Each year on graduation morning, I sit in my office and reflect upon what this year's Senior Class has meant to MHS. I then write them a letter with my thoughts and feelings. This year marks the 6th Edition of "Dear Seniors". I hope you enjoy! You can read them all at the following links: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
On a day known for eating gluttonous amounts turkey, cranberries, stuffing, gravy, hamburgers, milkshakes or whatever your family traditions entail, I find it only fitting to blog about the amount of “consuming” we do as a society. While many of us will sit down to consume 8, 10, or even 12,000 calorie meals today, we have probably already spent a great deal of time consuming information from our phones, devices, or computers.
As a society, we have become constant consumers of information. From the minute we wake up to the time we go to bed, we are constantly bombarded with information. Whereas our ancestors from only a few generations ago had to wait to go to town to catch the latest gossip, get their hands on a book, or pick up the newspaper to get the latest news, it is instantaneous in the social media day and age. However, what we are consuming can either benefit us and help us grow or fill our minds with endless garbage.
Looking at studies this trend of digital overconsumption doesn’t start with screenagers but even toddlers are getting nearly an hour a day in front of digital screens. And from there the amount of time young kids through adults spend on their phones continues to rise. Whether it is Snapchat, Instagram, or Youtube for children and young adults or Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for adults, we are all guilty of this trend to be constantly “liking”, “snapping”, or “pinning” our favorite content. So as schools and educational communities, what can be done to adapt to this new way of consuming content and information?
For starters we need to teach students to be good consumers of digital content. Studies show that teenagers spend on average nine hours a day on social media or other forms of digital consumption. (From a somewhat dated article from The Washington Post, “Teens Spend Nearly Nine Hours Every Day Consuming Media”) If ⅓ of a student’s days is spent on their device why not encourage students to take time each day to close the Snapchat app and read a trusted news site? Teachers can take a minute at the end of each class period and share a blog post, TED Talk, ebook, or inspirational video for them to consume after class. Have them google something they are passionate about and start collecting resources where they can learn something new in an subject that excites them. Never before in the history of humans has so much knowledge been at our fingertips and it is only a simple Google search away.
But as educators, it cannot only be about consuming content. Students need to learn how to create content worth sharing. Ask any kid over the age of six where they go to find information on how to do something and nearly everyone of them will say YouTube. Whether it be how to solve a Rubik’s cube, instructional videos on Parkour, or strategies on winning their next Pokemon card game they know how and where to find this information. Our challenge to them needs to be how to create this content to share with the world and not just for “likes”, “views”, or “pins”. Sure we all like it when a picture or blog post is viewed hundreds or thousands of times, but the art of creating and sharing your talent for others to learn from needs to be the true lesson.
One would be remiss to write a post about social media use without mentioning digital citizenship and internet safety. Now more than ever this needs to be a constant focus when speaking with students about any of these digital consumption and creation topics. From being kind, appropriate postings, when to post, or when not say anything at all, these lessons need to be continually reinforced with those that are most vulnerable to the dangers our internet world possesses.
So as you finish off that last piece of pumpkin pie, settle in your favorite chair, and more than likely pick up your device from some after dinner consumption, ponder how you yourself can become not only a consumer but creator of content. Will it be that long overdue blog you’ve been meaning to start? A new pinterest board with your favorite family recipes? A YouTube channel with healthy living tips? A Facebook fan page with your best photos with tips on taking better pictures? We all have our own skills and talents we can share with the world. No longer can we be just a consumer of digital content but strive to be a creator who gives back as well.
Inspired by Nebraska Loves Public Schools “Feel the Love Friday” I thought I would share a story of LOVE. It reminds me of the impact we can have as educators and that words do matter.
There is no greater honor for me (or many principals) than to announce each individual student by name as they walk across the stage to receive their high school diploma. I work for weeks to be sure I get each student’s name correct although I still manage to miss this up at least once a year. It has been a long held tradition at Milford High School that after we announce the graduate's name we wait and wait and wait until each parent, grandparent, friend, aunt, uncle, etc gets the perfect picture. As soon as they begin the walk across the stage, I say the next name and so on.
A few years back, I was announcing the graduates and the previous student stopped behind me at the podium and said four little words, “I love you, Mo!” After being taken aback by the comment, I turned and said, “I love you too, (insert student’s name).” This student wasn’t the most popular, valedictorian, all-star athlete, fine arts superstar, but was a student that was always here grinding away at earning a diploma. This wasn’t the kid that would chat with me everyday at lunch but was one that I would say hi to every morning and ask how he/she was doing.
