Wednesday, December 5, 2018

December 5: Traditions Were New Once

"Will you come travel with me?" 
Walt Whitman

"Men will always create new arenas for honor if traditional rituals fade."
Joel Dinerstein

Traditions matter. They are the time and date stamp on culture. Traditions are social, political, financial, and physical evidences of our shared values from the past, present, and our future. All traditions were once new. This is often forgotten. While time and age do not fade the importance of the sacred cows of our lives, creating traditions is often generalized as a one-off event or happening, something anointed or appointed. The truth is far more complex.

Culture is what you get after you build it, and traditions, ceremonies, and recognition events require a buy-in to some shared values or norms over time. Indeed, where there is no proof of buy-in, no consensus, no shared values, there are none. One can find lots of examples and proofs of common vision and missions, but scant evidence of the opposite. Therefore, not only do traditions matter in and of themselves, they are cultural beacons of collaboration, progress, and values. Take Superbowl commercials, for instance! They change annually, yet the tradition prevails.

Traditions are not timeless. Indeed, many are time bound. Sometimes they fall off due to change, and new traditions take their place. Sometimes they share space and time. Often, they accumulate. Rarely do they get cast aside, but often they evolve. Some are revived. Rarely are they extinguished, yet sometimes their powerful messages fade. They are the most tangible proofs of change. Does anyone know why champagne bottles are broken against the bows of newly christened ships today? From a historic perspective maybe not, but it's still dramatic and fun to watch.

Traditions speak to us in may ways. They connect generations. They highlight persons, groups, and organizational achievements. They celebrate our alumni and our youth. They tie reflection and progress together in a single moment. They are lessons learned and visions of the future all at once. They are one generation's Woodstock, another's Live Aid Concert. New or old don't equate to less valuable, for it's the consumers who matter. Those who observe traditions also evaluate them.

A parade is no more a celebration of what was than of what is, and they evolve. The players and parts and featured acts may not even look the same from one holiday or town to the next, though they carry on as a vehicle that buoys the culture on an annual basis, generation after generation, the way Santa Claus speaks to many of us, and Menorah lighting speaks to others.

While the circus seems to be a dying tradition, the number of rings and death defying acts of yesteryear don't diminish the feelings of nostalgia for many. For others, Ringling Bros. shuttering their famous March of the Elephants under Madison Square Garden last summer was simply an event, the last of its kind. Who is to say that traditions should stay or go? Often times its up to the majority. Sometimes its left to one's memory. Most of the time, its sharing that sustains those that matter most. They all matter, and were all new once.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

November 7: Gratitude

"A moment of gratitude makes a difference in your attitude" 
Bruce Wilkinson

This morning I have much to be thankful for. This is an important time for gratitude.

As a father, grandfather, and educator for over 24 years, I am thankful for so many in our community that care about public education. 

As a husband, I am grateful for a wife who tirelessly supports my career. She deserves better.

As a father, I am grateful for the sacrifices my children endure while I work in public education for other children. They deserve better.

As a partner to the group of volunteers I work with, I am forever grateful of the strong bonds and new friendships forged in the trenches together. You deserve thanks.

As an employee of 5 Board of Education members who champion Graham, personalized learning, and modern schooling, I am blessed to work for you. You deserve thanks.

As a supervisor of a fabulous team of administrators, I am grateful for that #Legion, who give their blood, sweat, and tears to bring equity and access to our children. You deserve recognition.

As a supervisor of a large group of wonderful teachers, I am grateful for their resilient leadership, dedication, and teamwork in the face of historic external odds. They deserve much better.

As an educator who is charged with providing a holistic experience in a healthy system to produce the next generation of Americans, I am grateful for the 1980 youth I serve daily, who remind me of my personal and professional vision and missions in public education. They all deserve the best I can give. I am grateful for you.

As a human being, I am grateful to those who took time to vote and to consider our historic need, and who championed Graham. Graham deserves this consideration.  

Thursday, October 4, 2018

October 4: FASTER

"There's no such thing as the unknown—only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.” - Captain James T. Kirk

Recently I had to practice a speech that set a five minute parameter. I had to time the words to mesh with 15 slides, each advancing every 20 seconds. This Ignite format was both exhilarating and daunting. I became a student in the midst of a performance-based assessment activity all over again. I struggled and failed at first. And then something special happened... I got FASTER.

