EduQuote of the Week: October 30 – November 5, 2017

Halloween

We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.

– Stephen King

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Teach & Serve III, No. 12 – Parents Are Partners

Teach & Serve III, No. 12

Parents Are Partners

October 25, 2017

…more parents than not are like my mother. They are advocates, appropriately. They are supportive – of their kids and of their kids’ schools. They are loving.

Today is my mother’s birthday and, no, I will not mention her age.

Looking back on a quarter century of work in education and with the experience of being a parent myself for over 20 years, I can say with certainty that I am very lucky to have Mom by my mom. When I was growing up, Mom was incredibly supportive of me. She was helpful. She was kind. She gave me all that she had (likely more than she should have) and was my strongest and best advocate.

She encouraged my interests. She came to my events. She cheered me on.

She loved me.

Me and Mom circa 1981.

Yet she also allowed me to make choices. She allowed me to fail. She allowed me to learn on our own.

When I had challenges at school – and I had some of these all the way into my college career – she listened, she empathized, she told me, in the first instance, to handle things on my own. If I could not, she would, appropriately, step in and advocate for me. If she felt my “side” was worthy, she would advocate for me, tirelessly.

You would have to ask my sisters if they remember our childhoods and Mom’s support of us in the same manner. I bet they do. We had good childhoods with great parents.

I am aware that not every student with whom I have worked can say the same. That is a reality I learned early in my career and it still causes me great sadness. Not every parent parents like my mom did and not every kid feels as loved as I did.

Still, more parents than not are like my mother. They are advocates, appropriately. They are supportive – of their kids and of their kids’ schools. They are loving.

And, critically, they are our partners.

It is far too easy for us as educators to stereotype parents, to resist their questions, to ignore their emails and calls.

In most cases, the parents of our students only want their children to be successful and they trust us to lead their children to that success. When we work together, supporting the student from both school and home, we have a greater chance to make a positive difference in the lives of those students. When we work with parents, our students will, likely, have a better experience.

If you are an educator of any length of service, you can think of times you have crossed proverbial swords with parents. You may even be able to remember times you took stands with parents that you later questioned. What good comes of this? Who wins?

The real question, when we fight with parents, is who loses?

In almost every case, it is the student who loses.

We are educators and our primary focus must be on the students we serve but, if we forget to first view their parents as our partners until the parents prove otherwise, then we have done our students a great disservice.

Parents are our partners and what better partners could we have than someone who loves our students more than we do?

EduQuote of the Week: October 23 – 29, 2017

Freedom of Speech Week

By limiting or denying freedom of speech and expression, we take away a lot of potential. We take away thoughts and ideas before they even have the opportunity to hatch. We build a world around negatives – you can’t say, think, or do this or that.

– Jill McCorkle

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Teach & Serve III, No. 11 – Get Out of Your Comfort Zones

Teach & Serve III, No. 11

Get Out of Your Comfort Zones

October 18, 2017

Our schools are places where change is expected. Indeed, change is mandatory. We ought to be aware of when we are not pushing ourselves to change, to adapt and grow, to look at the world through different lenses and in different ways.

In the early months of this school year, I was texting with some former colleagues about rituals around the first days of class. In one of my former lives, I was partially responsible for planning and executing new teacher orientation, something I worked on for almost 10 years. By the end of those years, I was pretty comfortable with what we were doing and innovation was not what I was seeking.

It should have been.

As leaders in schools, we must be aware of when we have settled into a comfort zone, and there are many into which we can sink. And stay.

Perhaps we are comfortable with our preferred decision-making style and, more often than not, make our decisions only from that place. Maybe we are pleased with all the support staff we have around us to the point that we do not feel a need to provide them performance reviews any more. It could be that we have developed close rapport with only a small segment of our staff and we have begun not to look beyond them for input or help.

It could be anything.

When we settle in to patterns as leaders, when we allow ourselves to become too comfortable with who we are and what we are doing, we run the risk of stagnation.

Our schools are places where change is expected. Indeed, change is mandatory. We ought to be aware of when we are not pushing ourselves to change, to adapt and grow, to look at the world through different lenses and in different ways.

There is an entire offshoot of leadership study and organizational structure that deals with discomfort, with creating disequilibrium, with embracing the results of being put of our normal stride.

There is much to be gained by pushing ourselves to be new and different, to alter our approach, to grow in our roles.

First, however, we have to be aware of when we are in comfort zones.

Then we have to get out of them.

EduQuote of the Week: October 16 – 22, 2017

Teen Read Week

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

– Benjamin Franklin

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Teach & Serve III, No. 10 – Proceed with Caution

Teach & Serve III, No. 10

Proceed with Caution

October 11, 2017

While I may believe I never treated a student in the manner this student described, she/he felt treated negatively by me, felt I did not care, felt I was a negative force and a bad teacher.

This is a hard one.

I was in high school classrooms for almost 25 years before leaving that work for my current position. I choose the word “classrooms” intentionally as I made certain, even as I transitioned from full time teacher to full time administrator, that I was assigned at least one two semester class every year I worked in secondary education. I felt that was important in terms of keeping me grounded in the real work of the school which is, obviously, working with students.

In those almost 25 years, I am sure I worked with thousands of students. I live in a kind of ambient anxiety about running into them now because I am terrible about remembering them names which is unfortunate. I wish I could remember all the kids I had in class with me, but I simply do not have that kind of bandwidth. Many I know do and I am so impressed by them.

When I consider those years, I have only fond memories of students in my classes, fond memories of all the students whether they worked hard or not, participated well or not, got in trouble or not. I look back on that mass of kids with a smile.

