Tag Archives: 21st Century Learning

What Really Makes a Great School

So, I talk a great deal about my amazing students, my incredible staff. All true. Today I am grateful for my unbelievable parents. Last night, I shared a situation at our PTA Meeting and 5th-grade performance, I shared a situation with them and asked for their support. Their commitment to our school and community is unbelievable. This might be a given if you were talking about a roomful of people from the same backgrounds. I have families from all walks of life, all different viewpoints. One thing is undeniable-they love our school. I had a situation where an outsider made some judgments based on paper scores and a school rating website. I asked them to be more vocal about Degan and they stepped up to the plate.

And just as a public service announcement, STAAR is only as good at telling you about a school as you compare apples to apples. It doesn’t tell you that my current fifth graders entered 1st grade with only half knowing their letters and sounds. (Because some of these kiddos just didn’t have the opportunity to have quality learning experience before coming to school and not because their parents didn’t love them with all their hearts. It’s all about access to resources!!). I can tell you that these same students were only about 61% passing STAAR on math as third graders. These same kids were over 70% passing in math last year and after our first district benchmark was over 90% and ABOVE the district average.

Before you judge a book by its STAAR scores you might want to dig a little deeper to see the untold story. Does the TEA accountability report tell you that? Does it tell you how my diverse students wrote their own performance? Does it tell you how they “circle” and as a group work through their issues with each other and show value? Does it tell you about how innovative they are and how they use technology to create products to show their thinking or that one of my students is creating a documentary on being an NEU school and how that has affected her? I mean really, if kids could pass the test when they walked in the door does that prove a school is good versus one who grew kids like I described?

Oh, don’t worry. We are taking care of STAAR too. Not with test prep or drill and kill. But rather by deep learning. My students will accomplish whatever they dream of because they are amazing, they have incredible teachers, and because of our parents….they are the best in the world and support their school. They aren’t afraid of diversity and are willing to do whatever it takes, too.

Game On- Level UP!

As I prepared for the 2017-18  school year, I had lots to consider:  my learning the past year as a part of the Texas Principal’s Visioning Institute, the feedback that I received from my students, staff, and parents through various data points, the past that had resulted in the path Degan was on, and the aspirations that we had for our students. The question that kept ringing in my head was “How in the world do I create a vision to help us move forward with all of this to consider?”

My campus had been fortunate to experience lots of success and recognition for the accomplishments we have made with transformation.  At the same time, we have also experienced some pretty big hits to culture. It’s hard to put this much energy into getting our flywheel moving. I think we all thought after three years, it would be starting to have its own momentum.   It’s not very comforting to hear that real change takes three to five years when you are in year four.  How would we keep moving forward? What would be our rallying cry for this next push to transform learning in meaningful ways so that our students could be successful?

The answer was actually in the data.  It was clear that as a campus we had made great strides in understanding what it was students were to learn and proven strategies to ensure that learning.  We understood our changing demographics and could relate to them and build meaningful relationships.  Yet, we were still short of the goal.  What our data showed was that we needed to evolve in how we were having teachers use technology and that teachers wanting to design more engaging, innovative work, but they needed time and practice to make this happen.

Then it hit me.  It was time to get our “game on”, literally, and level up learning for our students.

I love the mental image this theme created.  It acknowledges that first, our work, like games should be fun!  It should be challenging enough to keep our interest, while still being attainable.  We should receive feedback that adds value and helps us shape our decision-making to improve our processes.  We need to feel a part of a network in achieving the goal.

I am so excited about this year.  Today, we had our first professional learning and we made connections to the work of Jane McGonigal and her book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  While not everything in learning has to be digital, it recognizes that games release some of the control to the gamer and allow them to test out theories to achieve the goals.  My teachers had the chance to explore how to incorporate some of these concepts into their learning design today.  Today teachers created and shared some cool new ideas.  I can’t wait to see the impact in the classrooms with students!

For my afternoon learning, I got to reconnect with the Texas Principal’s Visioning Institute.  Listening to Alan November just reinforced my belief that my campus is on the right path.  When we only focus on testing, we don’t have fun.

Our current generation of students has never lived without technology in their lives.  They spend 2-3 hours a day “gaming”.  According to McGonigal, over the course of their school years from fifth grade to graduation, they will likely spend as much time on games as they do in school.  We have to prepare these new learners for a new future.  That may mean that as adults, we have to “learn” how they learn and incorporate it into the knowledge we want them to gain.  It’s time to level up and do things differently than we have always done. GAME ON!

