"We are all a work in progress."
The year was 1995. I was working at the Country Club of Jackson and I was loving the independence of having my own car. Technically I classify the teenage me as a fairly typical kid that stayed out of trouble. My normal route to work took me 8-9 minutes and I think I drove the same route hundreds of times. But then one day things were a bit different.
(Let's keep in mind this is before cell phones.)
As I was driving to work early on a Saturday morning I was admittedly pre-occupied. I still remember thinking about a girl and fidgeting with the radio.
Next thing I know I look up and hammer a mail box. It went flying 20 feet into the air.
In that moment I was scared to death. In a blink of an eye I chose to drive away and go to work.
The rest of the day I was constantly looking over my shoulder and internally my stomach was in knots all day long.
Now here's the truth. For four days I felt this heavy weight of guilt. Yet I did nothing. Then on day four I walked to the front door and knocked.
More on this later...
On a recent run I asked my good friend, "do you believe in second chances?" My friend chuckled. He then blurted out, you're an educator...of course you believe in second, third, and fourth chances.
The question now becomes, do you believe in second chances?
There are three schools of thought when it comes to giving second chances.
One, people can change, no one is perfect. We should give second chances.
Two, by giving multiple chances we are enabling.
Three, some acts do not deserve second chances.
Admittedly, I'm a believer that people can change. Recently, ESPN chose to hire Ryan Leaf after an ugly history of drugs, theft, prison and burglary. You can read the story here. Personally, I applaud ESPN. Giving Ryan Leaf an opportunity, a fresh start in the booth is a risk, but it says a lot about their belief in people.
Life is interesting. Can I tell you a couple things I've learned?
First, I've learned that being magnanimous makes a person feel better about themself. Simply put, being able to forgive is healthy for us.
Research states: "There's nothing wrong with healthy anger, but when anger is very deep and long lasting, it can do a number on us systemically," he says. "When you get rid of anger, your muscles relax, you're less anxious, you have more energy, your immune system can strengthen."
In one meta-analysis, for example, Yoichi Chida, MD, PhD, found that anger and hostility are linked to a higher risk of heart disease, and poorer outcomes for people with existing heart disease (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2009). "When you stand up to the pain of what happened to you and offer goodness to the person who hurt you, you change your view of yourself."
Second, I do believe people can change. I refer to the Ryan Leaf story. Admittedly, Ryan spoke of meeting a veteran in prison and that relationship led him on a road of recovery.
As human beings we are prone to making mistakes. Some mistakes can be fixed fairly easily and other mistakes leaving lasting scars. I challenge you to think about yourself. Are you able to give second chances?
I'm glad I knocked on that front door. But you know what I'm even more grateful for? The person that answered accepted my apology and allowed me to share my remorse and make it right. Each day I try very hard to not judge people. Everyone has a story and everyone's journey is filled with both successes and failures. I choose to have a heart that believes in second chances.
Does a student in your class need a second chance? Does a colleague need to be forgiven? We can all benefit from forgiving and choosing to support people on the journey of life.
"Self-awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. It enables you to keep growing." - Lawrence Bossidy
Before I get too far into this post I need to clarify that I do believe there is a significant difference in caring what others think and being aware of how oneself is perceived.
An area of leadership that I have tried very hard to grow in is supporting staff. Years ago as I transitioned from the classroom to the principalship I believe most people saw me as an individual that connected well with students. That connection with students made it a bit easier to be on the same page as parents. Unfortunately I don't believe all staff felt supported along the way. This was never my intention, but it was the reality.
Why is this important?
I ask, how are you perceived? Are you approachable? Do people seek your thoughts? Do others view you as positive or negative? Are you outgoing or reserved? Do you know your own strengths and weaknesses?
What this is truly about is self-awareness. Self-awareness is one of the 5 critical components to emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence involves the ability to understand and manage emotions. Experts agree this type of intelligence plays a vital role in an individuals ability to succeed. Emotional intelligence is connected to every form of decision-making process you can think of.
