About Me

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I've been an educator since 1995 where I've served as both a teacher and administrator. I believe that serving others is the key to success and make it my goal to be a servant leader for students, teachers, parents, and the community. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Resume: A tool for growth

Recently, I began a task I've been putting off for some time:  updating my resume.  No, I'm not looking for a new job.  I just want to see how far I've come since my last update.  Plus, you never know when it might come in handy, especially if a position opens up in my school district.  At this point, I am making lists of responsibilities, accomplishments, training, certifications, and so on that have changed since I put together my current resume.  Since that time, I've gained almost two years of administration experience, worked in two different schools, been responsible for several special projects, served as a district coordinator, attended multiple trainings, and, through social media (mainly Twitter) and blogging, become a more connected educator.  Now, the task is to put all of this on paper and LinkedIn, of course.

Fortunately, the most difficult part of the process so far has been determining what leave out.  If this were not a problem, I'd be concerned.  If I could dust off my resume and it was ready to go, it would be time to retire.  I would have stopped growing professionally.

For me, new challenges and learning opportunities are the life-blood of my career.  Without them, stagnation sets in.  Each day provides new opportunities to learn and grow.  It is up to me to take advantages of those opportunities.  

Through the process of updating my resume, I am tracking my professional development as well as determining the areas in which I need more experience.  Once I'm done, I will have a better picture of my current status and can make a game plan for growth.  

As a school leader, it is so important that I grow in my profession and model the growth process for others.  If I want the teachers in my building to be learners who are willing to take risks,  I must be the same.  Updating my resume, when approached with the right mindset, is a tool to facilitate this growth.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Don't ever let them down

It was raining and cold as I approached the store entrance.  "Excuse me, sir," said a voice from the shadows.  As I looked up, I saw a young man in his early 20's approaching.  He was tall with red hair and a scruffy red beard.  While his clothes were disheveled and hands soiled, he had a kind look in his eyes that was vaguely familiar.  "I need something to eat. Can you help me?"  I make it a habit to never give money, but I'll gladly buy food, gas, or other necessities if I'm able.  "What do you need?" I asked.  "Something I can eat that's hot and not in a can.  I'm really hungry," he replied.  I motioned for him to follow me and as we walked towards the deli area, he looked closely at me and said, "I know you, don't I?"  "What's your name?" I inquired.  "John."  My mind raced back several years as I remembered how I knew him.  "I was your teacher, John."  "Mr. Quarles!  7th Grade Science. I really enjoyed being in your class.  You made learning fun." He paused. "I always looked up to you."

As we stood at the deli, I told him to get what he needed and I'd pay for it. John looked over the various foods and began to tell me about his life since junior high.  "I was in trouble quite a bit in school, but things got really bad when my Mom died.  I just went crazy and got strung out.  I didn't want to live anymore.  I'm smart, but I didn't act that way.  I wasted a big part of my life so far." I agreed with him that he was intelligent.  I remembered that about him.  He was always ready to question and participate.  Not a model student, but fun to to have in class. 

Suddenly, he looked right at me and his words took my breath away.  "I wish someone like you would have been there for me.  I needed a man in my life to show me how to live. I wish you could have helped me."  I thought to myself, "John, I didn't know.  I was so busy trying to do my job that I didn't take the time to really get to know you.  I wish now I would have."  

We talked for a while longer about the struggles he had after his mother passed away, how he had battled mental illness, been in trouble with the law, couldn't find a steady job, and was sleeping on friend's couches.  He told me how he was trying hard to make it and that he wasn't going to give up.  

"What can I for you, John?"   His response nearly brought me to tears.  "Mr. Quarles, you can do one thing for me."  "What is that?"I asked.  "Be there for your students. They look up to you, so don't ever let them down.  I don't want anybody to end up the way I did."  "I'll take that to heart, John," I replied.  Shortly after, we went our separate ways. 

Was meeting up with John a divine appointment?  Probably so.  I only know that the encounter was not what I was expecting nor prepared for.  But, I must do what I said and take his words to heart.  As a teacher, I missed a lot of opportunities to positively impact the lives of students. I was so focused on teaching the curriculum that I failed to really get to know my students.  Thankfully, we get second chances.  As an administrator, I have opportunity every day to reach into the lives of struggling kids and help them as they navigate their way through life. We all need someone to guide us.  John reminded me tonight that I can be that person.  Now, I don't want to let him down again.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

You don't say: Non-verbal classroom management

Some of the most overlooked classroom management strategies are non-verbal actions and cues.  For some reason, many of us seem to believe that if we didn't say it then it wasn't communicated.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As a teacher, it took me several years to understand the power of non-verbal communication strategies and their effect on student behavior.  As an administrator, I use these strategies daily, especially when working with large groups.  The reason I believe they work is that they are  non-threatening and allow the student to save face because others rarely even notice that a directive has been given.  This cuts down on the escalation that can occur when a student feels they are being verbally reprimanded. 

