Teach & Serve II, No. 12 – Don’t Shut the Door on the Library

Teach & Serve II, No. 12 – Don’t Shut the Door on the Library

October 26, 2016

My concern is … simple: will people develop a love of reading without the physicality of the activity and without its accompanying shrines?

I am so proud of my sister. She has been a children’s librarian for almost 20 years. I’ve seen what she does for kids: she inspires them to read. Through crafts and displays and public readings and activities, she seduces kids to the word. She brings them into the library. She is part of a long tradition of educators who inspire.

I love libraries. I love what they mean. What they are. What they can become. Reading has been something of a religion for me and libraries have been the churches in which I’ve practiced.

What got me hooked on the word? What got me started?

Batman made me read.

This is likely a true statement. I use the word “likely” because who really remembers exactly the moment they turned on to reading. How really recalls the day and time that reading became as important as anything else in life?

I don’t recall the exact second on which my life turned – that second I decided I would be a reader – by I know Batman was the reason.

I was in first grade. I could already read – pretty well, in fact. It was the mid-1970s and teachers were still dividing kids into ability groups. I was in the Dinosaurs with other good readers. I was not in the Lions. I got it. I could read and I liked it. I didn’t love it.

No, I didn’t love reading until the day that I ran headlong into the corner of a brick wall. On the way home from the hospital (6 stitches, don’t you know?), my father bought for me two comic books: Batman Family and Superman Family.

I fell in love with comics on the spot and I fell in love with superheroes. I couldn’t get enough of them.

While comic books were relatively cheap, my parents (wisely knowing the collecting hoarder I might one day become) didn’t always indulge my desire to buy them. Rather, we would hop in the car on many a weekend and head to the Arvada Public Library. There, as I recall, I could check out 3 items a week – whatever I wanted.

That what I wanted were more stories of superheroes was fine by my folks. I checked out comic books (which you could do back then… can you do it now?). I checked out books and records featuring stories of DC and Marvel superheroes. I checked out Little Big Books starring… wait for it… superheroes. The library fed my growing desire for comic book characters all the while powering my growing ability to read and comprehend.

I am not alone in owing libraries for this. Generation after generation learned to love language in just this fashion.

storytime
Not my sister… storytime in the 1970s

Libraries find themselves (as they ever have, by-the-way) at something of a crossroads, especially the ones in our schools. There is pressure to move them into the 21st Century (whatever that means), to make them media centers, iPad labs, moveable spaces, to take out books.

Hey, let’s draw the line a bit here.

I love me my iPad. I read most books and comics on it now. It’s convenient to be sure. That’s a good thing. But, I have to ask, are kids falling in love with reading using their computers, phones and iPads? Is the same connection to the word developed with a tablet?

Professor Andrew Dillon has done some work on the subject. He’s concerned about the tactile differences and how we are being conditioned. Professor Anne Mangen worries about the recall ability of those using e-readers rather than books. There are concerns.

My concern is much more simple: will people develop a love of reading without the physicality of the activity and without its accompanying shrines?

We have to be careful when we talk about modernizing our libraries. We have to pay attention to what’s come before those thoughts. We have to realize the stakes and they are high. Let’s have high tech rooms, makers’ spaces, robotics labs and technology dens.

But, for education’s sake, let’s have libraries. Let’s have books.

Batman made me read. Libraries fed my habit. I am an educator now who reveres the word.

Is there a through line?

You better believe it.

EduQuote of the Week: October 24 – October 30, 2016

You are always a student, never the master. You have to keep moving forward.

Conrad Hall

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Teach & Serve II, No. 11 – Failure Is an Option

Teach & Serve II, No. 11 – Failure Is an Option

October 19, 2016

Failure, under the right circumstances, is good for us and good for our students.