During a student’s senior year at MHS I hold a number of “meetings” for them and we talk about legacy, saying thanks, not burning bridges, what’s next, being a good community member, and the list goes on and on. However, my favorite day of the year, and always most memorable, is the seniors last day in school. We start the day with band and then I get them for about an hour. We hash out all the details for the final week leading up to graduation and then I read them a book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Suess.
I wrap up the morning by a few last pieces of “life advice”, tell them what they mean to me as a class, and always, always tell them “I Love Them.” This isn’t a hollow sentiment, but one I truly believe as each and every class does mean something to me and I do love them for who they are and the wonderful adults they have become. Some are taken aback by the comment, some are confused, while others get it!
Educators are in this wonderful profession because of our passion for kids. I know at times it can be trying, wearing, exhausting, frustrating but with patience and persistence we are making a difference and hopefully we all get that “I love you” moment.
It only takes a spark…
The Lone Nut…
Do a quick Google search of “How to start a movement” and one will see similar results to those listed above as well as endless cliches we have all heard thousands of times. But what is it that truly starts a movement and can it be as simple as a spark or an extra degree?
Movements undoubtedly start with a passion. Passion comes in many forms and for many different causes. Hopefully, every individual has something they are personally passionate about and will at times share this passion with those around them. But what takes this personal passion and transforms it into a movement. How can your cause become the cause of thousands of other like minded individuals who want to make a difference? It can be something simple and maybe unexpected.
Over the past year, a movement has grown throughout the educational community in Nebraska and has brought together those who are passionate about sharing the story of public schools throughout the state. And while this movement continues to spread through the tremendous films and social media campaigns Nebraska Loves Public Schools puts together, the spark has been a simple shirt with three words and a symbol.
These shirts are worn with a sense of pride throughout our communities. But what started out as a statewide effort to share the story of strong public schools has quickly blossomed into a phenomena that maybe even the great people at NElovesPS couldn’t even expect.
Over this past spring and summer, I was fortunate to travel from east coast to west coast and many parts in between. In February, I happened to wear my I “Heart” Public Schools shirt to the airport and the spark was lit! I had a number of people come up to me and say “I like your shirt” or “Where do you teach?”. And over the next seven months, I made it a mission to be sure whenever I traveled I packed my shirt. What happened next blew my mind.
One simple shirt allowed for numerous high fives, handshakes, “thanks for what you do”, “I do too”, and other interactions that normally don’t take place walking through a terminal. What the shirt allowed is for deeper conversations because of the passion that lies within all educators.
Regardless of the airport, museum, ball park, or restaurant I was visiting, I nearly always had someone make a comment about the shirt. I met educators from Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma, Oregon, Michigan, Virginia, Idaho, Montana, The District of Columbia, etc and the list continues to grow. What was special is that each of these people not only had a story but a passion for what they did, educating ALL students who came through their doors. A simple shirt brought us together.
On a train in Philadelphia I had a gentleman tell me, “You’re brave for wearing that shirt” which lead to a 15 minute conversation about his career as a public school teacher in the Philadelphia Public School system and the struggles they have faced. This conversation allow me to understand the needs and challenges of large urban districts which are sometimes unrelatable to those of rural America. A simple shirt…
Not every interaction is positive and one was downright bizarre. I have had those who have challenged my views and even asked if I really believe what my shirts says and my answer is (and will always be) a resounding YES! While I had another lady tell me my shirt was creepy and when I asked why she said, “Because it reminds me of my van?” Before I could ask a follow up questions (with a puzzled looked on my face) she was gone. Part of wearing the shirt is being proud of who you are and what public education represents, which makes this last story so special.
My family took a trip up highway 101 this summer culminating with a few days in Seattle. We stayed at my cousins house and was able to do some laundry so I washed my shirt and wore it the next day to the world famous “Fish Market”. As we were meandering our way through the crowds, I was grabbed from behind and given a bear hug by a complete stranger who said, “I love the shirt, I do too.” As I got over the initial shock of having a complete stranger hug me, I asked where she was from and where she taught. She was from Montana and was a middle level teacher for 30+ years. A simple shirt and a passion…
Ask anyone who wears their I “Heart” Public Schools shirt and they will have a story to tell of similar interactions. Nebraska is blessed to have Sally, Brittany, and the entire team at Nebraska Loves Public Schools sharing the endless stories of public schools making a difference in the lives of our students. Whether intended to be the spark to start a movement or not, the shirts have and will continue to initiate conversation which are vital in telling the stories each of our schools have. Thanks for all you do for public schools but most importantly our students. I “Heart” Public Schools.
