Monday, June 23, 2014

15 Years Later, Here's What They Remember

I was fortunate enough to attend the wedding of two of my former students.  The groom was a young man who I have known for 15 years.  I began coaching him in wrestling when he was in the 7th grade and through his senior year in which I was in his corner as he won a state title.  Any time you get invited to a student's wedding, I guess it reaffirms the impact you had on them.

What struck me the most were the interactions I had with some of the other party guests, former students, some of which I had not seen in 15 years.  Those conversations were not so much revealing as they were reaffirming what I have come to know.  They remembered the experiences and how they were treated.  I wish I paid more attention to this early in my career.

Not one person told me they remembered the notes or the lectures or the packets.  They remembered the experiences and they remembered how they were treated.  We reminisced about stories from the classroom, some things that I did not even remember, but they did.  One student told me he still had respect for me because I yelled at him one time, but did so privately as not to embarrass him in front of his peers.  Unfortunately I immediately thought about the students who received similar treatment from me, but in a more public display.  I do not remember the specifics, but I am certain they do.

Now I am not going to claim I was the world's best teacher, or that I treated every student I ever encountered with kindness and respect.  This was also reaffirmed by the lack of conversation with a couple of the party guests.  I do believe I created experiences often.  They remembered that.  More importantly, they still remembered what they learned.  I also remember drilling them with facts and notes.  They remembered it happening, but not what was supposed to be learned.

I recently saw an interview with soon to be Gahanna principal Bobby Dodd, and something he said connected with me and the conversations with the former students this weekend.  He said, "I can't tell you what I learned because I was too busy memorizing things." I can relate to that, and so can our students, and I'd imagine, you can too.

So before you make copies of that next packet, ask yourself if there is a more creative, engaging way to get the student to learn the desired concept?  15 years from now, it may be something they still remember.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Let's Focus More On Our Strengths

In education, we like to talk about weaknesses.  If you have been part of a team discussing a particular student, how much of that focus is spent talking about the weakness?  How much time is spent talking about that student's strengths?  I have been a part of many of those types of meetings over the past 15 years and I would say a majority of that time spent is spent talking about and developing a plan to "fix" the student's weakness.  Have those talks ever involved developing a plan to further enhance their strengths?

We love to focus on weakness in education.  Whether it is test scores, teacher evaluations, or curriculum, educational reformers take great joy in the analysis and dissection of data to point out our weaknesses.  In Ohio, educators have been ridiculed due to the low scores students have received on the Ohio Graduation Test, yet as student performance across the state has improved, state legislators are now replacing the test because it is "too easy."  Not sure why it was not viewed as too easy eight years ago.

I am not suggesting we ignore our weaknesses.  To ignore them would be careless.  I am simply saying that we should not be so enamored with them that they become the focal point of every decision or plan we implement.  I am also not suggesting we sit back and pat ourselves on the back as we look at the great things we do.  Instead, let's work on improving those great things.

Imagine if Derek Jeter focused on his weaknesses as a high school basketball player, rather than further improve his talents as a baseball player.  Would we even know who Derek Jeter is?  What if Bill Gates spent less time working on computer programming in high school so that he could improve upon his weakness as a musician?  Imagine if we put a focus on further improving the strengths of a teacher rather than always targeting their shortcomings.  Acceleration Plans could be more powerful than Improvement Plans.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Voxer...Another Great Collaboration Tool

Have you ever connected with some great minds on Twitter and wish you could pick their brain for more than just 140 characters?  Voxer is a great tool to make that happen.  I just found out about Voxer last week.  Like Twitter, I wish I had known about it sooner, but better late than never I guess.  So what is it?  It is a little bit of everything.

You can download the Voxer app for your iPhone (also believe it is available for Android) and sign-up.  From there, you can add contacts that you know (or encourage them to sign-up).  I know what you are thinking, "How is this different than Twitter?"

Voxer allows me to send the equivalent of a text message to any contact I add.  Those people can then respond without the entire world seeing.  I can also send or receive a photo.  But perhaps the greatest feature is the "walkie-talkie/voice message feature.  If the person is available, he or she can listen as I am talking.  If they are not available, they can listen and respond when they have time.  You can also see if the text was read or the message was listened to.

How can I use it?

It is a great tool to communicate and collaborate with an individual or a group of people.  As you can see on the left, Eric, a principal in another part of the state, left me a 13 second voice message, I responded with a 21 second message of my own and then a text.  It keeps it all in one timeline similar to your text messages on your phone.  I like that it is not all just voice or all just text.  If you need to talk- great.

Voxer is also a great way to collaborate with multiple people in a group.  A few educators take turns hosting #ohedchat on Monday nights.  This is Ohio's weekly Twitter chat.  Rather than rely on one person to be responsible for coming up with all of the questions and then hosting it at 9 PM, we decided to use Voxer to collaborate ahead of time.  I was able to add the participants to the group and they could collaborate via text or voice by using the app.  I feel that we had a better experience because there was input from multiple people.

