No Substitute for Hard Work

“Industriousness is the most conscientious, assiduous, and inspired type of work. A willingness to, an appetite for, hard work must be present for success. Without it you have nothing to build on.” – John Wooden, “Wooden”

I dare you to find a profession that is full of more industriousness than education. I’m not knocking other professions here, I know several people who are extremely hard workers and are not educators. I just happen to know a plethora of teachers. And they work so, so hard.  As the first cornerstone in John Wooden’s Pyramid for Success, I couldn’t ask for a more fitting topic to start my first of twelve promised blog posts in 2018.

“I call it industriousness to make very clear it involves more than merely showing up and going through the motions. Many people who tell you they worked all day weren’t really working very hard at all, certainly not to the fullest extent of their abilities.” – John Wooden, “Wooden”

I could pull quotes from Wooden all day long, but then it wouldn’t be much of a blog post, so much as excerpts from one of my all-time favorite books. My main point here is that teachers, administrators, counselors, and educators of all sorts are some of the hardest workers you will ever meet. Join me as I reflect over seven months of work that has gone into opening a brand new high school that attempts to move the needle a little bit at a time to redefine how education is done here in Kansas.

A New Endeavor

Opening a brand new high school is something that I will never forget. I will have to dedicate an entire blog post to this topic at some point in the future, but for now I will highlight the industriousness that I have seen day in and day out from my colleagues. I will break this up into some sub-categories for your reading pleasure. 🙂 Just know that when I show up to work every day, I am inspired by the hard work that goes on around me, and the hard work put in by the adults in our building will transcend past the current students in our building, and will help shape how education is done in the future.

Project Based Learning – A Transformation

When our school opened its doors to students this August, several teachers dedicated themselves to teaching in a new way, which was Project Based Learning. For those who may not be in the education world, or who may not be familiar with PBL, this is much different than simply “doing projects” in a typical class. The projects become the class. Instruction is done through the project, the teacher takes on more of a facilitator role, students engage in sustained inquiry, engage in their communities, and strive to answer driving questions that are linked to content area standards. It’s a complete over-haul of a traditional classroom, and something we’ve been encouraging our teachers to try – even if it’s only bits and pieces of it. The mere thought of transforming all you’ve ever known about teaching is overwhelming, and the hard work that goes into executing it is unparalleled. Take a look really quickly at some of the hard work that our teachers have completed in the realm of PBL so far this year:

"Give What You Have To Give"

In this English II Pre-AP project, students worked for the better part of a semester working in groups of how they could make our school a better place. The theme was “giving back” to somehow enhance what is already in progress at Olathe West. As a culminating activity, students gave (super impressive) presentations to outside guests – administrators, community members, parents, etc. I saw presentations on a school coffee shop, a giving tree, a leadership club, and even a proposal to add a slide from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor in our building. The amount of work that went into this project by both our teacher and her students was simply impressive.

"Chemistry Night"

One of our chemistry instructors hosted a community event one evening showcasing the projects that his students had put together over the past several months. The amount of sheer effort to organize such an event is outrageous. Not only are you giving up your own time on a weeknight, but several “unseen hours” that go into planning, promoting, preparing. The turnout from parents, community members, and experts in the field was outstanding.

"Law Enforcement Recruitment"

One of the flagship programs in our school is our Public Safety Academy. Our facilitator for this program has really jumped into PBL and his ongoing PBL unit for the first semester was for his students to create a recruiting tool and propose its use to different agencies. Over a course of two nights, Public Safety students presented their products to agencies such as the Olathe Police Department, the FBI, Secret Service, and more. Can you imagine? No, really. Can you imagine the time and effort that goes into pulling something like that off? Incredible.

"Owls in the Kitchen"

Now this one was really cool. Our culinary teacher hosted multiple evenings where students could cook for their loved ones. She invited their families into our school and their students cooked for them. If anything brings people together to slow down from life’s crazy pace to just sit and enjoy each other’s company, it’s a meal with loved ones. This was nothing required of this teacher, but something she wanted to do to foster the culture of her program. Amazing.

"Social Justice"

Students in an English 1 class spent several months researching an aspect of social injustice. They then had to think of possible solutions and what they can do to be a part of the solution. They wrote a research paper and presented their findings to district leadership, school leaders, parents, and community stakeholders. They included a digital component to their presentation, fielded questions, and dressed professionally. To say they rose to the occasion is an understatement. How did they do this, you may ask? Through a lot of hard work put in by their teacher, that’s how.

"Give a Hoot"

I know I said the last one was really cool, but this one was a whole school effort. We have a couple of staff members that prepare advisory lessons for our school each week. (Advisory is a time each week for students to get with their advisory teacher, go through activities to help map out their future, among other activities.) Our advisory teacher-leaders created a “Give a Hoot” campaign where each advisory chose their own community service project and completed it over a period of about 3 weeks or so. We had toy drives, clothing drives, adopt-a-families, trips to the elementary school, trash picker-uppers, window cleaners and more. All advisories participated in something. Hard work at its core.

I hope it’s starting to become clear that teachers teach things that go beyond the textbook, beyond the walls of our school. The combination of passion and hard work yields some of the most amazing things you’ll ever see.

Technology

I’ve blogged before on how technology can enhance what a teacher does in their classes. When it goes hand-in-hand with effective pedagogy, it can turn a “basic” lesson into something so “extra.” (Pardon my attempt to try to use the lingo of our students.)

Perhaps something that I haven’t touched base on is the amount of hard work that goes into properly and effectively implementing technology into the classroom. Our students at Olathe West each have a school-issued computer. That’s great, right? Yes, it’s great. It’s an amazing opportunity to transform the way learning is done. And with that, comes a tremendous amount of work on the part of teachers to learn the ways in which this is done effectively. A tremendous amount of work to learn new tips and tricks to classroom management. A tremendous amount of work to learn effective tools vs ineffective tools. A tremendous amount of work to re-create solid lesson plans into something more relevant to today’s students.  A tremendous amount of work to balance that technology with teaching soft skills/employability skills. You find me a teacher that effectively integrates technology, higher order thinking skills, solid pedagogy, and soft skills all in one, and I’ll show you a tremendously hard worker. My hat is off to you, teachers who I just described.

English Language Learners

I want to give a quick shout out to all the ELL teachers out there in the universe. You know who you are. You know your work is hard. You know the industriousness that goes into your every. single. day. You very well could have  6 lesson plans going on simultaneously in your classroom. You find a way to teach students who have just come to our country, students who have not had any formal education in 8 years, students who are on the cusp of leaving a sheltered classroom, students who are spreading their wings and flourishing in mainstream classes, and everything in between. You want a lesson in differentiation? Visit an ELL classroom for a day. I respect all that you do.

Special Education

How about another shout out to our special education compadres working incredibly hard to meet the individual needs of each and every one of their unique students? Whether a learning disability, emotional disturbance, behavior disorder, gifted, or more – your patience, compassion, and hard work does not go unnoticed. Your kids need you. They love you. And you love them back. It’s not easy. But you do it with a smile. YOU work hard.

General education teachers, I have not forgotten about you. You find a way to reach up to 30+ students of all sorts of abilities and language proficiencies in a given lesson plan. You modify curriculum, accommodate for our students in need, plan amazing lessons, put in extra hours to make sure all of your students can access your curriculum. Your hard work does not go unnoticed. Thank you.

Mental Health

Where to even begin? Our students need us now more than ever. Teachers today are not only teaching their content, but soft skills such as how to persevere when times are hard, personal responsibility, growth mindset, collaboration, creativity – the list goes on and on. Additionally, teachers are concerned about the mental health of their students. Our counseling and administrative teams work through our SIT process every week to identify students who need extra support and come up with action plans to help them as we can. More than once this school year I have received a call over a weekend where a teacher was concerned about a student’s well-being. Partnering with our counselors and school resource officer, we work to ensure the safety of our students.

If you know a school counselor, give them a hug. The heavy stuff they hear on a daily basis might shock you. While their hearts are breaking, they work with students to give them social and emotional skills to make it through what life has handed them. Thank you, counselors.

Additionally, our counselors work to provide for our students in need not only throughout the holiday seasons, but all year long utilizing resources and programs both inside and outside of our district. This kind of work to ensure our students are taken care of is not easy. It’s hard. Really hard.

Extra, Extra..

I could write forever on the value of extracurricular activities that teachers and schools provide for students. (In fact I may have blogged about it once.) However, I cant talk about the hard work that goes into education without at least mentioning the extra hours that coaches and activity sponsors and club sponsors put in on a daily basis. Between practices, meetings, games, performances, concerts, community service, and competitions, our teachers are doing more and more to prepare the whole child for life after high school. Students have so many opportunities to get involved in SOMETHING that they can relate to, and we know that the more a student is involved and connected to their school, the more likely they are to find academic success as well. This is all thanks to a lot of industriousness on behalf of our teachers. Not only do they put hours and hours of hard work into extracurriculars, they work to foster the best team, activity, performance possible.