Some examples of non-verbal management strategies are:

1)  Proximity control - When the teacher moves close to a student who is off-task or acting out.  The close proximity of teacher to student is often all it takes for behavior to change.  In addition, the teacher might touch the desk or the paper to indicate the need to get back to work. Proximity control tends to work better when the teacher is regularly moving throughout the room.  If the students don't know where the teacher will be next, they are less likely to act out.  

2)  Visual cues - There are a number of cues that teachers can use to redirect student behavior.  Some are universal such as a finger over the lips for silence or nodding/shaking the head for yes and no.  Others are specific to the teacher or classroom.  For example, I point to my shirt and make a tucking motion when directing a student to put their shirt in or make a twirling motion with my finger to indicate the need to turn around.  These cues can also be used to reinforce positive behavior such as a thumbs up or a fist bump.  Students can also be taught to use visual cues.  For example, raising a pencil can indicate the need to go to the sharpener.  At lunch, my students have been trained to point to the restroom door or the water fountain to ask permission to go these locations.  

3)  The "Look"  - The "look" is a technique that I don't believe is used often enough.  Basically, the teacher looks directly at the acting out/off-task child with a silent stare that is neither happy not angry, but ambivalent.  Many mothers, especially those from the "old school," have this down pat. When a teacher has perfected the look, they can move a child to proper behavior from across the room.  However, for the look to work effectively, the student needs to understand that, if the behavior doesn't change, there will be a consequence coming shortly.  

Non-verbal classroom management techniques are simple to implement and can be extremely powerful when used effectively.  I would encourage all educators to add these and other non-verbal strategies to their classroom management tool bag.  

What are some non-verbal techniques that have been effective in your classroom?  Please share your ideas in the comments.  


Monday, January 19, 2015

Day 7-Now what?

Today is the last day of my personal challenge to blog once a day for seven days.  I did it!!! In the process, I've seen my idea bank begin to fill up again and have started looking at everyday situations as learning opportunities.  On day one, I shared that I felt I had nothing of importance to say.  That may still be true, but I do have plenty to write about, important or not.  

Now that I've finished this challenge, its time to move to the next step.  I'm juggling the ideas of continuing to write a post a day or writing one post a week.  Writing a post a day has helped me stay focused and started me on the road to a new habit, both of which are necessary for success.  However, the quality of daily posts may not be the best.  I find myself regularly updating and making minor changes throughout.  By writing a post a week, I would have time to delve deeper into a topic and make my writing more concise and relevant.  Unfortunately, I might also fall back into the habit of putting off writing.  Overcoming this habit is why I started this challenge in the first place.  

I think the best solution is a melding of these two.  I can still write a post a day even if I don't publish it immediately.  Instead, I can allow the post time to simmer as I work on other ideas.  By weeks end, I will have several to choose from and can pick the best to publish.  The others can be used at later dates and times.  By keeping this flow going,  I will always have some posts ready and others in the working stages.  Sounds like a plan to me.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Six days you shall work...

"Six days you shall work and the seventh shall be a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it, you shall do no work.." Exodus 20:8-9

It's Sunday night and I've done it again.  I've spent an entire day without doing any work.  That may be normal for some, but for me, it is an accomplishment.  For years, I worked seven days a week.  I would put in my regular schedule Monday through Friday, work around the house on Saturday, and spend at least two hours every Sunday preparing for the week ahead.  It was exhausting.  

Then, one day during a Sunday sermon, the pastor was talking about having a day set aside each week for no work.  It should be time to rest and focus on our relationship with God.  As a Christian, that made sense. In fact, the Bible says in several places that we should work for six days and have one day of rest or a Sabbath day.  The pastor used the illustration of a rancher he knew who did not do any work, including go out and feed his animals, on Sundays.  He told the pastor that although it didn't make him richer, it didn't hurt him either.  

So, about a year and half ago, I made the decision that I would take one day a week totally off from work and use it for worship, reflection, rest, and family time.  At first, it was difficult.  I was always worried that I would not be ready for the coming week.  At about six pm Sunday evening, I would start to get nervous and want to go do some prep work.  But, I made myself relax and stop worrying.  And, like the rancher, it never hurt me.  If I needed to finish something, I always seemed to get it done early Monday morning when I was well rested.  