One of the great things I love about Twitter chats is the ability to learn from other educators.  The downside is the fact that they are usually during set periods of time.  With Voxer, you could create your own group of experts to discuss topics on an ongoing basis with the ability to add members to the group.

A final use for educators would be to record a message on Voxer and have the ability to upload the audio to your school's website, Twitter, or Facebook account.  If there was a message in which you wanted parents to hear your voice rather than just read your words, this would be a tool you could use.

I am sure there are other uses, and if you have some new ideas, I would love to hear about them.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sometimes Green Doesn't Mean Go

I just dropped my daughters off at daycare this morning and was sitting at the light waiting to make a left-hand turn. Most of you reading this probably did the same thing.  The light turned green and 99.9% of the time I would have hit the gas to continue on my way to school.  Fortunately this morning I did not do that.  Had I hit the gas, I would be dead.

For some reason out of the corner of my eye I saw a car coming from my left,  towards the intersection, showing no signs of slowing down.  This was not a case of someone trying to get through a yellow light, as my light had already been green for about 2 seconds.  This was someone who was clearly not paying attention, had no idea her light was red, and never hit her breaks to slow down.

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink this weekend  (not that I am crediting him for saving my life this morning, but who knows?).  If you have not read this book, it basically is about how your mind can tell if something is right, or not right, in the blink of an eye.  Fortunately I saw the car out of the corner of my eye, and my brain said “That does not look right.”  So I waited, and honked my horn as loud and intimidating as a Honda Civic’s horn can be.  Really, I just used common sense.

In our jobs as educators, this is something that we do, and maybe need to do more often - use common sense.  This is why discipline is never black and white.  There is always a gray area. Sometimes a gun is a weapon and other times it is a Pop-Tart.  Do we really discipline them both the same way or do we use common sense?

Most of us are in education for noble reasons. We are there for kids, but sometimes our actions seem to contradict that notion. Sometimes, we just need to use common sense before making decisions. Sometimes, green doesn't mean go.

Any time my four-year old is in the car with me, she says, “Daddy, green means go.”  Not always.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

This Year I Decided To Principal Like A PIRATE

If you are familiar with Dave Burgess' book Teach Like a PIRATE, this post will make sense to you.  If you are not familiar with the book, buy it now, download it on your Kindle App, it is worth every penny.

I taught high school business and social studies for 12 years.  As a teacher I tried to do many of the things that Dave talks about in his book.  I remember establishing a rapport with my students and trying to create experiences and activities that would make learning fun.  I never bought into the philosophy of "Don't smile until Christmas Break."

I jumped right from the classroom to the position of principal three years ago.  I skipped that whole assistant principal thing.  The ironic thing about my first two years as a principal is that I did not emphasize building relationships and creating a fun atmosphere right away.  I did this with my staff, but not my students.  I focused on discipline and making sure things were running smoothly.  I led in a way that was pretty much the complete opposite style that I used as a teacher.  We had a great deal of success as a school academically, and did many fun things, but looking back I feel like I did things backwards.

I started a new job in a new district this school year.  As I began my third year as a building principal, I made a decision to try a new way of "principaling" this year.  I was going to build relationships with the kids first.  I was going to put an emphasis on fun from day one.  Sure there would be times when I would have to work with a student's discipline situation, but I was not going to put on the image of the "strict guy" right off the bat.

I have to tell you, I have no regrets about this decision.  Did we have discipline situations this year?  Yes we did.  However the number of repeat offenders were very few.  There were many instances in which I could rely on that relationship I had worked to establish in August and September to help the student learn from a poor decision in March.  Kids are kids, and they are going to make mistakes, and it is part of my job to work with these kids to help them make better decisions in the future.  To be honest, many of my colleagues would laugh at the "big" discipline situations I have dealt with this year.

We decided on a new way to communicate with our parents and the community.  Rather than send home paper newsletter, or send them via e-mail, we began producing a 2-3 minute weekly Video Newsletter.  Our 31st episode is set to be released today.  Students were excited to be a part of it and parents told me they definitely preferred watching a 3 minute video than to read one of my newsletters, no offense.  None taken.  I have people in the community come up to me all the time to tell me they love seeing what is going on in our school.  I have been stopped in elementary schools, at the grocery store, and just last week on the town square.  They look forward to it being release on Youtube every Friday.  I can honestly say, I have never had a parent tell me that about one of my paper newsletters.

I took many of the things Dave Burgess talked about in his book, which were many of the same things I did as a teacher, and implemented them in how I worked as a principal.  As I reflect on this school year, I cannot say I have any regrets.