Recently I listened to an Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast focusing on Enneagrams. If you're anything like me this word was, or is, foreign to you. From one point of view, the Enneagram can be seen as a set of nine distinct personality types, with each number on the Enneagram denoting one type. It is common to find a little of yourself in all nine of the types, although one of them should stand out as being closest to yourself. This is your basic personality type.
After listening to Andy's podcast I was strongly compelled to take the test and find out more.
To my core I work with people. It is inherently important to me to continue to grow and be the very best I can be. However, your growth will be limited if you do not have an open-mind, growth-mindset and most importantly, an honest understanding of yourself.
Before I get to the results I should share a recent story that brings light to self-awareness and empathy. This past year in some ways was extremely challenging. In one particular classroom the teacher and I participated in numerous meetings with families, social workers, doctors, and Intermediate School District personnel. In most meetings I take a very similar tactic. I listen. As I listen I try very hard to read the situation and figure out what the problem is, what questions should be asked, and what options could possibly improve the situation. However it is important to understand that I'm not aggressive, I'm patient. This approach has left staff members feeling unsupported, as if I didn't have their back. Even in this moment it pains me to share that. I never wanted a staff member to feel this, but that was the reality.
I share this because it circles back to the significance of self-awareness. How are you perceived?
My belief is knowledge is power. An increased awareness provides the opportunity to grow oneself. What you do with the information is entirely up to you.
At the end of the day I took the Enneagram test. I'm now diving into the report because it is important to me to increase my own self-awareness. Personally, I think the test has me pretty pegged. But that is only step 1. The real truth will be how I use the information to grow.
How self-aware are you? Do you know your own blind spots? Do you know your own tendencies? Do you know your strengths? I encourage you to take the time to become more self-aware. If you're interested here is a link to an Enneagram site.
"Strength lies in differences, not in similarities." - Stephen Covey
The very first time it happened was 8th grade.
I was a solid student. I tried hard to please my teachers. I participated in class and truly worked hard. For over eight years I felt that my teachers believed in me, liked me, and thought I was a good kid. One big part of my desire to please my teachers is that I never wanted to disappoint them, because I knew they believed in me.
Then I arrived in 8th grade.
I had one particular teacher that quite frankly was a mean person. He talked down to kids. He read the newspaper at his desk while we did worksheets. And if he did talk to you it was only to yell at you. I hated his class and because I hated his class I began to hate Science. But then I got in trouble and things really changed. I was finishing a pop quiz and the rule was to pass them to the people in front so they would end up in the front of the room (making it so the teacher didn't have to walk around). As I prepared to pass mine forward I noticed I forgot my name. I pulled the paper back and wrote my name. The teacher accused me of being a cheater and ripped my paper up right then and there. I remember wanting to cry but instead I just put my head down completely defeated. I knew that teacher didn't like me. I knew that teacher thought I was a trouble maker. I knew that teacher didn't believe in me as a person or a student. So what happened? I did the bare minimum for the first time in my life. There was no desire to do my best. My goal was to get by, and don't get noticed. I didn't participate, I didn't talk and I began to dislike school.
Simple Truth: Boys and Girls are VERY different.
What research says about boys is this:
I could keep going, but I think you get the point. There is a gender gap. So the question is, how do we improve this?
Here are two ways things can begin to improve. Let's go back to my beginning story. What I believe about the majority of boys is this, they want people to believe in them! This may seem simple, but it's not. Boys want to feel as though there teacher or coach or parent has complete belief in them. Boys sense doubt and often times this creates anxiety. The anxiety can manifest into anger, sadness, withdrawal, or avoidance. If you connect with a young man, develop trust and truly believe in the best of that young man you are significantly more likely to have that boy run through walls for you. Boys want to be believed in.
A perfect example, I have a fourteen year old son that right now he believes one of his teachers sees him as a trouble maker. His number one goal is to simply go unnoticed and get by. How sad! He's 14 and learning isn't the focus, it's simply survival and move on.
