  I want our school, all public schools for that matter, to be held accountable for these types of student learning opportunities.  If we truly want to measure the value that public educators bring to the table then let’s find a way to measure:

The glow of pride a student radiates upon receiving a standing ovation from the patrons at an honor band concert

The feeling of accomplishment when a student earns a best of show in a regional art show

The effort of a teacher that, because of the time invested, uses an established relationship to talk a student out of dropping out.

The accomplishment when a student earns a presidential scholarship to a prestigious secondary education institution.

The value of programs that allow students to experience connections that has them see the relationships of learning and hard work beyond test scores and grades.

A student’s ability to create a handcrafted object that represents a challenge met. A challenge that allowed the student to grow and understand the interconnectivity of knowledge disciplines and to go beyond the mere manipulation and recollection of facts.

The ingenuity of teachers who work together to do something new for their students.  Teachers who collaborate to make multidisciplinary experiences for students that make subjects engaging and lifelike.

The lifetime effort of a teacher who dedicated hours to building relationships with students and pushing kids to do things they never thought they could do.  A coach who taught the value of respect, effort, and sportsmanship in victory as well as defeat.

By all means, hold us accountable! Test scores need to scrutinized, attendance rates measured, drop out rates included, but you had better add to the metric the true value of the programs we provide! (add your own example in the comments….please!)

My Homework Assignment….

So my friend Patrick Larkin tagged me in a chain-blogging task which obligates me to share 11 random facts about myself and then to answer 11 questions that Patrick has asked. I have been suffering from blog writer’s block.  So this gives me the opportunity to kick start myself.

My 11 Random Facts
1. I grew up in Laramie Wyoming
2. My first job, other than a paper route, was a car washer at the local Ford dealership.
3. I actually made a few bucks as a cowboy while attending college.
4. I spent a summer pouring concrete in Temecula, California.
5. My idea of spring break when I was in college was to attend the Western Athletic     Conference basketball tournament. (three years in a row!)
6. I have completed the Indianapolis Half Marathon four times.
7. I make Christmas sugar cookies
8. I am an avid fantasy baseball nut!
9. I am not sure what I want to be when I grow up.
10 This is the road I traveled to get to where I am.
11.I have a wonderful wife, two great kids, and three dogs.
My responses to Patrick’s Questions
  1. Have you ever been to Massachusetts?  No, but I would love to visit someday!
  2. What is your favorite sports team (college or pro)? Denver Broncos
  3. Besides you, name a blogger that you would recommend to others. Ira Socal
  4. When you were little, what did you dream of becoming? A pro football player
  5. How far away do you live from where you grew up? 1100 miles
  6. What is your favorite meal?  Blackened grouper
  7. If you were offered a free trip to anywhere in the world, where would you go? Hawaii
  8. Do you prefer Macs or PC’s?  PC
  9. Other than the birth of your children and/or the day you were married or met your soulmate, what was the best day of your life?  The day I went to my first pro football game at Mile High Stadium.
  10. What is the best movie you’ve seen in the last year? The Hobbit
  11. What is the last live concert that you’ve attended?  Jimmy Buffet
Now for the fun part. I have to find 11 more bloggers to keep this thing going and ask them 11 questions (hoping they have not been tagged previously).
  1. Gary Doughan
  2. Nathan Ogle
  3. Jeremy Larson
  4. Pam Moran
  5. Josh Stumpenhorst
  6. Curt Rees
  7. Colin Wikan
  8. Tom Altepeter
  9. Mike Smith
  10. Ira Socal
  11. Any other blogger that would like to join in.
 Here are your questions
1.  If you could solve any one problem permanently, what would it be?
2. What would you do over if you had a chance?
3. What is your favorite desert?
4. When did you know you wanted to be involved in education?
5. If you had a whole day to do just what you wanted to do, what would that be?
6. If you could meet anyone, at any time in history, who would it be?
7. What do you want to learn how to do?
8. What is your favorite beverage?
9. Who is your favorite artist/actor/performer?
10. What was your best subject in school?
11. What is your favorite season of the year?
The Guidelines for your Homework…
    1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
    2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
    3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
    4. List 11 bloggers.
    5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
    6. Post back here (in the comment section) with a link to your finished assignment. Go on, you have homework to do.

