Every year a number of “open letters”, blog posts, or newspaper articles go viral outlining why a teacher or educator walked away from the profession. The educator is often heralded as a superstar teacher or award winning educator and nearly all of them have similar reasons for stepping away. Too much testing, lack of funding, lack of administrative/classroom support, disrespectful students, over involved parents, and/or changing school climates and cultures are all cited as reasons these educators have decided to change careers. Nearly all educators can relate to one or more of these reasons and understand their plight. But what about those educators that have stayed?
Any honest educator will tell you they have thought about quitting more than once or twice and even evaluated what other professions are out there for them (for me it’s carpentry or woodworking). While I don’t condemn these educators for their decision to move on, I do questions what it says about our profession as a whole when this is the narrative that is being published nationwide via mass media and social media outlets. If our (educators) story is about being overwhelmed, underpaid, and over regulated why would any student contemplating career fields choose to go into education?
While the issues that are plaguing public schools need to be addressed, we can’t allow the pundits to use “Why I quit” letters to seek further change that will ultimately place more oversight and restrictions on teachers. Our profession is so much more than standardized tests, evaluation models, and tax levies. It is about building relationships and inspiring youth to find their true passion in life and become the leaders of our communities tomorrow.
For me relationships, passion, and moments far outweigh the issues which seems to burden educators and ultimately push them out of the profession. Nothing is more important than being a part of a family and through our schools, educators build relationships that superseded the classroom walls and impact communities as a whole. Relationships with staff, parents, patrons but most importantly students are the fabric of our schools that create cultures of learning and trust. For a handful of our students the only family they have are the people that greet them at the school door each morning.
Passion is what drives me to continue to advocate for public education. Students depend on adults to advocate for them outside of our buildings. Sharing our school’s story and the great work that our students do is what I enjoy. I believe wholeheartedly in the programs and offerings at MHS and across the state. The “Why I quit” articles only paint schools in a negative light and the great things happening in our buildings are lost in the rhetoric.
At the end of the day, moments are why I don’t quit. While throughout any given day or week I can have multitude of negative interactions with staff, students, or parents, it only takes one moment to remind me why I love this profession. If I were to quit, I wouldn’t get to experience the 7th graders first day at school, a struggling student acing a test, a staff member trying something new in their classroom, the student who walks in your office asking for help, singing Ice Ice Baby at Prom, the basketball player hitting the game winning shot, announcing every single graduating senior by name as they walk across the stage to receive their diploma, or a plethora of other moments which brings a smile to my face or a tear to my eye. As an educator, these moments prove you are making a difference in a student’s life and/or providing the comfort and support they need.
Education is a tough and tiring profession which brings with it the great honor and privilege of inspiring the next generation of artists, electricians, architects, lawyers and hopefully teachers. As educators, we need to share our stories of success, while continuing to work on the issues facing ours schools. Positivity and joy needs to outshine the negativity. Our best and brightest students need to be inspired just like the thousand of educators who have decided the moments are what makes teaching so special.
Youth today get a bad rap. As adults we accuse them of being lazy, too connected to their mobile devices, unable to socialize, lacking of morals and values, quick to spout off their every emotion on social media, and the list goes on and on. While many of the sentiments carry some truth, I would argue that youth, particularly preteen and teens, are living in a time period unlike any other in the history of the world.
Growing up in the 80’s and/or 90’s (or any time period prior to Napster), parents were able to relate to many of the issues and problems their children were dealing with. Sure, parents may have struggled to understand hip hop music, the grunge look, or even the fascination with the TV show “Friends.” However, for the most part, what kids were going through parents could relate to. Relationships, school, sports/activities, etc had advanced but not to the point where parents didn’t have a point of reference when their child had an issue. Times have changed and changed dramatically (for now)!