Second, it takes a true art in dealing with boys that make mistakes. My best advice is to deliver consequences out of honor rather than obedience. I would encourage adults to not make a list of rules, rather than a list, define 2-3 clear expectations. Let's be realistic, boys will make mistakes. When a mistake occurs the purpose must focus on restorative practices. For example, a boy defaces property or litters. Restorative practices are critical. It should begin with, the truth. Next comes an apology to show remorse. The third and final step is to make things right. In this situation the student should work with a custodian to see the problem from another persons point of view. This builds on honor, not obedience.
Years ago I watched a Ted Talk by Rita Pierson. Click on her name to watch it. This is still my absolute favorite Ted Talk to date. To quote Rita, "Kids don't learn from people they don't like." If we as a society are going to help boys succeed in school we must acknowledge that there is a problem. Then start doing something about it.
Think about your school or classroom. Is there a difference in behavior? test scores? attendance? suspensions?
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
- Mahatma Gandhi
Life can be strange. One minute you feel confident, fulfilled and joyful. The next minute you can feel depressed, negative and unappreciated.
Late Fall of 2016 I found myself scouring different sites for what I believed would potentially be, "a fresh start". I had convinced myself that I needed a change to get my mojo back. I thought a new position would re-ignite my spark. For the remainder of 2016 and the first half of 2017 I was updating my resume and keeping my eyes and ears wide open.
Over the course of a year I had stretches where I felt like the normal me, and I also had weeks that I was negative and distant. The people closest to me could see it. They knew I was not myself, but when confronted I didn't have a real good answer. My normal response was something about being busy and feeling stressed. Truth be told, it was a lot of little things that led to a loss of passion. But if I'm really honest it was one main thing...
I was selfish.
For years I prided myself in building relationships with people. I blogged, I did podcasts, I presented, I connected with people all across the nation. And then slowly I became my own worst enemy. I would see social media posts and compare myself to others. I would read books by my friends and feel the need to do the same. I lost my way. I felt undervalued. This led to negativity, deflection and less patience.
It's important for me to state, during these dark days I still tried very hard to pick myself up. I sent cards to friends, I visited colleagues, I met with community members, I volunteered on committees, I coached my son's sports teams and I vacationed with my wife and family. Not all days were full of despair. However, many days I felt exhausted in the evening. I had held it together the best I could during the day and I was simply emotionally whipped.
Overcoming the Darkness
By default I'm a very reflective and analytical person. Roughly a year ago I went to my doctor and had my yearly physical. At the end of my appointment I decided to ask him about depression. Was what I was feeling normal? Was it depression? Was it a mid-life crisis? My doctor was very understanding and we talked for several minutes. In retrospect this was the first step in getting back to being me.
Step two happened this past summer. Our district went to Chicago for a conference. Joining me were several terrific teachers. After each session each one sought me out to share another game changing idea to make Warner even better. Trouble was, I loved their enthusiasm, but I feared for how things would go when school started. I feared pushback and the day to day struggles. For over two weeks I fought with myself. How could I best support my enthusiastic teachers, but not make too much change for the rest of the staff? I wrestled with this for weeks and I must have been awful to be around. I was wanting to please everyone...this was a recipe for disaster. The focus needed to shift. Unfortunately, I didn't have all the answers. But as I reflect, this was a key piece of the journey back to me.
Step three occurred at a very unlikely time. I was on a morning run with two good friends when I blew my calf muscle. I was on the verge of devastation. It was going to take me away from exercise and physical fitness. Yet luckily I discovered I could ride my bicycle. For the next 5 weeks I became a bike rider and in turn, I began listening to audiobooks. In five weeks I finished eight books. I loved it! I found a light in what I first thought was darkness. Part of the light was my good fortune in reading The Positive Dog and The Energy Bus.