Professional Learning Communities

In addition to creating inspiring lesson plans, caring for the wide array of students in each class, and fostering students’ mental health, teachers do more work behind the scenes than one can imagine. Our teachers meet weekly in their Professional Learning Communities. In these meetings, we model our work after the book Learning by Doing (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many) in the sense that we are looking at content standards, breaking them into learning targets, using them to create common formative assessments, then using those assessments to determine our path – how to reach students who don’t understand, and how to extend those who do. That’s the nature of our work. It’s not a matter of going to last year’s lesson and hitting “copy/paste.” But rather, it’s looking at the standards, realizing what students know and don’t know, and let the art and science of teaching take us from there. I’m a firm believe that those who can, teach.

Professional Development

The world of education is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. To stay on the cutting edge of education is difficult. Just as you feel as though you are hitting your stride with the latest and greatest teaching strategies, there is a shift, a turn, an enhancement – something to keep you on your toes. The best teachers are the best learners. Teachers who have a growth mindset, are willing to take risks, learn new ways of doing things are often the most successful. Because that takes industriousness – hard work with a purpose – to do what’s best for kids. My promise to my teachers is to do my part to provide you with what I can with best teaching practices, new ways of doing things, encouraging you to take risks, try new things, and to be a reflective practitioner. I hope to do well by you.

#AdminLife

Let it be known that the glory of this post goes to the teachers that work day in and day out with ALL of our kids. They inspire me on a daily basis. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the extremely hard work put in by the admin team that I work with day in and day out.  Each of us has a well defined role, and I’m very fortunate to be part of such an amazing team. The extra hours that these men put in is unparalleled. Each one willing to help each other out, even if it means more work for them. Each one of them has a unique skill set that they put to work every day. Imagine the hours that our athletic director and activities director have put in starting up brand new programs in literally every single sport and activity that a school has to offer. Then there is our principal and facilities AP who put in more hours than what seems like humanly possible to make sure our school is physically up and running, advocating day in and day out for our students and teachers. The two of them started this school from the ground up. Additionally, let’s not forget the hours put in by all of them, attending events, reaching out to community members, meeting with parents, and all the things that happen outside of the 8-3 school day. When I think of what John Wooden means by, “There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile things come only from work,” I think of my admin team.

My Personal Reflections

I’ve taken up enough of your time for the time being, so I’ll keep this portion short. As a working mom of three, I like to think that I work hard. It’s one of the things that I value most. But I know that I’m not working any harder than any of my counterparts out there, our hard work might just come in various forms. As for me, I’ll strive to work as hard as I can to lead those in our school as well as my family to be the best possible versions of themselves. I may not always accomplish this, but you better believe I’ll be working for it.

Thanks for reading,
Megan

Advertisements

Response To: The Dark Side of Tech in the Classroom

Recently, I’ve had a bit of a “reawakening” in my professional life. As things in my personal life have recently taken an all-time high in the crazy department (we added twins to the picture this past summer, so we’ve also added to the cute department), my presence in Twitter chats and my blog have taken a severe plunge. I’m the first to admit – I can’t do it all – and something had to give. But, as we come out of the fog of what is life with newborn twins, I’ve begun to re-emerge, joining my favorite chats once again, interacting with those I respect and admire on Twitter, and now, thanks to my most recent #leadupchat, I’ve resolved to spend more time in my “whitespace,” which has resulted in my renewed interest in my blog. Add to the mix that one of the people I so admire and respect, George Couros, tweeted a very thought provoking article (at least thought provoking for me), and alas! My first new blog post has been born.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-9-20-35-pm

 

As you can see in the image above, the article that George tweeted is titled, “The Dark Side of Tech in the Classroom: Caveats for Implementing Tech in Schools.” The article can be found here. The article quickly got my attention, and as I read on, I knew I couldn’t respond how I would want to in 140 characters or less. So, I’m here to take you through my thoughts – right, wrong, or other.

First, I want to make one thing very clear. My response is in no way an attack on the author of this article. In fact, it seems as though we’d be in the same school of thought when it comes to technology. He considers himself a tech-enthusiast, and the last sentence of the article reads, “If used properly, tech in education can (be a) fabulous tool for learning.” This statement is one that I can 100% be on board with. High five! If you know me, you know I am indeed a tech-enthusiast. I’m very pro-technology. But you know what? I’m also pro-personal interactions. Pro-have a good handshake. Pro-make good eye contact and speak clearly and respectfully. Pro-appropriate social interactions. Pro-face to face conversations. Pro-self advocacy. You get the idea. The thought here is that it’s all about balance. Technology is great, but solid teaching practices have to come first. I’ll touch more on this later.

As leaders, we are automatically charged with several things. Two of them, as they relate to this article are:

  1. Leaders are called upon to nudge people out of their comfort zones. As you well know, there are effective ways to do so, and there are also very ineffective ways to do so.
  2. With this in mind, when trying to initiate change, or when asking people to step outside of said comfort zones, it’s important that you listen to their concerns just as much if not more than you push the change upon them.

So while I may not agree with the majority of what is in this article, as a leader, I need to understand that these are not just “excuses” that people are throwing out there. They are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. If you toss them into the pile of “excuses,”  if you don’t hear what these people are saying, and if you don’t try to work with the so called “excuse givers”, what do you think the chances are of you getting them to step out of that comfort zone we talked about earlier? Build relationships. Learn to work with those who oppose you or your ideas. This is not something that happens overnight. It comes over time by building trust and modeling and encouraging risk taking. I wanted to say that, because as I go through the points the author is making, it may seem like I’m brushing this above point to the side, but please know that I understand this to be true with every fiber of my being.

One last bit before I dive into this article. I know we are taught at an early age not to assume things. You know how that saying goes. But, I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to assume the following:

  1. We (educators) want what’s best for kids.
  2. We (educators) are good people at heart who want to do the right thing.
  3. We (educators) want our classroom to be a place that kids want to be.

Ok, now that you hopefully have a better understanding of my philosophy as a whole, I feel as though I can have some honest dialogue about the aforementioned article.

The article

I want to start by addressing a sentence found very early on in the article. It states:

“Oftentimes, technology is thrown into classrooms while the school administrators sit back and wait for the high test scores to roll in.”

I cannot cringe enough about this statement. I’ll put it as simply as I can: An ineffective teacher with technology is still an ineffective teacher. There. I said it. Technology does not improve test scores. It is not the magic solution. Pedagogy ALWAYS comes before technology. Good teachers improve learning, and good teachers integrate technology to help students learn. While I see the point that the author was trying to make with this statement, what I see here is a leadership problem, not a technology problem. If the leaders of your school expect technology to all of a sudden make kids perform better on standardized tests, then they’re missing the point of why technology integration is important. This is hard for many, because the effects of technology are not easily shown with numbers and data and test scores, but rather with creativity, projects, and genius hours. I like to compare it to “soft skills.” Is there a standardized test for responsibility? Dependability? Gumption? Grit? Just because we want to integrate character education in our buildings, doesn’t mean it has to correlate with test scores. We do it because it’s good for kids. Similarly, wanting to prepare students and teaching them how to problem solve, create, and be fluent with technology in a digital age is enough reason for technology integration, without looking solely at test scores. To complete my thought from earlier in this paragraph, if you give technology to an effective teacher – now that’s something to be reckoned with. The possibilities are endless.

Counterpoint to First Caveat:

“Students may not be interested in activities that don’t use technology.”

The simple counterpoint: Effective teachers will find ways to engage students both with and without technology.

My more complex description: Teachers have been engaging students without technology for years. They will continue to to so for years to come. You want to know how? With lesson plans that are relevant and interesting. This may or may not involve technology depending on the week, day, activity, etc. I’m going to lay it all out there for a moment: If you really cannot find a way to meaningfully engage our students without using technology, it’s time for some deep reflection on why you are an educator. I truly believe that as an educator, you should be able to reach your class in meaningful ways that don’t involve technology. Yes, technology can be an excellent way to engage students in higher order thinking, and a great way to add relevancy to lesson plans, but in the end, it’s YOU that’s engaging (or not engaging) students. The school I’m currently in is a 1:1 school with Chromebooks. And you know what? It’s awesome. I see teachers effectively using technology all the time, and it’s so fantastic. And you know what else? I see teachers effectively not using technology too, and it’s so fantastic. They are finding other ways to engage students, working on ALL THE OTHER skills that are important for our students to leave us with. Remember what I said earlier? It’s all about balance. So while I do think it’s important for educators to grow, learn, change, adapt, and meet the needs of learners, it doesn’t always mean technology all the time. It’s not a “technology or nothing” mindset. That would be counterproductive.

Now, I have to admit, that previous paragraph is just a reaction to the title of this section of the article. The actual example it gives under this section is essentially this: If students are so used to typing essays on a laptop, and turning them in via Google Classroom, then they won’t want to write those essays by hand, if something were to happen to the technology. He states, “Most will prefer to use the computer than doing it the old fashioned way.”

