Friday, June 8, 2018

June 8: Into the Looking Glass

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

I just completed another "wonder-full" year at Graham Local Schools. This past year, I've been exposed to so many wonders in learning: 8th Grade Ted Talks; FIRST Lego league elementary school team; Global Surveying projects; Energy Team girls; Lean Six Sigma Yellowbelt cohorts at GHS.

Things aren't always as we imagine them. We aren't always aware of our surroundings. What we perceive isn't how everyone else sees their world. These are the lessons I learned as a boy reading Alice in Wonderland. Never, ever would I have thought these would be the types of things I would see in schools back in 1990 when I graduated high school and decided to become an educator. I imagined advances in technology and curriculum and opportunities, but I never had a clue about how learning would change; how knowledge collection and experiential learning would transform my definition of "school".

Why would I? I had been brought up in the same style, placed on the same conveyor belt, and produced from the same factory-style school box as my parents, and their parents, and on and on down the rabbit hole...

Alice grew up. So have I. The old looking glass provides a different perspective now.

The thing about learning is that nothing is impossible, it might just take a while. Back in 1990, I was still trying to process the fall of the Berlin Wall - something I never expected to see occur-  and how it would impact my family members in Germany. I was learning how to use a carbon copier without getting purple stains on my fingers. I was experimenting with a word processor. I wasn't fascinated by change. I was just trying to cope with it. Now, I'm racing to help children cope. 

Today, I blink and it seems the changes are coming at us more fast and furious than the Queen's Guards. Knowledge acquisition, transfer, and storage has been bolstered by never before seen speeds on liquid processing chips, in devices so fast they make your head spin. And that's the point - change is here, faster than ever, and can leave you dumbfounded- but it isn't slowing down. It will only pass you by, if, like the Cheshire Cat, you like to nap. Young Alice needs our help more than ever before to figure out how to navigate her new world.     

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

May 9: the Day of the Falcon

"Still when all is said and done, somewhere one must belong; even the soaring Falcon returns to its master's wrists." 
- Truman Capote

As another levy season in a small rural community comes to a dramatic end, I am thankful for the comrades in arms who so fearlessly take up the fight to protect and uplift the children of our community. I am so happy they are freed of the burden of the stress of a lengthy campaign that so often takes the focus off of our seminal work: educating the next generation of Falcons.

Much like young Luke Skywalker in the Empire Strikes Back, the journey for school leaders becomes a struggle between the push and pull of the forces they must endure, unseen by many, resisted by some, and mythical to others. But the force, you see, is alive and well and all around us.

Leaders learn to harness the greyspace in between the black & white opinions of those full of  certainty, fear, hatred, or even bliss. Leaders manage and evolve even when injured by those closest to them. Leaders grow their successors with a keen eye to securing their influence on the next generation, against all resistance. Leaders learn to master themselves and their skills so that they can model for others.

Levies results are portrayed historically as the "voice of the community". What they are, in reality, is the thermometer used to take our temperature. A healthy majority sends a signal about the strength and health of the entire body of a community. A failed levy vote is another reading altogether, and the temperature should concern the entirety of the community, for its health is in question for all to see.

Elders and children alike are all equal parts and segments of any community. The schools are, in fact, protectors of these generations growing in our community. And there's the rub!

Yesterday will forever be known as the Day of the Falcon at Graham. We may not be as healthy as we would like to be today. But we are growing stronger by the day. Our temperature is temporary. Indeed, an entire new generation will soon take over this community with a fierce sense of loyalty and pride for the school community in which their children will thrive, not only here, but in America.

Our children are our masters. There is never a perch otherwise for the Falcons.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

April 3: Tin Cup

"It was their father's task to make homes; it is their task to keep those homes; it is our task to help them with their fight..Spending like this is not waste. It would spell future waste if we did not spend such things now." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt address on the Dust Bowl, 1936 

"Well, I tend to think of the golf swing as a poem." - Roy McAvoy

Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy is a former golf prodigy living in dusty ghost town, with little ambition, in the 1996 classic film. Roy has spent years "laying up" instead of having the nerve to take a shot at redemption. Love and competition ultimately drive Roy to try to get even with his rival Simms. Roy decides to try to qualify for the U.S. Open and makes a play for his sport psychologist to help rebuild his self-confidence and take his place again among the greats- playing poetic- his way. 

In the climactic scene, risking humiliation and disqualification, Roy decides to "go for it". After several misses, on his 12th and final shot the ball finally clears the water hazard and amazingly rolls directly into the cup. After a wild celebration, Molly re-assures him about the immortality of what just happened, "Five years from now nobody will remember who won or lost, but they're gonna remember your 12!" Roy had earned redemption. Graham can too.

Imagine the calamitous times of the early 1930's. As America tried to climb out of a worldwide depression, community projects took on a whole new meaning. They literally held communities together, especially those mid-American states affected by drought. How to ship water? How to grow crops? How to use public works to support farms? How to rebuild broken jobs, homes, entire towns? At some point, someone had to "go for it". People realized they were stronger together. They sacrificed and rebuilt their communities together. FDR didn't do it with words. It was small, rural America that took action and brought the United States out of the Great Depression.

