Tag Archives: philosophy

A Hypocrit’s Resolution

I’m guilty, or rather I have been in the past and that is something that I am going to change. What am I guilty of exactly? I am guilty of having my face buried in my phone to a detrimental level. For this new year I resolve to put down my phone when I am bored, waiting, procrastinating, etc. and I am determined to spread that message to the students of my school. I write this now, because I know that if I don’t get it out of my head and out into the world that I will be less apt to make a change.

The thought for this resolution came from a great podcast on How Stuff Works called, “Is computer addiction a thing?” and it evolved in my head into the realization that yes, people are way too focused on their phones; I’m too focused on my phone. In the race to unite people through email, text messaging, and social media people have actually accepted the practice of ignoring those in their immediate vicinity. I think of the cafeteria at my school as a prime example. When most people think about a high school cafeteria at lunch they think about loud, raucous teenagers gouging themselves before heading off to their next class. At the beginning of my career, this was the case. Now, however, when I walk the rows of tables the volume has decreased considerably. They still jam as much food down their throats as possible, but they are doing so one-handed with the other firmly grasping their phones. Most students don’t even notice me as I walk by because their faces are buried in a game or a social account. And there is the kicker; they are in the most loosely structured social environment of their entire school day, where they can sit with whomever they like and talk about whatever they like (within reason) and instead they are focused solely on virtual relationships, while the human relationships suffer.

I fear that the quick development of dependency on cell phones, coupled with the attraction of social media has created a behavioral block that is hindering the development of interpersonal relationships. I did not grow up with a cell phone, in fact, I did not get my first phone until after my first year of college. I grew up in a time when I had to memorize my friend’s phone numbers, and getting to spend time with friends was valuable catching up time. I knew a different way before I became addicted to my phone; our young people have never known a life without immediate access and therefore do not place the same value on a good face-to-face conversation.

When the first automobiles came out, there weren’t any traffic laws. Over time, the rise in popularity in the car lead to congestion and safety concerns. Laws were created and regulations put in place to ensure the safety of not just pedestrians, but the drivers of the vehicles themselves. Cell phones and social media have gone unchecked and unregulated for long enough and the immediate risk is that people are being crippled in the art of communication. It is quite ironic when you think about it; we are now more connected than at any other time in history, yet our ability to communicate is deteriorating over time.

I resolve this new year to put down my phone and have meaningful conversations and relationships. I resolve to spread that word to my students and to lead by example. I’m not abandoning technology, but rather recognizing that when to use it is just as important as when not to use it.

 

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Ming’s Musings: What I’m Reading 9/21-9/25

Monday: Student learning accounts for half of teacher evaluations this year

Local article from my area that talks about the 50% value on student growth for teacher evaluations. This is an especially difficult situation for teachers and the evaluators alike in that the state, through legislation, has said that this is the law, but has not adequately defined what student growth is. To think that 50% of your evaluation is required by law to involve a variable that the state has difficulty defining is a difficult situation for all parties involved. Evaluations are not supposed to be punitive, but rather a measurement of where somebody is and what they can improve on.

Tuesday: Teens Need More Sleep, But Districts Struggle to Shift Start Times

The major point of the article is that school should start later in the day, especially at the high school level. Research points toward high school students optimally starting after 9am, but this poses a logistical issue for many families.

Being someone who has been involved with high school education for 11 years, I can attest to the observation that teenagers have a tough time functioning early in the morning and have noticed how much better those same students do in the afternoon. The article takes the viewpoint, however, that schools are not aware of the benefit of starting later, which is false. Educators are aware of the benefits of the teenage mind starting later in the day, but cost (though we wish it weren’t) is a driving factor in many school decisions. Fundamentally, everything from busing, to teacher contracts, to after school activities (including sports) would need to be changed in order for this to be beneficial. The difficult ask with this type of proposal is that it almost requires an entire community to alter their schedule for the schools and that seems to be too big of a reach in most areas.

