What’s Really Important

Most schools are at or around the mid year mark of the school year. So regardless of the grade level that you teach you’ve recently finished a round of exams or tests or will shortly do so. You will also be involved in another round of standardized, local, or state assessments in the spring. In my opinion, our policies, laws, and society place far too much importance on summative and standardized tests. The results drive an awful lot. Great teachers know their focus must remain on teaching and learning. Great teachers know the importance of creating memories through tangible experiences. They teach with enthusiasm and go to great lengths to capture students’ imagination.

I think assessments are important and do hold some value. We must help students prepare. However, assessments are not the most important thing that we do. Assessments are not the mission. Assessments are not why we chose to educate. Test scores are not our sole determination of success. Dave Burgess says “we are in the life-changing business”, we accomplish this by exuding creativity and magic in our classrooms. We must spark interest, fuel passions, and motivate future leaders. Educators must create meaningful learning experiences for students that will impact students long after we are gone. Be sure they leave your classroom with a plethora of great memories. Encourage students to find a reason to love learning. This means that we cannot place too much emphasis on assessments or assessment results. In their mind-blowing book Disrupting Thinking, Kylene Beers and Robert Probst remind us that we cannot allow students to think of themselves as an “H”. Students are far more than just a reading level. Please don’t make them prove their answers each and every time they crack a book. Ask them why they like or dislike what they’ve read. What did it make them think about? Did what they read challenge their thinking?

We can not allow a single test score to define us or our students. We should use data wisely but we cannot allow “testing” to steal our joy and to derail us from our mission. Testing should inform our instruction, not dominate it.

Kids will not remember you as the awesome teacher who prepped them for their big EOG test. They will remember you for dressing in character and using funny voices as you read aloud. They won’t remember that you taught them how to bubble test answers, but they will remember how you transformed your room for a book tasting.

Kids must have the opportunity to love learning. School must be fun. Students need time to explore, solve real world problems, and read without any constraints. Be sure students leave your classroom with a greater love of learning than they entered it with.

This post isn’t too terrible.

I considered several other titles for this post. Among those considered were: This Post Doesn’t Suck and My Latest Collection of Cliches and Overall Poor Word Choices? I may regret the change later because it could’ve helped me bring home my point better. On many occasions, I’ve noticed that I’m watching for what could go wrong rather than what could go right. This mindset is quite counterproductive. I choose to believe the glass is half full. Our outcomes more often than not mirror our outlook. Good things happen to positive people. Incessant rain clouds follow around the Debbie Downers of the world. If we approach situations with optimism, we are more likely to have favorable results. If we focus on what could go wrong we are merely waiting for mistakes and problems to arise.

If you’re out at a restaurant you can choose to spend your time scrutinizing the wait staff. However, you will not enjoy your meal. You can inspect your freshly washed car and be repulsed at each speck of dirt you find but you will miss appreciating the shine. You can agonize whether or not your cellular provider is taking you for a ride or you can appreciate your new, sleek iPhone 8 (Meagan Parrish). Don’t let imperfections distract you from all the good that surrounds us.

I’m not saying you should ignore problems. I am saying that it is important not to make mistakes our focus. Fear of failure causes reluctance to act. Retired Navy Submarine Captain L. David Marquet, reminds us in his leadership handbook, Turn this Ship Around ! That we need to seek excellence, not errors.

Work towards achieving your goals, not solely on avoiding failure. Focus on the prize. Champion optimism. Seek excellence in all that you do.

Now that you’ve read this motivational, inspiring, and superbly-written blog post move forward and have a phenomenal 2018.

People

As educators, the ability to successfully interact with people is an essential skill. It’s what ultimately determines our success. Relationships matter exponentially more than content. Rita Pearson captured it best when she said, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” To be successful, we have to be able to relate to the students that we teach, their parents, our co-workers, and community members.

I’ve learned many lessons over the years, most the hard way, when it comes to dealing with people. In time for Christmas I’ve compiled a short list of ideas that may help you navigate successfully when it comes to working with people.

1. Most people are doing the best they can. We can be so critical of others. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback when it comes to others mistakes. We are quick to judge, as if we know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. We blame. We point the finger. I’ve found peace in generally assuming that people are doing their best and to not nitpick their intentions. Assume people have good intentions and you will be amazed how your outlook improves.

2. Most conflicts can be prevented with good communication. Nine years as an assistant principal taught me this lesson. When people are informed, they are much more likely to be supportive. When expectations, intentions, and reasons are unclear support can plummet. Tell your story. Answer questions before they are asked. Seek transparency. When we aren’t informed we make assumptions. Our assumptions are not always accurate and may be negative. When issues or conflicts arise, get ahead of them. When parents and community members hear things second or third-handed communication obviously suffers.

3. Remember who your teammates are. Teaching should not be adversarial. Parents are our teammates. The teacher across the hall, who teaches another grade, is your teammate. We need to pull together. We rely on each other. We should have the same goal; to help grow students. We didn’t get into education to outdo adults, we are in it to help kids. In house drama does not help anyone. Lift others up. Be quick to encourage and slow to criticize. Realize that the people we interact with daily are our teammates. Support your teammates!

4. Don’t underestimate the power of a compliment. Say nice things. “You worked hard on that project.” Point out what is going well. “We had a great turnout at our event.” Be positive. “You showed tremendous effort.” Build up students and your peers. “I couldn’t make it without your help.” Flood parents with good news about their kids. “He has the best manners.” Accentuate positives to ensure they outweigh the negatives. “That guy said too many nice things about me,” said nobody, ever.

Put people first and you cannot go wrong. Value relationships and model kindness. Take care of people and reap the benefits.