Apollo 13 is a wonderful movie. It has everything I love in film. It’s beautifully directed by Ron Howard, has a great cast featuring Tom Hanks, Gary Sinese, the Oscar nominated Kathleen Quinlan and Kevin Bacon and, those of us with minds for such things, remember Ed Harris (also nominated for an Academy Award) and his performance as NASA stalwart Gene Krantz. In fact, after “Houston, we have a problem” his line “Failure is not an option” is the most quoted bit of dialogue from the film.

apollo-13Remember the moment: the astronauts running out of oxygen, their ship seemingly irreparably damaged and the earth-bound engineers have to find a way to get them home. Certainly, in that moment, failure was absolutely not an option and fail the brainiacs at NASA did not. Astronaut Jim Lovell and his crew were brought safely back to Earth.

In our work as educators with our students and, perhaps, more pressingly, their families, do we sometimes err too much towards the idea that failure is not an option?

I am not talking about failing grades. We all understand the high stakes involved when we “fail” our students. The ramifications are tremendous and can have disastrous consequences for our students. Surely, some will receive these grades and will have to do what they can to recoup their losses. But this is not the failure of which I write.

If one is coming from the perspective that an educator does all she can to ensure that a student does not fail, I am in almost complete agreement. I almost completely support that perspective. I respond very, very well to teachers and administrators who believe no one should fail on their respective watches and put in place all the machinations to try to keep failure at bay. I hope we all do all we can to help our students succeed.

Do you read some hesitation here?

I am hesitant. I am hesitant to wholly endorse the idea that part of the role of educators is to eradicate failure.

When we fail at something – something about which we care and this is an important distinction (this entire post is predicated on the idea that good educators inspire students to care about their subjects and their work) – can we not learn from the process? Does our failure not often compel better effort and harder work in the future?

I would argue that it does. Our failure, in the hands of the right teacher, does inspire us to be better. It does inspire us to do better. Again, if the teacher has the trust of the student and has made the material relevant to the students’ life, failure is an option.

We know that our society mocks participation ribbons and critiques the “everyone is special” culture. We know that there is a line of thought that suggests that this sort of treatment of kids is making entire generations soft and is leaving them unprepared to face the “Real.” “World.”

I don’t know that I would go that far. But I do know that some failure, some striving, some reaching for that which has alluded our grasp and is difficult to attain is good for us.

Failure, under the right circumstances, is good for us and good for our students.

Though, I grant it would not have been good for those fellas on Apollo 13. For them, I am glad failure was not an option. For the rest of us, let’s create an environment in which it is.

EduQuote of the Week: October 17 – October 23, 2016

We cannot teach people anything. We can only help them discover it within themselves.

Galileo

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Teach & Serve II, No. 10 – Leaders Should Hold Themselves to the Highest Standards

Teach & Serve II, No. 10 – Leaders Should Hold Themselves to the Highest Standards

October 12, 2016

… we don’t meet these standards because we are being watched. We meet them because we know that meeting them makes us better leaders, more integrated leaders, more authentic leaders.

I, like many, am fatigued by our current political season. I am fatigued by the rhetoric. I am fatigued by the tone. I am fatigued by the analysis.

I am fatigued.

I am not an historian and my experience teaching history is limited to the terrific experience I had as part of a team taught American Literature/American History class. I leaned heavily upon my co-teachers for the history portion of the curriculum. My time instructing American Studies was spent, primarily, in the literature part of the course – for good reason. However, one does not need to be an historian to recognize that, of the many things lost in the current political climate, one thing that is certainly rarely discussed in any kind of real fashion is personal responsibility.

This is a damn shame. Truly. In a presidential election, our thoughts can be inspired. We ought to consider those who strive for the office of President leaders. If they have gotten far enough in their professions and in their lives to be “in the conversation,” then they should be leaders. Whether we agree with their platforms and outlooks, those we consider for this office ought to be, at the very least, leaders. They ought to hold themselves to the highest standards of professional conduct, to be sure. Some would argue that they ought to hold themselves to the highest standards of personal conduct as well.

I know. There is much to say about that this election cycle and those embroiled in it.

That’s not the purpose of this post. Better, smarter people than I can take this on.

Instead of placing our focus on our upcoming choice, let us focus more close to home.

We are teachers, administrators, educators. We are, in a very real sense, leaders.

To what standards do we hold ourselves?

