Friday, March 12, 2021

Do your students know you care? Do they know you expect them to "be someone"?

 “Teachers affect eternity, no one can tell where their influence stops.”

As we look towards the end of this school, it is amazing to think that the craziest school year anyone could ever imagine is almost over. It may feel like it just started, but in truth we have learned a lot about ourselves and our students they year. No matter if you have been teaching in-person or virtually, or a little bit of both, teachers always learn alot about their students and that may remain one of the rare constants of the 2020–2021 school year. Of course our students have learned a lot about us too! They know what we will and will not accept, both in behaviors and with assignments (even in kindergarten!). They have a pretty good idea of who the teachers’ pets are and where the popular kids sit at lunch (or in what virtual chatroom they are in).

And above all, they have decided if their teachers care about them or not.

I am not questioning if teachers care about their students. I can honestly say I have never met a teacher that didn’t. But I do believe there are students that come to school every day that aren’t sure if their teacher cares about them and their success. I believe that feeling could be exaggerated even more by a virtual setting where it has been easy to overlook a kid that doesn’t show up to a zoom meeting. You might not notice, but they do. The point is, it doesn’t matter how you feel about someone, if THEY don’t know how you feel, they are left to their own perceptions and sometimes, with some of our students, they may not perceive the best.

How do your students know you care about them?

A recent “Student Voice” survey of over 65,000 students conducted by the Quaglia Institute (https://qisa.org/) showed that only 34% of students believed that their teachers knew “their hopes, dreams, and aspirations”! What a discouraging number!! A lot of research has also been conducted about the value of high expectations as a vital tool for success. They have shown it will push us to do things we were not sure we were capable. How and Why do we do this? Often we do it because someone else is counting on us. The question I have posed to kids as I have traveled to schools the last couple of years is one I read about in a story of highly successful people that came from less than stellar backgrounds. It is a simple question:

        Who Expects You to Be Somebody?

As you can imagine, many students pick their family members when I ask that question. However, often it is one of their teachers that students tell me about as the person that expects the most out of them. I had one student tell me that they try to do their best because they don’t want to let their teacher down. That is a huge impact. Recently, I saw a short video clip of a brain surgeon who credits his middle school science teacher with “inspiring” him to be a doctor just by telling him he had “the hands for it”. It was one comment to one child, but it had an enormous impact on him and his future. Watch the video here:

A Teacher Appreciation Story: "You have the hands to be a surgeon!"

So as we near the end of the school year, stop and reflect about the students you see every day. Some of them are behind the class academically. Some are struggling to fit in and belong. Some you have identified as those that need extra attention. No matter what you think you know about your students, ask yourself: Who expects them to be somebody? Is it you? Do they know it?

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

An Open Letter to the Teacher We Met Working At Target!

 


Dear First Year Teacher Working at Target, 

I hope you never lose the sparkle in your eye! You inspired us today! The high temperature in Fort Worth, Texas was 14 degrees.  That is cold by just about anyone’s standards, but for many who live here, it is pretty much a  shutdown, stay inside at all costs type temperature.  In the last couple of days, the grocery stores have  been emptied in preparation for the coldest week in years.  Being in the school business myself, my and my wife, along with teachers and students all over the area, we were told to take everything home and be prepared to work remotely this week if need be. You were too.

Sure enough, Jack Frost hit Texas this week like he never has.  Millions are without water, electricity, etc. and some are in dangerous situations because of the cold and isolation.  At my house, we lost power for about 36 hours, but we are also blessed with a warm fire, plenty of food, and all the basic resources we needed.  It was for us, a mere inconvenience but also a little bit of an adventure.  Others weren't so fortunate, and we know it.

It is in that vein, that my wife and I jumped in the car to go to Target. That is basically how both blessed and spoiled we are. We used it as a way to warm up, charge our phones, and stave off boredom.   And that is where we met you.