Can I just say for a moment, that I’m with the students on this one? I can’t blame them for not wanting to handwrite an essay (other assignments – sure…essay? Probably not).  I’m not de-valuing having students write things by hand. I think it’s important for a number of reasons, I know the research is there – handwriting IS IMPORTANT (remember – balance), but to think that someone wouldn’t prefer to type an essay is a bit of a stretch for me. Do you know how many times I’ve hit backspace typing this? Deleted entire paragraphs? (You’re welcome.) There aren’t enough erasers in the world for me to write this out formally by hand. I bet if you took a poll of adults and asked if they would prefer to handwrite or use a computer to compose an essay, I’d be willing to say a vast majority would want to use a computer for such a task. Now let me take a moment to recognize and give a shout out to the hand-writers out there. Good for you – you do what works for you. In fact, I hand wrote the outline to this blog post. But there’s no way I would want to write my finished product by hand. Furthermore, if while completing, let’s say, my Master’s degree, I lost all ability to use technology to type my papers, I’ve got to admit, I would have been pretty bummed. And by pretty bummed, I mean I probably would have lost my mind. Also, there’s a reason that things like Google Classroom and Blackboard exist. It’s called organization and efficiency. I’m going to go extreme here for a minute, if you’ll allow me to do so. We no longer use quills for pens and carrier pigeons for message delivery, as those methods no longer meet our needs, right? We’ve deemed them inefficient. I don’t keep a carrier pigeon around in case I lose all electricity and the USPS goes under (I’ve found my Harry Potter owl much better for such cases). I digress. What I’m saying here, is that I don’t think it’s fair to blame the students on this one. Sometimes technology is a good thing that can make our lives easier, and it’s ok to accept that.

Counterpoint to Second Caveat:

Teachers in-service training is generally needed when introducing new technology — another workshop or staff development they don’t have time for.

I’m going to try to keep this short and sweet, because this is a topic I could write on for a very long time. I said this earlier, and I’m going to say it again. This is a leadership issue, not a technology issue.  What are the leaders in this building doing to promote a growth-mindset among their staff? What are they doing to attempt to intrinsically motivate teachers to learn and grow? This is true whether your PD is technology driven or not. Good teachers will make time to learn something new. Remember my assumptions before? Educators want what’s best for kids, and they are good people at heart. Tap into this and find a way to get their gears going. Work to personalize their PD (shoutout to my #personalizedPD crew!). Give them choices, find what they want to learn about, build relationships, build trust, invest in your teachers, and eventually, they’ll come play for a bit in your sandbox. You cannot just say “here’s what we are learning so learn it.” Find a way to make the technology (or any PD) relevant to what they do, how it can transform their classroom in a good way, and then differentiate/personalize/individualize the heck out of your PD.

I have one more point to make here (well several more, but since this post is getting rather lengthy, I’ll make this the last one for this section). Don’t assume that teachers don’t want to learn and that they don’t have time for new PD. If you work to make learning relevant to teachers and balance that with getting them out of their comfort zone, amazing things will happen. I want to talk specifically about those veteran teachers who get a bad rap sometimes. The author states, “Getting veteran teachers to try a new teaching method, let alone something they have to take time and learn, can be something of a chore.” I’m sure this can be true. I’m not naive enough to think that there are no teachers out there who aren’t “stuck in their ways” so to speak. I know you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink, etc. etc. However, in my experiences, some of the best learners are veteran teachers. I think if we automatically write veteran teachers off as unwilling to change, we are doing everyone a huge disservice, and even missing out on amazing leadership potential in our buildings. Again, do some leg work to find where they want to grow, and create PD to match that, while still stretching them out of their comfort zones. But please, can we stop throwing veteran teachers into this massive pile of “unteachable teachers?” My mom was a teacher for 38 years, and up throughout her last year, she was learning new ways of doing things, integrating technology, making lessons fun and engaging for kids. There’s a teacher at my school who is retiring at the end of this year, and I’ll be darned if she’s not taking things from PD days and applying them almost immediately. Remember, educators want what’s best for kids, educators are good people at heart, and educators want their classrooms a place that students want to be.

Before moving on to counterpoint 3, I’m just going to pose this question, because I can’t seem to shake it. Has it crossed anyone else’s mind that this article was written satirically? I’m going to paste a paragraph below, to which I won’t respond necessarily, but it almost seems like the author was being sarcastic here.

Teachers spend six or seven hours in a classroom but as most teachers know, a lot of their teaching time is dedicated to preparation. After all, someone has to put together those Powerpoints and worksheets as well as enter student work into their grade book. Attending training on something entirely new will take them away from their necessary tasks.

Counterpoint to Third Caveat:

Technology could prove to be a distraction for students.

Yes. This is true. Students are…SQUIRREL! Sorry, I got distracted for a moment. Counterpoint: Everything can prove to be a distraction for students. Your poster on the wall. An email they received earlier. The kid sitting three rows up. What they’re having for lunch. Thinking about the game after school. Kids are distracted creatures by nature. Whether you “allow” cell phones/technology in your classroom or not, kids are texting in class. Fifteen years ago, they were writing notes to each other on notebook paper. Today, they text each other.  This is a classroom management issue. Yes, you’re going to have kids try to text and get on social media at inappropriate times. These are teachable moments. Use them as such. Have clear classroom expectations, use strategies such as positive behavior supports, conferences with students, and when necessary, discipline. Be consistent. Be fair. If you let the fear of students using technology for communicating with friends keep you from using technology at all, you’re really missing out. Yes, it will happen. Yes, it will be frustrating. Yes, it’s something you can overcome.

Similar to a statement I made earlier: A teacher with good classroom management skills will continue to have good classroom management skills with the addition of technology. Similarly, a teacher with poor classroom management skills will continue to have poor classroom management skills with the addition of technology. As leaders, we can help them overcome this.

Counterpoint to Fourth Caveat:

Teachers use it because “they” like using it, with little concern for the students.

I’m having a hard time coming up with a response to this. Not because the argument is so solid that there is no rebuttal – quite the opposite. The author points out that if a teacher gets a new computer, they’re going to spend all their time ONLY making presentations on said computer because they like it, disregarding all other forms of teaching. I know I’m young, and I have a lot left to learn in my career, but I’ve literally never met a teacher like this. Sure, there are teachers who are slide show heavy (I had a professor in college nicknamed Slide Show Eddie), and I would encourage these teachers to continue to seek engaging ways to have students learn the material. Most teachers that I know that use slide show presentations also utilize really awesome projects, assignments, and activities that are student centered and good for kids. I’ll end this counterpoint with a statement I made at the beginning: pedagogy always comes before technology. If a teacher is putting technology ahead of pedagogy, let’s all rally together to bring them back to the mothership.

Final Thoughts

I always have the intention of being short and to the point, but rarely measure up to that intention, so I thank you for hanging in there with me ’till the end. I do want to share a few closing thoughts before I wrap this up. Technology is a really powerful tool that teachers can and should integrate to maximize student learning, to create innovators, to create problem solvers, to create great communicators, and to have fun. However, we all know that technology is not always sunshine and rainbows. It’s not easy. Neither is being a teacher. It’s hard work. Really, really  hard work. But what a great opportunity that we have – to model to students how to problem solve and work through difficult situations, to take risks and learn from mistakes. To teach them when it’s appropriate to use technology and when it’s not appropriate to use technology.  We are preparing the leaders of tomorrow, and if we don’t use technology because there are going to be too many difficulties along the way, then we are doing our students a disservice. Yes there will be times when the network goes down. Yes, there will be student misbehaviors. Yes, your hard drive may crash (be sure to back up!!). I encourage you to take these challenges head on, learn from them, improve upon them, and continue on the path of creating great lessons for kids. I’ll end with a quote from the great John Wooden, someone I look up to immensely:

Don’t permit fear of failure to prevent effort. We are all imperfect and will fail on occasions, but fear of failure is the greatest failure of all.

 

Scary New School Finance Bill – My Thoughts

If you haven’t heard, there is a new school finance bill trying to make its way to a vote in the Kansas House of Representatives. In case you didn’t know, last year, Kansas did away with its old school funding formula (because it was too complicated) and replaced it with the new block grants that we saw this year. I’m not here to talk about the block grants, although I do feel comfortable stating for the record that public education in Kansas is not adequately funded, which the Supreme Court has also stated. In fact, school funding has been found unconstitutional in the state of Kansas, and if our elected officials don’t get it sorted out before the June deadline, schools will not open up in the fall. Again, I’m not here to give you a report on all of this, but if you’re not familiar with school finance in Kansas, give it a quick Google. Hint: It won’t be quick. Back to the bill I want to speak on for a few moments – it wouldn’t actually give public education any more money, but it would redistribute how it is spent, and quite frankly, it uses a more confusing formula than the one that was nixed before our lovely block grants. The new bill would highly restrict how school districts would able to spend their state aided funds. I could probably write a separate blog post on almost all of these restrictions (and I may), but for example, we wouldn’t be able to use state aid to pay for food services, because having well-fed students has nothing to do with delivering effective instruction. (Also, there is wording in the bill that allows for our state aid to fund private schools – let’s save those opinions for another day, shall we?) The bill restricts school districts from using state funding to pay for anything that doesn’t directly affect classroom instruction. What this blog post is going to mainly defend is how, contrary to some legislators’ beliefs, extracurricular activities do indeed have an instructional impact on our students. You see, extracurricular activities are one thing (of many) that the bill specifically outlines that state funding could NOT be used for. And let’s just say, that doesn’t settle well with me.

I’m not here to spit research or statistics at you. I’m here to speak from the heart. I may not have statistics, but I have stories. I haven’t spent hours researching the effects of extracurricular activities on students’ lives, but I have lived it. I’ve seen it as a student, as a teacher, as a coach, and now as an administrator. And while that may not be enough in some people’s eyes to qualify me as “educated” on the topic, I’ll take my experiences any day over the “numbers” that some of our legislators may have, although they’ve never worked in a public education institution and seen first hand the impact these activities have on students.