 

Hills to Die On

The phrase “a hill to die on” is the idea that the battle you are facing could cost you everything.  This metaphor may have originated from the Viet Nam War and the Battle of Hamburger Hill when many lives were lost, but it seemed to be a position of little strategic significance.

"What makes this battle so significant is that the hill was of little strategic value, which was proven by the fact that it was abandoned by the US forces two weeks later. But more significant is the fact that the fall-out from this battle back home forced the Nixon administration to order the end of major tactical ground operations in Vietnam. So in a sense the hill and the battle were won while at the same time losing the war!"

As a first-year principal, I remember often saying “that’s not a hill to die on for me.” Essentially, I was trying to communicate that the things my staff members were asking about weren’t a battle worth risking everything for in my opinion. My mindset was if it doesn’t matter, why not let someone else win. Whether schedules or teaching resources, these weren’t the things that really mattered and so if it allowed for some power and control.  It was worth it to me to let them have that satisfaction of choice.

However, at some point, I realized I hadn’t established the hills I was ready to defend.  Establishing your hills actually takes more work as a leader.  It involves picking the things that really matter, and you will never give in when they are in question.  Choosing is critically important because one can’t defend every position, or you spread yourself too thin.  As a leader, determining your “hills” is probably one of the most important things, you will do in establishing your campus culture and eventually your legacy.

It was probably during my third year as a campus principal I could finally articulate my ‘hills.’ First, no matter what, I wanted to make sure every decision made on my campus was what was best for kids.  Sometimes this wasn’t what was easiest for adults, but it was always what was best for kids. After all, in a school, children are our entire reason for existence.  I think I knew this one from the time I entered education.  It is simply our purpose.

My second hill took longer to determine, but now it is so easy to stand behind.  EVERYONE grows. From our students to teachers, to parents to me.  We all grow. If you can’t grow, how in the world can you teach others to grow? I personally don’t care how fast you are growing as long as you do.  Sometimes, the person the furthest behind grows the fastest because they have the most room.  Sometimes, you may have a rock star who thinks they’ve reached the finish line.  I will take the person who grows over someone who is stagnant any day.  Ultimately, you can’t teach someone to learn and grow if you aren’t an expert in a growth mindset and constantly this skill yourself.

My third hill is advocacy.  With public education under attack today, I believe public educators must stand up for their school, their district, and public education as a whole.  We have an important job. It is the job that makes all other jobs possible.  We can prepare our students to be better at collaboration, communication, and problem-solving than the generations before us.  We can teach them to value those that are different from themselves and live in harmony.  It does not mean that public education is perfect, but it does mean that it is vital.  We cannot afford to allow others to spread misconceptions and false information about what we do, and we certainly cannot be thesource of such detriment.

I do believe you cannot defend every hill.  Outside of these three things, every other decision I encounter means considering how that decision impacts these three priorities. If it does matter, I let it go. A while ago, I encountered a colleague where everything was a big deal.  Everything had to be a battle. It was hard to support her, but because it was exhausting.  I think if you try to defend everything, you just end up losing it all.  It is impossible to feel that passionate on every battle, so you end up just expending all your resources. People aren’t willing to continually risk what they have if you ask them to take risks for things that don’t matter.  Be strategic. Defend the important hills, but choose wisely.

 

 

 

This I Believe

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a leader for the wrong reasons. I wanted to be a leader because I thought that was the person in charge. Then, with maturity and many failed leadership experiences, I began to see the heavy burden that comes with the leadership role. Leadership even became something I avoided for a while. This is because I came to believe leadership is not about power, but all about service. Service to people, service to the community, service to a greater cause.

This I believe…

Leadership is about knowing the people you aspire to lead and being willing to make the sacrifices necessary for their success. It is about filling their cups, taking their burden, celebrating them whenever possible, and having a deep enough relationship with them that you can tell them things they need to hear to improve without damaging the connection.

Leadership is about recognizing that bad leadership will motivate people to be different, while good leadership will motivate people to be more. Leaders must show grace even when none is given in return. Walking the walk, inspiring hope, constant reflection and always considering the “what ifs” for improving the human condition for those they serve are the traits of a good leader.