We live in a world of unbelievable growth and progress. To have nearly every bit of information at our fingertips or more accurately in our pockets would be the illusions of science fiction to humans of the 1960’s or 70’s. Technology has advanced and grown at such a rapid pace over the past 25 years that the computer you buy today is the “old” version in a couple of months. And the internet was only the starting point in changing how we have and interact as humans. But, I would argue that this technological wonder wasn’t the tipping point.
The smartphone and other portable connected devices fundamentally changed how we interact with each other along with the creation of social media sites. These advances in technology have impacted human interactions and spurred our continual desire to check our phones. But unlike parents of the past, there isn’t any reference point for how to help your child deal with issues caused by these newfound avenues of communication.
It’s hard to believe that smartphones and social media outlets have been in mainstream society for less than 10 years and for many of us even less than that. Where as I can still remember the first time I logged onto the internet in 1995, teenagers today have lived with these devices in their hands for as long as they can remember. In the past, parents would normally be able to share their “expertise” and “experience” with their children when issues arose. It is impossible in 2016 to do so because we are learning how to appropriately interact in this constantly connected world together. There isn’t necessarily a book or script for us to follow.
Additionally, kids take their cues from adults. When their favorite athlete, actor, internet star, or personality posts inappropriate, hateful, hurtful, sexual, or graphic posts on Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, or Facebook they believe that is the norm and acceptable because these post get thousands if not millions of likes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just not placing the blame on the famous. We all know adults that could use a lesson or two in proper social media use and digital citizenship.
So what do we do? Do we allow this behavior to become the norm with teenagers possibly forfeiting future opportunities (college acceptance, scholarships, jobs) because of what they posted to social media? Or do we become even more diligent in teaching not only youth but all individuals in proper social media use? As educators, I feel that even though it is just one more thing we have to find time to incorporate into the curriculum, it is vital that digital citizenship continues to be stressed. Social media and smartphones aren’t going away anytime soon, so we can either be a part of the solution or continue to look the other way and allow inappropriate social media use to become the norm. Luckily, the teenagers we are trying to reach will one day grow up and become parents themselves and their generation will have that reference point that adults in 2016 lack. If we create good stewards of technology today, these teenagers will carry on the message for generations to come.
Each year, I pen a letter to the seniors on the morning of graduation reflecting upon their accomplishments and what their lasting legacy will be for MHS. This is my forth installment of "Dear Seniors..." Congratulations on your accomplishments and thanks for all you've done for MHS.
You can see the other three letters by clicking on the links; 2013, 2014, & 2015.
My 7 year old son loves Minecraft, and by “loves” I mean obsessed. He talks of diamond swords, iron body armor, creative mode, mods, and ender dragons as if these are everyday items we can pick up at Wal-Mart or Target (which for many of these items you actually can). Many times I am frustrated with the amount of time he is playing, however, I am also impressed with his ability to create these worlds from nothing. When I asked him how he knew how to build all of these great worlds, his response is typically, “YouTube.”
Today’s students live in a technological world where they have never known life without YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Smart Phones, etc. As educators, we still remember the days of learning how to email, dial up modems, cell phone bans at schools, and Motorola bag phones. So what happens as these two worlds collide in our school buildings? Do we adapt to change or fight it tooth and nail because “that’s the way it’s always been?”
In the book “Open, How We’ll Work, Live and Learn In The Future” David Price outlines the need for philosophical educational change in our schools to be able to adapt to the changing culture of our students and society. We live in a world where students have access to nearly every living author, musician, artist, electrical engineer, game designer, professional athlete, social media star, and the list goes on and on. If my sons wants to learn about creating a time portal in Minecraft he doesn’t need to attend a class at the community college, he YouTube’s it and within a microsecond he has thousands of “experts” to show him how. But it doesn’t stop there. He isn’t just the one consuming the information. With a computer and $20 headset he can create his own Minecraft tutorials and share his expertise with the world. At seven years old, he is now part of a community, or Tribe as Seth Godin would say, that freely shares information with other Minecraft fanatics across the globe.