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time in a classroom as an educator, you’d know that each student is motivated by something different. Some students are motivated to learn just for the sake of learning. Some are motivated because they know their parents won’t accept anything less than their best. Heck, we have students whose expectations for themselves exceed those of their parents. But guess what, we don’t just teach those students. We teach those students who are motivated by external factors as well.  And guess what one of those external factors is for a good portion of our student body – the ability to participate in an extracurricular activity. Now, I want to make it clear, that although a good portion of the rest of my blog post will revolve around athletics, that athletics are not the only thing at stake here, and every other extracurricular activity is just as important, carries just as much weight, and can have just as big of an impact on a student’s life.

Life As A Student Athlete

First, let me tell you about the things that I gained from playing high school sports. (How much time do you have?)

Time management. When you are playing a high school sport, you typically either have a game or practice every day after school. Sometimes, you don’t get home until 10:00 or 11:00 at night. And guess what – you still have homework to do, tests to study for, projects to work on. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it possible? Absolutely. You might struggle at first, but being a student athlete teaches you early on how to manage your time, work efficiently, and prioritize. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Yep.

How to interact with adults. Sometimes when playing a high school sport, we are put in situations where we have to communicate with our superiors (adults) in uncomfortable ways for adolescents. For example, we have to learn to advocate for ourselves, and we have to learn to listen to reasoning from our coaches, and deal with news that maybe we don’t want to hear. We can’t just “change teams” because we don’t get along with the coach – we have to find a way to work through the situation in a respectful way, and find a solution that works. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I’d hope so.

Effective communication. Sometimes, you take on the role of a leader in a high school sport. You work with underclassmen and your peers to assimilate them to the program. You work with them to build camaraderie, and ultimately to work towards the same goal. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I vote yes.

Overcoming difficult situations. Losing is hard. But you know what? Sometimes it happens. What I learned in high school sports is that a loss is only as good as what you can learn from it. Also, sometimes, giving your best isn’t good enough. (That’s a hard pill to swallow.) You can give it your all and still lose. You use that as motivation to get better, work harder, and stop making excuses. Do I still apply that to my life today? Yes. Has playing high school sports helped develop my grit and overall ability to cope with situations that just plain stink? Yes. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Absolutely.

Dependability/Personal Responsibility.  On the softball field, I had eight girls depending on me to do my job every pitch. On the basketball court, four other girls counted on me, just as I counted on them. They counted on me to put my best into practice every day, to push myself to become better, and to push them to become better. They counted on me to run the plays that coach set forth, and to work within the system that had been designed for us. They counted on me to pull my weight, to do my fair share, to contribute. If you didn’t do these things, you didn’t play. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Yes.

Commitment – This one is directly related to dependability and personal responsibility mentioned above. When you make a commitment to a team, you see it through to the end – you don’t flake out. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I think especially today, it’s a resounding yes.

Working with people you don’t get along with. I learned that just because a teammate and I didn’t get along off the court or field, it didn’t mean that we couldn’t be good teammates to each other. I’ll let that one sit for a minute, because this is something several adults have a hard time with as well.

Bottom line – if you think that these skills – these soft skills that are a huge push in education right now – are not a vital part of a students’ success in the K-12 public education system, I’d argue that you haven’t spent much time in a classroom lately. If you tell me that these skills don’t play a part in a student’s ability to effectively receive instruction, and a teacher’s ability to effectively deliver instruction, again, I’d argue that you haven’t seen these things in action. Extracurricular activities are an excellent way for many of our students to gain these ever-important skills.

Life As A Teacher and Coach

Coaches. It’s easy to look at their positions as an easy “cut” to the budget and a place to save money. But what are we losing as a result? We’re losing mentors to our students. For many of our student athletes, they develop a bond with their coaches that go beyond the playing field. They look to their coaches as role models and adult leaders in their lives. Can teachers play this role? Yes, I’ve known many who do this every day to many students. But again, I argue – would we reach all of our students? Some of our students form stronger relationships with coaches than teachers – to no fault of the teacher. I know that when I was a teacher struggling to build a relationship with a student athlete, who was one of the first people I went to for advice? Their coach. Their coach would either give me advice on how to best reach that student, or the coach would work with that student to be more successful in my class. And as a coach, I had teachers coming to me for the same reasons. Sometimes, if a student doesn’t want to work hard for a teacher, they may not want to let their coach down, and working together, we can help that student find success.

As a coach, I was able to work with more students than I would have in my classroom alone, and I feel so blessed to have been a part of these young ladies’ lives. As a high school coach, you work with every skill level of athlete, from beginners to the elite, and you teach each one how to find success, and you help them through many of life’s ups and downs. I’ve been there for student athletes who needed academic support. I’ve been there for student athletes to help them overcome the typical adversity and pressure of the sport which they wear very heavily on their shoulders. I’ve been there for student athletes whose parents were going through a divorce. I’ve been there for student athletes whose mental health was not stable, and they were engaging in less than healthy behaviors. I’ve been there for student athletes whose parents were not supportive, and they were looking for approval elsewhere. I’ve been there for student athletes who have gone through more tragedy in their lives than anyone deserves, and were looking for something positive to pull from their day. I’ve been there to teach a student athlete how to win with grace, and lose with dignity. I’ve been privileged to pass along all the lessons that I was able to learn as a student athlete, and hope that I have had a positive influence on our next generation of student athletes.  If I was not afforded this opportunity to coach, I would never have met some of these young ladies. Would they have found another mentor? It’s hard to say.

School Buy-In

This point is pretty simple to make. Students who have “bought in” to their school are more likely to succeed in school academically. When you see school as a positive place to be that provides you opportunities, and you have multiple positive adult relationships, you’re more likely to put more effort into your school work. Why do you think that one of the first steps that poor performing schools take is to build up morale and school spirit within their students? When a student takes pride in their school, they take pride in doing their part to make their school great, including in academics. Disengaged students tend to do the opposite. I’m pretty sure there is research to support this, but talk to any teacher, and they’ll tell you this trend is accurate. Extracurricular activities are an excellent way for students to buy in to their school.

Opportunities For Our Students

Do some student athletes have the opportunity to play club sports? Yes, there’s no doubt. Do all of our student athletes have this opportunity? Absolutely not. In fact, there are some sports, where their primary season is the high school season. High school athletics afford students the opportunity to play at a level higher than recreational sports do, and provide opportunities for students to try to reach the next level – college.  We are all about trying to find opportunities to get our students scholarships for college. Many of these are academic scholarships. Several of these scholarships require that students are involved in extracurricular activities. Some students even receive athletic scholarships. Guess what these athletic scholarships require? Certain academic standards need to be met. So if a student seeks an athletic scholarship, let’s say for cross country, they’ll also be motivated to meet that college’s academic requirements to be accepted into their school. And if cross country wasn’t offered at our school because we couldn’t afford to fund it from our local taxes, that student may never get looked at for said scholarship. I would hope the state wouldn’t want to take these types of opportunities away from our students.

Focus on the Whole Child

It will be a sad day when we stop focusing on the development the “whole child,” and we are only concerned with the old three Rs of education – Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic. We have come so far from those days in order to support the ever growing needs of our students, and to provide them with opportunities that did not used to exist. Let’s please not go back. Instead, let’s look ahead to our potential new accreditation system, and 5 better Rs that are being proposed within it: Rigor, Relationships, Relevance, Responsive Culture, and Results.

We Want It All – It’s What’s Best For Kids

Do I think that athletics are more important than providing sound instruction in the classroom? Absolutely not. I’m simply trying to make a point – extracurricular activities support what we do in the classroom and help us reach more students who may otherwise remain disengaged from school. Do I think that we should take funds out of the classroom and into extracurriculars? No. Call me crazy, but I want to have my cake and eat it too. And is that such a bad thing when all you really want is to see opportunities for kids? I’d like to see a bill come across that supports extracurriculars (and everything else this bill undermines) AND puts substantial money into teaching staff so that our schools can continue to grow in their academic offerings. When you get into the field of education, you’re constantly thinking through the lens of “What’s best for kids?” It’s unfortunate that many of our elected officials do not go through this thought process as well. (And thank you to those who do.) So where does the answer lie? I’m no economist, but I think this comes with a responsible tax formula, and not by robbing Peter to pay Paul, and certainly not by taking away opportunities from tomorrow’s leaders. So, as voters in the state of Kansas, let’s stay aware of the types of bills that are trying to make their way through the legislature, and advocate for our public schools.

We’ll Never Be Royal – Oh Wait, Yes We Will

The Kansas City Royals won the World Series.

The Kansas City Royals are World Champs.

The Kansas City Royals took the crown.

(Insert an insane amount of hashtags about the #Royals and being #ForeverRoyal)

I still can’t believe those statements are true. It’s like we’ve been living in a dream for the past few days, and we haven’t woken up yet. For the Royals fans in this household, we’ve been waiting for this moment, well, for a lifetime. And oh how sweet it is. Let’s all just sit here for a moment and take it all in. What a season. What a team. I think something that speaks volumes to what this means to us as a collective city (yes I’m including the suburbs as part of the “city”) is that several area school districts canceled school today for the celebration parade and pep rally in downtown KCMO. How special for those that were able to attend! Needless to say, our city is electric with Royals fever right now.