Leadership is about having a continually developing a vision of where your organization needs to go to make the world a better place, and having the skills to continually learn and grow to adjust and correct the course to get there. It really is never about the destination. Rather, it is always about the journey and the experiences that shape us along the way.

Leadership is about modeling risk-taking. Sometimes risk-taking results in failures. But part of that modeling is getting back up, learning from mistakes, and starting again with a new perspective. Even more important is recognizing that sometimes you have big wins when big risks pay off. But even then, you don’t stop. You celebrate the moment and then form your next plan…you keep learning….you keep growing…you keep getting better rather than settling for good enough.

Leadership is about developing the capacity of others. True leaders recognize that the most important missions are too big for any one person. Therefore they teach and model and release responsibility so that a legacy exists long beyond the leader’s time. Leaders recognize when the required path is uncomfortable or hard but build on the strengths of those they lead to accomplishing the task despite the challenges. Leaders grow leaders, so the vision expands and has a greater impact of good.

Leadership is about being humble and giving all the credit to those you serve when things go right, but a true leader is willing to be accountable when things go wrong. This type of leader continually reflects on what they may have done to set others up for success so it can be repeated, but also considers the deficits in their actions that caused the failure and is willing to adjust their actions so that it doesn’t happen again.

Leadership can be exhausting. It can be thankless and focal point of blame when things don’t go right. Sometimes it would simply be easier to say, “This is how it’s going to be done because I said so.” Sometimes you want to close your door, or say “Not now.” You want to say, “What about me?” Sometimes, it can even be, “I give up.” Then I remember this is not leadership and start again.

This I believe, when done right, leadership cultivates others who are willing to serve and inspire others and this is how you make the world better.

Thank you to N2 Learning for this experience that helped define who I am as a leader, my partner in the experience Donna, my district administrators for this amazing opportunity, my constant support and mentor Sherry, for my incredible Degan Community who make me want to be better every day.

This I Believe 

No Excuses (Especially on Saturday)

Two years ago, my campus learned about No Excuses University. It happened accidentally when a visitor to our campus said, “Oh, you’re an NEU Campus.” I had no idea what it the world NEU was, so I looked it up. Basically, it is the implementation of best practices for instruction, combined with a passion for the learning of all students. It is a fierce commitment to adults not making excuses about why a child cannot succeed in school, but rather doing whatever it takes to overcome barriers and ensure that all children (no matter their background, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or disability) are proficient or advanced in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics so that they can go to college if they choose.

In trying to be aligned to this belief, my campus has looked at the students who we believed were not quite ready to hit that “proficient or advanced” expectation and created what we call NEU Saturday. This is a time where selected students come to school on Saturday for two hours so that they have a little extra time to learn. I need to be clear. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with our state assessment. My commitment is not to a test, but to these children’s being prepared for their future. If we do that right, they’ll be fine on a test, but the test isn’t the driving force.

I love this! Learning isn’t about worksheets! It’s about relationships, relevance to life, and things that can connect with the learner!
Because we aren’t bound by constraints of tutoring for a test, we serve all grades. YES, all grades, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. They come and a band of teachers welcome these children with open arms and celebrate the child’s commitment to his education. So many of my students are still learning that things don’t just happen to them, but through the choices they make, they have the power to change the direction of their lives. I tell each one of the students that they are the “chosen” ones. That their teachers specifically chose them to come to this special time because of the grit, growth mindset and commitment to no excuses they make every day.

We feed them a full breakfast. While I know it is big talk in Washington D.C. that breakfast doesn’t make a difference in education, that is just plain malarky. When people are hungry, they can’t think about anything, but their stomach growling and “hangry” is a reality. Many of my children rely on the food from school as their primary source of nutrition. It’s just a sack breakfast with cereal or a muffin, string cheese, juice, and milk, but knowing my students are getting one extra meal over the weekend makes a huge difference.

Then for the next two hours, I have an incredible staff that pours into these children. They talk with them, hug them, and provide them with meaningful learning. They do cool activities with Versa-tiles, read, and play games with higher-level thinking and strategy. There’s not one test prep material. Only opportunities for the students to think, discuss and problem solve in meaningful situations. The best part is that these students say this is the best day of the week and and ask to come back on Sunday, too!