Step four occurred in mid-October of 2018. I was at my breaking point with pushback. I was beaten down with naysayers and those subtle digs about change, leadership and too much too soon. It was that weekend that I had a long voxer conversation with a trusted friend. That conversation led me to stay the course. It wasn't about pleasing everyone. It was about doing what was right.
Step five was in early November. This was the final piece for me.
Two events happened. The first was completely by happenstance. I took a few minutes to peruse social media and I stumbled onto this challenge. The challenge stated, Can you go 24 hours without complaining. Not even once. Then watch how your life starts changing.
I'll spare the details, but I chose to take the challenge. Furthermore, I'm taking that challenge every single day. At the same time that I stepped up to the challenge I also read an article on educator burnout. The article talked about demoralization. After reading the article I couldn't help but think and reflect.
What I believe is, when most people choose a profession/career they understand that not all days will be easy. They are realistic that, over time, it will be normal to experience joy, sadness and stress. Lastly, when most people begin a career they do so to serve and make a difference.
My belief is this (and this led to my turnaround), if you are focused on your own stature, happiness, prestige or benefits you are likely to experience unfulfilled expectations. You will be disappointed. You will feel unsupported. You will feel unappreciated.
However, if you focus on serving and helping others you will constantly be aiming to support and help make the people around you better. This will create more joy and purpose in your life. Shifting to a mindset of serving will make every setback an opportunity.
My hope in sharing is to show that I'm far from perfect. I want to strive each day to lead with my heart and to be a person that serves. I'm lucky, I've rediscovered my purpose and what's ironic is, I realized, it's not about me.
This week I had a moment that truly made me reflect on a lot of things. I took a moment to sit down and chat with Nicole Kelly ... @PowerofPE and I really benefited from our talk. Nicole and I discussed the change from Science to Physical Education as well as the overall culture and climate of Warner. Then Nicole made a comment that has stuck with me, she said, "Our greatest strengths can also be our biggest weaknesses." I thought about this and I believe she is exactly right!
Let's think about this statement, Your Greatest Strength can also be Your Biggest Weakness:
What if your strength is organization. In turn your weakness may be OCD or inflexibility.
What if your strength is your drive and determination. In turn your weakness may be that you don't listen to others and you may not be the best teammate.
What if your strength is loyalty. You may be loyal to a fault and unwilling to change or move forward.
What if your strength is your mathematical mind. Your possible weakness is that it comes easy for you and you struggle to explain it clearly to others that don't understand.
What if your strength is your kindness and care for others. Your weakness may be the inability to accept criticism and deal with conflict.
This is a small sampling designed to get you to reflect on yourself. Is your greatest strength your biggest weakness?
Check out this article by Dr. Brunner: 10 Flaws That Can Derail Good People
We're all human, we're all flawed and we all make mistakes. By human nature we try to improve our weaknesses. Sometimes I want to fix several flaws at one time...this is next to impossible. So how do we go about improving ourselves? This is what I've discovered through reading books, listening to podcasts and watching Ellen Degeneres!
1) Self-Reflect: Reflecting on situations promotes growth. You must be honest with yourself in this process.
2) Stop Comparing: Be the best YOU! Everyone has idiosyncrasies, embrace them and don't try to be someone you aren't.
3) Laugh At Yourself: Thank You Ellen! Humor can heal the soul. When you make mistakes be willing to laugh at yourself. Remember we are all flawed.
4) Learn From Others: It takes a big person to admit they don't have all the answers and that they need support/help. Learning from/with others creates strong bonds.
5) Remember this quote: Good is the enemy to great. - Jim Collins
Try as I might I'll never be perfect. The world would be a boring place if we were all perfect. The best approach is to understand and try to improve. Thank you Nicole, thank you for helping me reflect on an issue I've pushed to the back for too long.
This week's big question: How well do you accept criticism? Do you have a kryptonite?