My typical Sunday now involves worship until around 12:30 pm, followed by a nap, and family time.  I usually try to get out of the house in the afternoons and walk through the woods with my son. I'm in bed by ten and fully rested for the week ahead.  

For those who feel like they just have to work every day, here is my plan to make it easier to take that day fully off.  I just spend a little more time at work during the week, possibly go in for a few hours Saturday morning, and be sure my week is planned out before I go to bed Saturday night.  Doing this allows me to relax and know that I'm ready for the week ahead.   

Am I legalistic about this?  Of course not.  If I was, I wouldn't be writing this post on Sunday night.  But, I do know that in the Bible, God tells me to take a day off each week and I know that He wants the best for me.  Jesus says that the Sabbath, or day of rest, was made for man and not the other way around.  Plus, it just makes sense.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Happy socks (or Why so serious?)

This Christmas, my wife gave me three pairs of Happy Socks.  If you are not familiar with Happy Socks (I wasn't), they are dress socks with a unique and creative twist. Below are some examples.

At first, I was hesitant to wear them, but after a few days warmed to the idea.  I mean, who would see them anyway?  They're socks. 

The first day I wore them, I had on a neatly pressed pair of slacks, laundered shirt, tie, and newly shined shoes. Typical professional dress for a school administrator.  Then, as I sat in a meeting, I crossed my legs and saw my Happy Socks. As I thought about how silly they looked, it hit me.  

I tend to take myself way too seriously.  And, when I do that, it saps my joy. 

Please understand.  I take my position as a school administrator very seriously.  My decisions and actions affect students, teachers, staff, parents, and the community along with the overall school culture.   I don't take that lightly.  

But, I can take myself lightly.  I can laugh at myself and laugh with others.  I can make mistakes and not be so hard on myself when I do.  I can look foolish if it will help a child learn.  I can be positive and upbeat no matter what situation I face.  I can make others feel more important than myself.  I don't have to take myself so seriously.

Now, I try to wear my Happy Socks as often as I can.  They serve as a reminder that, although I need to take what I do very seriously, I don't always need to take myself that way.

Friday, January 16, 2015

My best thinking

Years ago, I had a principal whose favorite saying was, "Other people do my best thinking for me."  Today, I put that mantra to the test. When faced with some important decisions,  I spent time trying to come up with my own solutions. I quickly realized that others in the building had better insights than I did.  So, I asked for their help.  They were happy to assist and because they've worked there longer, their ideas were often practical and easy to implement.  While what I was considering would have done the job, these fresh ideas were right on target and caused things to go much smoother than they would have otherwise.  In some cases, it actually placed more work on the other person, but they were willing to accept that as it was part of their solution. 

As a leader,  I have to remember that I don't know it all.  I am surrounded by a team of people who see things in ways I don't.  We depend on each other for help and support.  What happens when their ideas work well?  I give them credit.  What if their idea flops?  I take full credit.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  

Ultimately, I am responsible for the final result of my decisions.  I accept that. But, I don't have to be responsible for coming up with all the solutions.  If I'm going to be effective, I have to be willing to seek out and listen to others and, in some cases, let them do my best thinking for me.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Blogging into 2015-Day 3: Meaningful and enjoyable

Today is an extension of yesterday's post about what a teacher can accomplish in 10 minutes or less.  I watched a classroom this morning and was amazed at the level of learning taking place.  This was a 2nd grade class and the topic was adding or subtracting by 100's.  The teacher had already taught the lesson and the students were divided into small groups to have a competition of sorts. A problem was written on the board and groups had a set amount of time to work together to solve it.  When the timer went off, the teacher called one group to the board to show how they solved the problem.  But, not only did they have to write it, they also had to explain to the class why their answer was correct and the process they used to get it.  While the group was working at the board writing their response, the teacher was working the room, questioning the other students.  When the group at the board was ready, they explained their response and the other groups were able to ask them questions.  Once it was determined that their answer and explanation were acceptable, they got a point.  Then the process repeated  During the eight minutes I was in the room, I did not see a single off-task student.  In fact, they were eager to demonstrate their understanding.  In addition, I watched these students rise to the challenge even when a difficult problem was presented. (They all groaned when they had to solve using a number line).  

Students will think at higher cognitive levels when the task is both meaningful and enjoyable .  Great teachers know this and develop lessons that create such an atmosphere.  The class described above was not quiet nor were they sitting still. They were moving and talking and thinking.  And, most importantly, they were learning.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Blogging into 2015-Day 2: In just ten minutes....

