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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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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Teach & Serve III, No. 8 – One-on-One

Teach & Serve III, No. 8

One-on-One

September 27, 2017

She was frustrated that I had pulled her aside in public, as-it-were, that I had not scheduled a time with her to talk, that I had set her day off in a bad direction, taking a moment from her harried morning made her day all the more complicated. She asked me why I had not put something on the calendar to speak with her one-on-one.

My first role as a young and inexperienced administrator was Dean of Students (which, in the context in which I was working was Dean of Discipline) for an all-girls high school. We were a small, start-up and we all wore many hats, as it were, during the first years of the school’s existence. Our administrative team was small, so much work was more than being Dean, it crossed over into teacher supervision and other, like tasks.

I do not remember why I felt I had to ask a teacher about an issue one morning. I do not even recall what the issue was, but I think it was disciplinary – something about a student. What I remember completely is having that teacher’s name on my mind to talk to, running into her in the hallway as she was on her way to class, taking a moment or two of her time, having the conversation and going on my merry way, satisfied that I had taken care of whatever it was I felt I had to take care of.

The teacher was in my office asking for a meeting at the end of that self-same school day.

I took the meeting.

She was frustrated that I had pulled her aside in public, as-it-were, that I had not scheduled a time with her to talk, that I had set her day off in a bad direction, taking a moment from her harried morning made her day all the more complicated. She asked me why I had not put something on the calendar to speak with her one-on-one.

As I mentioned, I do not remember what the issue was, but I know that if the issue had been of the “car-on-fire” variety – something that had to be dealt with in the moment, immediately – I would recall that.

No, this was something that I thought needed to be addressed, but I addressed it when I did and how I did simply because I ran into the teacher, not with more forethought than that.

That was a mistake and one I hold on to over a decade after it happened.

There are times that we as teachers and administrators feel we must “grab” someone as we see them – in the hallway or at lunch or the like – because our days our packed and our time is limited. But we ought to limit those types of encounters inasmuch as possible. These kind of impromptu conversations and connections may help us cross items from our lists, but they leave no time for the person with whom we are speaking to consider, to prepare, to fully participate.

Yes, our schedules are full. They might even have more ports-of-call than our colleagues’ schedules do. Yes, we have much to accomplish, but so do they. Yes, we have to get things done. Our colleagues must get things done, too. We have to take all of this into account when we wish to speak with someone.

Our default should be talking to people in scheduled, one-on-one conversations. Our default should be making our schedules work with theirs. Our default should be going to their spaces, not making them come to our.s

This is not too much to ask. It is courteous. It is helpful. It is professional. Surely, as leaders, we are up to it.

EduQuote of the Week: September 25 – October 1, 2017

Active Aging Week

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.

– James Baldwin

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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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Teach & Serve III, No. 6 – Which Hours Are Yours?

Teach & Serve III, No. 6

Which Hours Are Yours?

September 13, 2017

My wife, who is a talented, veteran teacher, posed a few weeks back. We were discussing homework and its efficacy and she said: “Which hours do we think are ours?”

If you are a teacher or administrator at any school level and you are aware of current conversations and research around homework, you are simply not paying attention. There is mounting evidence that homework needs to be rethought, now. Like immediately. Like before you do anything else.

However, we do not always have the time we would like to read and research ourselves so, rather than direct you to articles and data (though it IS out there), I will break this down for you very simply.

My wife, who is a talented, veteran teacher, posed a few weeks back. We were discussing homework and its efficacy and she said:

“Which hours do we think are ours?”

“What?” I asked.

“Which of the kids’ hours do teachers think are ours?”

What followed was a pretty damned enlightening conversation about the demands placed upon students by their schools, their extra curriculars, their jobs, their families and their lives overall. For our data set, we employed our three college-aged kids who were three very different kinds of students when they were in high school.

The questions and timelines we generated were noteworthy.

“If we say classes have a half hour of homework a night (a pretty standard but totally arbitrary measure), and the kid has 4 classes (again, arbitrary), we are talking about two hours a night.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Two hours. On a typical night. No major assignments, no long-term projects. Typical night.”

“Sure.”

“So, school gets out at let’s say, 3:00. We want the kid in bed by, what, 11:00? That’s eight hours.”

And this is where it got interesting. How would those eight hours be carved up? How would they be used?

Because, many kids have two to three-hour sports and/or extracurricular commitments. Now we are down to five or four hours. They ought to have an hour for dinner, too, yes? Four or three hours. Many students work. Many take care of family members at home. The social lives of kids connecting with each other is critically important. How much time for these things? An hour? Two? Do they get to take in any news? Do they get to relax? Do they get to spend time in reflection?

Do they get to breathe?

Our kids did their homework to varying degrees of completion and, as teachers, we assume that is the case, right? Some kids pick and choose what we assign. Some kids “never” do their homework. Some kids, however, do everything they are asked.

And they have limited time to complete their work no matter which approach they take.

Those eight after school hours (which, again, is an arbitrary number and, likely, is too high) disappear most quickly.

So, as you contemplate what is important for your students to do outside of school and what is not, as you develop your plans for homework, please ask the following question:

Which hours are yours?

EduQuote of the Week: September 11 – 17, 2017

Day of Prayer and Remembrance

Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.

– President Obama

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