It took the full commitment on the part of local citizens, industry partners, state government assistance, and federal funding to clear out the dust from those tin cups. To build and maintain community takes work. Ultimately, when we let that work slide or we place more importance on other priorities, community suffers, therefore we all suffer the quality of life we create, and the lack of confidence that poisons our thinking about it. We live with the lowest level of community accountability we choose to tolerate. We know this. Graham has done this far too long. After 25 years, isn't it about time we changed our fortunes?

This is the truth for my community and our schools right now: we've been laying up for years. We've never recovered our competitive edge from the debacle of past funding troubles. What did it do for us? How have we helped children and their community recover? For years this school community  chose not to position itself to "go for it".

Now is the time! On May 8th our school community has another shot at redemption. We can show all the competition we mean business. We can right past wrongs. We can build confidence knowing our plan for Future Ready schools is working. We can come together. We can shape our own shots- our own story. We know this. We just have to go for it. Five years from now, no one will remember anything but that WE did this together. WE are all Graham.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

March 8: User Data

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing." Theodore Roosevelt

Building and maintaining a positive school climate takes all of us. But school culture is different. Changing a school culture over time is never about imposing one person's will, or peer pressure from others, or a small group's opinions. To truly work to implement change over time, several pieces must be in place:

1. Research
2. Input
3. User Data

To implement anything worthwhile for the long run, there has to be a vision. Once a vision is in place, and goals established, then research, the input of stakeholders, and user data help an organization to move beyond opinions, nostalgia, and outmoded methods to get to the crux of the changes needed for improvements or outcomes sought.

When people are given research they didn't have before, they can form new views. When given the opportunity to share valuable input, they can choose to take that opportunity, or not.

It's been our focus to build capacity through some user data over the last two years at Graham. User data is both formal and informal. It's the anecdotal data we collect from testimonials once someone has risked something new. It's evidence, such as a certificate of completion. It's student climate. It's also the formal data we examine from adaptive assessments to glean important information about student progress and teaching. It's the accountability that comes with intervention program success, or growth goals being met in a teacher's professional development plan. User data are the earned accomplishments of students.

You see, user data isn't anything other than the measures an organization defines and values. If the measures aren't valued, they aren't the right focus. At Graham, our decision-making, in fact, is directly linked to a community document called Graham 2020, which is well over a year and a half old now.

The community values embedded in Graham2020 are our focus. Our focus guides my actions. Our focus guides our leaders. Our focus directs my missions as I embrace my role. My focus is about doing what's best for children first, and doing the right things to attain the outcomes my team focuses on. So when changes affect others differently, or our team focus raises dialogue, we can celebrate it, learn from it, and by listening to all, still keep our focus and improve upon our initial intentions with even better outcomes.

I recently observed a meeting of a student seeking approval for their Eagle Scout project with district leaders. It was a positive and constructive experience for the student, who was told yes! The adults did what was best for the student, and the right things in guiding him through the process to receive acceptance and support in one conversation. User data? You bet!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

February 7: I am virtually Iron Man

"Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk" 
Tony Stark aka Iron Man

An interesting article the other day reminded me of Champaign County's virtual farmers market. One of only five in Ohio, the county promotes the fact that anyone- anyone- can actually purchase their produce online and pick it up without ever visiting the actual farm or the market. Guess how many users the site has?

Kirk Langer, Chief Tech officer of the Lincoln, Nebraska public schools, remarked recently that people can "buy things online faster than you can change human behavior". In other words, technology is forcing many to learn to run before they've ever really learned to walk! It's come so fast its racing by many of us. If you don't change your behaviors, how can you take advantage of the market?

Technology is so scary to some people. I think that's why movie fans find Tony Stark, portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr., as such a fun, whimsical character. His self-deprecating sarcasm is welcomed and disarms us of his superior tech sensibilities. Ultimately, his use of technology does not alone make him a hero, but the attitude with which he approaches using it: to help others.

I'm encouraged by my new teachers. They've grown up "next gen". They do not even blink at a flipped lesson. They have about as much use for a google primer as my teenagers have use of my early 80's movie lines.

I'm concerned for some of my second-tier teachers who have been around for a decade or more. They know enough to know they need to change and integrate new tools into their delivery, but they feel stuck in a rut at times; intimidated, nervous to change, and in some cases, too comfortable to try. They are forgetting the mission.

I'm scared for some of my third-tier teachers who have over 20 years in the field and don't believe they need a change. They've forgotten who they serve, and why children look to them for guidance. They aren't here to protect their content from the world. They are here to better it for their followers.

I lose sleep over those outside our walls who don't think they see any need for change for themselves or the sake of children. But I unabashedly champion those heroes in the classroom who have found a way to harness technology tools and new methods to ensure the "next gen" has what it needs for success in their lives!

I can say these things because I have been around long enough to have been bold, nervous, and scared to change myself. But I've always believed you have the power over your own attitude, even if you don't have the skills today to execute what you might tomorrow. Dewey said, "if we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow". If we remember our mission, each one of us can be just like Tony Stark.

