Dear Olivia

Dear Olivia,

You are my one of a kind. When I think of the things you have endured, it makes me proud that you have overcome everything to be a very unique individual. I know that because of your struggles you will be a strong adult.

Mentally, emotionally, physically I don’t know that there is a person in the world that is more like me. That comes with its consequences and its rewards. Some of those you will learn on your own. Since I see a lot of me in you, I wanted to share some things that I would tell my 18 year old self:

  1. Don’t be afraid to fail. It sounds like a cliché but it is very true. Trying things that you are not good at enriches your life in countless ways. It makes your brain grow, it makes you more confident, and it increases your ability to handle setbacks and frustration.
  2. Be yourself. I’m still learning this and you could probably teach me a few things in this area. Swim against the current with confidence that you know where you are going.
  3. Believe in your power to figure things out. I think this is where public education fails us as adults. No one ever expects us to think through problems so we never gain that ability. As I have gotten older I have learned a lot by making the decision that I am going to figure things out on my own.
  4. Bring the Joy! I have to be reminded to do this at times. Being happy is a conscience choice that we have to make every day. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is not. It is possible not only to be happy but also to spread happiness every day.
  5. Tip generously! Nothing says more about your character than the way you treat people when you have nothing to gain.
  6. Possibilities are everywhere! Your life from now on is all about possibilities. Anything is possible if you aren’t afraid to go after it.
  7. Relationships are everything! Good, true relationships are what connects the world. Not just close relationships but positive connections that you make can make the difference in achieving your dreams.

Today marks the beginning of your future. Grab onto it with both hands and don’t let go. While there will be tears today, know that this is a stepping stone in your life to bigger and better things. I know that you have a ton of untapped potential. I have seen you grow incredibly in the last couple of years but I truly believe that you have inside you great possibilities.

In the years to come you will become a more independent woman. You will begin to need me less and less. That is what I hope for. That is what I want for you. You are a strong, independent person who will fly as far as she sees fit. Remember that but also always remember that your dad is only a phone call away.

Love,

Dad

 

“When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take a step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on or we will be taught to fly.”
― Patrick Overton

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The Struts – They Get Me

 

I love rock music. The good old fashioned kind. Electric guitars, bass guitars, drums and some dude wailing. Real, new rock is hard to come by. When I am in Pittsburgh I listen to WDVE and when I am in Philly it’s WMMR. These two along with WMMS in Cleveland are consistently the top rock stations in the east. I’m not talking alternative, acid, death metal, or punk just straight up rock and roll. There is one reason that I love rock music; It makes me feel good. It is fun and allows you to scream lyrics and rattle the dashboard with bass. I like all kinds of music: my playlists have something from just about every genre. But to feel good, I can’t wait until I get to those points on the PA Turnpike where i can begin to hear DVE or WMMS.

There is a point to this that relates to education. Just keep reading.

As I think I mentioned before, my number one professional goal for the year is to bring the fun. I’m trying hard to bring the joy with me to work every day. The goal is to improve the culture in a positive way. To do everything in my power to suppress the negative and accentuate the positive.

The video that I posted above is by a band called The Struts. The Struts get it. They embodied my beliefs in this song. The point of bringing the joy is to get the most you possibly can out of life. Embrace the struggle because it is part of living. My expectation isn’t that everyone will be happy everyday; my expectation is that we will try to find fun in our work. My expectation is that when we fall, we will learn together to get up. When we feel shame we learn from it and when we fell pride we celebrate it. When we taste pain we grow from it and when we fell love we shout it from the rooftops. When we look back on our lives we don’t want to have regrets, we all want to live better lives and we don’t want to say, “Damn, that could’ve been me!”

Let’s be honest, working in public education isn’t something that we chose to do for the glory, the paycheck or the constant positives from the public. We got in to education to impact lives. Little lives or big lives, at some point we all wanted to make a positive impact. We can’t do that with a negative attitude. We need to be All In Every Day! All in for our kids and all in for ourselves. We have a very finite window in which to complete our life’s work. Like The Struts say: Don’t let your life be an untold story; Don’t live as an unsung melody.

I’m probably driving the staff nuts (and my family) but I am committing to writing my story everyday and I am committed to Bringing the Fun; Bringing the Joy!