As an active Twitter user myself, I also experience this sharing of information freely on a daily basis. And it isn’t just with other principals in Nebraska. Twitter allows me to gather ideas from the best of the best our field has to offer. But these interactions aren’t just a one way street. Not only are these resources there for the taking but we can have one on one interactions from these experts. On more than one occasion, I have tweeted at experts and had a deeper conversation about their book or project.
Have you ever had a question about leadership? Tweet at @ToddWhitaker and I can almost guarantee he will respond with the answer. The guy has over 75k followers and 40k tweets yet he is willing to share his expertise with me one on one. I have also been privileged to interact with multiple authors, the folks at Soul Pancake (Kid President), and the National Digital Principal of the Year, which lead to a visit to his school in Burlington, Massachusetts. With social media and online resources the possibilities for our students and our own learning is endless.
Providing a well rounded education to our students no longer means schools have to have a staff member with the expertise in a certain field or hobby. Students today are already used to searching the internet to glean information on every type of question or interest they may have. Whether it is photography, psychology, drafting, interior design, 3-D printing, robotics, etc the list of resources and experts available to students is merely one tweet, Google search, Pin, or blogpost away.
Our jobs as educators is encourage students to pursue their passions while opening doors for them in areas they may have never thought about. The value of an education can never be underestimated regardless if that knowledge comes from a classroom setting, a book, a TEDtalk, YouTube tutorials, a formal online class from a local college, or a weekly podcast. Through the formal education process, we need to continue to open up these avenues of learning and provide our students with the skills and resources they will truly need to become productive and viable citizens in the 21st century. The biggest question is are we willing to change?
In 2016, the sharing of information and resources is vital to the growth of education as a whole. Whether it is through Twitter, Voxer, podcasts, or any number of online resources, the internet provides educators the resources to help educate and guide students to be productive citizens in the 21st century. I also thoroughly enjoy reading other educators reflections of their experiences in their classrooms and schools. However, I find EDUblogging extremely difficult.
If you check out my blog you will notice that it has dried up like the Platte River during a hot summer in Nebraska. This isn’t because there is a lack of amazing things happening at MHS to share with the world. Those posts are shared regularly on the MPS Facebook and Twitter accounts. The lack of posts is more a personal matter that every educator deals with on a daily basis.
From the outside, education is about testing, and curriculum, and board meetings, and sports teams, and evaluations, and the list goes on and on. I don’t disagree with any of this but when it comes down to it, education is about one thing, relationships. Relationships are the key to any well run organization but are especially important when you are dealing with 12 to 18 year old kids. And for that reason, relationships are what make EDUblogging so difficult.
Everyday, educators have hundreds of interactions with students, staff, parents, and community patrons. Each of these interactions could lead to a great blog post that would interesting for the average reader. However, one mistimed, misconstrued, or misinformed blog post could ruin a relationship that took years to build. Schools need to be a safe place for all students but especially those who are struggling with life. Every student deserves to have a trusted adult they can confide in when needed. Every educator who truly cares about kids and building those positive and safe relationships has had a difficult conversation with a student who needed someone to talk to.
Students today deal with home issues, academic struggles, drug abuse, dating violence, self harm, or an entire list of social factors which impact their daily lives. The fact that they can confide in a school employee means they trust this conversation will remain confidential, unless other agencies need to (or are required to) get involved. While many of these conversations would make for an intriguing blog post, it would also violate a trust that took years to build.
While I love blogging and the power sharing our personal stories has, I love kids and helping them more. In no way do I want to violate this trust that I have built with them. Some of our most frustrating students or circumstances end up becoming our greatest victories because a relationship was developed in which the student decided to trust in what we were doing. I want to continue to see students leave MHS with not only a high school diploma but knowing a building full of dedicated adults were willing to help them write a better story for themselves. As we say everyday at MPS, “Everyone has a story...make yours worth telling.”