Check out the great things happening at NElovesPS.org
Want to order your own shirt? Order it at https://nelovesps.mybrightsites.com/
Tomorrow, June 30th, marks the last official contract day for the 2016-2017 school year. As I sit here trying to finish up my 5th year as principal and 15th year in education, I feel the urge to reflect, to write. But just as the past month has gone, I struggle to find the words.
Sure, I have a plethora of topics running through my mind I want write about; new beginnings, relationships, competition, drive, leadership, mediocrity, complacency, advocacy and the list goes on and on. Yet, my mind wanders…I sit. I stare. I pray.
My mind brings me back to The Master’s, Las Vegas, Thornridge, my classroom, your office. I reminisce about the hundreds of trips to games, the countless rounds of golf in the sun, the time we thought our plane was going to crash, or the closed door conversations in your office. The memories of watching you struggle to hit the ball only to be laughing so hard three seconds later as it careens off a rock and hits our playing partners golf cart. When we sang our favorite songs (Hot Child in the City) by the pop machine while doing lunch duty. The moments of joy, laughter, and sorrow we shared always knowing that you had my back while I had yours. Or the last time we talked. It was short and to the point. One hug and an “I Love You”.
You gave me a chance and believed in me long before I was probably ready. You provided me with guidance and support while always challenging me to be a better teacher, administrator, and person. And although your story was cut short long before it should have been, your legacy lives on through the lives of those you taught, worked with, and mentored.
I miss the rounds of golf, the Husker football games, the text messages, and the “you will not believe” what just happened in my office phone calls. God has a plan and I need to trust it. Rest in Peace TJ.
“EVERYONE HAS A STORY...MAKE YOURS WORTH TELLING”
Each year on graduation morning, I take a few hours to reflect upon that years senior class and the unique qualities they bring to MHS. Upon reflection, I write a letter to them with some words of advice for the future. Here is the 5th edition of "Dear Seniors".
Recently, while endlessly scrolling through twitter at 11 pm, a post from a first year teacher caught my eye that read, “I’m just a first year teacher”. Educators are never “just a”, they are learners, dreamers, and visionaries which have the greatest job in the world.
Educators come in many forms with various titles:
And through these roles we:
Are the givers of knowledge
Are a shoulder to cry on
Provide warm meals
Ensure students have clean clothes for the concert
Purchase winter coats for those coldest of mornings
Ensure a safe place to learn
Counsel students when needed
Provide support when a student’s world seems to crashing down around them
To all educators, don’t ever cut yourself short or let anyone tell you you’re “just a” because to your students you are so much more. For some students we are that smiling face, while to others we are everything. You never know the full impact you’ll have. However, everyday you have the opportunity to impact your students, staff, school, and community and that isn’t a “just a” responsibility.
Words have amazing power. They have the power to lift up, destroy, make a person smile, or bring a lump to your throat. However, I believe one word has more power than any other and that is Love.
As we started the 2016-2017 school year our staff read the book “One Word” and everybody selected a word to keep them focused throughout the year. Commitment, hope, patience, pray, and survive were just a few words that our staff chose. Each of these words were personal and held great meaning whether that was shared publically, amongst a small group, or held in private. The word I chose is “Love”.
While love has driven my actions, behaviors, and words throughout the year, it had extra special meaning today. Today, we celebrated the great work Public School Educators across the great state of Nebraska do on a daily basis through social media posts, pictures, and videos. More than once I got choked up as tweets and posts displaying the great things happening in our schools were shared. From staffs wearing their “I Heart Public Schools” shirts, videos about students overcoming challenges, the importance of extracurricular activities, to personal stories of achievement because of the support of public school educators, it was hard not to well up with pride for my mentors, colleagues, and friends who choose to serve our schools, communities, and most importantly our students on a daily basis.
What made it extra special was I got to spend the day with my staff, students, and a host of dedicated administrators from across the state at the quarterly NCSA (Nebraska Council of School Administrators) Executive Board meeting in Lincoln. While many tough conversations were had at the meeting, it was reassuring to look around the room and know I was surrounded by men and women who will stand up for what they believe is right for our students and the future of Nebraska Public Schools.
Love is a powerful word and I can’t say enough how much I LOVE my job, this school, our students, and staff. I also love the network of caring educators from Falls City, to Chadron, and everywhere in between who I know will stand up with me and proclaim #ilovepublicschools!
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.
Milford Jr/Sr High Principal