We are watched. Our roles are public. Our students and our colleagues notice us. They pay attention to what we do.

standardsDo we in timeliness to and from appointments, in our structuring of the starts and stops of our meetings, in dismissing students from our classes, in our connections with our parents and students and staff hold ourselves accountable to schedules? Do we meet deadlines in the manner we expect deadlines to be met? Do we answer emails in a timely fashion? Voicemails? Do we sign in and out of our buildings as we expect others to? Do we take attendance? Do we enforce dress codes? Do we dress as we should?

This list could go on.

The reality of our lives – our lives in the spotlight – is that we are watched. What we do and how we do it influences our ability to lead.

The “higher” on the ladder we climb, the less we are “watched.” There are fewer people sharing the rungs with each step we ascend. Therefore, there are fewer people in supervisory roles of us. And that’s as it should be. As we progress in our leadership journeys, we are trusted more fully.

Commensurately, there are fewer holding us to high standards.

Therefore, we have to pay all the more attention to holding ourselves to them.

And we should. We should hold ourselves to the highest standards. If we are administrators and our teachers have to attend an in service, so should we. If we are department chairs and members of our departments have turn in written lesson plans, we should, too. If we are coaches and we demand our players be dressed out on the field at a certain time, we should be there to meet them. If we are teachers and we demand work turned in on time with no exceptions, we must hold ourselves to that same standard in our grading of student work.

And we don’t meet these standards because we are being watched. We meet them because we know that meeting them makes us better leaders, more integrated leaders, more authentic leaders.

We meet them because it’s the right things to do.

Think of the leaders you admire. My guess is you don’t admire them because they cut corners. You admire them because they don’t.

EduQuote of the Week: October 3 – October 9, 2016

The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.

B.B. King

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Teach & Serve II, No. 3 – One Thing at a Time, Not Everything All at Once

Teach & Serve II, No. 3 – One Thing at a Time, Not Everything All at Once

August 24, 2016

Don’t ignore. Don’t demolish.

Work the problem. Work it piece-by-piece.

No matter what subject we teach, we think it parts, not wholes. Take US History for example: when history teachers begin the year, they know where they have to end up. They know they have to get to the election of President Obama (in truth, many US History teachers will be happy if they hit the chapters on the Reagan presidency by the end of the year, but that’s neither here nor there). They know where they are going and they begin to plan how to get there. They plan units, they plan chunks, they plan blocks, they plan lessons.

Nesting DollsWe hope our students do things the same way. We preach at them to do so. Start the lab. Put on your goggles, then look for the chemicals. Learn the vocabulary in Mandarin before you attempt speaking the language. Understand the equation and then apply it. Begin the research paper with, you know, the research, then start to write. Look at homework assignment-by-assignment, not at the totality of what needs to be done on any given night.

Assess the big picture. Paint the small strokes and make it coalesce.

Why don’t we apply this same thinking to the challenges facing our schools?

All too often, especially at the beginnings or ends of school years, we look at what we perceive as being wrong with our schools and become paralyzed. We see problem linked to problem, issue feeding issue, hazard upon hazard and our reactions do not always help. Our reactions break down into two categories, neither of which is particularly constructive.

We either throw up our hands, stymied by the enormity of the trouble, by its complexities, fearful that pulling any thread on the quilt will rend the thing asunder or we leap to solutions that will tackle the entirety of the trouble, consequences, ramifications and collateral impact be damned.

The systems that exists in our schools are comprised of human beings each full of talents and commitments and agendas and weaknesses and strengths. Rarely do any of us set out to create complexity and tie Gordian Knots around our institutions. But it happens. It seems to always happen.

Some leaders believe the way to overcome these challenges is with the precision of hand grenades. Blow the problem up and start anew. Some leaders believe the way to overcome these challenges is to trust people to do good work and let the problem work itself out.

I understand both reactions. I’ve had them. I’ve lived them. I’ve turned away from the beast. I’ve challenged it head on. Not the best plans.

We can solve the issues we face if we do one thing at a time, address one problem at a time and, wherever possible, keep the pieces separate and the issues distinct. We actually can, with discipline and planning, take on each part and create a chain reaction that will solve the whole.

