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, November 29, 2016

The "bad" kids?

Recently, during a training on stages of behavior, a teacher commented to the group that the kids she  was about to work with in ISS were "bad."  She went to on to tell how they just didn't care how they acted and there was not much she could do about it. The trainer moved on after this and I didn't get to talk with her as she left quickly.  Maybe that opportunity will arise later.  If I I ever do have that chance, here is what I would say:

"I understand where you are coming from.  At one time, I thought the same thing.  I believed that there were the good kids who rarely got into trouble, the kids who were annoying but not to the point of disruption, and then there were the "bad" kids.  I always hated to see those kids in my class because I thought they just didn't care.  Over time and lots of experience, though, I learned that none of that is true.  The kids who are acting out care just as much as the ones who behave all the time.  Their acting out is simply a cry for help, a way to say "I'm having problems but I don't know how to express this any other way."  These kids need caring adults who are willing to take the time to recognize their cries for help, build relationships with them, and then teach them ways to respond appropriately.    They need people who are willing to see beyond their behavior to the person underneath.  Until that happens, nothing will change.  In the role you are in now, you have many opportunities to be that person."

As an administrator, I spend countless hours just listening to kids who are sent to me because they have been disrupting class.  I see this not as an opportunity for punishment, but as a chance to hear their side of the story and then teach and practice different ways to act in the same situation.  Are there consequences when a student has been behaving inappropriately? Of course, because in life there are always consequences.  I just try to focus on natural consequences whenever possible.

It is funny how time and experience change our perceptions.  For me, it was the difference I saw in  kids after they left junior high and entered high school.  They matured and began to make better choices.  Many of the so called "bad" kids that I had as students earlier in my career are now successful adults. In fact, I have had a number apologize to me for their behavior.  Now that I am on the primary campus, I have many of my former students children.  I see them working hard to be good parents and am thankful that I and my colleagues didn't give up on them so many years ago.

As a primary school administrator, I have the opportunity to help kids develop the skills they need to be successful in the years to come.  I can think of no greater blessing than being able to see these children in junior high and beyond making great choices because they learned how when they were in kindergarten and first grade.

But, I've strayed from my point a bit.  So, to reiterate, every child wants to be successful. None really want to be the "bad" kid.  As educators, we must do everything we can to help all kids learn the skills they need to be productive citizens. When they make bad choices (everybody does), we need to resist the urge to label them and instead take the time to listen and be there to guide them along.  In doing so, we will help them become the best they can be.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Magic Words

The Bible, in Proverbs 18:21, says "Life and death are in the power of the tongue."  As educators, we need to take this to heart and choose our words carefully, as they can either exacerbate or diffuse a situation.  Through the years, I've learned several words and phrases that seem to work like magic in dealing with others.  There is nothing special about any of these, but when spoken with sincerity can change a situation for the better.  Below are several these "magic words."  Try them and see what happens.

1) "Now..." - Have you ever watched a child's face when you say something like, "You did steps 1 to 3 exactly right, BUT you didn't do step 4."  It almost seems to suck the life out of them.  It is though you are saying, "You did good, just not good enough."  Imagine replacing that "but" or "however" with "Now."  "You did steps 1 to 4 exactly right, NOW start on step 4." For whatever reason, that one word "Now" seems to turn a negative into a positive.  When I first learned this, I decided to test it.  On the tough kids.  In detention, no less.  Every day, I assigned a reflective writing prompt.  The kids would write a sentence and then balk.  One day, I told a boy, after he written a single sentence, "That is a great start, now write about what you do next."  To my amazement, he did.  He wrote two more sentences.  I repeated this several times until he had a page written. Then, after looking at the page, I said, "Now, read it again and underline any corrections you need to make or anything that doesn't really make sense."  He did.  This continued until he had written a very strong reflection.

2) "I'm sorry that happened." -  These four words have changed the way I address people when they bring problems my way.  Anytime someone comes to me with a problem situation, my first words are "I'm sorry that happened."  And I am.  It may be that I empathize with the person. It could also be because this problem brought an irate person into my otherwise peaceful day.  Either way, these four words, said with conviction, will reduce tension and help bring the person to your side.