You may not even remember us going through your line. I am often the type that strikes up a conversation with the cashier.  I sometimes get a chuckle from my wife and also an eye-roll or two from the people in line behind me, but I like to watch people and interact and see how they do their job.  Often cashiers are friendly and pleasant, but other times it seems like they dread their job, and sometimes I don't blame them.  This would have been one of those times.  With temperatures well below freezing, everything shutting down, and people scavenging to get the last gallon of milk (or wine) it would be easy to want to go home and be safe too.  But not you.  You greeted us with a smile and asked us how you were doing.  You seemed so young, or maybe I am just that old, but I would have bet you were a local high school student.  I thanked you for coming in to work to serve us and mentioned that I hoped you got to go home soon because the roads were bad and more stores were already closed.  With a smile, you said you had "volunteered" to work today because you knew others couldn't.  That was my first "wow".   Then you mentioned you had the day off today because you are a teacher!  My wife is a teacher and I work in administration so we were both excited to hear this!  You shared you were a first-year teacher and taught seventh grade! My wife has taught 7th grade as well and I chuckled as you both immediately began comparing notes.  That was my second "wow".  And then I saw it...

The first-year teacher sparkle. The one I hope you never lose.  You shared how the year has been so hard.  The students don't turn in their work, the middle school boys give you a hard time, you have had to learn to teach in-person and virtual at the same time, but you told us all this with an authentic smile. You shared how much you loved your job and couldn't wait to see your kids again.  How you hoped they were warm and safe this week (even if they didn't turn in their work).  Maybe it was because you didn't look like you are too far removed from middle school yourself, or maybe it was because you had that sparkle when you talked about your students, but there was a certain brave innocence about you that inspired us. 

As we walked to the car, my wife and I continued to talk about you.  We know how hard teachers have it this year, even if others do not.  Then we talked about the young person that you appear to be.  The kind of person that doesn't celebrate a snow day away from kids, but instead volunteers to work an extra shift at your "second job" because you know others couldn't.  You are the kind of person the world needs to teach our kids. We reminisced on our own first-year of teaching.  About how hard we thought it was, but knowing it was nothing compared to what you have gone through. Working two jobs (at-least) through a pandemic and learning all about middle school?  And doing it with a smile and a sparkle.  I hope you never lose that.  Many start off in the profession with sparkle and somewhere along the line, some (fortunately not the majority) become frustrated and even cynical.  They succumb to the frustrations of the role. Their dreams of changing the world crushed by unappreciated people, miles of red tape, and the struggles of a society that teachers alone can't fix.  Don't do that.  We need you. 

I know firsthand how hard teachers work.  I have known many who keep their sparkle throughout their careers and inspire thousands of kids.  I hope you go on to become one of those.  I hope that you always enjoy your teaching job and light up when you talk about your students the way you did with us. I hope you greet them at the door the way you greeted us, with a big smile.  

I hope someday you don't have to work a second job to make ends meet. 

I didn't catch your name and I will probably never see you again, but I hope I don't forget you.  I appreciated your sparkle more than you could know. It inspired me. Your students and your school are lucky to have you.

I hope you got home safely last night and had everything you need.  You deserve it. Thank you.

A grateful fellow educator,

Rob


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Our Teachers Are Awesome. I know, I live with one.


    I am so proud of all the educators I know. Teachers all over the country have started or will start their school year very soon.  In my district, we started the school year virtually for the first three weeks and when we went back to in-person learning last Tuesday. We had about half of our students choose to remain in a virtual setting. While I am too old and too set in my ways to ever be convinced a student isn't better off in an in-person school setting, I do understand and respect the decision of families that choose to keep their kids home during these uncertain times.

    My wife and kids work and attend school in a neighboring district. They start their in-person learning tomorrow.  Suddenly the decisions I have been dealing with on a professional level have become very personal.  After months of wondering if and when we would ever go back to school, the time is here. To be honest, I am not worried about the kids. Maybe I should be, but I truly believe they will be okay and I know it will be good for them to be around their peers. They like school for the most part and I trust they will be in the best care possible.  It is the educators I am worried about.

    I read an excellent blog post this week written by a teacher entitled I Don't Like Brene' Brown Anymore (I love her work by the way, and so does the author) and thought it was an excellent reflection on just how much we have all relied on teachers during this pandemic.  They have done SO much.  I know.  I live with one.  My wife, Sarah, is going to teach second grade this year for the first time.  She has taught multiple grade levels, been an assistant principal and principal, then chose to return to the classroom a couple of years ago.  Why you ask?  Because she loves it. She loves her students and from what I can tell, is a great teacher. Yeah, I might be biased, but I am not the only one that says it. She still hears from kids that have graduated that she taught in first grade so I would say she has had an impact on many. I know this, few, if any, do it with more passion or enthusiasm.  