There’s lots of criticism about public schools and their effectiveness. I haven’t seen that. Public education is the heart of our society’s future. It takes ensuring that all children have access to a quality education to ensure they have the tools to become productive citizens in the future. It is when we take off the constraints off and allow educators to do what they love and teach that this happens. They do whatever it takes because this is why we get into teaching: to see all children succeed. No excuses.

Why I Won’t Have a STAAR Pep Rally at My School

Pep Rallies before a standardized test have become a common occurrence in schools. A campus principal’s email can be flooded with people who want to get paid to be a part of these “pep rallies”.   I have been a part of this practice in the past, but since becoming a principal, I have been against this type of practice.  Why, because a ” STAAR Pep Rally” makes the important thing the test.  It sends the message to those people outside education that “the test” is what is important.  I am here to say a standardized test is the LEAST important thing that happens during a school year.

A test is what happens on one single day to measure all the learning that takes place in the course of a school year.  For it to be an accurate measure, all the variables for that would have to be absolutely perfect.  Students would have to have a great night’s’ sleep,  a well-balanced breakfast, a supportive emotional environment before school, and all the supports they need to be successful.

Let’s face it.  Some students have trauma at home. Many don’t have basic needs met.   They don’t always have the nutrition they need.  They may not get adequate sleep. Even our students with disabilities don’t have access to all their IEP interventions because of the rules of the test.  The variables are not the best case scenario for some kids.  How in the world could we expect the test to accurately reflect all they have mastered?

Here is what I am willing to rally over:  students, teachers, grit, growth mindset and all they have accomplished over the ENTIRE year.  At my school, we do this every Friday. Today, on the eve of our standardized test, my students did come to the cafeteria to meet with me.  The rest of the building lined the hallway to applaud their hard work and let them know we stand with them. It was not a STAAR Pep Rally.  It was a celebration of people who work hard to grow in their learning. It was caring about the people enough to let them know they were loved, supported, prepared, and in control of their destiny.

When students arrived, I shared with them my story of having to retake the GRE to get into graduate school to work on my doctorate.  As I sat down to take this test, I felt angry and frustrated.  I felt like there were some words that no one used, so impossibly worded questions, and I just felt there was no way that that test could accurately encompass who I was as a principal or a learner.  It hit me that this was how some of my students felt.

I told my students that there was no way that tomorrow’s test could define them either.  There was no way that this test could fully share with legislators or the public how much they had learned this past year. What I did tell these students was that they were in control, that they had the power to control their destiny. I shared with my fifth graders that sometimes, working hard at a test can give you a benefit.  That while my test couldn’t define me, it could gain me access to a program I wanted to be a part of to improve my life.

For them, working hard to “show what they know” could prevent them from retaking this test in a few weeks, but it would be their choice.  I told my fourth graders that while they weren’t facing a retest, the evidence does show that every time they pass a test like this,  it increases their chances of passing the next one.  No matter what, I told them they were in control.  I wanted them to know they were prepared and had everything they needed.  If they wanted it, they could achieve it.

I think that is what it is all about:  empowering students to know that they have control over their education.  The focus should never be on a test, but the people taking the test and continual reminders that even as children, they get to choose, they get to decide how to define themselves.

 We put tremendous pressure on students to “pass.”  The truth is our actions should support our beliefs.  At my campus we don’t have a test pep rally, we have a “hope rally” every single week where we celebrate teachers, students, and the power of education together as a campus.  While today I did bring students down to meet with me before they take their test tomorrow, it was never about the test.  It was ALWAYS about the people.  Whatever happens, tomorrow doesn’t really change anything.  Don’t get me wrong.  I want all of my students to do well because I know it makes their life easier in the long wrong. However, I know what my students have learned, how they have grown, and how much they have overcome and it far exceeds the constraints of a multiple choice test!

Unchartered Waters

I have certainly been blessed in my career.  I have had some amazing professional opportunities that have prepared me for the campus leadership position I hold now.  Even though I changed positions on a regular basis, I gained some extensive knowledge in from a variety of aspects in education.  I am tremendously grateful for the districts I have served and their immersion into the Visioning Document to guide my leadership principles.  I am most blessed to serve an amazing campus with precious children, supportive families, a great community, and an incredible staff of committed educators who are willing to be risk-takers and do whatever it takes to do what is right for our students.