More Cowbell – The Education Edition

MoreCowbell

I Got A Fever

Saw this meme on Facebook a week or so ago and since then have heard “more cowbell” at least three times. The meme is meaningless if you never saw the SNL skit. Hilarious! We were at a field hockey game last week toting our Temple University cowbells when a university administrator standing beside us said, “There’s no such thing as too much cowbell!”

Of course, like most things, I thought about thus statement in the context of education. I know, I’m a nerd. But think about what the cowbell signifies. Cowbells are the joy! When you here a heavy, clapping cowbell you know there is a celebration. A hero in our midst. A fan trying to muster the last bit of energy for his or her team.

Education needs more cowbell!

I have made it one of my goals this school year to bring the joy; bring the fun everyday. When I am having fun and enjoying my work I fell like I am better at my job. People tend to connect more with people who are bringing the enthusiasm to work. It has benefited me to relax the facade of the expected principal and take ‘selfies’ with the kids, interrupt their class to get them a little wound up. The staff seems more at ease when they see the real me and know that when its serious we will be serious. Making connections and building relationships makes it easier when you have to have the unpleasant conversations.

So in education, what is the cowbell?

In my reflection, the cowbell is the times that you relax a little and not only enjoy your job but genuinely enjoy your students.The cowbell is the times that you celebrate the achievements of your staff and your kids. The cowbell is the times that you remember to ask your staff about their families or things you know that are going on in their lives. The cowbell is the sincere, straightforward ‘thank you’ to staff and students for making this place a great place to work. The cowbell is calling parents to tell them their kid didn’t something wonderful.

Cowbells cannot be disingenuous

If you have ever heard a cowbell, you know when you’ve heard it. You know what instrument makes that sound and it is clear and unmistakable. It’s important to keep that in mind no matter what your cowbell is. Everyone knows when they are not hearing a cowbell. They know when you are blowing wind up their skirt.

Does Education Have a Fever?

I don’t know if I have that answer but if it does, I know the prescription!

Summer School?

summer-school-dave-chainsaw

That picture is what I thing of when I think of summer school. The kids who didn’t get it done in the previous nine months got to spend some quality time over the summer to gain credits. If you are of a certain age, and have questionable taste, you probably saw the movie. A bunch of slackers taking English from an equally slackerish teacher.

The new trend that I have seen in the last couple of years is summer school for the bright. Not really school but assignments to get them ready to take ‘advanced’ or AP courses in the fall. My niece and a friend of my daughter’s both participated in this activity this summer and their schools are 200 miles apart. It must be a trend.

While at the shore this summer my niece broke out a book and some worksheets to complete her assignments so that she would be allowed to participate in the advanced English course during her sophomore year. I don’t have a problem with that necessarily. I do have a problem with the assignments. Read these three books; answer the questions on these worksheets and write a report on this book using this theme.

This is a good example of one of the things that is wrong with education in this country. I’m sure that the school that this teacher works at thinks she is the greatest teacher they have. They would have to because we know that only the best teachers get to teach the top kids. Don’t get me started on that. And the students in these classes have to be the best and brightest in order to get through the door. So, our ‘best’ teachers are telling our ‘best’ students how to grow academically over the summer. These are the book that will make you smarter; these are the questions that will prove you are smarter; this is the theme that smart people write about. The books were the typical high quality literature that you see in high school classrooms. We all probably read them. The theme was based on material that the typical high school would understand. The worksheets on the other hand were mostly low level recall questions. The kind of questions that a teacher asks just to make sure you read the book. No desire for students to analyze the text or make judgments.

The problem is this: If our gifted and talented and otherwise smart kids can’t decide for themselves how to self direct their learning, who can? What if the assignment were to read three books of your choosing. Three books that  spoke to them. Three books that they were passionate about. Three books that they felt would help them develop into better students or better human being. Wouldn’t that be a better use of their time? Instead of saying write this essay about this book on this theme, couldn’t the students read the materials that they selected and write about how the books impacted them positively or negatively. What did you learn about yourself by reading these books? And, in my opinion, chuck the worksheets into the trash. Trust is important in building a culture of learning. Asking students to answer simple recall and comprehension questions serves one purpose: to make sure that the kid read the book. I don’t trust you so tell me what happened to Tom on page 136. We are in dire need of people who can solve critical problems in our society. We need adults who are thinkers. Brendon Burchard’s second rule in his 5 Rules of Life is: Believe in your ability to figure things out. That ability may come naturally for some but for others it needs to be nurtured. You nurture that, I believe, by providing kids opportunities to figure things out. We don’t do it by spoon feeding content .