Monday, January 8, 2018

January 8 Uphill Both Ways

"Intense feeling too often obscures the truth" 
Harry S. Truman

Everyone in the education audience- everyone- has a story about what school "is" to them and how tough they used to have it. I can still hear my grandpa now saying, "in my day, we walked uphill both ways to school in three feet of snow!"
I'm a proud first generation American. First to graduate college, earn a scholarship, earn a masters. I've learned enough from school and family to know that none of those accomplishments give me the right to judge previous generations, or to generalize about them, or assume my life is harder, because there is an inherent problem with that type of thinking. The truth is, no one walks uphill both ways to school. Our experiences in education are unique to or own generation, and not a window into every generation.

It seems outside the education setting generational changes and differences ensure that the older and wiser the audience becomes, the more myopic they become about education itself. Thus, education becomes generalized, judged. What's lost is the true perspective about what school "is".

Whether it be feelings of entitlement, pleasure, politics, or economics, generational bias impacts all learners in their educational experience. As education has become a national political issue, I think its reaching epidemic proportions. I'm seeing outside bias perpetuated, not extinguished, by some of our very own internal educators where developments like broadband access, open resources, technology, and social media use are concerned, and it scares me.

Our feelings are getting in the way of the truth. Things change, kids can still accomplish anything they set their mind to, and I know this because I thought and felt this way as a kid. Who am I to say they can't now as an adult? Who am I to judge? I've never earned a judging credential.

I have a photo of my German grandmother playing with a gas mask on in her back yard at 12. My Scottish grandmother was once blown down, concussed while running into a bomb shelter. Of course Streetsboro, Ohio was going to be better. I have no idea what that life was like during WWII, and I dont pretend to know the world they grew up in. But for my granparents, Streetsboro mattered. It was enough. Two of the smartest women I ever knew. No diplomas.

Both of my parents were baby boomers. My grandparents emigrated to Streetsboro to work for one of the "Big 3" their entire careers for the promise of a better life. I'm not so sure it was for Streetsboro's schools. Maybe it was their base need for security, health, and sanity after a war that changed them. For my parents, a high school diploma mattered. It was enough. My parents literally never walked uphill to school. They always had food, clothes, and insurance. Two of the smartest people I know. No degrees. 

I like to think that my parents' dreams, goals, and their work ethics helped shape who I am today and that matters to me. I want it to matter to my children. My education has mattered. It has taught me that my educaiton is not enough for them. Not enough to undestand their education. 

Educations change. Schooling changes. Dinosaurs are out and coding is in. Virtual reality is valuable and I don't pretend to know why. My children were typing in 3rd Grade and emailing in 6th. My children live their education, not mine. Who am I to judge?


Thursday, December 7, 2017

December 6: Growing up in the Greenbelt

Hong Kong Phooey was one of my favorite cartoons growing up in the mid 70's. The dastardly bad guys were always somehow being spoofed and spoiled in their attempts at world domination by the clumsy, accident prone "master of kung phooey". He was an innocent, confident, yet naive hero to a little boy fascinated by TV. For a black belt, he sure had trouble solving problems!

I saw the same wonder in the eyes of my children as they giggled at the adventures and predicaments of Spongebob and Patrick when they were little. There was always a challenge for the heroes of Bikini Bottom that my children found hilarious! They would talk to each other about episodes for days!

We find challenges full of wonder as children. As adults, it's another story completely. I have found in my time as a teacher and administrator, problem solving became a skill I was not practicing enough, or modeling enough for children. Nor were the majority of my colleagues. The irony was, as a coach I had to troubleshoot all the time. As a father to triplets, it became happenstance. But early in my teaching career, I sought the comfort and security of solid content and tight lessons plans that were defined and time bound. For as many decisions as I was making daily in my teaching, I was missing the opportunity to have students pose their questions. I couldn't see the forest for the trees!

Recently, my principals and some of my teachers have spent time on two very important professional development vehicles:
1. Design Thinking training
2. Lean Six Sigma Greenbelt certifications

Personally, I'm green with envy for the less experienced administrators and those teachers who have been able to undergo these trainings. Seriously though, on a professional level, its crucial that I offer this development training to leaders, and its priceless to watch my team develop the right skills to help students become future ready, and for these leaders to be able to model for staff how to help other staff become ready to help students.

Pros like Marcia Kish and Charity Dodd of  DSD Professional Development make this blended learning training look easy, but its not. It takes courage and growth over time for teachers and leaders to change their views of what a quality classroom looks like. It takes practice to do it. Self-deprecating humor helps before confidence builds!

Expert Six Sigma guru Mike Fedotowsky of the The 5 Disciplines has led us through several Lean trainings now. The approach to problem solving is fascinating, relevant, and timeless. Indeed, the best companies in the world have put their leaders through these trainings. Why not Graham? Why not Graham's students? Everyone says they want graduates who can actually problem solve and do critical thinking. Well, we already have 12 Greenbelts in our high school, and we're just getting started.

Growing our "Greenbelt Mentality" to address problems of practice is the only way for adults to truly model to those coming next! If its good enough for us to demand of our students, its time we learn to model it, too! Growing up in the greenbelt has taken on new meaing for this educator.