Last week I participated in the first annual #nErDcampBC. This took place in Battle Creek, Michigan and was wonderfully organized by @colbysharp @sharpsgalore @Suz_Gibbs @BrianWyzlic @mentortexts @daydreamreader @glo & @donalynbooks. I thoroughly enjoyed#nErDcampBC! There were so many intriguing sessions. The second session of the day that I attended was titled Reflection with Evaluation. This session was being led by a student from Albion College. Her name was Becca. The group attending this session was small, but excellent. Everyone was sharing and listening. I was the lone administrator in the room, but I was fine with this. My goal was to share some of the things I currently do and receive feedback. I also wanted to hear what other schools are doing with evaluations.
The first question that was brought up for discussion was, "As teachers, are you honest with your administrator about your weaknesses?" Becca asked the question and she then went on to share that her mom is a teacher in Detroit and her mom struggles with this. At this point in the conversation I listened, but I also thought of Warner Elementary.
I remember this year when a teacher told me she was struggling with Everyday Math. I remember when another teacher sat down with me and we discussed integrating technology as a way to increase engagement. I thought back to the time when another teacher told me that standard based grading was not going as smooth as they hoped for. I also remember a teacher openly asking me for input on reading. I relished these conversations! This is collaborating and being a true PLC school.
Then I listened to other teachers sitting in our session. The stories were very different from my thoughts. The comment that stuck out to me the most was, "I'm afraid to be honest with my principal because in the past I've been dinged on my evaluation for sharing my weaknesses."
This comment struck me as sad. The comment also struck me as courageous. The overwhelming opinion was that teachers cannot be honest with principals for fear of being penalized for their honesty.
I pondered these responses. What percentage of teachers are honest with principals? I'll admit I googled this. I couldn't find a definitive answer. I think this raises a bigger issue: Is Honesty the best quality? I had a great teacher growing up his name was Mr. Rod Hardy. Mr. Hardy was my HS Gov't teacher. I was fortunate to also have him as my golf coach. I remember a time when Mr. Hardy talked to our class about honesty in politics. He told us that an honest politician is tough to find, but when you find one you can be assured they are revered by the people. He then gave examples of honest politicians, he mentioned George Washington, Abe Lincoln and a few others. He then went on to say that our times are different. Mr. Hardy pointed out that past generations truly valued "their" word and character meant more. I listened intently. Mr. Hardy and I talked often, sometimes in class and sometimes on the golf course. I looked up to Mr. Hardy, he was a good teacher and a great person. I'll never forget a comment he told our class, "An honest man doesn't have to remember what he said." At first I didn't get it, but then it clicked!
To get back on track, are teachers dinged for honestly reflecting? I believe this is a culture question.
So how does the cycle end? Here are my thoughts:
1) Educators must view evaluations as a growth tool.
- Too often I hear horror stories of Principals using evaluation as a punishment tool or as a way to force people out. Strong administrators must have the courage to have difficult conversations. I've learned that I must choose my words carefully, but I must be honest.
2) Teachers must honestly reflect.
- I attended MACUL this year. I listened to many dynamic speakers, but I won't forget one message. Nobody is PERFECT! We all make mistakes. This is true. I do believe some teachers view themselves as A+ teachers. I believe there are many highly effective teachers, but I would say a perfect teacher does not exist. No one is perfect. As I say this, I believe it is vital that teachers continuously reflect. Through honest reflection will come growth. Ask yourself, what went well? What could I have done differently?
3) Shift the culture.
- This begins at a local level, but then it must grow. I believe each building needs to have a growth mindset, a willingness to take risks, an open forum for collaboration, the willingness to honestly share and an administrator that is in classrooms often. After this is established the culture must grow! The community needs to hear "our" story. Education is the best profession in the world! We must share all the good and change the negative perceptions! It starts small and builds. Educators need to be telling "OUR" story. If we continue to let the media or legislature tell our story we will continue to be beat up.
4) It should NOT be about test scores.
- Teacher evaluation, Principal evaluation, Schools and Districts should not be graded on test scores. I believe this is when things went downhill. Standardized tests to my knowledge were never designed to be high stakes tests. Unfortunately they are. I don't know how, but this needs to change. There is so much more to a child's education. It shouldn't be about test scores.
