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2017 – A #PureMichigan Summer

Tomorrow, I go back to work in preparation for the 2017-2018 school year and I can not be more excited about my new position and the challenges to be faced as a Middle School Principal. I am refreshed and ready to go thanks to a truly magnificent summer of travel full of beautiful sites and experiences. Here’s the kicker, I never even left the State! Last year, I took my family on an amazing 5-day cruise to the Caribbean and we had a great time, but I can honestly say that I am more relaxed and mentally prepared for the rigor of a new school year after experiencing a #PureMichigan summer.

This is the first summer in the last 17 years that I have not traveled out-of-state or abroad (I’m not counting my temporary foray into Canadian waters). Cue Tim Allen, Jeff Daniels and those wonderfully corny Pure Michigan commercials because I am about to wax poetic on how great this place is. Knowing that I needed to refresh my energy reservoir on a limited budget, I set a goal of getting in as many mini-cations, covering as much of the Michigan greatness as possible. The Google Map below details my travels across the State (and especially on the I-69 and I-75 corridors). I swam in two Great Lakes (Huron and Michigan), golfed Garland, Treetops, and Lakewood Shores, cruised an inland lake, and sailed a Great Lake. I slept in a resort, a camper, a tent, and a sailboat. I spent time with family, friends, and (just a little bit) by myself. I engaged my body, mind, and soul with the wonders of this State.


Just yesterday I read a blog post on “Professional Creep,” written by Megan M. Allen, a teacher acknowledging how being an educator tends to take over your life, hobbies, and habits and it inspired me to write this post in reflection of the work-life balance. Educators care about what they do and being a principal or a teacher is not simply a job, but rather it is a defining characteristic of our lives. I am 100% guilty of work creeping into every aspect of my life, but for the first time in 12 years, I feel like I may have attained that mythical balance between work and life.

I attended an education conference this summer, but I brought my family and we got out and enjoyed the beach and downtown environs of Traverse City.

I took a class for my job this summer, but I also read several novels.

I went backpacking in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, but I read The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros as I sat around the campfire.

Work-Life Balance…check (for now). Thank you #PureMichigan for getting this educator geared up for a great school year!

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Obstacles in Education

I need to start by saying that it has been awhile since I have posted anything. I could cite a lot of different reasons for this like being too busy or not having anything to say, but those would just be excuses. The reality is I have been trying to listen more and speak less, and by listen I mean read more about what is going on. In my reading, one theme keeps resurfacing, reflection is important for learning and growth. This blog and my postings should be a reflection of my learning, so with that I dive back in.

This summer I finally got caught in the next that the Michigan legislature cast out in 2002, the requirement of a literacy instruction course for the issuance of my professional teaching certificate. When that requirement was enacted, I was still completing my undergraduate in biology and chemistry with an emphasis on secondary education. When I completed my bachelor’s and student teaching, I received a provisional certificate to teach and moved to Georgia in 2005 to start my career, as jobs were few and far between in Michigan. During my time in Georgia, I earned two graduate degrees; a master’s in curriculum and instruction and a educational specialist in leadership, as well as a gifted education endorsement. None of that mattered when my final renewal of my provisional teaching license expired at the end of June. With all options exhausted I was forced to enroll in a class this summer that would meet the state’s requirement for me to earn my professional teaching certificate, a class that I will be finishing up next Wednesday.

Here is the crux of my frustration with this situation: I completely understand and in favor of continuing one’s academic growth and development as an educator, I proved that with my graduate degrees and Georgia endorsements, but I am not in favor in jumping through hoops. There are currently two pieces of legislation that are sitting in committee in the Michigan House of Representatives that would have rendered my need to take this class irrelevant: HB4084 (Tedder) would eliminate the need for the course to attain the professional license, and HB4614 (Miller) would allow for unlimited renewals of the provisional teaching certificate. If either of these bills were to have gained any traction, I could have spent my summer doing what I do all year, reading, reflecting, and generating ideas on how to improve my school and the education field.

I went into my literacy course this summer very frustrated, but I decided to try to make the most of my situation. I have put effort and focus into my learning, but I must say that the material that I have learned about this summer does not have much applicability to what I do on a daily basis (I am a secondary principal) other than providing me some background to support my teachers. It is not that the class was bad or not worthwhile, but rather that it is not in line with my professional duties and responsibilities. It leaves me wondering about one big thing:

In this time of teacher shortage and verbal attacks on schools, why are we making it harder to be in education? Shouldn’t we be working together to find solutions rather than providing obstacles that divert us away from the problems we need to address?