3) "How can I help?" - When people know that you are really listening to their concerns and are willing to invest in them, they are much more willing to work with you.  I use these magic words when people bring a real concern to me, as compared to a string of complaints.

4)  What do you think?  - Asking for people's opinion or advice let's them know you think they are important.  It may also lead to a better solution to a problem.

5) "We..." - There is strength in working together with others. When you use the word "I," the focus is on you.  When you use the word "we," the focus is on all of us.

6) "Your child... " - Many educators use the term, "your student" when talking to parents about their kids.  For whatever reason, that sounds impersonal.  "Your child," however, brings it closer to home.  It also lets parents know that you see their child as more than just a name on a roll sheet and seems to open a door to more effective communication.

7)  "Can/will you help me?" - I don't know about you, but when someone seeks out my help, I am flattered.  It is a self-esteem builder and a great ego booster.  It also shows that you can't do everything and need others to be successful.

One word of caution:  While the words and phrases above are useful in working with others, they must be used with a tone of caring.  If not, they will come across as insincere and often hurtful.

What "magic words" do you use?  Please feel free to add them in the comments.

Friday, September 16, 2016

On Being a Champion

The following is a guest post from Jason Marshall, Superintendent of Palestine ISD.  It was originally sent as a message to the district. 

Mrs. Marshall sent me the following video about students the other day.  As I watched it, I was so moved by the speaker that I began researching how to get her to come share her stories with us.  Unfortunately, she passed away several years ago.  Her passing reminds me of the tremendous knowledge and experience that educators who retire take with them.  Thankfully, we have her TED talk to refer back to her thoughts:

Many of you are familiar with the poem, Footprints in the Sand.  Several authors have received credit for this poem, and I am including the version by Mary Stevenson below.  Whether you internalize this poem from a religious perspective or just simply realize that other people help us without us even knowing about it, I think there is a parallel to Footprints and Rita Pierson's speech.  As I listened to Rita Pierson's speech, I couldn't help but think back to the Footprints poem.  My mother had a framed poster of it in her bathroom, and it served as both a humbling reminder and as an inspiration to my family for many, many years.   

Footprints in the Sand
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,
“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”

Mary Stevenson, 1936

The bottom line to me is that we are probably all treated (in some way) better than we should be treated.  Someone probably helps us when we don't even realize it - I know people help me all of the time.  And, KIDS NEED CHAMPIONS/HEROS around them ALL OF THE TIME.  No, they may not deserve it every day, but that doesn't mean that they still don't need it.  Thanks to each of you for making a difference.  Continue being some kid's CHAMPION!!!  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hidden talents

The text came in about 2:30 in the afternoon while I was getting ready for car duty.  "Mrs. ______ called and needs someone to come mow their lawn. Since you are on call this week, can you do it?"  "Sure," I said.  It was only the second time I had ever received a request while on call as a deacon, and although I didn't recognize the name, was thankful for the opportunity to serve.  When I got home, I loaded my mower and weed whacker in the truck and, using Google Maps, easily found the house. The husband met me at the door. I knew who he was as we had talked at church, but I had not spent a lot of time getting to know him.  He told me that the lawn was getting too hard for him to mow and his grandson, who usually does it, was off at college.  His wife invited me in. We talked briefly before I set out to tackle the task at hand.  Due to recent rains and wet ground, it took me about an hour to finish the small yard.  

When I was done, I knocked on the door to let them know.  Again, they invited me in and asked me to sit at the table and talk a while.  After accepting their offer of a Coke, we chatted about their grandchildren and great grandchildren (almost 30 of them combined) and when they discovered I was an educator, we discussed school and the wonders of children.  After a few minutes, the husband said, "I'd like to ask you a question?" "OK."  "Can we sing for you?" It took me a second to process what he had said.  "I'd be honored," I finally replied, not knowing what to expect.  The husband left the room and returned with a guitar.  After tuning it, they began to sing in perfect harmony, looking into each other's eyes the entire time.  They serenaded me with "Wine into Water" and "Seven Spanish Angels."  My eyes almost filled with tears as I watched this couple, both in their 80's, give a gift with me that money could not buy. They shared their talents.  