I used my PLN on Twitter to ask questions and seek reinforcement. I was encouraged by many educators. I used the web to find YouTube clips of other Ignite speech examples to study.
I wrote and edited multiple drafts of my speech with a google form on the fly while using my stopwatch app to time myself and the slide transitions. What started off as a 7 minute mess became a decent 6:15:00 diatribe. I cut to 5:30:00 with a mirror and larger fonts. But I couldn't succeed alone. 

Then, I involved others to critique me! With live practice and confidence built up by peers I got faster. I earned a stealthy 5:00:00 the day of the live event. I got faster. Last night in front of hundreds at #NowIgnite 1.0, a wonderful event run by colleague Marlon Styles in Middletown, Ohio, I got  FASTER.

Public education is surrounded by competition. More important, knowledge acquisition is moving faster by the day, month, and year than we adults can even imagine. Since the time of Gutenberg its been accelerating and this warp speed spaceship of change isn't slowing down for one. Moore's Law is all around us. Architecture, Solar cells, Medical Printers, Autonomous Vehicles, Nanotechnology are like forces converging all around the planet and affecting children who will lead us during the second half of the century.

It’s our charge to build capacity to help children prepare and cope and succeed in an environment that by its very nature will be FASTER than any experienced before. Adults need to learn to model learning FASTER, move FASTER, and apply skills for impact FASTER. Or we will be...SLOW, and left behind by the future.

Today I launched my FASTER team meetings at Graham Local Schools: 5 minutes for sharing and listening; 5 minutes for questions; 5 minutes for possible solutions and planning action steps. We got FASTER.

If there's one thing I've learned about public education in this century, it's that we have to learn to go further. If you want to go it alone in public education, you'll be slow. You won't compete- at all. You'll cease to exist. But if you want to go higher, to achieve personal and professional dreams and secure the blessings of freedom for you and your family and friends, go higher together. If you want to reach higher, reach together. And if you want to keep pace with the future you'll have to go FASTER. Children need heroes who are willing to go higher, further, and FASTER than ever before.


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

September 5: The Watercooler Effect

"Webster's dictionary defines wedding as: the fusing of two metals with a hot torch"
Michael Scott, Regional Manager, Dunder Mifflin

Whenever one hangs out anywhere for a period of time, their learning begins to be affected by the actual surroundings themselves. The "water cooler effect" takes hold. This occurs in business offices, classrooms, locker rooms, church halls, online forums, and even local joints like bakeries or barbershops. The effect is called groupthink.

Groupthink is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages  change, creativity, or individual responsibility associated with issues. In terms of psychology, it can be either a help or a hindrance to one's mindset, or to a group or team. In terms of communications, it can lead to generalizations or ultimatums, labels, all bad ideas. In a marriage, it can be wonderful.

Graham's local townships and villages have their water coolers, too. The effect of the groupthink in these communities- all part of Graham's district- is a historic cultural issue, one of the rarest and most concerning examples of low local tax support for schools, and failed attempts at progress as a school community for decades in terms of operating funds. The marriage between school and community  seems to be misunderstood here. In any strong marriage, it takes two to tango, listen, show respect, and support one another.

In 24 years as an educator, I've been told how to do things over and over again. I've listened. In fact, I have listened closely with an open mind to more opinions about how to fund schools from people outside of our schools than I have ever heard comments about instruction or pedagogy. And I've watched. I've watched closely as parents, politicians, the media, and entire communities disconnected from their local public schools are judging us over and over again. And I watch as the competition all around us is ignored as public education is attacked and shrinking schools all around Ohio suffer.
And I reach out, and will continue to work to forge a better marriage here between our schools and community, because its just that important. There's no time to stand around the water cooler. We are in a race every day to improve lives here.

And yet, the barber chair quarterbacks and bakery counter inspectors seem to have schooling all figured out. I don't pretend to be a barber or baker. That's easy to do when you don't take individual responsibility for progress or change for others. It's easy to analyze when accountability doesn't fall to you as a leader. It's easy to scrutinize when you take for granted the investments made by others for you in the past. It's easy when you forget that your part of the community is dependent upon all the others for success.

It's easy to forget who helped you when you were a child, a student...

It's easy drinking from the water cooler.       

Thursday, August 2, 2018

August 7: The Harvest

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant"
Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) is one of my favorite Scottish authors. Treasure Island was one of those novels I connected with early on. But his writing goes far and wide beyond swashbuckling tales to include poetry, political essays, and short stories set in amazing locations around the globe. But did you know Stevenson dealt with personal rejection and tension within his family for years because of their expectations that he succeed to become a lawyer, just like his father before him? While Stevenson had the skills and did indeed pass the bar, it wasn't his passion.