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A Thankful Educator

Hit the Pause button.

Forget for a moment the public scrutiny, governmental interventions, unfunded mandates, and the myriad of other stress-agents that surround educators. Forget changing standards, new curricula, and standardized tests.

Remember (even if just for today) the real reason that you entered the field of education. Remember the real driving force behind all meaningful student learning; the relationship between a caring educator and their students.

Last week, out of the blue, I received a text message from a former student, who I taught in Georgia (I now live in Michigan).

Zack: Is this Chris Ming?

Me: Yes, Zack it is.

Zack: Will you be in Michigan for Thanskgiving week?

Me: Yes I will

Zack: How far away are you from Detroit?

Me: About 40 minutes

Zack: No way! Well me and Spencer are coming up to Michigan for Thanksgiving break and we were wanting to see if you maybe wanted to grab lunch while we are up there to catch up and see you.

Me: Where are you going to be? It would be great to meet up!

We were able to set up some time together yesterday for lunch in Greektown and I got to hear all of the great things that are going on with Zack and Spencer. I was humbled that these great young men wanted to spend part of their holiday with a teacher and coach that they had not talked to in four years. They reminded me why what educators do matters and provided me with a new energy for my job.

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From left, Spencer Tafelski, Chris Ming (me), Zack Shusterman in Greektown Detroit after lunch November 25, 2015. Spencer and Zack were students and soccer players that I had the privilege of working with four years ago in Loganville, Georgia

 

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the meaningful relationships that make learning possible. The relationships that make an impact on young people’s lives. I am thankful for all of the educators out there that make connections with young people. You won’t find these connections in any legislation, standards, or evaluations. But it is these connections that create the environments conducive to learning. These connections create the opportunity for all students to be great.

Educators everywhere, never forget the impact you make everyday in the lives of your students.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Why Educators Should Connect

In a couple of weeks I will have the pleasure of sitting on a panel with some phenomenal educators at the MACUL conference in Detroit. The topic of our panel is why educators should connect. In preparation for that panel, this is my formalization of the random thoughts that I have coupled together since being invited to join.

A few years ago I was a classroom teacher and one of my best friends in the school was next door. We shared a wall and we shared a passion for chemistry, but it dawned on me one day while we were talking in the hallway during a class change that I did not know much about John as a teacher. Sure I had heard his voice through the walls on a frequent basis (and I’m sure he and his classes had heard mine) but I didn’t know much about his instructional technique nor his relationships with students or any of the other important aspects that make a teacher effective. At that moment it occurred to me that education is an isolating profession.

It is funny to think about a job that involves standing in front of 30 people at a time and talking as being one that is isolating. The reality, however, is that while teachers and school administrators talk a great deal, the majority of that conversation is small talk amongst peers or instructional toward students. There is very little dialogue about pedagogy or the sharing of ideas and technique. Most educators, whether they choose so voluntarily or do so sub-consciously are confined by the four walls of their room or office and do not engage in the types of conversations that allow them to grow. This is precisely the reason why educators should seek to connect!

There are many roadblocks that inhibit educator connections. Roadblocks like increased accountability, more school responsibilities, and a lack of time and money for common planning and professional development are a few of the obstacles that prevent connecting. Now more than ever, however, it is important for teachers and administrators to combat these potential land mines and find ways around them in order to reap the benefits. The reality of education at the moment is that there are many outside influences that are looking to derail the progress that schools make on a daily basis. These voices that exist from the outside looking in heap a very negative vibe onto schools. Connecting with the positive energy of dedicated educators is a powerful tool for overcoming the naysayers.

Stepping out of the classroom both literally and metaphorically is a necessary step toward educator progress. Technology has changed our society and has made making connections much easier, but it is not the only necessary ingredient for progress. The most important necessity is a desire to connect, the want to. This internal motivation is what pushes through the obstacles on the path and leads to connections with others, that leads to ideas and reflection, and ultimately progress in classrooms and the school.

I’m not sure where my principal at the time, Dr. Nathan Franklin, found the idea but in my last year at Loganville High we started stepping out of our classrooms. Teachers were asked to go observe other teachers, their peers, in the classroom. This wasn’t an evaluation exercise, it was an expansion exercise; one in which we could start seeing our peers’ strategies and start having conversations. It was an idea that lead to an exercise in breaking down obstacles and building connections.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the first teacher on my list to observe and learn from was my good friend John.

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