Teach & Serve IV, No. 12 | Icubators

Teach & Serve IV, No. 12

Incubators

October 24, 2018

If one looks at the calendars of school leadership, department chairs, teachers and staff, one would find a significant number of meetings there on.

Is this inherently a bad thing?

 

I am not sure if a study has been done of how many meetings it takes to effectively run a school. Anecdotally (and I understand that the plural of “anecdote” is not data), I gather from my experience working in and with schools that it, completely scientifically speaking, takes an awful lot. If one looks at the calendars of school leadership, department chairs, teachers and staff, one would find a significant number of meetings there on.

Is this inherently a bad thing?

No, it is not. Meetings – face-to-face gatherings of committees and teams – are important elements in the work of a school. I do not deny that. However, this supposition that a preponderance of meetings is not a bad thing presupposes that the meetings people attend are good meetings, meetings that have reason to occur and meetings that are well run.

If they are otherwise, honestly, let us stop wasting people’s time.

My wife speaks of a person she once knew of whose was engaged in placing baby incubators in third world settings. He was engaged in giving life-saving technology to those who need it.

That seems like important work to me.

Of meetings, he would say: “Any meeting I am in that doesn’t help get an incubator into a home is a meeting I don’t need to be in.”

That is an interesting and compelling perspective.

As educational leaders, we are not putting incubators in third world countries. I understand that. But we are doing important. We are doing critical work.

I love and embrace the sentiment that, when I am wasting people’s time with meetings they do not need to be in, I am taking them away from that critical work. When I am monopolizing their time needlessly, they are not getting the incubators where they should go.

That is on me.

As educational leaders, let us be careful when we require people to meet with us. Let us consider that our meetings, when we need to have them, ought to be well planned, well run, start and end on time and have a purpose. Let us remember that we do not want to waste one another’s time.

Let us consider incubators.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 11 | Lane Eight

Teach & Serve IV, No. 11

Lane Eight

October 17, 2018

Know their hopes and their fears. Know their weakness and their strengths. Know who they are and what they do.

I was blessed to work with a talented administrator and friend for 20 years. He was the Dean of Students (the man in charge of student discipline) when I was a high school student, was in the role when I returned to my alma mater as a teacher and remained Dean all the years I worked there. From time-to-time, we still meet for breakfast and it is ever a delight to chat with him. He knows his stuff.

I served as a Dean of Students in my time at my alma mater and the two years I did the job were among the toughest ones of my career. Deans of discipline are not made, I think. They are born. I was not born to the work, but my old friend was.

Having that kind of longevity in a job as demanding as this surely indicates more than a little something about his ability for the work. And his character. Last spring, at one of these breakfasts I mentioned previously, I and another colleague sat with him and we got to talking (as we always do) about the work we love and share and what has kept us in it for so long.  

He talked about being connected to the students. That is where his focus was. Among the stories about the latest antics the students pull and the serious challenges that our students face, he spoke of maintaining his connection with the kids. He believes knowing the kids – their lives and their desires, their hopes and their dreams – is what keeps educators like us excited for the work.

He is absolutely right.

My friend was a varsity head swim coach (and an award winning, all-state recognized and honored one at that) for many years. His experience as a coach is, perhaps, more impressive than his experience as an administrator. Over his oatmeal and apples at breakfast that morning he put his theory of working with students succinctly into a perfect swimming metaphor:

“Lane One may win you state championships, but you better know what’s going on in Lane Eight. Lane Eight may never win a point, but it can change your locker room and the whole atmosphere of your team real fast.”

That was it, his philosophy in a nutshell.

Know Lane Eight as well as you know Lane One and, by implication, know the swimmers in every lane in between.

Know their hopes and their fears. Know their weakness and their strengths. Know who they are and what they do.

Know them.

It is simply too easy for us as educators to focus only on the challenging students or to center ourselves entirely on the successful ones. We can too readily find our focus narrowed. We can lose sight of the larger picture. We can miss the forest while barking up the wrong (or the right) trees.

Breadth and scope. All the lanes. All the students. All our colleagues.

In as much as it is possible, we must keep our focus wide.

Because Lane One might bring victory but Lane Eight might bring disaster.

Great advice from a special man.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 9 | Take the Time

Teach & Serve IV, No. 9

Take the Time

October 3, 2018

Why is she so successful in getting students to care about her and the subjects she teaches?

Because she cares about them. Deeply. And she is not afraid to let them know it

My wife is a high school teacher. A veteran. She has been doing the work for years and she simply knows her stuff. I admire her so much and respect what she does and how she does it. I want to be more like her in so many ways, including the manner in which I work with students. I have been able to watch her in the classroom – we used to team teach – and I have had hundreds of hours of conversation with her about teaching and about students.

I have learned her secret.

Why is she so successful in getting students to care about her and the subjects she teaches?

Because she cares about them. Deeply. And she is not afraid to let them know it.