The question was, are teachers dinged for honestly reflecting? I believe some are. I also believe this is a shame. The cycle must end.
When you sit down in the fall will you set goals that push you to improve? When you search for PD will you be honest with what your weakness is? Will you share your story this year?
"Every job is a self-portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your work with excellence." - Anonymous
Have you ever met someone and in a matter of minutes you got a pretty good feel for their character?
As a family we stepped out of the sweltering heat and into the confinesof the U.S. Capitol. This was our first visit inside and we were looking forward to a guided tour. We gathered at the back of the line and then we were routed into five different lanes. As we began filtering to lane five a gentleman in a red jacket approached and motioned us to lane four with him. He introduced himself as Ron and handed us our head phones. He then took a moment to make sure they were working properly.
Our group consisted of approximately 15 people. Ron gave us a quick overview and then told us he would try to get us into a couple areas that are, “not general access points.” Within a couple minutes Ron made us all feel valued and special. He wasn’t simply, “herding cattle”, he was going beyond the call of duty.
Our first stop was in a semi-private room with the bust of Abraham Lincoln. Ron went into great detail about the display and the significance. It didn't take long to realize the extensive knowledge that Ron possessed. After another stop he led us into the Rotunda.
Immediately upon entering the Rotunda I was speechless. Looking at the works of art made it all very real. Ron shared several significant pieces of information and he even stopped us twice to have us notice members of Congress walking through the Rotunda. Ron’s ability to share fact, with historical perspective, and embed wit was astounding. As he talked to us he looked at us, he answered our questions, he was 100% present in our experience.
As our tour drew to a close, I gravitated to the front and began talking with Ron. I told him I was impressed with his knowledge and expertise of the Capitol. He looked at me and said, “I take great pride in my work.” I responded, “I can see that and so can your colleagues.” I then shared with him that I spontaneously said to another guide, “Ron is good!” His colleague looked at me, smiled, nodded, and said, “He’s the best.”
After Ron heard this he paused. He looked at me and said, “Thank you. Thank you for your interest in our country and thank you for your kind words.”
Ron then discreetly shared a few inside tidbits with me about the House of Representatives. He then ushered my family through a private walkway and that was the last I saw of Ron.
Throughout our tour I learned amazing facts about dead spots in the floor, a change in artists in the Rotunda, the subtle flaws in the artwork and the deep history of the Capitol. I left FAR better than when I entered. This was the mark of a terrific tour.
Moments later we stood in line for a behind the scenes viewing of the House of Representatives, yet all I could think about was wishing I had another tour with Ron. His professionalism, insight and pride really made an impression on me.
As I reflect on my visit to the Capitol I pause and think of the experience. What characteristics show you that a person is genuine, invested and takes pride in what they do? What experience do you provide for the people you serve?
Our World would be a better place if we had more people like Ron. Invested individuals that take pride in all they do.
What will people say about the experience you provide?
As a classroom teacher, one of my biggest frustrations was late work and work simply not handed in. I struggled with how to report this. Years ago my report cards would sit in front of me and I'd have to put grades in. I found myself thinking about effort, responsibility and attitude. I was wrong. It shouldn't be my biased opinion on those things, it should be a true reflection of what the student knows.
Frustration One: I'll admit I used this phrase in the past...School is a job for students. Really? I was wrong. The "Real World" includes compensation, typically in the form of money. The "Real World" people lose jobs for failing to work. Students aren't paid and students certainly aren't fired. Instead of saying you are preparing them for the "Real World", why don't we understand, relate and differentiate to optimize students potential in our classroom. Let's not relate it to the so called "Real World". If students don't do an assignment we as educators need to figure out why. Is it a lack of Resources? Time? Understanding? Why did the student not do the assignment?