Wednesday: Grand Rapids schools teacher layoffs spark evaluation system discussion

Another article, this one out of Grand Rapids, about the effect of teacher evaluations. The article brings up that multiple probationary teachers were released from a district due to not achieving effective status on their evaluation. The troubling part of the article for me is that the point was made that school data is used for student growth for the teachers that teach subjects that are not directly state tested, often times when teachers didn’t teach those students. This is an example of how the failure of the state to define student growth has led to dire outcomes. Another part of the article that was bothersome to me is that one of the board members, that was a former teacher and administrator, claimed a lack of consistency in the year-to-year evaluations citing his own record of being highly effective one year and effective the next. In the education world, as in many other professions, there are up years and down years that are determined by many different factors. It is not a fair claim to say that the evaluator or evaluation system is unjust based on the information provided.

Thursday: Judge rules Ann Arbor school district can ban guns

A short article about Ann Arbor schools and a court case that upheld the right of the school district to ban guns on school property.

I am not against denying anyone their rights that have been granted by our Constitution. With that being said, however, I do not see having guns on school grounds as a good thing. Any gun, whether properly licensed or not, poses a security concern at the very least.

Friday: Five ‘dumb’ things one educator used to think but doesn’t anymore

Interesting take on five topics that have undoubtedly come up in classrooms across the country. “1. School is your job. Just like I have a job and your parents have a job, you too have a job. 2. Algebra teaches you how to think differently. 3. Homework will teach you how to do things you don’t want to do. 4. My strict deadlines are teaching them accountability and responsibility. 5. Difficult/strict teachers help you learn how to deal with those types of people…it’s good for you.

I really enjoyed how the author reflected on his experiences as an educator and challenge the conventional logic above. Anybody that has been in education will tell you that it is cyclical and that there are no new ideas. I don’t believe that this has to be the case if more people challenge why we do what we do. My thoughts on education have changed a great deal over my career and are now reflected in my simple philosophy of creating opportunities. Education should be exciting and learning should be fun while opening doors to areas that otherwise may have been blocked off.

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Too Much Power is a Bad Thing

Last week I read an article and a short summary about Governor Snyder’s plan to improve for educational reform in Michigan. In the Detroit Free Press article it is stated that the Governor intends to fix Michigan schools by putting in place an additional layer of oversight by putting in place an appointed CEO/Superintendent in financially distressed/under-achieving districts. The oversight by an education manager of an empowerment zone would see the state government gain further control over education while ignoring the major issues that have landed these troubled districts in this spot in the first place, namely limited funding and a lack of resources to address the needs of students and their families.

Here is where my Assistant Principal and Athletic Director worlds collide. Has the Governor not learned anything from the debacle that has been the Deflate-gate saga in the NFL?

Recently, a court has found Tom Brady’s punishment for his involvement in the deflation of footballs during last year’s playoffs to be unjust. More importantly the court determined that Commissioner Roger Goodell’s action as judge, jury, and executioner of all things discipline in the NFL was an overstepping of power.

This educator sees the governor’s approach to education reform in the same light; too much power in the hands of one person (or branch of government) is a bad thing. We have a Department of Education composed of educators that understand the real problems; let’s trust them to do what is right by kids.

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March Madness in Schools

We have made it to March and the smell of spring is just starting to hit the air and melt the winter away. NCAA College Basketball Playoffs excitedly start this week what has widely been named March Madness, the frenetic, crazy, fun, and exciting culmination of the college basketball season. In schools across the country, March Madness has a whole different meaning.

The Madness that March brings to schools is quite tangible and is created by a number of factors. Here are just a few of the many realities that schools face during March:

  • State and federal standardized tests
  • teacher and administrator evaluations
  • school report cards
  • budget proposals for next fiscal year
  • ACT/SAT
  • student scheduling
  • AP testing
  • end of year band/choir/drama performances
  • next level orientations (5th and 8th graders)
  • award ceremonies
  • graduation
  • Spring Sports
  • interviewing and hiring
  • retirements
  • building master schedules
  • student anticipation of the pending summer

Added to that ever-growing to-do list this time of the year is the pressures that the results of these tasks will bring. Politicians at the local, state, and federal levels licking their chops at the idea of cutting this or axing this due to dips in numbers. Families eagerly sifting through the data to find the best possible schools to send their students. Employees worrying about whether they will have a job the following year and, if they do, what that job will look like.

It is very important at this very busy time of the year to step back from the pressures and the to-dos and reflect on the primary purpose of all of this stress. While everyone from the parent, to the teacher, to the administrator is stressed to the point of breaking this time of the year it is important to remember that the reason that we are all in this is for the students. Regardless of what any politician says, or what the results of a standardized test show, what educators do now needs to be with students as the focal point. It is far too easy for people to lose that focus of this simple point in the face of all the stress agents at this time of year.