A case in point: last year, as she was moderating an after-school club, there was an issue with a student. Unbeknownst to my wife, this student was being removed by a coach from a role on a team, a role for which the student had worked very hard and a role he very clearly wanted. The young man was stressed out, maybe by the club, maybe by the coach, maybe by his school work, maybe by other forces. He was at his wits end. And he lost it.

He fled the room screaming and ran from the building – and this was after hours.

My wife, who had been working in another classroom heard the commotion (perhaps it is appropriate to note that the coach who triggered the event did not call for my wife). She went out after him and got him to stop running, quit yelling and calm down. She brought him back in the building, asked him his concerns, engaged him and told him that, given his state of upset, he would need to call a parent to pick him up from practice. She listened in as he made the call.

Perhaps any competent and caring educator would take these steps. While I would argue that experience has suggested to me that may not be the case, let us accept that most would do so.

It is the next steps that distinguish my wife.

She spoke that night with the student when he returned home. She spoke with his mother that night as well. She spoke to them for hours. She made a plan for the student to come to the next practice and meet with the coach – a meeting my wife moderated. Following that meeting, she spoke again on the phone with the student and the student’s mother. She offered to go out to coffee with them. When she realized that the dynamics at play for the kid and his family went beyond his role on the club, she brought in the appropriate resources.

She could have walked away or shied away or dealt with the scenario in any number of less responsible and less satisfying ways.

She did not and the kid’s life was better for it.

My wife took the time to engage the student. She took the time to listen. She took the time to care.

Our students and our children deserve more teachers like my wife in their lives.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 1 | Temporal Landmarks

Teach & Serve IV, No. 1

Temporal Landmarks

August 8, 2018

Hopefully we are rested. Hopefully we are ready. Hopefully, we are excited.

Let us embrace the moment because this moment – the start of the school year – has power.

You cannot hold back the sea and you cannot hold back the beginning of the school year.

Those of us involved in education are ramping up, feeling the itch, sensing the inevitable. In the coming days or weeks, we will embark on the opening rituals of the 2018-2019 school year: meetings and planning, cleaning and decorating, organizing and implementing. While we may now be stealing the last few moments of summer vacation or time in our buildings without students, we know that those moments are, at this point, fleeting and running out on us.

Hopefully we are rested. Hopefully we are ready. Hopefully, we are excited.

Let us embrace the moment because this moment – the start of the school year – has power.

In his work When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (which was suggested to me by a wonderful friend and colleague and which  I highly recommend) sociologist and scientist Daniel H. Pink writes about when people do things, when they are most successful at doing things and when they should do things.

Particularly salient to those of us in education at this time of year are his thoughts on temporal landmarks defined as dates that have significance and that draw a line between what is past and what is to come. Building on the work of researchers Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, and Jason Riis, Pink says of a temporal landmark: “This new period offers a chance to start again by relegating our old selves to the past. It disconnects us from the past self’s mistakes and imperfections, and leaves us confident about our new, superior selves.”

Wow. That is a very interesting way for us to consider ourselves as we start this new school year.

Last year, and the years prior to it, are in the past. We can, as appropriate, disconnect from them. It is not that we forget them, we simply leave them behind in favor of this new year. We use the temporal landmark of the beginning of the school year to set goals, to dream, to let go of our past “mistakes and imperfections” – which we all have.

This is a good thing.

Even better is embracing the confidence that comes with starting a new. Better still is envisioning ourselves as we start this new year as superior to who we were last year.

One of my favorite things about being in education is that our time is broken up into manageable segments. I have not, until this year, however, thought about these segments as temporal landmarks. It is such a powerful way to reflect and to project.

As we start this new year, let us reflect on who we were last year and learn from those reflections. Let us take into this year all that was good in us last year. Let us be confident as we stride into 2018-2019. Let us know that we are better – we are superior – to who we were last year and let us start this year compassionately and confidently.

The temporal landmark of these last summer days leads us to wonderful possibilities of a bright, new year. Blessings as we begin!

EduQuote of the Week: May 28 – SUMMER, 2018

EduQuote Will Return This Fall!

Let’s do what we love and do a lot of it.

– Marc Jacobs

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EduQuote of the Week: May 21 – 27, 2018

Medical Services Week

I’ve never met a person who does not want a safer world, better medical care and education for their children, and peace with their neighbours. I just don’t meet those people. What I meet, over and over again, as I travel around, is that the essential human condition is optimistic – in every one of these places.

– Eric Schmidt

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EduQuote of the Week: May 14 – 20, 2018

Police Week

Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law.

– Barack Obama

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EduQuote of the Week: May 2 – 6, 2018

Salvation Army Week

With the backdrop of The Salvation Army’s century and a half of service to the world’s poor, these songs and reflections are born of meaningful engagement with a living Gospel.

– Sara Groves

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EduQuote of the Week: April 30 – May 1, 2018

No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another.

– Joseph Addison

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EduQuote of the Week: April 23 – 29, 2018

Volunteer Week

Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.

– H. Jackson Brown Jr.

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