There she is!!

    Over the last few months, I have gotten a true behind the scenes look at what our teachers are going through and I am so proud of her and all my educator friends.  I have seen her cry because she didn't get to say good-bye to her kindergarten students in May.  I have seen her work for hours upon hours this summer making videos to welcome her students and create lessons so they could understand and enjoy school again.  I have seen her laugh with her team during zoom meetings (or zoom happy hours) and I have seen her sit through long, monotonous virtual meetings with the very best of intentions. I have even been next to her when she has gotten kind, sweet emails from parents and when she gets ugly, mean ones as well. With all the frustrations going on in the country right now, teachers have taken more than their share of the responsibility in making things right. Like teachers everywhere, Sarah has played the role of teacher, tech support, counselor, doctor, and even parent, for the families she serves.  All of this was new for her and she has done a remarkable job holding it all together.  You wouldn't know that if you didn't live with a teacher.  

Here is what conferring and giving feedback to a student looks like!!

    There is a lot of things you wouldn't know if you didn't live with a teacher. I have gotten to see the countless ridiculous requests that are made of them (some from administrators like me). I have seen her answer the same questions graciously to the same parent for the fourth, no fifth time.  I have seen countless Amazon boxes be delivered to our door in the last few weeks, all ultimately destined for the classroom, because some student might not have what they need or because she had to have these flashing disco lights that might just make the class a little more fun.  I have been up to the classroom a few times to try and help.  I got to tape the name tags on the desks and lockers (only after specific directions and a tutorial), but I left and she remained at school for hours to make sure it is just right.  We made a few trips to get school supplies and pick up the pictures of her kids she had printed so she could put in frames. 


 

Wall of Fame! Late night run to CVS to pick up the rest!

    When she got her class list this year she was so excited and she has done her very best to make them feel comfortable during virtual learning the last couple of weeks, but tomorrow she will meet them for the first time.  She is nervous.  As teachers, we are all nervous the day before school, but this year is different.  This year the "team building" activities won't look the same. This year they will eat lunch two kids per table.  This year they can't share a book or pencils. This year she and teachers everywhere are having to relearn and reinvent everything they have ever done.  And most, like Sarah, are excited and thankful to do it.  

Essential supplies by the classroom door!

  Tonight, we have about about five boxes by the front door to take to school tomorrow.  They are packed with a lot of the usual things.  There are snacks for the students that may forget or don't have one.  There are extra school supplies.  But there is also a box of face-masks and a box of disposable gloves along with extra hand sanitizer.  She is a teacher, not a nurse, but yet these are a must this year.  These are the things we didn't use to think about on the eve of the first day of school.  There are a lot of things we didn't use to think about.  

    Sarah, like so many others, pours her heart into her job. Yes, I am so very proud of teachers everywhere tonight.  They truly do make a difference, they always have. This year teachers, more than anyone else, may be the key to our country getting back to normal (whatever that is). They are being asked a nearly impossible task this school year, so please say a prayer and give them a little grace and encouragement. They work so very hard and they are incredibly dedicated to their students but you might not know that if you didn't live with one like I do. 

    To my wife on her first day, to my many friends who are educators, and to the millions of teachers all over the country, I say thank you for all that you do. Stay safe. Stay strong. Be Bold. 

1st Day With Students!!


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

1st Day of School: "Get them fed and get them home safe?"

The first day of school….

 

Every year, I always say, “If the kids get fed and get home, it has been a great 1st day.”  Well that phrase is out the window this year! Too many other things to worry about! Although I did hear someone tell a parent, “at least you won’t lose your kid, they are at home with you”.  It actually made the parent feel better.  Truth is, some things did not go well today and there were loud voices in our ears telling us so. Things like "your plan is too easy, too hard, or isn’t working."  But others were quietly appreciative and reaped the benefits of our hard work and the fact that kids were engaged in school and learning again. That is what is is all about!  I couldn't visit schools like I normally would, so I lurked on twitter and saw tons of teachers and students having fun!