(A fun side story – today at daycare, my 2 1/2 year old was supposed to be napping. One of the teachers was sitting on the couch watching the parade, when she heard a tiny little voice break into the “Let’s Go Royals!” cheer. So, the teacher went to get her from her napping spot, and my little one got to watch the parade in lieu of a nap today. She won’t remember that, but I will.)

So why am I writing about this championship team in my school blog? It’s easy – this team exudes qualities of what it takes to be successful, so I want to talk about a few of them.

Let’s start with the obvious. These Kansas City Royals are resilient.

re-sil-ient

Able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult situations

Here’s a fun fact to get us started:

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 8.43.08 PM

Let’s walk through some of the most notable comebacks of the postseason. We’re going to start with the game where we had a 1% chance to win. Let’s go all the way back to the ALDS Game 4 against a very solid Houston Astros team, and we were facing elimination. If we lost, we were done. We were losing 3-2 going into the bottom of the 7th inning (did I mention we were in Houston?). The Astros then knocked in three runs off of two home runs to extend their lead to 6-2 in the 7th inning. It was looking dismal at best. The very next inning, something special happened. We kicked, clawed, scratched our way back into the game, and scored 5 runs off of 5 hits. (Sometime I’ll have to tell you about my crazy superstitions during post season baseball. Let’s just say once we scored the first run of the 8th inning, I was sitting in my car in a parking lot listening to the radio for approximately 45 minutes.) We ended up winning the game, forcing a Game 5, which we won in a come from behind fashion as well to move on to the American League Championship Series.

Fast forward a bit to Game 2 of the ALCS against a very, very good Toronto team. We were losing by 3 going into the 7th inning. And then it happened. Again. The comeback kids scored 5 runs in the 7th inning, which would end up being enough to win the game before the series went across the border to Canada. (I was at Power and Light for this game – you want to talk about a place that went from semi depressed to electric in the blink of an eye?!) Anyway, point is – we were in a tough spot, and we found a way out of it.

We can’t talk about epic comebacks without talking about Game 1 of the World Series. Fourteen innings of pure stress and excitement rolled into one baseball game. (Side note:  The post season really has an effect on my sleep – I was running on fumes the next day, like most of Kansas City.) Anyway, the Royals were losing going into the bottom of the 9th inning. We were up against Familia, the Mets’ closer who was known for getting the job done, and who had been solid all throughout the postseason. Then Alex Gordon (my favorite Royal) steps up to the plate and BLASTS one out of the park. All of a sudden we’re in extra innings, and in the bottom of the 14th, Hosmer hits a walk off sacrifice fly ball. Royals win, beating the odds.

The last one we will talk about is the game that clinched the World Series. The Mets’ pitcher had pitched LIGHTS OUT all game. “The Dark Knight” (Matt Harvey) was shutting us down. It looked inevitable that the series would return to Kansas City for a game 6. We were losing 2-0 in the ninth! The ninth! Then out of nowhere, the Mets make a mistake or two, we capitalize on it, take some risks, and tie the game. We force extra innings, and end up taking the series on a 7-2 win in twelve innings (Thank you Christian Colon!). Is that incredible or is it incredible?

Here’s the deal. When faced with tough situations, the boys don’t give up. They don’t throw in the towel. Even with the odds were COMPLETELY against them – they keep at it. They scored more runs in the 7th inning or later than any other team in history in the postseason:

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 8.42.35 PM

If you listen to any interviews by the Royals about their ability to come back, they’ll all give you a similar message – we know how to play when our backs are against the wall. We know how to handle tough situations. We know how to work through adversity. We stay focused on the task at hand, and we find a way to get it done. No excuses. We just get it done. We believe in ourselves. We believe in our teammates. There’s no pouting or complaining – we have a job to do, so we do it.

Take away the context of baseball for a second, and replace it with the context of school, teaching, and learning. Isn’t this what we want of our students? Of our teachers? Of our administrators? Resiliency is a skill. It’s a skill that is taught. Everyone is going to face hard situations in life. How do you handle that hard situation? You’d be well advised to take a lesson from our Boys in Blue.

Let’s now re-visit Game 5 of the World Series. You know the one. Yeah, the one where we WON THE WORLD SERIES! (Sorry, it’s still pretty fresh.) Remember, we were losing 2-0 going into the ninth inning. We scored 1 run to close the lead to 2-1, and then Eric Hosmer was at 3rd base. Salvador Perez was up to bat.

There’s a ground ball hit to the left side. Third baseman David Wright fields the ball. He checks Hosmer at 3rd, then makes the throw to first. AS SOON AS Wright throws the ball, Hosmer breaks for home. Lucas Duda (Mets first baseman) makes a throw home, but it’s off the mark, Hosmer scores, tying up the game.

This was a huge risk for Hosmer to take. With a good throw, there’s a high possibility that he would have been out, and the game would have been over. But, his gut told him to take the risk, he did, and it paid off… big time. Without that risk, it’s very possible we don’t score again that inning, and the Met’s force a game 6. You see, for Hosmer, the possibility of tying the game in the bottom of the ninth outweighed the “safe choice” by a landslide.

There can be no great accomplishment without risk. – Neil Armstrong

So it is too, in education. We are always faced with new challenges. New obstacles. New expectations. Sometimes, embracing all the “new” comes with a huge risk. The risk and fear of the unknown. Did Hosmer know he was going to be safe? Absolutely not. Do you know as an educator if trying something new is going to work like you envision? No, we don’t always have that foresight. But hopefully that doesn’t stop us from trying. Hopefully, we can see that the benefits of engaging more students and trying something new and innovative outweighs the safe choice of “this is how I’ve always done it, and it’s just fine the way it is.”  Great teachers take risks to try new things to make their classrooms student-centered, rigorous, and, well, fun.

If you look at any of these come from behind wins, you can probably point out at least one mistake that our boys made that led us to the aforementioned deficit. Here’s another thing that’s special about our team: They rally behind each other. When someone is having a rough outing, they let them know “Hey man, we got you.” For example, when Ryan Madson gave up the 3 runs to the Astros in game 4 of the ALDS (remember, Royals were facing elimination), his teammates came up to him and said, “We got you. Don’t worry. It’s not ending like this.” When three of our players lost parents during the season, their teammates picked them up, supported them, and helped them through a hard time. These guys go past your typical “teammate” relationship. They have entered into what seems to be a brotherhood of sorts. A special bond that they’ll always share.

How important is it in education for us to do the same for one another? Collaboration is key to fostering a growth mindset among our teachers. We can support one another, learn from one another, pick each other up, help each other out – we are a family. Just like the Royals had one goal that united them and made them fight together to keep the line moving, so do we as educators. Our goal is student success. If we can support each other to accomplish and achieve our goal, we are one step closer to being Royally successful.

The spirit this team has is contagious. You can feel it throughout the entire city. We have some great guys in the clubhouse. (Gordon and Zobrist – please, pretty please, stay!!) I think we can all learn some valuable lessons from this team and apply them to our every day lives – but hey – that’s what sports can do for you in general. This just happens to be a special group of guys doing remarkable things. Thank you, Royals, for an incredible season. Teachers and school leaders, my question to you is:

What can you do to foster the same type of spirit in your school with your students and your staff?

As always, I thank you for reading my thoughts. I always enjoy reading yours, so please feel free to comment below! I’ll leave you with one more thing before we part ways:

IMG_1450

-Megan

Technology Integration: My Thoughts

Technology. Does anyone else seem to have a love/hate relationship with it? Mine is mostly love, but gosh darn it, why can’t my iPhone 5s be as awesome as the 6s? Why does technology have to change all the time? Why couldn’t my phone be cool for longer than approximately ten minutes? I don’t want to keep up with the Joneses, I need that technology! (Enter lesson of wants vs needs.) I want that camera! That speed! That power! (In Rose Gold, please…) Oh, here’s a fun one – WHY can I never seem to get my computer to work correctly with the library projector during staff inservice?? That’s a really awesome feeling – when the technology inservice can’t get started…because of technology. (insert irritated emoji)

Ok, Ok, I say those things in jest (kind of). But honestly, technology, as wondrous as it is, can cause people some headaches (including me from time to time!). Especially teachers. It’s always changing. There are always new things to learn. It’s hard to keep up! You try something, and it doesn’t work out quite the way you envisioned, so you slowly start to write technology off altogether. After all, we’ve gone all these years teaching students without the latest and greatest technology – if it’s not broke, don’t fix it! Right?

Wrong. And here’s why.