In year four of my principalship, I am fortunate to see much of the initial five-year vision I set upon my arrival coming to fruition.  Our students are becoming strong readers, writers, thinkers, and problem-solvers.  We have re-established relationships with our parents and are beginning to have some connections with our community at large. We have received recognition for strong practices of  transformation. We have gone from a campus with declining results, to a campus on the verge of an explosion of greatness.

I should feel great, right?  However, in the past few months, my major emotion has been that of anxiety.

Don’t get me wrong. I have great pride in my students and staff.  It is because of my deep commitment to them that I have anxiety of how to proceed as we accomplish the last of these goals.  My passion for being the very best for them has created my stress.  I started my leadership journey with a clear vision.  The path has been very clear and the results have come.  My worry rises from as we see our initial destination in view I am plagued with the questions:  “What next? Where do we go from here?”

That’s what happens when you create a learning organization.  You create people with a growth mindset who are intent on getting better every day.  My work as a part of the Principal’s Visioning Institute has resulted  in my own deep self-reflection.  I absolutely believe in the Visioning Document. It has framed our initial transformation.  But I have reached the point where I am standing on the horizon looking at an unclear path.  My past “self” would have said I’ve done what I’m good at, time to move on.  But that is not what I want for my future “self”.  I have more goals, higher vision, than just what has been accomplished so far.  I’ve just not been at this stage of transformation and simply “rinsing and repeating” will not help us to continue to up our game.

Part of my anxiety that because I have such great people, I am fearful of not having a clear plan.  These wonderful educators have worked so tirelessly to achieve our goals thus far, I want to continue to ensure their success.  However, since I am headed into unchartered territory, it is hard to know what to expect.  I just don’t want to lead them down the wrong path. I want to make sure we are prepared with the right tools and that my navigation equipment is state of the art.

These past two days at the Principal’s Visioning Institute have been much needed to face my leadership fears.  I’ve been more quiet than usual, but soaking up every word and putting into my current context to prepare for the next stage of our journey.  It has helped me to see that while I may not be familiar with the next stage of my journey, others around me are and they are ready to help.  I have a great map with the Visioning Document and its related tools.  I have a fleet of other leaders navigating the same course of redesigning education to meet the needs of 21st-Century Learners. Most importantly, I have a fantastic, fearless crew of educators at my side. Any perils of the unknown we face, we will face together.

Ultimately, these past two days, I have realized that it’s okay for leaders to be unsure, but you can’t dwell there.  You have to find your tools, your supports, and make a plan, even if

it’s unfamiliar. You can still see the horizon.  It’s just time to start planning for the next stop in my campus’ journey. It’s time to harness my grit, my growth mindset, and God’s grace

and move forward because a current destination that is currently great won’t remain great as time moves on.  It’s all about the journey, not the destination. It’s time to set sail. Our next port is waiting.

The Sky is Not Falling!

If you spend too much time watching the news, you might begin to believe that the world is soon coming to an end.  Whether it is regarding the politicians in charge or the faith in the public education, the media, is trying to convince the public that the sky is indeed falling.  However, just like the fable, buying into this belief is more likely to result in the dangerous behaviors that bring about the danger.

In the story, Chicken Little is hit by an acorn falling from a tree. She draws the wrong conclusions and rallies others into her erroneous reasoning.  As they all seek a solution to the false doom, they become careless, and trust the sly Foxy Loxy, who is the real source of their undoing.  There wasn’t any real danger, until they created it for themselves due to unfounded fear. The fox leads them down the wrong path and gains a nice dinner for himself.

The same thing is happening today.   A few people have had some negative experiences with public school.  WIth an institution this large built to serve all people from all backgrounds, I am not sure why we are surprised by this.  Perfection does not exist. However, those people have loudly cried, “The sky is falling!” when it comes to public education.  They go to their friends and build a following, a following of people who have simply believed what they are told, rather than seeking information to substantiate the claim for themselves and simply continue to spread the paranoia.

So enter Foxy Loxy.  Foxy Loxy sees an opportunity to capitalize on the fear and paranoia of others.  Foxy Loxy doesn’t really care about education, be it public or private, but only sees the opportunity to serve his own needs.  He says, “you’re right, the sky is falling and I can help you. Come down this path and we can provide you with school choice vouchers and you will be saved.” Foxy Loxy doesn’t really care about your future, but sees the opportunity to manipulate you and take money from public education, monies that in the past, he has never been able to touch. He doesn’t care if creates soft segregation, leaving segments of the population feeling alienated and disenfranchised.  In his mind, if the public education system fails, it will just require everyone to pay for a product that was once free to all.  In the end of this fable, the only one who wins is Foxy Loxy.