I read or am reading five books over the summer. Everyone has taught me something that I will use this year in my job. Not one of those books is on the list of 500 books everyone should read before they die. Not one. But I grew this summer because of each one. When more teachers start focusing on cultivating growth, allowing choice, and building trust with students, education will be  moving in a better direction.

Passion Driven Schools

Recently a colleague shared a video with me from Brendon Burchard. If you’re not familiar with Burchard, he is a motivational speaker. If you are anything like me, the thought of a motivational speaker makes you cringe a little and be more than a touch suspicious. This guy, though, is very engaging and seems to be a down-to-earth kind of guy. Anyway, the video pokes fun at SMART goals. Everyone in education knows about SMARTgoals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and trackable. They are a great way to set goals for many things. Burchard, though, introduces the idea of DUMB goals. His assertion is that our goals have to be created on a larger scale. Our goals should be about our Dreams; our destiny, they should be uplifting, they should be method friendly – they should have practices that lead to mastery, they should be behavior triggered. If you want to know more about that, hit the link.

This video got me thinking in terms of education. Every school now talks about being data driven. But weren’t we always data driven? Didn’t we always look at where kids were and try to move them forward? Maybe not. But dumb goals got me thinking about more grandiose goals, which got me thinking about passion. Passion, in my opinion, is what makes good schools great and bad schools better. If we somehow could measure the passion of all the players in a district could we find a correlation with achievement? A correlation with success ten years after graduation? A connection to the number of alumni who feel joy on a daily basis?

I had the pleasure of hearing George Couros speak at ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia. In a huge building full of people talking about being technology oriented and data driven, Couros talked about being a leader and being present for students and teachers. This is a passionate guy. He is passionate about not only students but about what we do to better reach our students. On more than one occasion he was practically moved to tears as was the audience. And he made us laugh and think. As Jimmy Valvano said in that famous speech, “that’s a good day!” And talk about passion, you probably won’t find a more impassioned than Valvano’s.

Another leader that I respect a lot is Todd Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker wrote, among other thing, What Great Principals Do Differently. He is another guy who is passionate in making schools great places for kids. In his books he talks about connecting with kids, with teachers, and with parents. This is his answer to being a great principal. Although he doesn’t use those words, he talks about making it cool to care. He also speaks about always doing what is best for kids. That is an old and tired saying among administrators but I love this quote: As a leader, it’s essential that you develop a clear vision and focus…if two people both make decisions based on what is best for students, they never disagree, even when they disagree.

So here is where I am: Passion. That is what makes us great or takes us from good to great. Or it at least makes us better. It seems odd in this day and age but we need to love more. We need to love our kids, our peers, our leaders, our parents. We need to be passionate about what we do. We need to bring the joy everyday as Mr. Burchard would say. And we have to do it methodically. My daughters like to say, “I do _____ like it’s my job.” We need to love and care, bring joy and passion like it is our job. Because it is our job. I can go on and on about specific cases where kids don’t get the love they need, they never feel that they are good enough, they are deprived of their basic needs, they never have a chance to use their voice. Remember Maslow: The need to feel secure and cared for trumps all other needs except the basics of food, air, water and shelter. We need to be more passionate and with that comes compassion. Love those on the journey with you. You have no idea what baggage they are carrying, what struggles they have, the road that they are travelling. Most of us would never dare to attempt to walk a mile in the shoes of some of our charges.

In this vein, I propose a Passion driven school or a passion focused school. We have data by the bushel. More data than most of us can sift through. What we need more of is passion. We need to love what we do and we need to bring the joy every day. That is a challenge, not only to you but to myself. Bring the joy; bring the passion. Everyday, methodically, purposefully like it’s your job. Because it is.