I truly feel that if we don’t incorporate technology into our lesson plans, we are doing our students a disservice. Ok, let me back up just a second. I should probably define what I mean by “incorporate technology.” I think technology has two distinct roles in education. 1) To make teacher’s lives easier. (Think online formative assessments, grading made easy, analyzing data, etc.) That’s a really awesome role that technology can play. and 2) To engage students in higher order thinking skills, make them creators of digital content, and prepare them for life in a digital society. Please know that for this post, I’ll be referring to the latter, although I do love the former as well. Ok, so back to my point: If we don’t incorporate technology into our lesson plans, we are doing our students a disservice. We, as educators, have been told for a while now that this generation of students are “digital natives.” They’ve haven’t been alive in a time when the internet didn’t exist. (Say what?) So, naturally, they’re better at technology than previous generations, right? Again, I argue the opposite. Today’s youth is really good at certain things in regards to technology. Think about the things that consume a large portion of their digital time. Social media and…yeah, social media. Generally speaking, this generation loves sharing statuses and pictures with their friends, and receiving instant feedback. What we have to keep in mind, is that they are 14-18 years old. This leaves a lot to be desired in problem solving, analytical, and decision making skills. (No offense if you’re 14-18 years old and reading this post. It’s just science. That frontal lobe of yours is still developing.) So, education now has to take on a new role of giving students these skills to not only survive, but thrive in a digital world. Employers today expect graduates to be proficient in a variety of medias. Where else are they going to learn how to turn out professional grade products using technology? And evaluate those products? And take feedback to then go make changes to those products? The answer is simple: at school. I came across an article that discusses the idea of the “digital native myth,” and a paragraph pretty much sums up how I feel about the topic.

While clearly many young people are adept as digital consumers, their immersion in this world also heightens their susceptibility to the manipulations of advertisers, unless they’ve also acquired the critical and analytic skills needed to navigate our complex information landscape. And while today’s students certainly have a bigger menu of diversions before them than did their parents, entering the digital world as a creator and producer of content and mastering the tools to do so require a new and different skill set.

– Fred Mindlin

We have to be the ones to teach students this “new and different” skill set. This goes beyond teachers using things like Google Forms to interpret student data (although that is a great use of Google Forms!!), and into having students create Google Forms and have them analyze, interpret, and evaluate the data. Rather than giving students information and having them answer questions about the topic, we can utilize inquiry based learning and have students produce a product that demonstrates their learning. Now this is just one example, but is it easier to adapt certain content areas into a technology rich environment? Certainly. Does this look different for every teacher? Absolutely. Teaching is not a one size fits all profession. We don’t want to produce a “robot” teacher. But let me tell you this – if you give a technology tool to 5 teachers, I’d be willing to bet that you’d get 5 unique lesson plans incorporating that tool. Teacher autonomy and individuality does not go out the window when technology comes in. Nor is technology an “add on” to what we do. It should start becoming a part of how we think when we sit down with our lesson plans.

Another reason to incorporate technology is because it adds an element of relevance to our lessons. As mentioned before, this generation of students has not been in a world without the internet. It’s part of their lives. If you can take your content and use technology to give it more relevance to students’ lives outside of school, and into the “real world”, you’re going to give them a deeper connection to your content. Earlier this week, Daisy Dyer Duerr posed the question in her blog, “Can JUST RELATIONSHIPS keep teachers relevant to students in the classroom?”  First, I want to start off by saying that I’m having a difficult time thinking of a current classroom teacher who refuses to use technology on any level, so I do not have any teacher in mind when I answer this question. I’ll be answering in generalities. Ok, on to my answer. I think all teachers know that the relationships you build with students are the building blocks to a successful classroom. You simply cannot have an effective classroom if students do not feel valued. Think about the worst teacher you’ve ever had. Chances are that you probably didn’t even like this teacher, let alone learn much. I’m a firm believer that students learn more from teachers they like. They’re also willing to do more for teachers they like. So Daisy’s question was, are these great relationships enough to get meaningful learning in a classroom? My answer is no, it’s not enough, although it is a necessary ingredient. Many times, I like to relate things to sports. I played sports my entire childhood and through college. Having a coach that you love and respect as a human being is so important. There is a special bond between player and coach, but only when the coach allows it to happen. But is this bond enough to make the team successful? Of course not. The coach has to have an effective way to get her athletes to master the skills of that sport. Many times, a coach can be loved, but lacks in actual coaching ability. It doesn’t necessarily make the athletes love this coach less, but it does has an effect on the outcome of the athletes’ performance. Is this a stretch of a comparison to relevance in the classroom? Maybe. But I think the concepts are similar. Additionally, I can think of a handful teachers from elementary school through college that I loved as human beings and could talk to about almost anything, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy their class, and I didn’t necessarily learn a lot either. But I still really liked them.

Now, back to my answer on this whole relationships vs relevance piece. In addition to “No, relationships are not enough,”  my answer is also that technology does not stand alone as an “end all-be all” to add relevance and thus, to have a successful classroom. However, let me say, that technology is a fantastic way to tie the two worlds together. Technology is a tool, and should be utilized as such.

Relevance and relationships walk hand in hand to creating an effective classroom. In just the way that relationships cannot stand alone to create an effective classroom, neither can relevance. Students won’t care about the relevance if they don’t think you care about them as individuals. We also cannot talk about relationships and relevance without mentioning the other “R” sibling – rigor. (Have you seen the new accreditation system for Kansas? You’d be wise to ensure your class has strong relationships, relevance and rigor.) With these three qualities, you will push students to do things they never thought possible, and I think that is a goal that every teacher possesses.

It would be hard for me to talk about technology and not mention student engagement. I’ll keep this portion fairly short and to the point. If you had an opportunity to reach more students, would you? Technology offers us this opportunity. What you currently do, without technology, is probably great. But are there a few students you’re having a hard time reaching? Or who may just be going through the motions because they’re into the whole “compliance” concept? It’s just a thought, could technology integration be just what those students need to rejuvenate their engagement? Not to mention you could be hitting two birds with one stone – higher oder thinking skills and technology fluency – both of which are two skills employers today are looking for. This is what’s best for kids.

Let me conclude with one last word: Balance. Please don’t be all technology all the time unless your content truly calls for it. Interpersonal skills are still extremely important, and they are also skills that employers are looking for today. Face to face interactions are vital for our students to have. Can they put technology down and have a professional interaction with an adult? Can they shake hands and look a stranger in the eye and have a solid conversation? Can they speak in front of a group of people? Can they use spoken word to elicit emotions from others? Can they get their point across without having to type it out first? We still need “people people.” We still need to teach students “soft skills.”  These skills do not take a back seat to technology. These two world’s absolutely do NOT live in isolation of each other.  Methods that could be considered “old school” do not have to be eradicated from classrooms today. In fact, there are times when those methods are the best and most appropriate methods to utilize. Please, continue to use these methods when this is the case. There are times where technology should absolutely be put away and not utilized. I really think that we can have our cake an eat it too. By this, I mean we can produce students who are well rounded in both interpersonal and digital skills, and I think it’s vital that we do just that. So I leave you with the one word I told you I was going to leave you with: Balance.

Thanks for reading,
Megan

My Open Letter to New and Future Teachers

Last week, I received an email from a former softball player of mine. She is in her senior year of college – her last semester before student teaching. She’s one of those kids that you knew was going to do something special with her life. A hard worker, a team player, a great attitude – I mean, you have to admit – this is the perfect recipe for a successful teacher. Anyway, back to the email.  For one of her classes, she needed responses to a series of questions asking for advice for new teachers. Advice on the challenges of working in education today, advice on working with challenging students, advice on how to communicate with parents, etc. As I was typing the responses to her questions, I was inspired to write this post. If you’re reading this as a teacher in Kansas, this may apply more to you than if you teach in a state where the governor actually cares about appropriately funding public education. I digress – I will try not to bird walk too much in this post. Alas, now we begin my open letter to new and future teachers.

Dear Teacher,

Welcome to the most challenging, gut-wrenching, heart-pouring, amazing, rewarding, fantastic jobs known to mankind. You have chosen a profession that many don’t understand, yet try to judge constantly. We are in a sad place in public education right now. It’s becoming more difficult to retain teachers in the political and economical environment that our state has created, and the ones who have stayed feel like they take blow after blow from the statehouse.  The work keeps getting bigger, more complicated, more technological, more… Common Core. And the pay keeps decreasing. And decreasing. Cuts are being made. Job security is a thing of the past. Programs are disappearing. Fees are increasing. Class sizes are maxed out. I could go on and on about the negative things happening in our state right now in regards to public education. But if you pay any kind of attention to the news, you knew this already. And you chose to teach anyway.

I commend you for that, and I urge you, as time goes by – remember that. Remember what it was that made you want to teach anyway. Was it to make a difference? To spread your love of learning and of your content? Was it because you feel like you have a gift? The gift of teaching? Do you have this innate ability to create amazing lesson plans that you know will engage students from the minute they walk in, to the last second they are in your room? Was it because you absolutely love kids and you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else with your life? Hold on to that passion. Whatever it was that made you decide to take this crazy leap into this great profession. Hold it close. Guard it. Keep it near your heart. Live it every day.

Because teaching is hard. Really, really hard. I think everyone in their first year or two of teaching asks themselves, “Is it worth it?” Most of us quickly shake that off, and might even feel a little ashamed for thinking that, because we know that yes, it is definitely worth it. The rest? Well, they either discover that teaching is not for them and they leave, or they keep on teaching without passion. My hope for the latter is that they find that passion, find that spark, and give it the ol’ college try.

