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Posted by on in School Culture

Do you ever feel as a leader that what you are doing just isn't good enough, that if you only could do more then it would all be better. There are days you question your calling and wonder if you have it in you to continue. It is in those moments that great reflection and clarity can reaffirm your passion and purpose. Wherever you are in your journey consider the following...

Embrace the Mess 

The moment we start falling in love with our content or a token issue we lose sight of what matters most. Our job isn't about teaching curriculum, but rather reaching students. I like what Michelle Forman, a former national teacher of the year, has to say, "learning and teaching is messy stuff, it doesn't fit into bubbles." Many of us are on high need campuses where our students look to us to provide for them well beyond the required curriculum. Daily I encounter students who feel school is the safest place they can be. Face it, our kids and families often come from challenging situations. As leaders, we must accept people as they come, not as we want them to be. People grow when they are loved. It's in the mess that the real learning happens. Reaching the whole child or family requires that we position ourselves to see life not through our content or instructional expertise but simply as a human being. 

We must fight a tendency to treat others as some kind of impersonal "stakeholder" or "customer." These kind of words at their worst allow us to serve people from a distance, rather than up close and personal. Some might accuse our profession of caring too much. When did this become a problem? The anxiety level of many teachers is at an all-time high because we realize the stakes are so high to be so much to so many who need us. You just need to remember that it isn't your job to fix kids or people, just love them through it. 

Elevate The Conversation 

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Posted by on in School Culture


The alarm clock went off late and it was raining.  Not the spring shower kind of rain but the opening of the clouds kind of rain.  The bus was early.  The deep throttle of its engine laughed carelessly at the boy as it drove away spraying water onto the only jacket that made him feel good.  He picked the pieces of mud off the school logo as he walked back to the trailer his family just rented.  His dad had already left for work but mom was still asleep.  He would have to wake her up to go to school.  He wanted to just crawl back in bed but his teacher told him how important it was to be at school today.  It was the end of the year test.  He had to be there.  He had to show how much he had learned over the past several months in school.  He loved his math teacher and he didn't want to let her down.

The ride to school was a long, silent ride.  He didn't have time to change his clothes so he began to shake as the water in his shirt soaked through to his skin.  He walked into the office while his mom sped away with the door barely shut.  He had missed breakfast.  His stomach rumbled.  He felt like he was going to be sick.  That wasn't an option right now.  He hurried to his locker and on to math class.  He knew they must have already started the test.  Everyone turned to look at him with the click of the door.  Water ran down his leg, dirty bus water.  He looked down to see his jacket covered in mud. Snickers could be heard echoing through the room.  His math teacher turned to see who had entered her class.  Her smile instantly warmed him.  She softly walked over to him and put her arm around him.  She made him laugh and gently squeezed his shoulders.  Instead of getting the laptop for him to start she pulled out a granola bar and an extra t-shirt from the walkathon.  He was still shaky and out of sorts from his morning but he would do the best that he could.

Every single child we teach has a story.  They are all puzzles with intricate pieces.  As teachers we try to control as many of those pieces as we possibly can but we do not have absolute control over the entire puzzle.  To suggest we do is foolish and irresponsible.  Yet many legislators and administrators believe that we do have a grasp on all of the pieces.  Could you imagine having 30 different puzzles, mixing up all the pieces and sorting them out to put together a whole complete, perfect student?  Impossible right?  Some pieces are at home.  Some pieces are at their second home.  Some pieces are at their grandparents house or an aunt or uncles, maybe a friends house.  And unfortunately for some kids, some pieces are lost forever.

We do our best everyday to identify their pieces and put them together, to make connections and build relationships.  On top of all that, we work to teach content. Who we are as educators is no longer defined in granola bars or smiles.  It is no longer defined in kindness.  Its no longer defined in the hours spent after school working on fractions or proportions.  It is not defined in the moment that a child finally learned all of their multiplication tables, in sixth grade.  It is not defined in the millions of tiny successes that students use as stepping stones to move forward.  It is defined in one number.  The number they earn on the end of the year assessment.  Have they grown enough to show that their teacher is a good teacher?  The circumstances of their morning or of their day does not matter.  The computer that recognizes a colon but not a semicolon does not matter.  The fact that the student could not read the question or their neighbor kept kicking them under the table does not matter.  It all comes down to one number.