I think we can all agree that the ages of 12-15 are some of the most difficult and awkward years of one's life. Friends come and go...many times over...often with lots of drama. Acne may explode all over your face. Your parents somehow lose their minds, while becoming uncool at the same time. And you suddenly have this deep sense of attraction for others. Middle school, as we know it, is difficult and painful all at the same time.
This past January, the Milford Junior High Choir performed the musical "The Lion King" after many months of hard work and preparation. Nearly 50 students took the stage and performed masterfully in front of their parents, grandparents, peers, teachers, and other patrons in attendance. After the show concluded and the students took their rightfully earned applause I asked myself, "Who were these kids?" On a daily basis, some these same students can be shy, socially awkward, and afraid to show off their true selves. Yet, in front of nearly 400 people they were composed, confident, and able to carry a tune.
One of the featured numbers during the performance is "Hakuna Matata" and as I listened to the words of the song many thoughts came racing through my mind. As the song states:
Hakuna Matata, what a wonderful phrase
Hakuna Matata, ain't no passing craze
It means no worries for the rest of your days....
For many, if not all, junior high students we don't get to see their "true selves" as worrying is part of their daily vocabulary. Does my hair look good enough? Will he/she notice me at lunch today? What is that smell? How am I ever going to get this project done? Did I just get a SnapChat? Why won't [insert name] snap me back? And the list of worries goes on and on and on. However, for over an hour during the performance these same kids, while probably nervous and scared to be in the bright lights, were able to act as if they didn't have a worry in the world. They took the message of "Hakuna Matata" to heart and when the performance ended they were all smiles for ear to ear.
Our jobs as educators is to help students get through the "worrying stage" of life. There is no doubt that being a middle level student is some of the toughest years in one's life. However, by providing students the opportunities to participate in activities such as musicals, sports, band, choir, FCCLA, FBLA, etc they can grow the confidence needed to perform and possibly just be themselves.
Five for Friday this week focuses on technology...sort of. All articles are either tech specific or the impact that technology has on schools and society.
1. Looking for a good "Sci Fi" book that could/will become our reality? Check out "The Circle" by Dave Eggers.
2. A great article that was shared from @KarenHaase, "Dear Well-Meaning (But Ignorant) Parents: This Is What Your Teens Are Really Doing on the Internet"
3. "8 Technologies That Will Shape Future Classrooms" from Hongkiat.com
4. How important are lockers in schools? Interesting read about schools in Minnesota that have decided the space can be better used.
5. One last great read for the week. What happens when technology fails us and we have to live without it? "Station Eleven" will make you think about life without technology.
This weeks "Five for Friday" focuses on public education and the importance of telling our story.
1. January 27 was declared as "Public Schools Day of Action" by @NElovesPS. Check the ways you can help spread the message of the great public schools we have in Nebraska.
2. Dr. Mike Lucas of York Public Schools (@YorkDukePower) shared a very powerful blog post. Every public school educator in Nebraska should read and share his message.
3. Along with the "Public Schools Day of Action" #NElovesPS moderated the weekly #nebedchat on Wendesday night. Check out the archive and great ideas shared from educators from Nebraska and beyond!
4. Looking for a good book to inspire you to write a better story? Although not education related, it will challenge you to look at the story you (or your school) is writing and how can you make it better.
5. Last but not least, not a link or blog post but a philosophy engrained in everything we do at #milfordsoar.
Thank you to everyone who makes Milford Public Schools home for me and my family!
If you haven't read any of Jon Gordon's books, I highly suggest that you do! They are powerful and mostly quick reads that you can always take something away from. This week's "Five for Friday" centers around his best work (in my opinion).
1. Building a great culture is imperative to any organizations success!
2. From his book "The Carpenter"--one must show they care.
3. From one of my favorite books "The Energy Bus"--10 Rules For The Ride of Your Life.
4. A great reminder for all educators.
5. And lastly, a link to a great blog post "Working for a Bigger Purpose."
Milford Jr/Sr High Principal