So what makes teaching today so difficult? Let’s start with the obvious. You know the saying, “I didn’t get into this profession for the money!” It’s true. And you know what? It’s hard being poor. My first year of teaching, I lived at home with Mom and Dad for a year. No bills, not rent, no nada. And I was still poor. (By the way, thanks Mom and Dad.) For whatever reason, I decided I would move out after a year. Retrospect is 20/20 – I should have ridden that gravy train for a lot longer. And boy –  I thought I was poor while living at home?! Now I owned a house?! My husband and I – we know what it’s like to go paycheck to paycheck. It’s hard.

What else makes being a teacher so difficult? Law makers. People who have never been an educator or a part of school finance are making decisions that are detrimental to the funding of our schools. This has a huge effect on 1) how much you get paid (see previous paragraph), 2) if you’ll be a “budget cut” next year (RIFs are no joke),  3) the resources you have available to you to use as you teach (yet you’re asked to prepare 21st century learners), and 4) programs that your school is able to offer students – both academic and extracurricular. Speaking of the importance of extracurriculars is probably better saved for another day.

On top of those two glaring beasts staring you in the face as a teacher – you are tasked with managing day to day lessons, grading, planning, other responsibilities (there are a lot of these), learning, pressure, stress – your plate is full. (Yet you may try to squeeze in coaching one to three sports on the side.) Sometimes it feels like the waves are right below our nose, and it’s only a matter of time before we sink.

So far, I have painted a pretty glum picture. (“Gee, thanks Megan. I wanted to be uplifted by reading your letter.”) But again, I go back to the fact that you already knew these things. But it was important that I address them because of what I’m about to say.

Teaching is hard. Teach anyway.

You’re going to be poor. Create a budget, and teach anyway. 

You’re going to have students, and maybe even entire classes that are a challenge. Always keep the students’ best interest a priority. Build positive relationships with each and every one of them, and teach anyway.

You’re going to encounter parents that seem overwhelming. Keep in mind that you both want what’s best for their child, work together, and teach anyway.

You’ll have administrators that you love. And some that you don’t feel so fondly for. Find a way to make it work, and teach anyway.

You’ll have days where you feel like you did nothing right. Don’t worry. Learn from it and adjust. There’s always tomorrow. Teach anyway.

You’ll feel like the demands of learning new techniques, technologies, and standards are going to overtake your sanity. Take a deep breath. You’re dedicated to being a life-long learner. Make a plan of action. And teach anyway.

You will cry. Sometimes they are happy tears. Sometimes they are tears of frustration. Sometimes they are tears of heartbreak. You see, we teachers tend to share a heart with our kids. Just grab some Kleenex and teach anyway.

Some days you may feel all alone. On these days, talk with a veteran teacher. They’ve been there. They know. They have great advice. They have great strategies. Listen to them, take their advice, and teach anyway.

Some days you may feel all alone. On these days, don’t be afraid to be a trailblazer. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Be willing to take risks. You’ll know the difference between these times and the times in the previous paragraph. Find some courage to pursue your passion, and teach anyway.

You’re going to have politicians who either intentionally or unintentionally try to strip your joy for what you do. Don’t give them that control over something you are passionate about and hold dear to your heart. Yes, you should absolutely advocate for yourself, teachers need a voice! But in the same breath, if you let that negativity fester inside of you, it will turn into the true monster that it really is. Take control over your passion, over your joy. Teach anyway.

You see, it takes true grit to be a teacher. An unmatched courage and resolve to do what we love, even when faced with tough times. A resolve to provide an education to all students, regardless of zip code. A resolve to do more with less, and keep students a priority.

For all the hardships mentioned above, immerse yourself in the positivity that surrounds you every single day. Show up with a true enthusiasm for what you do, look for the positives that happen in our schools every day, choose to smile, and you know what? I bet you’ll forget from time to time all of the negatives.  Yes, acknowledge the negatives exist, yes, speak up when you’re being mistreated. I will caution you this- getting caught up in the negativity is easy, but getting caught up in the positivity is a heck of a lot more enjoyable. When you show up to teach every day, it is a choice. It is a choice that positively affects the students in your classroom. Be proud to call yourself a teacher. So, do you have grit? If so, I think you’ll make a fine teacher indeed, and I wish you all the best as you begin your wonderful career. If you have grit, teach anyway.

Sincerely,

Megan

 

A Week(ish) in Review: Back to School

Well, we just wrapped up the first full week of school. It’s Friday night, about quarter ’till ten, and I’m just sitting down to decompress. And wow, there is so much to decompress from. What a whirlwind the past 8 days have been. Last time we met, I couldn’t sleep because I was so anxious about the first day of school, so I shared our Twitter for PD Policy we’re piloting in our district. That blog post seems like a lifetime ago! This past week or so has had it’s fill of ups and downs like any week in the life of an educator and parent, but overall, the outlook for the year is bright.

First, I’ll try to (as briefly as I can manage) describe to you how our first half day of school went. This was a day for freshmen and new students to the building. I asked my principal in the spring if I could be in charge of the first day of school and make it my baby. He graciously allowed me to do so, and I had the passion and purpose (those two are a dangerous combination) to make it a fun, meaningful, successful day for our students. The planning that went in to this day was tremendous, but it was nothing compared to the way our school came together and truly put on a show. There were teachers over the summer preparing materials, contacting students, and choreographing and rehearsing performances. I had a group of about 25 upperclassmen who gave up two days out of their summer to come train with me to get ready for the big day. I had volunteers who helped me set up for the day, and they did so willingly and with a smile on their face. I’ve told you before, and I’ll probably tell you again – our school is a great place to be. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the wonderful dispositions of the people at our school. Anyway, the whole idea of the day was to start these new students’ year off on a positive note. But, I didn’t want it to stop there. I wanted them to feel on that first day. I wanted them to feel what it was like to get involved. I wanted them to feel the power of our pep band. I wanted them to feel what a spectacular a cappella National Anthem from our choir sounds like. I wanted them to feel like family as they learned the alma mater and fight song. I wanted them to feel unity as they learned the “freshmen” cheer for pep assemblies. I wanted them to feel as though they belonged during their small group sessions with their group leaders. I wanted them to feel like they could have a successful school year with a few good decisions. I wanted them to feel…like a Cardinal. Was this achieved? I can’t speak for each individual student, but I’d like to think we came close. So for those of you who had a hand in making this day special, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It was one of the most stressful, fun, and gratifying things I have been a part of.

The weekend soon followed our back to school bash, and starting Monday, school was in full force. I was able to relax a bit, as our inservice days and first days of school were complete, but it wasn’t long before I was right back into the groove of my “usual” routine (or as routine as we can get) of tackling our next PD days, organizing Tech Tuesdays, completing teacher evaluation tasks, organizing meetings, getting into classrooms – the works. And now that I think about it, although my blog from last week seems so long ago, I also feel like this week flew by. At any rate, last week, I wrote about our Twitter PD opportunities in our district, and this week, I was delighted to see teachers start to take advantage of them. I saw at least three teachers start to interact with other educators, and participate in chats on Twitter. Conversations that I had with these teachers afterwards only affirmed that what we’re doing is the right thing. Each teacher had gained resources, ideas, and a network of people to collaborate with in the future. But what I loved hearing most of all, was that those teachers had fun doing this. That brought me so much joy, and I can only hope it’s a positive sign for what’s to come throughout the year for learning via Twitter (and heck, learning in general).

As I mentioned earlier, the week had both ups and downs.  In the midst of the sad times that can oftentimes come along with the job of an educator, there’s always something that brings joy back into my heart. Tonight, I hugged my baby girl a little tighter, gave her a few extra kisses, and shed two tears as we said our prayers before she went to sleep. There’s no way I deserve all I have been blessed with in life thus far, but each night I will continue to pray prayers of thanks.

Megan

Twitter? For Professional Development? You Betchya.

Tomorrow is the first day of school. So, naturally, I can’t sleep. It’s either blog or have a dream that I show up and have nothing actually prepared for the big day. I’ll save the latter for later.  Although I’m so excited about our first day tomorrow (I’m getting more familiar with why they call it “on pins and needles”), I’ll wait to blog about it until it has actually happened. Let’s just say I have roughly 25 upperclassmen taking the reigns for a good portion of the day, and I’m so anxious to see them rock it!

The last few days have been a whirlwind. We, as an administrative team, worked very hard to prepare the first two days of inservice for our staff. We have a lot of logistical changes this year, and our staff, like the champs they are, took them all in stride. I feel very fortunate to work at the school I work at. The teachers are hard working, open to new ideas, and down to have fun. I took them through two ridiculous team building activities, and we had SO much fun with it. Truth bomb – it was the first time I had played these games with adults, and I was a little nervous about it. All I knew is that I thought the games were hilarious and fun (and could deliver the points we wanted to make), and hoped the staff would enjoy them. We may have left the gym sweaty, but we laughed the entire way back to the library, where it was off for more learning. Anyway, back to my point – our teachers rock. Today, one of our secretaries came by my office just to say, “I love where we work. How did we get so lucky to work with such amazing people?” All I could do was agree with her, because she was absolutely correct.

Nonetheless, when presenting new ideas to a group of teachers, it’s easy to find yourself second guessing your presentation, how you delivered it, how it was received, etc. (Which is why we started giving out feedback forms after each inservice day – we want to know how our teachers feel about how our time was spent!) So when I delivered the presentation on how to earn Professional Development Points by learning via Twitter, I was both ecstatic, and a little nervous.