 

Today marked  my 27th year as a public school educator and I feel like a new teacher all over again.  I started today wide-eyed and truly not knowing what is going to happen.  New job. New District.  I just didn’t know.  

 

But I do know this…The first day of school was AWESOME.  It always is! Every year, no matter where I have been working, we always, without fail, seem to say this was a great day! This time, it may be more appropriate to say, “that was the most unique first day ever!”.  Unique, challenging, different, innovative, busy…we will probably use lots of adjectives to describe school this year but we will have school and it will be AWESOME.  It has to be.  Our kids need it.  Our parents need it.  Our teachers need it.  The whole community needs it!

 

I saw this tweet today and I thought to myself, this kid gets it.  She sees firsthand how her dad is trying his best.  I hope most kids and spouses of teachers feel this way and see the struggle so many teachers are having trying to connect with students in new and even unorthodox ways.  These people should be applauded!  Talk about examples of life-long learning…they have had to reinvent how they do the job that many of them have done for years.  It is not easy, but the heart of a teachers won’t let them do anything else.

 


One thing that the 20-21 school year has in common with all the others…Anything is possible on the first day of school.  All our dreams and aspirations are alive and in front of us. The hope that springs eternal is that of a fresh start promised to everyone…teachers and students alike. This year may be different, but the opportunities for success remain. I often use the hashtag #BEBOLD with my tweets.  I started this a few years ago as I would send daily texts to my kids encouraging them to branch out and try new things.  It then became more of a personal challenge when they would ask me, “Are you bold?”  So it has become kind of a personal reminder. What will I do to push myself out of my comfort zone? Won't take much this year. 

 

I hope this year teachers and students will take advantage of the circumstances and be bold. They should try the craziest of ideas, or maybe that thing that has been burning in the back of their thoughts for so long they just can’t stand it anymore.  You have a safety net.  If it doesn’t work, blame it on the pandemic…but what if it does work?  What if that one idea or thought is the thing that makes all the difference.  You will never know if you don’t try.  This is Day 1…the perfect time to start. #BEBOLD

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

What can educators learn from Kobe?


I need to say right up front that Kobe was not my favorite basketball player.  It may be my age, but I always was, and always will be, a Jordan guy.  I did always have a healthy respect for Kobe, mostly because he always struck me as a player that truly respected the game and tried to play it the right way.  However, after reading and listening to so much over the last couple of days since his tragic death,  my respect for him has grown tremendously.  I have found myself wondering why.  Why does a basketball player have such a tremendous, positive impact on so many people all over the world?  And if we somehow could understand and harness that impact, maybe we (as mere mortals) could have that kind of influence as well.   

MAMBA MENTALITY:
The first thing that almost everyone mentions in recollecting on Kobe Bryant is his relentless, killer instinct. They call it the Mamba Mentality.  Now, "killer instinct" might not often be used to describe educators, but the great ones are most definitely relentless in their pursuit of excellence.  They do not quit and they do not accept failure from anyone; themselves, their students, or their peers.  Kobe was like that.  If there was ever a criticism about his game, it was that he didn't pass enough, but when things got tight at the end of games, he knew he was the best player on the court and he had the confidence to do what was necessary to help his team win.  John Hattie and Peter DeWitt have made the terms "self-efficacy" and "collective efficacy" common terms among educational leaders with the idea that if we believe we can make a difference, then we often will.  Kobe's confidence and "self-efficacy" also translated to leadership.  That leadership gave his team the "collective efficacy" it needed to achieve greatness.  They often won simply because they believed they would. Check out this link from the ESPYs!



WORK ETHIC:
Kobe Bryant's work ethic is legendary.  Almost everyone who achieves greatness in any field shares this trait, but even among his peers, Kobe stood out.  He was known to push his teammates harder than their coaches.  One legendary story has Kobe taking away his personalized "Kobe shoes" from players because their work ethic (not their play) did not meet the standard necessary to wear them.  The players got the message. In the video clip below, Kobe starts with a simple, but telling phrase: "If I have to fight you to get in the gym, that is a problem."  Every school I have ever seen has teachers and administrators that work very hard. What often transforms campuses to greatness is the influence these hard-working, over-achievers have on the rest of us.  Do you have an environment where slackers can get by because someone else is doing more work than they should or does everyone pull their weight? Do you have to fight them to "get in the gym" (PLC, professional development, etc.)  Kobe was not afraid to work hard, but he also challenged others to match his commitment or get left behind.  Countless players (in various sports) this week have talked about how he made them better just by modeling his work ethic.  That is leadership.