Frustration Two: I'll admit, I've stated the phrase, "We must prepare our students for the future." I do believe this, but understand what this means. Preparing students for the future is teaching them how to be life long learners, how to problem solve and how to be a contributing citizen to society. My frustration lies in people saying students must learn _____ to be successful. The blank could be anything, the point is we should be teaching students how to find the answers and to think critically.
Frustration Three: I'll admit I've uttered the phrase, "Giving a student a zero will destroy their self-esteem or self worth." Really? I guess it could, but I believe that students would rather get a zero with no effort, than a 30% with effort. The student that tries and fails is much more likely to lose self-esteem. They've invested time and effort, a 30% would clearly show that they do not understand the concept.
Belief One: All kids can learn. I've always believed this. I've also always believed that a big part of teaching is motivating and engaging students. I love listening to Kevin Honeycutt and hearing his story about how he got a troubled student to embrace learning in his classroom. He said on day one, "HEY, this is a challenging classroom, do you have my back?" The student looked perplexed, Kevin restated, "YOU GOT MY BACK?" The student then proceeded to get the attention of the class, by yelling..."YO EVERYBODY! SIT DOWN, MR. HONEYCUTT IS READY TO TEACH!" From this moment forward the troubled student was no trouble for Mr. Honeycutt. The message here is, Trust Kids and you may be surprised what can happen.
Belief Two: Knowledge is power, but a clean slate can be more powerful. I remember starting each school year and looking at my class list. Every year I'd have teachers bend my ear with information about how challenging a student is. Immediately my perspective was skewed. I found value in the clean slate. In the end I think there is a happy medium. Some information is helpful.
Belief Three: The true value of a zero. My belief is that educators that give zeros (and I was one, at one time), are not assessing knowledge or understanding. Educators that give zeros are assessing responsibility and effort. PERIOD.
My report cards always had room for teacher comments. I ALWAYS filled the box with comments. This was my professional statement about the student. This was my opportunity to explain the students character strengths and weaknesses. The actual report card was just student knowledge, not my personal biases. I don't believe zeros should be given. I believe all students are capable of understanding on some level. I always believed it was my role to find a way for a student to "show me what he/she knew".
Educators have a challenging job. We must teach students content, help them become life long learners, engage them in problem solving and deeper thinking. Plus help them become the best person they can be. It really is the "whole child" approach. I embrace this, and I also believe that responsibility and effort are critical, I just don't think they should be the deciding factors in a students grade.
I can visualize the students I had that always turned in assignments late or didn't do them. I would conference with them, I would try to relate, I would try to motivate and engage. One student stands out for me: Austin. Austin treated school as social hour. He participated when he felt like it. At first I was frustrated with Austin. Then I learned about his life, I invested in Austin. After I invested in Austin I found it was easier to motivate him and he didn't want to let me down. Austin and I played chess when his work was done, he would teach me yo-yo tricks, and he even decided to sign-up for my after school cross country club. After I invested in Austin the zeros disappeared. I found a way to reach him. I believe all kids can be reached. Teachers are key, can you unlock a challenging student?
This week's big question: Grades are a communication tool to students and parents, do your grades reflect knowledge or effort?
For eight years I've been a principal. One thing I've learned over the years is the dynamic of Me versus We.
It's human nature to focus on yourself above all other things, but this can be the demise of a school, organization or family.
Have you ever been a part of a team and you just knew individuals weren't giving their all? Have you ever been a part of a team and thought, "I'm the hardest worker on this team?"
Sure you have.
I bet these thoughts created resentment, frustration, and anger.
My biggest struggle as a leader is constantly trying to get the most out of everyone.
What I do believe is to get the most out of people leaders need to:
Recently I received a piece of mail that made me pause. I opened the bulky manila envelope and pulled out the packet of papers. Instantly I could tell the package was full of older documents. Then I read the hand-written note at the top of the packet.
"Ben, we are purging old documents and we thought you'd like your transcript and file."
Interesting enough, I put the documents back in the folder and didn't look at them for nearly two months.
