Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Issue with Alphabet Soup

A few years ago I divided my staff into groups based on how many years they had been in education. I asked them to write down all of the initiatives they have gone through in their careers.  This was a fascinating activity.  The amount of change in education over time has been incredible, but the most telling thing to me was during the discussion our staff members spoke to the cyclical nature of education.  Many of us have seen Jamie Vollmer’s List of increasing duties on schools since the 1900’s.  Things we do today were done in the past, but under a different name.  The importance of early childhood education, character education, alternative education programs…all were discussed and implemented in the 1980’s.  Ready to feel old…that was 30 years ago!!!  Clearly more is being put on educators and school leaders when it comes to meeting the needs of the whole child.  I came across this list of acronyms used in education.  I ask our staff not to speak in acronyms when they talk to parents, but we have landed at a point where there needs to be a test every year on new abbreviations in  our own building. To make things worse, some acronyms have multiple meanings…as Phil Dunphy reminds us in this clip.

We decided to have a little fun with all of the initiatives going on in education during our opening staff meeting.  Our Middle School Principal Brad LaPoint (@bradlapointfc) developed the script, our HS Principal Brian Schulner (@BSchulner) and I tried to carry it out the best we could, we had great staff help at the last minute, and a surprise guest at the end that brought it all together. Click on the Staff Welcome Video to check out our 4 minute skit.
The issue with multiple initiatives is that it creates an environment of surface implementation.  Staff members are conditioned to be wary of diving in with both feet for fear that a new program or process will come along and they will have to start over.  This is not their fault, but clearly impacts the culture when initiatives have to be rolled out.  The reality is we tend to build planes while we fly them in education…and that’s ok.  The environment that we build with our staff prior to an implementation will set the stage for what happens during and when it needs to be adjusted.  I am extremely lucky to work in a place where our faculty, parents, and board members are flexible and understanding throughout these changes as long as it is communicated well and has the best interest of students in mind.

Our students may have more opportunities now than they did years ago, but life as a kid in a world where everything you do has the potential to be documented through social media brings on new challenges…and more pressure.  Through all the initiatives that we implement and all the acronyms we have to learn, I hope the four letters we focus on continue to be K I D S.  We are here for them…for big ones and small ones…for gifted ones and those who struggle…for those that get breakfast in the morning and those who don’t…for those who make us smile daily and those who challenge our decision to teach…for those who have support at home and those who don’t…all of them.  They deserve it.  Initiatives will come and go, but we got into this business to make a difference in the lives of kids…and if the focus is always on them our world will be a better place. Go Crickets.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Finding Super

Who is the best Superhero? All have value (though the Wonder Twin who could only turn into something with water could be argued) and would be welcomed in a time of need.There is a case to be made that superheros should be placed in two separate categories...those who have innate powers and those who help based on external means.  Superman-innate power.  He comes here from a different planet, can fly, does that thing with the eyes where he burns through things, relatively muscular...all powers that were part of the genetic makeup.  Batman-external means. Cool toys, awesome car, a belt that apparently never runs out of stuff. Spiderman-external means. Bug bite and the rest is history.

A few months ago a group of teachers at a conference saw someone wearing a shirt that said…."I teach.  What is your superpower?"  Within minutes I received texts from the group letting me know that we needed to have these for our staff members.  I loved the idea and when staff came back to school this year they all received a shirt with FC on the front and the saying on the back. The best part about the roll out for me was that everyone got a shirt…custodians, cooks, bus drivers, teachers, support staff, administrators…everyone.  I think some people could look at the shirt and think it is not for them because they don't have a classroom.  The bottom line is this…everyone teaches.  Everyone.  From the minute our community walks in the building to the time they walk out they encounter a crazy number of people.  We all have the ability and responsibility to teach.  We teach enthusiasm.  We teach responsibility.  We teach welcoming.  We teach perseverance.  We teach through our actions.  We want to be the most family friendly building ever…and in doing this our actions model what we want out of the FC school district.  Most importantly, we teach kids how to find their superpower.

Throughout the course of a day, a student in our school will see anywhere between 5-10 adults.  That number could easily be on the low side.  I am accounting for different classes, lunch, recess, specials, custodians…but there could certainly be more.  Can you imagine being a student in our school and knowing that EVERYWHERE you walked there was someone who wanted you to succeed?  If kids have a connection to one adult in school they tend to come back…what if they had a connection to everyone in the school?  Possibilities are limitless.  

We have an opportunity every day to find something in a child that they didn't know they had. We have the opportunity to allow students to learn at their level and with their interests in mind. We have an opportunity to engage children at their level and help them want to learn more.  Superheroes tend to fly in at the last minute and save the day.  We are asking our group to flip that concept…you don't have to be a superhero…you have to find them.  Everyone has "super" in them.  Being “super” is not limited to race, socioeconomic status, or gender.  It is only limited by confidence.  If we can find a way to instill confidence and allow students to find their "super",  there is literally no end to what they can do.  Students will accomplish at high levels if they feel they can and if they are engaged in the process.  How many times do you hear of a kid refusing to play a video game because it is too hard.  They simply don't…they keep struggling and failing until they succeed because they are engaged and challenged by the process. They like to play, even though it doesn’t always yield success. They don’t shut down if they get a bad score or if it takes them seemingly forever to pass a level.

Finding "super" in a student starts with a conversation and a commitment to ensure that relationships rule.  They will believe in themselves if we believe in what they can do...authentically.  One of the best parts of school is a fresh start for both students and teachers.  The conversations we have with students in the first 2 weeks will set the stage for how engaged they will be in our school.  The gifts that kids have don't come from a belt or a bite.  Their gifts come from knowing that someone in school is there to support, guide, and challenge them in a place where they feel safe. the school year gets rolling, I wish everyone a great start and best of luck finding the “super” in every student.  If we’re always looking, it will be easy to find.  Go Crickets.