TRANSCENDENT:
Finally, I wanted to look up this word to make sure I have the definition right in my mind.
adjective- going beyond ordinary limits; surpassing; exceeding.
superior or supreme.
Theology(of the Deity) transcending the universe, time, etc.
Philosophy.
  1. Scholasticism. above all possible modes of the infinite.

I think it helps answer my original question of why does a basketball player have such a profound impact on the world.  It's not just his extraordinary basketball talents.  It's any person that goes beyond what is expected and does things that seem impossible.  All of us respond to greatness and most of us respect it, even if we are not fans.  Kobe Bryant was transcendent.  We will miss him.  #RIPKobe



Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Do Be A CRAB! Push others to the TOP!

Have you ever worked with people that go out of their way to make sure new things don’t work?  They don’t want to put in the extra effort it might take to get ahead, either because they are afraid of failure or they are content to do things the way they have always been done.  I have worked on campuses, where teachers were actually ostracized for going “above and beyond”!  Simple things like gaining praise for a great newsletter, an extra parent call, or even enthusiastically participating in professional development can sometimes make others jealous or even resentful.  In some places, this is called the “Crab Mentality”.  The crab mentality is a natural phenomenon that even scientists can’t explain, but it almost never fails.  You see, if you have a bucket of crabs, they easily have the capability to climb out of the bucket and save themselves, especially if they work together.  But they will not.  Sometimes the crabs seem almost malicious. They climb over one another and even work to pull those that appear to be making progress towards success downward to the group.  They are not interested in others success. 

We should all be on guard for the Crab Mentality. Even at schools with great culture and climate, it can creep in and pull others down.  Look around your own campus and your peers….I am willing to bet that everyone there is working hard and trying their best.  However, I also believe that there are a few that stand out. Maybe it’s the way they teach a lesson with a smile, they make even lunch duty fun, or they have a way of getting along with that student/parent than no one else can seem to reach.  The question is, what is keeping them from falling into the crab mentality?  And more importantly are you one that is pushing them upward or pulling them down.


 The crab mentality is a reflection of the famous saying “we all like to see our friends get ahead, but not too far ahead.” Learning to recognize the crab mentality in yourself and others is a very good idea, especially in schools.  Our schools need teachers that “get out of the bucket” to seek adventure and try new things, not groups that are holding them back.  Don’t be a crab!!
Have you ever worked with people that go out of their way to make sure new things don’t work?  They don’t want to put in the extra effort it might take to get ahead, either because they are afraid of failure or they are content to do things the way they have always been done.  I have worked on campuses, where teachers were actually ostracized for going “above and beyond”!  Simple things like gaining praise for a great newsletter, an extra parent call, or even enthusiastically participating in professional development can sometimes make others jealous or even resentful.  In some places, this is called the “Crab Mentality”.  The crab mentality is a natural phenomenon that even scientists can’t explain, but it almost never fails.  You see, if you have a bucket of crabs, they easily have the capability to climb out of the bucket and save themselves, especially if they work together.  But they will not.  Sometimes the crabs seem almost malicious. They climb over one another and even work to pull those that appear to be making progress towards success downward to the group.  They are not interested in others success. 

We should all be on guard for the Crab Mentality. Even at schools with great culture and climate, it can creep in and pull others down.  Look around your own campus and your peers….I am willing to bet that everyone there is working hard and trying their best.  However, I also believe that there are a few that stand out. Maybe it’s the way they teach a lesson with a smile, they make even lunch duty fun, or they have a way of getting along with that student/parent than no one else can seem to reach.  The question is, what is keeping them from falling into the crab mentality?  And more importantly are you one that is pushing them upward or pulling them down.


 The crab mentality is a reflection of the famous saying “we all like to see our friends get ahead, but not too far ahead.” Learning to recognize the crab mentality in yourself and others is a very good idea, especially in schools.  Our schools need teachers that “get out of the bucket” to seek adventure and try new things, not groups that are holding them back.  Don’t be a crab!!