Public education is not failing.  More students than ever before are receiving a high quality education.  Graduation rates are on the rise. Public schools are fighting to become producers of students with higher-level thinking, strong communication and collaboration, problem-solving and technology skills to improve our society. All of this is happening despite  antiquated accountability systems based on “one-size fits all” standardized testing systems that can’t even begin to measure the depth of these 21st Century Skills.

If we hope to create a better society for our future, we must teach diverse populations to co-exist and value our differences.  We must be brave and unite, rather than divide our cultures and run in fear.  We must fight for our schools so that they can evolve to be the institutions we need them to be, rather than continue to drain their resources and pretend that “school choice” is available to all.  The research doesn’t support the success of school choice.  Historically, school choice just enables those who could already afford private school a discount.  Those with fewer resources still cannot afford the private school and are left with schools that were already stretched beyond their means with even less.

The Foxy Loxy’s of the world are hard at work to undermine your faith.  They create tests with continually changing rules that they finalize AFTER tests are given.  They appoint leaders who are experts in undermining rather than advocating for public education. They pass laws to ensure schools cannot hold families accountable for coming to school so that children and be taught, paint schools in a negative light, and they encourage the Chicken Little’s saying, “yes, the sky is falling!”

However, the truth is the sky is not falling.  Teachers are better and more equipped than they have ever been before.  A good education is still the most proven way to overcome poverty.  Public education is the place that we can learn to live and thrive side by side. Can public education improve? Certainly.  Just don’t succumb to the paranoia of the Chicken LIttles or be tricked by the self-serving Foxy Loxys of this world.  Our brains are wired to see what we believe.  My challenge to society is to see the greatness of public schools.  If something needs to be improved, get involved to create a better system rather than running in fear, or worse, being a sideline critic with no personal knowledge of the situation. Your neighborhood public school will welcome your collaboration.  

Be brave and stand up for public schools.  Public education is our best choice to make sure that everyone has the opportunities they deserve and create a better future.

Friends of Texas Public Schools: http://fotps.org/cool/

Stand Up 4 Public Schools:  https://www.standup4publicschools.org/

 

 

Not Just a Building

This past week, I attended the Texas Association of School Administrators Midwinter Conference and had the opportunity to hear Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, speak. She had so much to say about advocating for public schools, but the thing that has resonated with me most was this quote:

“Public school is not a building. It’s a promise that a community makes to itself.” Shanna Peeples, TASA Midwinter Conference 2017

I’ve thought a lot about what she said, but I would take this statement a little further. A public school is not just a building; it is a promise that the community makes to itself to inspire hope for a better future.

We live in a tough world. We have people feeling entitled to rewards without work. People who cannot communicate effectively with words, so they use violence. People who are angry because they feel invisible, and other people who are afraid of the people they don’t understand so they put up the barriers that make angry people feel even more

disenfranchised. Instead of fixing the systems we have and contributing to a better world, people want to take their toys and go home resulting in soft segregation. This is only going to create a continuous cycle of decline.

But here is what I have to say-public schools are the hope for a better future. Public schools are the embodiment of our forefather’s vision, and capture in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on The Statue of Liberty.

In my school that promise is:

  • to a young girl that there will be someone there to care for her, despite her mother suffering from stage 4 cancer and having no extended family.
  • taking a moment to talk about what went wrong when a boy lost his cool and threatened a peer and to develop a different plan while helping him let go of his angry past.
  • a letter waiting for you at your new school when your family moved away and a teacher worried about your transition because you have moved so often.
  • a teacher braiding your hair because you are staying in a homeless shelter and mom couldn’t fix your hair before you came to school.
  • knowing that we will exhaust every option before we label you in a way that may limit your future opportunities.
  • the nurse recognizing a rash as a bigger problem to alert you to the need to seek immediate, life-saving medical attention.
  • a concerned teacher taking money from her own pocket to ensure the electricity is on so a child with asthma can have nebulizer treatments.
  • teaching peers to show compassion to a student with low cognitive ability and them applying that compassion by looking after her when she is outside the classroom.
  • designing work with incubating germs that help you learn “school stuff” but make you feel like a grown up in the real world.
  • setting goals and celebrating achievement and talking about how to regroup when the goal falls short so that all children, no matter of their ability, are coached and guided for growth.
  • talks of college embodied in grade level cheers and the dreams that a college degree can hold for your future.
  • songs of education and being “world changers” with the entire school every Friday.
  • the adults not making excuses that prevent children from achieving the best future, no matter where they started.
  • diversity and the opportunity to be around all kinds of people and learn that there is no need for fear, just value of multiple perspectives and willingness to use words to discuss differences.