Don’t ignore.

Don’t demolish.

Work the problem. Work it piece-by-piece.

We don’t expect our teachers to teach everything at once. We don’t expect our students to learn everything at once. We cannot solve each issue our schools face all at once.

But if we don’t start with the first step, we’ll never solve anything.

And if we try to jump to the last step, we’ll likely solve even less.

EduQuote of the Week: August 22 – 28, 2016

The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.

Todd Whittaker

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Teach & Serve II, No. 2 – Playlist 2016-2017

Teach & Serve II, No. 2 – Playlist 2016-2017

August 17, 2016

As I don’t work in school settings anymore, I have adapted some of these rituals. I still rearrange my offices – if only the memorabilia on the walls and shelves. I still move the furniture. And I still put together the playlist.

Playlist.PNGI worked in high schools for over 20 years and I loved the fall. I loved returning to the rituals I’d left behind in May and I sank comfortably back into them I loved gearing up for back to school, cleaning the classroom, writing lesson plans, preparing for the year.

I remember being in various classrooms or sundry offices decorating the walls and moving desks and furniture around, trying to visually symbolize the beginning of something new and fresh. I would come to school with a CD player or I would take one from the library. Please, don’t tell on me. I don’t know what the statute of limitations is on procuring devices from the library without signing for them.

The music to which I would listen was, years and years back, whatever album had most struck me in the prior summer. Later, when I could burn CDs, I would make a Back-to-School Playlist. Still later, I would program what I wanted on my iPhone, grab some speakers (again, from the library), set them to 11 and get to work. And, though I doubt that any of the new teachers with whom I worked when I was an assistant principal remember, I carried over that musical tradition to training programs and I would play my favorite back to school tracks in transition times during our meetings.

As I don’t work in school settings anymore, I have adapted some of these rituals. I still rearrange my offices – if only the memorabilia on the walls and shelves. I still move the furniture. And I still put together the playlist.

In Teach & Serve Volume I last year, I wrote about #OneSong, stealing the idea from my good friend and esteemed educator Sean Gaillard. The playlist is more than one song… it’s a concept album for an entire school year.

How do songs make my playlist? They land there for one of two reasons.

First, I like how they make me feel. In the fall as the year begins, I am searching for energy, excitement and enthusiasm. You won’t find too many ballads on the playlist, but you may find some instrumentals.

Second, the lyrics resonate with me, move me, inspire me and send me a message.

I listen to the playlist all year, adding to it, deleting from, adapting it like any good teacher should do.

Here’s this year’s edition (at this point):

  • My Old School – Steely Dan
    • I like the idea of getting back to where we’ve been and though the actual point of the song may not wholly positive, I resonate with the phrase “my old school.”
  • Carry On – Crosby, Stills and Nash
    • Soaring harmonies, a surprisingly upbeat pace and a great message. Carry on, teachers! Carry! On!
  • Classical Gas – Mason Williams
    • Is there a better, more uplifting pop guitar piece?
  • Someday We’ll Know – New Radicals
    • Teaching is such a hopeful profession. Someday we’ll know if we made a difference (spoiler alert: you make a difference!)
  • To Sir, with Love – Lulu
    • A classic, must have for every teacher.
  • Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? – Chicago
    • At the beginning of the year, does anybody care?
  • Everyday Is a Winding Road – Sheryl Crow
    • Good anthem to think of the long view of the school year
  • Masterblaster – Stevie Wonder
    • Sometimes, you just want to have fun as the year begins.
  • Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
    • This is an obvious choice, yes? The chorus is a rousing mantra when we let ourselves take things too seriously
  • It Keeps You Running – The Doobie Brothers
    • It sure does.
  • Teacher, Teacher – 38 Special
    • Another classic that actually asks the right question: “Can you teach me?”
  • Paradise – Coldplay
    • We’re shooting for something like this, right?

The list will grow and contract and change with my moods during the 2016-2017 campaign and that’s good. We shouldn’t be too static in our approach to our work. We should rock it!

What are you listening to this fall?

EduQuote of the Week: August 15 – 21, 2016

Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.

Confucius

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