Afterwards, I asked the wife if she had been singing all her life.  "No," she said.  "People used to tell me I couldn't sing and I believed them."  They were wrong and I'm thankful she finally figured that out.  

As I was driving home, I thought about the kids that I work with every day.  How many have talents and abilities that I know nothing about?  Do they feel safe enough with me to share those hidden talents when the opportunity arises?  When they do, will I respond in a way that builds them up and causes them to want to share with others?  

I was blessed that afternoon with a new perspective on people.  Now, as I see kids and teachers in the hallway, I often wonder, "what is their hidden talent?" Hopefully, I will get to find out one day. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

EdCamp Leadership

Today, July 11, 2016, was EdCamp Leadership day.  Leadership EdCamps were held simultaneously around the country.  I was able to attend EdCampLeaderTX at Bellaire High School in Houston.  For those unfamiliar with EdCamps, they are educator driven professional development focused on meeting the specific needs of the attendees.  In fact, the agenda is not developed until participants arrive and provide suggestions for sessions based on their specific interests.  There are no speakers or vendors, although educational companies do support the events by providing door prizes.  Learning for the day is organic and conversations in each session are driven by the participants with the help of a facilitator.  Anyone can suggest ideas for sessions and anyone can facilitate a session.

Edcamps are, from my own experience, one of the most beneficial forms of professional development for three reasons.  First, only people who are truly interested in learning and growing take the time to attend.  Second, anyone can share in a session, providing multiple viewpoints and ideas.  Finally, you are not required to stay in a session if it doesn't meet your needs.  You are welcome to follow the "law of two feet" and move to another session.  Throughout the sessions, participants are constantly tweeting their learning.  If you are interested in viewing these, follow the hashtags #EdCampLdrTX and #EdCampLDR on Twitter.  You can also see session notes by visiting edcampleadershiptx.com. 

During today's EdCamp, I attended three sessions.  The first was on choice in teacher professional development. Principals and teachers discussed how to help educators take control of their own learning while still meeting district mandates.  The second was iPad apps for the classroom. In this session, we shared apps that had worked for us. One of the focuses of this session was how to use sites and apps that were not designed with education in mind to help meet the learning needs of students.  And, the last was on connecting classrooms globally which included some time sharing with an EdCamp group in another state.  

The final session of the camp was an App Smash where participants shared some of their learning and, of course, door prizes.  I actually won an Ipevo document camera.  But, more importantly, I left energized and ready to get to back to work helping teachers and students. 

In order to attend today's EdCamp, it took a six hour drive (roundtrip) including leaving the house before 5 am to beat Houston traffic.  Yet, the long drive was a trifle compared to the learning and connecting that occurred during the course of the day.  And, I wasn't even the person that came the farthest.  We had a person from Ohio take a day out of vacation to join us.  This says a lot for the power of EdCamps.  But, more specifically, it says a lot for the power of educators when they take control of their own learning and don't wait for others to initiate PD for them.

If you have never attended an EdCamp I highly recommend going to one.  It will change your perception of educator professional development.  Follow this link for a list of upcoming EdCamps. You can also visit the Edcamp Home page for more information.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Tending the garden

Last week, I planted a tomato plant.  Actually, I planted two as a meager attempt to get back into gardening.  As I was putting them in the ground, it occurred to me that, as an educator, my job is very much like gardening.  I don't mean that it's dirty work, although that's sometime true.  Instead, the work of an educator is like tending to the seeds in a garden.  If you've ever planted a garden, you know that the first step is to prepare the soil, often removing weeds and tilling up the good dirt.  You might also add fertilizer.  Then, you make your rows or mounds to ensure the plants have room to grow.  Third, you plant the seeds in the soil and water them.  After that, the next few days or weeks are spent watering the seeds and watching as they grow.  Over time, after continued watering, weed pulling, and pest killing, you can finally collect the harvest.  If you don't do these steps, chances are the plants will either not grow or they will not bear fruit.