Too often we forget, regardless of the era, time, or place, that so much of what is planned and structured for children in society wasn't designed for them to explore their individual passions, but with other expectations in mind. We tend to focus so much on uniform outcomes and cohort data and group measures of success defined by adults that we unintentionally plant the wrong seeds for the future, thinking it will increase the yield we expect. Succession plans imposed upon others rarely succeed. Public education has suffered for decades because of this narrow view of schooling. Consumerism in our field, and competition from other educational entities prove it. 

The reality is, you reap what you sow. Personalization of education for each child is easier said than done. However, that's because adults make it so. We haven't truly made the shifts necessary to do the work and support learners in this way, even though the concepts are nothing new, and have been plaguing education for hundreds of years. Many adults won't try it for themselves, out of fear. At Graham, we are changing that.

Dave Burgess is one of my favorite educators. His Teach Like a Pirate book resonates. We need to champion those who strike out from the pack, set sail for innovation, and are unabashedly fearless about change in education. We need to celebrate these modern pirates.

The focus on planting seeds of hope through passion projects and exploratory paths have to become the culture for the harvest to truly be as bountiful as we all wish. It's as important educationally for a child to learn what they don't want to focus on, or become, as it is to choose their own path.   

I asked my principals recently if they would rather lead a building that resembled a marching band, an orchestra, or a jazz band. I got no wrong answers, and three different ones. The reality is, leading in education today is about understanding that there can be uniformity with specialization; passion with accountability; group work and individualism all in one. Programs at Graham like The Leader in Me will help us to just that.

There is no doubt that treasures can be found in every child. Why do we waste so much time with conformity? Yes, foundational literacy skills and math skills will always have a place and be required learning, but no one has to become an AP student, or a quarterback, or a STEM star to become something special. What they need to become is their own champion and life leader. In this way, the harvest we all wish for can truly be realized. Who wants any child to be marooned on an island?   

Friday, July 13, 2018

July 13: Bridge Out

"In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future"
-Alex Haley

What do you do when the bridge is out?

A bridge helps one do many things. It saves you time getting from point A to point B with the most efficient route. It can help you reach a destination. It can help you escape to somewhere new. It can help you traverse an unsafe environment. It can provide protection from outside elements. It can frame a scene of beauty. It can be a symbol of progress and help set your location, or be a compass point for others. It can help you rise above. 

When building a bridge, there must be a vision of getting somewhere, or receiving something from the project. When John Roebling worked on the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, for years the vision led to countless trials and failures, setbacks, even death. Ultimately, new methods led to the eventual completion of the hybrid cable-style suspension bridge, a unique masterpiece. Few saw the vision through. Roebling never wavered. Its been there ever since, symbolic of the era it ushered in for New York City, the United States, and the world as the Industrial Revolution reshaped the globe.

If the builders of a bridge don't think the proposition is win-win, they may not take the time to synergize their efforts, to learn from one another, or value the collective strength of a team to create better solutions to the problems faced on either side. Joining together is a feat. Bricks and mortar can build a bridge. Words can build a bridge. Children are a bridge.

Where I live and work as Superintendent of Graham in St. Paris, Ohio, the main bridge is out - literally. I've heard more people complain about that bridge than anything else since I moved here a few years ago. "What an inconvenience"; "this is a complete waste of my time"; "I can't believe this repair could take so long or cost so much"; "the detours are way too long." Who truly wants to take a detour? 

When the bridge is out, things tend to come into focus. That's when the value of that route you came to take for granted, forget was even there, causes a whole new- or old- set of problems to rise up to meet the rubber where it hits the road. You can't always see obstacles clearly when you don't have a vantage point from a bridge; you just go through the motions. The route you take becomes much less efficient, much more time consuming- it also costs a lot more. The inevitable complaints and wasted resources lead to a climate change for those on the detours of life.

Graham Local Schools has a bridge out- the financial bridge to our childrens' futures we have been discussing for the past two years. Now fewer buses, less employees, and fewer Falcons can traverse their futures together because our bridge is out. More children are waiting on one side now, hoping adults can see their way to a winning proposition for all in the Fall. This bridge has affected all of us. No one gets where they need to go without this bridge. In the end, the bridge itself is the thing. Why take a detour?

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.