To all of the educators out there from administrators, to teachers, to coaches, to parents keep persevering and doing what is best for kids. Put aside all of the pressures, checking them off one at a time, and all the while keep your eyes on the prize that is our kids. Take in the Madness and make it marvelous.

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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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Multi-Sport Athletes: Good for now, good for the future

I’m an assistant principal and an athletic director. Before that I was a teacher and a coach. Before that I was a multi-sport athlete. My best sport was soccer, but I played basketball and baseball and even gave track a try one year. I bring this up to emphasize the importance of being more than just one thing. In my day-to-day job I work two full-time positions that are very different from one another. The experience that I gained as a multi-sport athlete in high school helped me to develop into the type of person that could handle multiple roles simultaneously.

multisportThe tweets above really caught my attention for a couple of reasons. As the AD of a small school, the vast majority of the athletes in my building are multi-sport athletes; they have to be for our programs to survive. While every one of those athletes has a “best” sport, it is the act of participating in a variety of activities that creates the well-rounded competitors that we have. The tweets above also clearly make the point that participating in multiple sports does not detract from being able to EXCEL in one as is the point that I hear made by some athletes.

Athletics teach lessons that cannot be learned from any book. Coaches provide structure and guidance to student-athletes and help shape them into the men and women that they will become. It is important that we as educators prepare our students for roles that may not yet be determined. While it is important to be really good at something in the work force, it is also valuable to be flexible and competent in many different areas. We should encourage our sons/daughters/grandchildren/etc. to participate in a number of activities and create a well-rounded future adult. I’ve certainly experienced this first hand and as a parent have put it into practice with my own daughters who are in both gymnastics and soccer.

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Envisioning Schools of Tomorrow

Schools do not look the same as they did 100 years ago; nor should they. The buildings in which we educate our youth should change as the needs of society change. These buildings should change both structurally and intellectually. In my previous two posts I discussed my educational philosophy and the need to shift the focus of learning. What follows is my vision of what schools in the future will look like.

The major premises that my vision for the future of schools are based on:

  • Today’s school buildings do offer some “unwritten” advantages that pay dividends in personal development of students
  • Learning through the use of technology is not going away, but does not replace the value of a good teacher
  • Knowing where to find information and what to do with that information has become a higher priority than the information itself
  • A school, and education in general, is a means of creating an opportunity for something better.

There are inherent advantages in schools as they are currently configured. They are a microcosm of society, for better or for worse, and provide a relatively safe environment for young people to learn the roles of society…how to interact with others, forming relationships, conflict resolution, etc. These lessons that exist outside of the curriculum are fully missed through online education.

That, however, brings me to the second bullet point, technology is not going away. As a high school administrator I have seen students leave my school to jump on the bandwagon of online school. Unfortunately, the transition from all brick and mortar to exclusively online is a difficult one for many students. My vision for the future is a blended effect across the board. Schools would become much more wired than they are now with a much more liberal plan for electronics usage.

With a more blended environment it is going to be important for schools of the future to provide the proper structure for success. I envision a slew of new classes developing that will teach basic tech uses, proper research and citation process, digital citizenship (and digital presence), time management, focus strategies, unplugging sessions, etc. All of these new classes would become a mandatory part of the curriculum that would provide the tools needed to construct a future education in preparation for life in the “real-world”.

All of these factors combined bring me to my final vision for future education; information gathering and usage will be measured and will lead to greater flexibility and choice for students. My radical twist for the future of education is the breaking down of the current class length requirement currently set at semester or trimester and instead a focus on standard proficiency. Through blended learning students would be able to complete courses early and move on to other areas of interest faster or conversely have the ability to spend more time in areas of need. Grades, in essence, would no longer be the assessment of student learning, but rather, students would need to be able to use the material learned in class and apply it in order to prove proficiency. Standard proficiency would lead to advancement and diving into material at a deeper level.

Schools of the future will look different. My vision for schools creates choice and eliminates the students that “know how to play the game”. By blending learning and shifting our focus, schools will be a place of choice and opportunity that will prepare students for what lies ahead.

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