In the same way, the children who walk into our schools and classrooms are like the plants in a garden.  Some are seeds, just waiting to sprout.  Others are already in various stages of growth and need our help to keep them on the right path.  Some have come in with soil preparation already underway.  Others are trying to grow in a patch of weeds. Some receive water every day.  Others are still waiting for someone to turn on the hose.  Some are healthy and bearing fruit already.  Others are stunted.  Some are in perfect soil.  Others may need to be transplanted to grow.  The funny thing is, on the outside, they all look like kids.  It is our job to build relationships strong enough so that we can see where they are in their growth. Then, like a gardner, we have to provide the necessary support to help them grow.  That support will rarely be the same for every child.  Some will need more time and effort to grow than others.  Some might not even sprout during their time with us.  It doesn't matter though.  Each one can grow. We must choose to never give up on them, but keep nurturing until they finally grow into the people they were created to be.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Summer Learning Boxes (Fighting the Summer Slump)

As a district, one of our main areas of focus this year has been to slow the loss of learning that routinely occurs during the summer months.  Often referred to as the "summer slump," this loss results in a large amount of reteaching in August and September, a time when students are excited about learning and that could be better used to teach new knowledge and skills.  We've explored several options, most notably year-round school. While we already have a summer program in place that allows children to stay involved for an extra month in June/July, this does not reach all kids.
What we needed was something that would have the potential to affect all students as well as keep parents involved in the process.  This spring, the district tasked each campus with coming up with a means to help kids practice their skills over the summer.  Secondary campuses are using technology and LMS such as Edmodo to meet this goal.  The lower campuses, including our primary school, have gone with something a little less high tech, but hopefully just as effective: Pizza boxes (Thank you Pizza Hut) filled with summer activities and school supplies to do them with.

These personalized Summer Learning Boxes, as we call them, are filled with at least 6 books on the students reading level, language arts and math practice activities and games, and writing tools and journals.  Instructions for parents are included as well as a checkpoint sheet that helps them keep up with their child's activities.  At our level, we ask students to do the following each week: Read at least one book, do one packet of math practice/games, and write in a journal supplied in the box.  They are welcome to do more, but that is the minimum.  We have scheduled three checkpoint weeks during the summer when parents can come in and let staff check their child's work.  Each time they come during a checkpoint, they are entered into a drawing for a gift card.  To help parents and students, we created instruction videos and posted these to YouTube.

Kindergarten Summer Learning Box 

1st Grade Summer Learning Box 

How will we know if our Summer Learning Boxes are effective?  Last week, each student took two skills tests in reading and math.  We also have each student's end-of-year DRA reading level.  At the beginning of the new school year, student's will take the same tests again and scores will be compared.  It is our hope that we will see little to no loss in skills over the summer.

Will every student take full advantage of this summer learning opportunity?  I wish that were the case, but realistically we all know that some will do very little and some nothing.  Still, many will use their summer boxes effectively.  In the fall, when we have compared tests scores and look at our checkpoint data, I expect that those who took advantage of this learning opportunity will show minimal loss over the summer. Plus, they will still have plenty of time this summer to just be a kid.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

In the Wake of Tragedy

(This was originally posted on 5/4/2016 on my personal blog, When I Wonder)

Saturday morning. 8:00 am.  My alarm had not gone off, but I was already waking.  For some reason,  people had started texting around 7:30 and the familiar ding kept going off in the background. The night before, it had rained harder than I had ever seen. I later learned 7 inches had fallen in 45 minutes.  As I slowly rose, my hand automatically went to the phone.  As I read the first text, my heart stopped.

The text went on to tell the names of the kids.  Immediately, I called my fire fighter neighbor to confirm what were at this point rumors.  He not only confirmed, but told how he had found one of the children.  Things went into something of a daze.  Four children, two of whom were at my campus, had drowned. I knew one of the other two and the grandmother as well.  I immediately began praying for their family as my mind conjured up images of these beautiful children.