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Posted by on in School Culture


<i>That's what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those... of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years.</i>
<i>       --Our Town, Thornton Wilder </i>

<i>Our Town</i>, like most great works of literature, gives up new rich layers of insight<i> </i>every time it's viewed, read, performed. The only dramatic work I've taught more often is <i>Hamlet</i>, and like <i>Hamlet, </i>it turns out to be about something a little different every time I teach it. But for both works, there are always some constants. <i>Hamlet</i> is always, at least in part, about death. And <i>Our Town</i> is always, at least in part, about wasting time.

The above line is from the bitter, troubled Simon Stimson, talking to Emily about her troubling journey back into her own past (at this point they are both dead-- Simon from suicide, and Emily in childbirth). What Emily has seen is a world of people who don't pay attention, who don't really see, who fail to "really realize." She doesn't say it, but she could have-- people ignore Thoreau's idea to "live deliberately." Emily might even have quoted Hamlet, appropriating the infamous "to be or not to be" not as its cliched contemplation of suicide, but as the question, "Do you want to really, actually live your life, or just sort of sleepwalk through it?" Wilder chooses to put a more apt summary into the voice of the failed and unhappy Stimson-- "To spend and waste time as though you had a million years."

These thoughts are never far from the surface for me; they're central to how I try to live my life. But there are times that strike them hard, make them resonate like a tuning fork planted hard against the bone.

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My husband, who was a math major in college, received this text from our daughter, who is a veterinarian with strong math skills: "If dad is bored, he can think of a word with uppercase letters that has 5 acute angles, 2 obtuse angles and 5 right angles." This is her third grade daughter's homework. It took my husband twenty minutes to come up with LANE. My daughter also thought of VALVE. But here's the point. It was a child's homework assignment and there was no way she could ever have done it herself.

My fourth-grade granddaughter recently asked me what I was thinking to write for my next blog post. She has strong opinions and great suggestions, so I turned the question back to her, and she told me that even with an excellent and innovative teacher that she loves, it is hard to stay focused on the work all day. She shared that sometimes her orchestra music plays in her head when she is supposed to be listening. Many of her friends need balloons filled with material that makes them squishy or balls of play dough to keep them from feeling bored and frustrated. I think we grownups would call those objects stress relievers. This is for nine-year-olds.

But if we really want to see the state of education and what we have done to our young children in school, let's go back to the beginning. I recently led a discussion for parents whose children will start public school kindergarten this fall. I tried to walk a fine line between reassuring them and making them aware of inappropriate practices so they could advocate for all children, including their own.

I cautioned parents that the latest research supports that kindergarten is definitely the new first grade and its goal was to produce readers, regardless of whether children were developmentally ready or not. In the end, however, I encouraged the parents to attend the kindergarten orientation meeting at their local school to form their own opinions.

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If I had been looking the other direction I would have missed it. That would have been a shame. But I was fortunate enough to witness it. So I considered myself lucky.

The timer was getting ready to go off and for a moment it seemed uncertain if he was going to be able to clean up in time. It wouldn't have been a big deal if he hadn't. I'm sure his teacher would have simply given him another minute or two. But she didn't need to. Because his friend came over and helped him.

While that was a nice moment, it wasn't the one that stood out. What happened next was something that I rarely see with children and don't see enough of with adults. After the young man received help from his classmate he pointed it out to his teacher. And he suggested that his friend get a chance to pick out of the prize box.

Those of us that have worked with, or even had, five year olds know how rare this is. To suggest that someone else get recognition and/or a prize without expecting anything themselves. It's almost unheard of in the world of five year olds. It is not a character flaw. It's just that five year olds are still at the age where their primary concern is themselves.

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