Veterans Day

On Monday, November 11th, Our nation will recognize those men and women who have served our country in the military.  One of the things that makes me very proud of our school is how we mark this holiday with a school assembly to honor those who have made it possible for our nation to provide so many wonderful opportunities for us.  We have several veterans on our staff here at PHS and it is so good to see our student body honor them!  I posted the following on Veterans Day several years ago.  The day that I have written about in this post will be forever etched in my memory.
I can remember school assemblies when I was in grade school about Veterans Day. They were really special because every year we were able to see the same veterans and they told us intriguing stories about their experiences. One of the veterans that came to speak to us year after year was a very old gentleman that was a veteran of WWI. I can distinctively remember the gleam in his eye and the way he whistled, snapped his feet and fingers as he came to attention. To a kid of eight years of age he seemed really cool and very “with it” for an octogenarian. Sadly, he died shortly before Veterans Day when I was in the fifth grade. That year we got to hear the real story behind his service during WWI. With tears in his eyes and breaks in his voice, the post commander told us of the old vet’s experience in the Argonne Forest in 1918. I do not remember all of the detail of the stories he told us that day, but I do remember watching a grown man in uniform cry before an entire school of children. After that Veterans Day I think I was better able to relate to sense of loss that many Americans deal with every day because of either their service to the country or someone close to them sacrificed their life serving this great country of ours. I had an uncle that I never met who died in the Korean War. The family had a hard time dealing with the loss of their brother. His loss created a wound that left a large visible scar. He and another brother, Bill, were both in Korea when Bob was killed in action. My Uncle Bill escorted Bob’s coffin home from Korea. As a non veteran, I have no way of knowing the true sacrifice made by those who have served this country both in wartime and in peace. I do know this; I am thankful and know that there is no way for me to individually pay back all those I owe a debt of gratitude to. I am determined to “pay forward” and try my best to do all I can to honor todays veterans as well as do what I can to make America a better place. I implore our students to talk to their families about their history of serving this nation in the armed forces. You may find out things you never knew about your family and make connections that were never there before. You will also get a chance to say thank you!
What does Veterans Day mean to you?

On Reflection

chloecandyI started this blog seven years ago as a means of refection and communicating with my school community.  Sometimes I have written to clarify my thinking, other times I have written with the sole purpose of being read.  I have struggled lately to write here, to contribute to the discussions and resource sharing happening on Twitter, and I have struggled to reflect productively.  I could blame it on the fact that I serve as principal/superintendent for a school that is building a new building and considering consolidation all at the same time.  I could blame it on the fact that I have two teenage children who vie for my time. I could blame it on the fact that I was born under the Chinese Sign of the Horse and this just is not my year……  Those are all just excuses.  I have time. I need motivation.  I will admit that I have been somewhat disillusioned because my purpose for writing here was not always about improving myself or my school, sometimes it has been more about how many folks react to my posts or how many “hits” I could generate.  For me, in order to make my participation in the “connected” world of educators valuable, there has to be a benefit to my building.  Somewhere, somehow, I had lost awareness at just how much I have changed, and how much the school where I work has changed in the last seven years. After receiving a gentle nudge, and realizing that I have not been doing my part to mentor some fellow administrators, I took some time to think about reflecting publicly and leading in a transparent manner.  After reading some of my post from the last seven years, I have become determined to double down on my efforts to reflect on my practice in a public way and most important of all, engage with other practitioners who lead in education.  It is the only way I will grow….. To be continued……

(about the photo: My dog Chloe. I put that photo in because this is my blog and I wanted to)