Public schools are the place that we value every individual. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity, your native language, your religion, whether or not you have a disability or giftedness. You may come from an average background or one fraught with trauma. You may be wealthy, poor, or just middle-class. You may be the child who tries to please or the child who is continually demonstrating your displeasure with the world by spinning things into chaos. In a public school, we love you, we value you and try to earn your trust. We stretch you and grow you. We teach you to collaborate and communicate with those that are nothing like you. We teach you to think critically and set goals. We teach you to read, write and problem-solve using multiple strategies. We prepare you for the ability to thrive in a diverse world with the confidence that you can not only achieve your goals, but make the world a better place.

The things that public schools do to prepare our world for a better future are not easily measured by standardized tests or accountability systems and high performance on a test doesn’t guarantee your success if you cannot relate to the 21st century world.  Many would have society believe that paying for an education is a better option, but the don’t tell you what opportunities you miss because of a separate, homogenous education

Just remember, public schools are not just a building, we are people who ensure the promise that the community makes to itself, who love all and accept all, to inspire hope for a better society and future for all.

 

I Choose Thankful

November is traditionally a time of reflections on one’s blessings, and as I think about this school year, it has been full of ups and downs and in only been 13 weeks.  One of the biggest challenges is seeing children bear such heavy burdens. Whether it is a parent’s illness, today-i-choosephysical/emotional abuse or neglect, the loss of a parent through family separation or death, or just the stress of poverty and the worry that comes with it about one’s basic needs being met, it is hard to see children suffering.  Add to this mix teachers who have their own personal stressors and a nation of unrest in a highly polarized political climate. Forget the typical school challenges full moons and holidays, folks; we are talking about real trauma.

Supporting children living with trauma can be a challenge. They bring it in the door. Trauma may not be visible, but a child in trauma will let you know immediately if they are suffering.  With their actions, their words, their lack of connection, they will let you know. They fight, they run, they shut down. Children in the most need of love often ask for it in the most unlovable ways.  It can be exhausting for those responsible for providing “trauma care” much less a high-quality education.  One could easily lose hope.

However, I have learned so much from supporting children of today.  If you can make that thankful-people-are-happyconnection, create that bond, make the child feel safe, there is no better feeling in the world. When you watch a teacher persist to form a relationship despite multiple attempts by the student to push them away, there is a sense of pride to be a part of an organization that puts first things first.

I have learned that it is in the most difficult circumstances that the biggest blessings are revealed.  We can be grateful for the challenges and know that they are helping develop our character into who we are meant to be, or we can feel mistreated.  

We always have a choice.   We can feel wronged, or we can be grateful for the challenges and know that they are tied to a greater purpose.  We can worry about the difficulties we face, or we can choose to feel blessed knowing that we will never be given more than we can handle.  We can grieve the things we do not have, or we choose to see the abundance of our lives and all the opportunities that lay before us. Thankful isn’t something that happens, it’s something you do on purpose. And when we choose gratitude, it becomes you-have-a-choiceimpossible to feel stressed.  They are two emotions that cannot exist at the same time.

So while it is difficult to see children suffer, I choose to be thankful that I get to be a positive force in their lives.  While sometimes the behavior of these students can be beyond difficult, I am blessed to have a staff willing to learn about trauma and utilize trauma-sensitive practices to support these students. While there are many times I have pondered thoughts of “if I just had more… (time, money, staff, parent involvement, resources)”, I know that in my district and community, I have an abundance of support and trust to make decisions that are best for our children, not just a few, but all of them. While it would be easy to lose faith facing such challenging circumstances, I choose to have grit and hope in the future of public education and how we can teach children coping strategies and value for each other in addition to reading, writing, and math.  I am blessed.  I am thankful.  Are you? It’s your choice.