Let me back up just a little bit. Back in February, I attended the NASSP Conference in San Diego. This was one of the best things that I think could have happened to me in my first year as an administrator (because let’s be honest, I need all the help I can get in this still-new-to-me-role). With people like Eric Sheninger, Dwight Carter, and Daisy Dyerr Duerr presenting, how could I not come away with some of the most amazing ideas? (Which by the way, I’ve taken at least one thing from each of those education gurus and implemented a version of it at EHS, so thank you for that!) Even though the presentations I watched from these leaders were not directly about Twitter, I couldn’t help but notice that Twitter was everywhere around me. Hashtags here, @’s there, presenters tweeting as they’re presenting, attendees live-tweeting the conference – I was submerged into the Twitter-verse. So one night in the hotel room, I took a look at my Twitter. I had a private account. I tweeted mostly just personal things, little updates (that no one probably even cared about), the Royals, and occasionally, maybe something about school. That night, I started following the conference hashtag and started following some people from the conference. I started looking at what they tweeted about. I looked at who they followed, and what they tweeted. I found more hashtags. More resources. More everything. I started reading articles on the benefits of using Twitter for professional reasons, and I was hooked. That night, in the hotel room, I made a change. It was subtle at first, but the more I got into it, the more I loved it. I began the journey of transforming my presence on Twitter. I started leveraging Twitter for professional growth and telling our school’s story, and I haven’t looked back. Now, if you look at my profile, it’s nothing to brag about. In fact, 629 followers as of tonight does not qualify me as someone to be looked to for advice on, “How to get more followers on Twitter.” But more importantly than the number of followers I have, is what I gain from Twitter each time I get on. I should probably re-phrase that. Twitter is the tool I use in which to get resources; however, what I gain, I gain from like-minded, driven, passionate educators around the world. From reading articles, to getting resources, to new ideas, to collaboration – Twitter is a vehicle that will take you all of those places, and I knew that night in San Diego, that Twitter was something I needed to get to know. Now.

Last year, I worked with a couple of teachers at my school, and with the professional development council in our district, to write and approve a policy that allows teachers to earn Professional Development Points if they participate in their own PD on Twitter. By submitting a “proof of learning,” they are eligible for up to 2 or 3 points per submission. If you’re interested in the policy itself, feel free to check it out here.

I spent some time last year trying to lay some groundwork so that this policy could be ready to roll out this year. We spent some time as a staff learning how Twitter works, researching hashtags, and exploring what it has to offer educators. Yesterday, I was able to briefly re-touch on those points, and present to the staff the opportunity to gain PD points through their own learning experience, followed by time to explore and play around on Twitter (and Storify).

One of our goals this year is to improve and transform professional development in our building. We hope to be able to bring a bigger, better EdCamp to our teachers, implement Genius Hour, and include other innovate ideas that our teachers came up with for professional development. We hope that by implementing our Twitter PD Policy, it will only have a positive effect on teaching and learning in our building. I think it’s important to note that this is not going to be an expectation of our teachers – we understand that this isn’t for everyone. We simply want to provide teachers the opportunity to get rewarded for taking the initiative to learn on their own, and encourage them to use this massive resource if they feel it can benefit their growth journey.

I had a teacher today tell me that she always has a hard time finding new, innovative ideas for CTE classes. With one of the hashtags from the presentation yesterday, she said she already found a few! I was A) so happy for her that she found some resources, and B) so excited that she shared that with me.  I told you earlier that our staff is awesome.

Here’s to a new school year – one full of change, opportunity, learning, and let’s not forget to sprinkle in some fun and laughter. As usual, thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. Now off to dream about all the t’s I forgot to cross and i’s I forgot to dot for our first day of school.

-Megan

First Year Down – Many More To Go

Tomorrow, I head back to work to begin my second year in administration.  As I’m sitting here before going to bed, already at least an hour past my bedtime, I’m having some major reflections of my first year as an administrator, and what I hope to accomplish in my second year. Normally, I would just sit with my thoughts, then go to bed, but since I have this newfound journey of blogging, I thought it could make a decent first post under “School Life.” So, if you’re interested, here are a few things on my mind.

1) I really should have started this blog last year.  If you want to truly talk about “lessons learned,” there were a plethora of them last school year.  I’m not going to reminisce through every one of them tonight, but when the time feels right, we’ll bring up some of those “memories.”

2) With that being said, one of my biggest goals this year is to bring more life and meaning to the professional development that I provide teachers.  A large part of my job entails creating, developing, organizing, and presenting professional development for teachers in our building. This is one of my absolute favorite parts of my job. (Probably because it reminds me of teaching, which I absolutely loved as well.) You know the feeling – you put hours of work into a presentation or a lesson plan, you have everything planned out down to the cheesy jokes you’re telling along the way, and you get that rush as you’re presenting something you’re passionate about. While I’d like to sit here and think that what I organized was super awesome and everybody loved it and wanted to go implement it right away, the realist in me knows that I didn’t meet every teacher’s needs (or wants for that matter).

Don’t get me wrong. I tried. I always put every ounce of effort I have into professional development. I don’t think what I was lacking was effort. We had some PD days that included small breakout sessions, and teachers had a little bit of choice of which session they’d like to attend. We even orchestrated a little mini EdCamp. (A major shout out to our staff who showed up BIG for EdCamp. You guys rocked it.) On a smaller scale, I tried making as many content specific connections and examples as I could in PD presentations throughout the year, as well as including resources that would potentially be really useful (to some teachers). But on the other hand, for the times when we weren’t doing something along those lines, I know I can do better. I can bring more meaningful PD to more teachers. I may not have known it at the time, but every year is filled with growth and learning, and I hope to bring more personalized options to our professional development this year. It may not be perfect, in fact I’m sure it will be far from it, but my goal is to make learning more personalized in our building this year, or at the very least provide teachers with more opportunities for personalized learning, with the hopes of nourishing the growth mindset that already exists within our building. Will every PD day be 100% personalized? Let’s not get crazy. I mean, a girl can dream, and I think down the road, that’s a goal worth setting. This year, hopefully we will make positive strides in personalizing PD, make choices that are good for our building, and ultimately make decisions that are best for our students.

It won’t take you long to figure out that I am a huge fan of John Wooden.  I feel like I can always find a quote of his that applies to an aspect of my life.  One that I go back to a lot is this one: 

You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.

I think praise is great – we all love to hear we are doing well. But it’s also important to stay grounded. There is always room for improvement. And just because some people may have enjoyed what I presented on a certain day, doesn’t mean that it was great for everyone. I need to seek everyone’s feedback to see how I can better myself. In the same breath, take criticism to heart, look to grow and improve. Criticism is an important part of becoming better at what you do. It may hurt or be a shot to the ol’ ego, but last I checked, I’d rather build a solid education for students than build an ego. So sometimes you have to pull an Elsa and “let it go”, and understand that criticism isn’t always a bad thing. (Sorry, I know that “Frozen” reference is way over-used, but when you’re surrounded by Elsa and Anna everywhere you look in your house – it sort of becomes a part of who you are.)

3) Sorry #2 was so long.

4) I’m so excited for our freshman first day. I have over 20 amazing upperclassmen who are going to be running the show that first day freshmen show up. They are fantastic leaders, and I know they are going to rock it. Along with that excitement comes a bit of stress – I have an extremely long to-do list to get ready for that day. Time to get to business tomorrow. Transition years are huge. Having an awesome first day in high school is tremendously important. I want 9th graders and new students leaving that first day thinking, “I want to go back there. That’s a place I want to be.”

5) I am extremely grateful for my mentors that helped me through my first year in administration, and I know will continue to provide me guidance, advice, and friendship. I could not have asked for a better team of administrators at our building and throughout the district to provide me that guidance. What an amazing group of people. I also have a pretty rock-star line up of former principals who have  been a phenomenal support system, and who have served as role models that I try to emulate. I also can’t forget my dad – the former school administrator who always brings me back to the question, “What’s best for kids?” We can talk more about my dad in a later post. Those of you who know Scotty know that I can’t sum him up in just a couple of sentences.

In addition to this network of professionals who I look up to and respect whole heartedly, I have an entire world (literally) of support on Twitter. Before this year, I hadn’t ever really thought of leveraging Twitter for professional reasons. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the NASSP national conference this year, and wow, did my eyes open up to a whole new world of learning, filled with unbelievable sights, indescribable feelings (Aladdin, anyone?). Anyway, this whole new world was Twitter. I started following a few people here, a few people there, just kind of looked at what they posted about, would make a few posts about the going ons at school, and I kind of slowly immersed myself into learning via Twitter. Again, I could dedicate an entire post to this topic, but I just want to say thank you to all the principals at the NASSP conference who showed me what an incredible tool Twitter can be. (If you’re up for it – follow me @MeganBlackEHS – I’d love to grow my PLN!!)

6) We are now several hours past my bedtime. Although I’m sad that summer has come to an end (I’m so grateful for the precious time I’ve spent with family and friends these past four weeks), I’m also extremely excited for the beginning of a new school year. It’s going to be a great one. If you’re still reading this – you’re a champ, and I thank you. 

-Megan