I have always assumed that students who sat in the desks in my classrooms had much the same thoughts about me, if not a pleasant feeling about being in my room, then, at least, an idea that we were in something together, that I respected them and that we shared some good times. It has never occurred to me that some of those students felt as though I did not care about them, did not know them and did not value them.

No. I should write it had never occurred to me, not until last spring.

Facebook is a wonderful tool and I have really enjoyed connecting with people from my past, including students. I made it policy not to “friend” them when they were still in school, but, if they requested after graduation and I remembered who they were (because looking at their pictures always helped!), I accepted. I have had many a conversation through FB with former students and it has been a pleasure to follow their lives in this pretty limited fashion.

As it turns out, some of my former students have even read these blogs on education that I write weekly. I discovered this by seeing the infrequent “likes” they might click after a post and I found out that some are really reading these things when I received a message from a student.

The content of the message was not what I expected. Essentially, the student felt that I bullied her/him in school, that I did not care about her/him, that I made a point of sticking it to her/him. When this student was considering transferring from the school, she/he remembers many teachers trying to change his/her mind. The student is certain I did not recall her/his name.

It was a long message and a powerful one.

I remembered the student quite well. That is the reason I had accepted her/his friend request. This is a student that I would recognize if we ran into each other. This is a student of whom I had warm and fond memories.

This student did not feel the same. Situations I remembered one way, this student recalled in an almost polar opposite fashion. And, to be clear, the student’s perception is reality. While I may believe I never treated a student in the manner this student described, she/he felt treated negatively by me, felt I did not care, felt I was a negative force and a bad teacher.

There is not a thing I can do to go back and change what I did to make this student feel this way, though I very much wish there were.

The benefit of this exchange between us was for me to be more reflective looking back, for me to consider things from my former students’ perspectives and for me to take myself down from the pedestal I have placed myself upon.

The good leaders and teachers I know welcome challenging input, they solicit ways to improve, they listen to those they have hurt and they invite pointed critiques.

Then they grow.

I have grown from reading these comments. Looking forward, I am more aware of how my actions and interactions influence others. Looking back, I am more aware of how my nostalgia colors my view of the past.

These are good things. They are hard things, but good.

Leaders must be cautious when they (as I often do in these posts) pat themselves on the back. Leaders must remember that their actions are interpreted, minute-by-minute, by those with whom they journey. Leaders should never get too comfortable thinking they have it all figured out.

Leaders must proceed with caution, for they are responsible for the perceptions they create.

EduQuote of the Week: October 9 – 15, 2017

Newspaper Week

A newspaper is a public trust, and we will suffer as a society without them.

– Michael Moore

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Teach & Serve III, No. 9 – Who’s in Trouble?

Teach & Serve III, No. 9

Who’s in Trouble?

October 4, 2017

Give me leaders who understand this, leaders who know that the buck (and everything else) does stop with them. Give me leaders who say: “I get it. I will take it.”

In my years as an administrator, one of the teams on which I served to which I wish I could have offered more was the Student Assistance Team.

The Student Assistance Team was made up of administrators and teachers and directors. Anyone on staff could refer a student to this group. It was designed to catch students who might fall through any cracks in our program. It was designed as a place where kids could be discussed, plans could be made, help could be created. It was designed to keep kids on track socially and academically, to respond to their needs and to strengthen the overall community by assisting those who needed the most support.

It was a great work of which to be a part.

Many schools have groups such as this. All schools should have them. Schools ought to be about this. They ought to have these sorts of nets in place. They ought to have people committed to keeping their eyes on as many students as possible. They ought to know that protecting students is as important as teaching them.

Here’s the question: do we have these same kinds of supports for the adults in our buildings?

If we do not, we should think hard about developing them.

As leaders in our schools – as administrators and department chairs – part of our role in serving our staffs is knowing who needs to be served and how. Leaders must be as vigilant about the health and wellbeing of the adults in their charge as they are about the students in their charge.

This is not a lot to expect.

At the end of the equation lies the students. The operators in between the administration and the students are the teachers and staff, the adults in the building. To care about the kids is to care about those who are most closely in contact with them.

Leaders have to know who is in trouble on their staff. Beyond that, they have to try to help those who are in trouble.

When I was as assistant principal, my responsibilities revolved, primarily, around working with the faculty. Looking back, I know there was more I could have done, there were people to whom I could have been much better, colleagues I should have worked with in a far more compassionate way. However, I can say with honesty that I attempted to make it my work to know who the adults in my charge were, how they were and what they needed to be the best version of themselves.

Bringing the best version of themselves to all the did at the school made them better, the experience of the students better, the school better.

How would I ever know if a teacher needed to be non-renewed or replaced if I did not take the time to know them, to hear their perspective, to work with them? How could I advise my principal on hiring and firing if I did not try to engage and understand? How could I help if I did not know who needed help? I tried to connect because I thought it was critical to my role. I could have done better and, in many cases, wish I had, but I did understand that leadership required this of me.

Leaders who do not understand that knowing who on their staff is in trouble is as important as knowing which students might be in trouble are missing something critical.

Take care of those in need, adult and student alike. Make their lives as fulfilled as you can.

That is one of the critical roles of leadership.

EduQuote of the Week: October 2 – 8, 2017

Mental Illness Awareness Week

You, yourself, as much as anyone else deserve love and affection.

– The Buddha

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EduQuote of the Week: September 18 – 24, 2017

Keep Kids Creative Week

Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics.

– Victor Pinchuk

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