Merry Christmas!

Better

 Last week I had a learning opportunity. I could have handled a situation much better. It was a mistake. Luckily I didn’t waste the mistake, I’ve learned from it. I’ll be better next time. 

 I allowed my emotions to get the better of me. Instead of listening, I wanted to be heard. Instead of offering support, I challenged another’s thinking. Instead of being patient, I wanted answers. I didn’t seek common ground, I wanted to be right. I made assumptions rather than having an open mind. I wasn’t my best. 

Slightly tweaking my approach likely garners a much better result in the future. Luckily, I’ve reflected and am a better educator and person because of this experience. 

 Relationships are so important. We must guard and cherish them. I once heard that it takes 20 positive interactions to make up for a negative interaction. I’ve got work to do. 

Attitude of Gratitude 

Being thankful is one of the best feelings in life. We often forget how lucky and blessed we are. We may ignore the 98% of things that are going favorably and are likely to stress over the 2% of things that aren’t perfect. Never forget that regardless of how bad you ever have it, there is somebody, somewhere who has it even worse. Be thankful of the gifts you have and all of your blessings. 

I’ve been inspired by Danny “Sunshine” Bauer and his mentor Aaron Walker. In Aaron’s book, View From The Top and Danny’s podcast, Better Leaders, Better Schools we are reminded that it is impossible to be stressed and thankful at the same time. Heeding their advice, when feeling stressed I push myself to think of three things I’m thankful for. Guess what? It works. You cannot feel blessed and stressed at the same time.

 I’m thankful for my wife and children. I’m thankful for my family and friends. I’m thankful for my school family, our students, and my colleagues. I’m thankful for today and the opportunities it will bring. 

I’ve fallen into the practice of writing thank you notes to start each school day. I strive to show appreciation to my deserving teammates. It feels great to send words of encouragement and thanks to those who deserve it or need it. 

At our last staff meeting, I supplied teachers with a thank you note for their ticket out the door.  I asked them to write a message of appreciation for a teammmate. Teachers, instructional assistants, and our custodial staff have all  written a co-worker a thank you note. I spoke with one lady who was moved to tears from the three notes she received. Another co-worker shared a note received that cited the impact the individual has made on them personally and professionally and thanked them for getting them on the “right path.” Hopefully, the impact of these gestures continues to touch lives by inspiring other acts of generosity and appreciation. 

Give yourself the gift of feeling blessed. Be generous. Show appreciation. Write someone a thank you note. Two people will benefit, them and yourself. Be thankful, it can’t hurt. 

First Week

This week I finally began to feel like a principal. My principalship officially began on July 1st of this year. Being a principal during the summertime feels like a different job. Without teachers and students on campus, the job is mostly planning, meetings, and trainings. It can be eerily quiet. Over the summer, I missed interacting with students and teachers.

 It was fantastic having the students and staff in the building for the first week of school. It was a great first week! The entire school family pulled together and made it a success. It started with an Education Sunday at a local church, then a very smooth first day, and ended on Friday with severe weather passing through without any major damage in our area. Here is a list of the notable firsts and assorted accomplishments from this week:

1. Our superintendent stopped by first thing Monday morning (6:45). 

2. Community members, local community college students, a school board member, and our own staff greeted students with high fives at the front door to welcome them back on the first day!

3.  Our school secretary and media coordinator fixed our broken laminator. All elementary people know how important a working laminator is to the job approval rating of a principal. 

4.  We saved a distressed hummingbird who became trapped in a glass underhang. 

5.  We evacuated the entire school in two minutes as we executed our first fire drill of the year. 

6.  I went to my first football game at the high school in our feeder pattern. 

7. I visited each classroom in the building 1-2 times per day this week. 70 + classroom visits total. 

8. I wrote 15 thank you notes to staff members for positive contributions. 

9. The second edition of our school newsletter was successfully created and sent out. 

A successful first week is a great way to begin a school year. Hopefully, it will serve as a foundation for more positive things to come. If we as a school community can replicate this effort and energy each week then our school year will be a success. I’m looking forward to week 2!

Design a Better Wheel

“Don’t reinvent the wheel”,  is a phrase that I’ve heard educators say throughout my career. It’s a phrase I’ve used throughout my career. We might say it when we are trying to prevent someone from wasting their efforts on a mundane task. “Don’t recreate the wheel designing your lesson plan, go to Teacher-Pay-Teacher and get something all ready to go. “Don’t recreate the wheel designing your upcoming unit, just search Pintrest.”  My opinion is that we have overused and misused this phrase. I think it almost becomes “don’t put forth too much effort” or you could substitute it with “that’s just too much work.” It’s a motto that encourages us to cut corners. If we continuously cut corners we are weakening ourselves. If an athlete is training for an event and continuously takes shortcuts, skips workouts, and fails to consistently put forth effort, will their performance suffer? 

I am also realistic. If someone has a template use the template. If a teammate has a form you need, copy and paste. Just don’t water down your content. Don’t bore kids. Don’t accept average or aim for mediocre. Your students aren’t average, they are extraordinary. 

In today’s world of education, public education is not the only game in town. However, we must strive to be the best game in town. There are too many others options and too much competition. More than ever we must dedicate ourselves to our craft. Don’t put off the work. Don’t settle for the convenient or the easy. Take the challenge. Tackle things  head on. Dive deep. Don’t settle for shallow ideas. Go with the elaborate ideas, ditch the simple. Raise your standards. If facilitating amazing learning opportunities for students was easy or systematic, it would be packaged. Like I’ve heard Jon Gordon say, “do the work.” Design a better wheel!