One of them, a kindergartner, would give me a big hug every time I went into her classroom.  She wore her hair in ponytails and always smiled. Her 1st grade brother was even closer.  He had a rough start to the year and I saw him almost every day.  Our team worked long and hard with him and finally he was not only progressing, but experiencing success in the classroom.  During the rough times, we would sometimes take walks through the building, talking about whatever was on his mind.  Other times, we would just sit in my office in quiet solitude until he had calmed down enough to return to class.  He played football.  I found out late in the season and made it a point to go to a game.  It was there I discovered he was the star running back.  There is nothing quite like watching 1st graders play football wearing helmets that are almost as big as they are.  As the year progressed and his behavior improved, our interactions became less common, but I would still stop by his class to say hello and give him a hug or a high five as I told him I was proud of him.

It was 9:00 am and, feeling overwhelmed, I gave into my son's requests to drive around and look at the damage.  We quickly discovered a row of businesses that had been flooded as well.  Taking my wife home, my son and I decided to go and see how we could help.  The area where my students lived was in chaos, so we chose to spend several hours helping clean out a restaurant.  Later, I went back to the children's neighborhood and offered my assistance.  By this time, most of the families had the big things out of their houses.  I visited with several families who recognized me from school but feeling as though I was in the way, I returned home.

The next afternoon, after church, I went to the campus and met with the admin team as we worked out a plan for Monday morning.  After everyone left, I finally walked to both of the kids' classrooms.  Upon entering each, I broke down.  These were the first tears I shed, but not the last.  As I looked at the empty seats, it hit me that these two little ones I had spent the better part of a year with were not coming back.  I was thankful no one else was in the building as I broke down that afternoon.

Monday was a blur.  Our school counselor visited with each of the children's classes while I coordinated outside counselors and connected them with kids.  We had asked our other teachers to talk to their classes about the tragedy.  Most were able to, but a couple just could not get through it.  I stepped in at their request and talked with the children about the events of the weekend as we discussed what death meant.  I worked hard to help the children realize that it is okay to be emotional (sad, angry, hurt) while reassuring them they were safe.

It is amazing how resilient kids can be.  By Tuesday morning, most of our 5 to 7 year olds were back into routine.  Teachers were (and are) still struggling.  That is to be expected. Tuesday night was our annual Art Show and the focus on preparing for it also kept many from dwelling on the sadness we were experiencing.

Today (Wednesday) I had the chance to go to the neighborhood and help with cleanup. People had sacked up many of the belongings from the house and we carried them to dumpsters.  It hurt knowing I was throwing away these beloved children's things, but it was also a step in bringing closure.  We then went and worked on the house next door, tearing out sheet rock and insulation.  After most people had left, I went back to the children's house and walked around inside, silently praying as I thought about the times they spent there.  More tears flowed freely.  Outside, I discovered a memorial set up by neighbors and just spent time meditating in front of it.

When children die, there are always questions.  I have plenty myself, but I don't expect answers.  As a Christian, I know that God is in control even when everything else seems to be chaos.  I also realize that there may have been human error that helped exacerbate the flooding resulting in these deaths.  At the same time, tragedy can result in good.  Our community is coming together to support each other in a way that has not happened in a long time.  Only time will tell the final result.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Perspective is everything

A few weeks back, we had a fundraiser kickoff where a salesman came and spoke to all of our kindergarten students as a group. The kids came in, sat on the cafeteria floor, and listened and laughed during the presentation.  They oohed and aahed at the prizes being offered and played along with the salesman's antics.  When he asked for quiet, however, several continued talking with their friends and teachers had to intervene. This disturbed me because I know our kids can do better and we had been practicing how to behave when we have guests.  I was shocked when, as the salesman was packing up, he told me this was the best kindergarten group he had worked with in a long time.  When I pressed him for details, he shared that he usually spends most of his time just getting kindergartners quiet, especially after the exciting parts of the program.  Our kids, he told me, were excited at the right times, but got focused when they needed to.  Being that this is my first year with kinder, his perspective helped me see that our students may be doing better than I realize.  (By the way, 1st Grade was marvelous at the next presentation.)