Over the past two years, I've had the privilege of observing numerous teachers and classrooms.  Many of these observations last no more than five to ten minutes.  Yet, for those few minutes, in effective teachers classrooms at least, there is more occurring than one can successfully document.  In just a few short minutes, teachers can make numerous instructional decisions, vary activities several times, and interact one-on-one with every student in the classroom.  In one ten minute span, I watched a colleague teach a mini-lesson, use quick formative assessment to gauge understanding, start a group activity to reinforce the lesson, and then visit each group asking probing, higher order questions. All the while, they were monitoring every other group from a distance and silently correcting behavior with just a glance.  This is not a one time event, but a daily occurrence.  

Effective teachers read their students needs and make adjustments as necessary.  They are attuned to what is happening in the class and fit the lesson to the students, not the other way around.  They are protective of instructional time and use it wisely.  A strong teacher can pack what feels like hours of learning into just one ten minute stretch.  I would challenge anyone in any other business to use ten minutes as effectively as a great teacher.  I bet you can't.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Blogging into 2015 - Day 1

One of my New Year's resolutions was to write a new blog post at least once a week.  It's three weeks into 2015 and I've written one so far.  Prior to that, my last post was November 2014.  One of the reasons for avoiding writing is the continual thought that I really don't have anything important to say.  That is definitely not true.   Each day brings so many life lessons that it would fill a hundred blog posts.  

Okay, now that I've psyched myself up, here is the plan to jump-start blogging again in 2015.  Each day for at least the next seven days, I will write one 150-250 word post.  The posts don't have to be related or even be about education.  The point is that I write and do it often.  The only way I'm going to get better at blogging is to blog.  The important things will come later.  

The end of the last sentence was 154 words.  Short and sweet.  Let's see what the next seven days hold in store.  

New Years Resolutions Revisited

2015 is in full swing. We're already three weeks in.  If you are like me, you made New Year's resolutions with grand plans for the upcoming twelve months.  And, if you are like me, you've haven't been as successful as you wanted in the last three weeks.  Now, it's time to revisit and review these resolutions and hopefully see ways to get back on track if necessary.  I made eight resolutions for 2015, some of which were carry-overs from the previous year.  Here's how I'm doing so far:

1)  Lose 15 pounds by June 30, 2015.  Accomplish this through eating smaller portions of healthier food and exercising at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week. - In truth, this resolution is less about weight and more about being healthy. While I will turn 50 this year and am tired of carrying around extra weight, my ultimate goal is to live a long, enjoyable life.  So far, I'm doing okay on the eating less part.  In fact, I've started cutting out one meal a day several days a week and really haven't missed it.  I still need to increase my exercise.  This will simply be a matter of discipline. 

2) Write (Journal/Reflect/Research) a minimum of 15 minutes a day including reflecting on my day and reading and reflecting on articles, blogs, etc.  - Not doing too well on this one.  My journal is not nearly as full as it should be. Needs Work.

3)  Write one blog post weekly- The reason I'm writing tonight is to start fulfilling this one.  This is my first blog post of 2015.  In order to get a jump start, I intend to write one 150-200 word post every day for at least the next seven days.  The problem I've run into is, in my own mind, I'm not sure I have anything of importance to say.  Hopefully, by simply writing each day, I'll dispel that negative thought.

4)  Deeply study three books of the Bible using the inductive study method.  - I went through the book of Proverbs and James last year and it was a life-changing experience.  James took about a month and Proverbs close to three months.  I barely skimmed the surface during that time. This year, I'm starting with Luke.  Not sure what the next book will be.

5)  Read at least one book every two weeks that will help me grow personally or professionally. - I've started this year reading Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.  This should be finished within a week.  As I keep this up, I'll have read at least 26 positive books by the end of the year.  Good Start.  

6)  Find a mentor  - This has been on my list every year.  Still hasn't happened.  Needs Work.

7)  Family Prayer Time at least 3 times a week - I can make every excuse in the book for why this isn't happening regularly, but none of them are worth their salt.  If I'm going to be the spiritual leader of my family, this is a must.  Not There Yet.

8) Get out of debt. - This has been on my annual list for quite some time.  Fortunately, I've made substantial progress.  We live on a budget and are paying extra on the lowest debts we have.  Thankfully, I got rid of all credit card debt in 2014 which was a major win.  Now, to keep plugging away month by month until I'm done.   In Progress.

Now, it's back to work. I need to do something on each one of these every day and revisit them weekly to check my progress.  At the beginning of 2016, I want to say that 2015 was a year of tremendous growth (in everything but weight) and a life-changer for me.