Then for some reason I decided to go through the packet. I studied my high school transcripts. I re-read the comments. I chuckled at some of my class choices. Next up, I sifted through my middle school career. Finally I finished up by looking at my elementary notes.
The first thing I'd like to share is, I was NOT the model student. As I prepared to begin kindergarten all the notes had concerns. I was recommended for an additional year of Pre-K and then I was recommend to repeat kindergarten. Evidently I was NOT where I needed to be as a five year old.
Second, if you look at the comments they ranged from good all-around student to capable of doing better. One can only imagine how these two comments could be attached to the same student...hmmm.
Third, as I completed 7th grade I was ranked 34th out of 86 students. Pretty much middle of the pack. As I graduated high school my final ranking was 16th out of 68. From an outsiders vantage point that would be considered acceptable. However, closer detail showed something a bit different.
Looking back at the classes I took from 7th through 12th grade I immediately saw a pattern. In some classes I played the game. I complimented my teachers, I raised my hand, I stayed after to get support, I was polite and friendly. In other rooms, with other teachers, I didn't, play the game. I was distant, I attempted to fly under the radar and quite often did just enough to get by.
For those wondering, I didn't experience a traumatic event and I was generally an upbeat, happy kid. The answer isn't as difficult as one may try and make it. My success came down to personal connections and respect. If I connected and respected my teacher I played the game and in turn, I almost always received an A or a B. The flip side was, sometimes I didn't respect my teacher and therefore, I didn't play the game. In these classes I would struggle to get to the 80% mark. Often times these classes ended up being C's and occasionally a D.
My frustration with school is that I do believe the game still occurs.
This is why school is fractured. Educator bias, subjectivity and final grades that still reflect attitude and effort happen all too often.
The solution? Let's STOP the Game of School. Here are some solutions -
Solution 1 - Eliminate the archaic system of grading. If you are still averaging percentages the simple question is why? Research and current best practice show a tremendous shift to standard based grading or competency based grading. This goes for all levels of education. Here is an article to reinforce this solution. Click here.
Solution 2 - Compliance should not equal academic success. Some of the greatest achievements have come from individuals that were willing to be disruptive. Yet, the school system of today rewards compliance and negatively labels disruptors. Don't believe me? Check out what Thomas Edison's teacher said about him... Thomas Edison, brilliant scientist and inventor, was thrown out of school at age 12 because he was terrible at math and unable to focus. His teacher said, ‘he was too stupid to learn anything.’
Solution 3 - Learning MUST become more personalized. Teaching to the middle or giving a one size fits all, all the time, is poor practice. This method widens the gap between haves and have nots, it also reinforces the Game of School Approach. If schools don't shift to a more individualized method they are doing a disservice to a large population of students. Need more information on Personalized Learning? Click here.
Solution 4 - Schools must create more authentic forms of learning. Task management and busy work do not engage high levels of learning. They reinforce compliance. Too often schools supply a heavy load of work to occupy students and stifle creativity. The best forms of authentic learning are intertwined with projects and service learning. This type of learning can appear messy, but it also makes the teacher more of a facilitator. Check out this post. Teach the Way You Wish You Were Taught
Solution 5 - Reward the best educators. Do we really still use pay scales to have everyone in lock step? What my experiences have taught me is, not all people are the same. Some doctors are better than others. Some lawyers are better than others. Some educators are better than others. Can you imagine if education was (in a small way) similar to athletics? Free Agency? Signing Bonuses? Multi-Year Contracts? If the system encouraged greatness you would see more people driving their own professional development. You'd see more people challenging the Status Quo. You would see more people motivated to stay in education because they are great...not simply reaching for the finish line.
Okay, maybe solution five is a pipe dream. But think about it, do you truly believe all educators should be paid similarly?
Ultimately, I'm fed up with the Game of School. In classrooms across the country a student that looks the part, acts the part, is polite and puts forth effort will likely be rewarded. It makes me wonder, are most schools designed to reward extroverts?