This is not the first time this has happened.  In my first year as an administrator, I was put in charge of the cafeteria where we had to feed close to 800 students in three 30 minute shifts.  We had a system in place, but I never felt that it was the best it could be.  To me, there was too much movement, especially as we were cleaning up, and the room was often too loud for my taste.  One week, we had a substitute custodian who rotated among districts.  About the middle of the week, he approached me to tell me how much he enjoyed working in our cafeteria.  I thought, "Good gracious, why?" In his perspective, this was one of the most organized school cafeterias he had ever been in.  "In most places I work, the kids are constantly getting up, are turned around talking, and they usually leave a mess.  Your kids don't get up until it's time to put up and they clean up after themselves. It makes my job easier."  After that day, I started to view the cafeteria a little differently.

When we are in the middle of a situation, our perspective can become skewed, often towards the negative.  Sometimes, it takes the perspective of an outsider to shed light on the positives that are all around us.  Does this mean that we should stop trying to improve?  Of course not.  It does mean, however, that we need to invite other perspectives and allow ourselves to celebrate the positives while working hard to reduce or eliminate the negatives.

(By the way, this can also work in the opposite direction, when we think things are going great, but others do not have the same perspective.  We need to listen and learn in both cases.)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Observation Day

Recently, I've been doing a lot of formal teacher observations.  Throughout the year I do multiple short walkthroughs (though never enough), so I already know what to expect.  The formal is really putting icing on the cake and an enjoyable learning experience for me.  It always surprises me when these mostly veteran teachers share with me how nervous they are during observations.  Maybe it is because our district does not allow for prior notice, but I think it is just a natural reaction to being observed.

As I reflect on my own classroom experience, I remember that I usually enjoyed being observed.  It wasn't that I relished an audience (though that is partially true), it was more that it gave my students a chance to show off.  As a Science teacher, at least part of each class was lab-based and my observer would rarely just sit.  More often than not, they ended up interacting with students just as I was and became learners themselves.

Still, knowing that someone can enter the room to observe at any time means that you have to be on your A-game every day, every class, every lesson.   Pondering that thought made me realize this important truth:  Teachers are observed every day.  Not by administration, but by children.  Young faces are watching our every move and determining if we are worthy of their time.  They are judging the lessons we deliver and making decisions about whether they will learn what we present.  There are future teachers in our midst who may be developing their own style based on what they see in us. Whether we like it or not, what we as teachers do every day is on display.

So, let's treat every day as observation day.  It will keep us on our A-game and let us do what is best for kids.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Men making a difference

When I accepted my current position at a primary school campus, one of the understandings was that I would start WatchDOGS (Dads of Great Students).  WatchDOGS is a program from the National Center for Fathering that focuses on getting more positive male role models in schools.  These men don't necessarily have to be biological fathers.  They can be stepdads, uncles, grandfathers, neighbors, family friends, or community members.  The only requirement (outside of a criminal background check) is the willingness to spend at least one day making a difference in the lives of children.  As I wrote in a previous post, I am one of the only men on the campus who has regular, ongoing contact with students.  Having other males in the building makes my work easier and provides an increased sense of security for our all-female staff.  In addition, the kids love having WatchDOGS in their classes.  On a typical day, a WatchDOGS 'dad' will work car ramp duty, serve in classes, help out at lunch and recess, and then aid in student dismissal.  While in classes, I've seen these men read to the whole class as well as with individuals and small groups, listen to reading, encourage a student having a rough day, tutor, quiz kids, listen to a student's writing, play math and reading games, and a myriad of other activities.  Our teachers have been a great help as they put these men to work the minute they walk into the room.  One WatchDOGS 'dad', who also subs at a high school, has told me that one day on our primary campus is equal to three at the high school.  When I asked him why, his response was, "These kids are needy.  They want you to work with them and they are eager to please.  They also hug you constantly."  I've had men share that they never realized how hard teachers work. Our WatchDOGS serve as an awesome community PR service.

So far this year, we have had 28 men serve 38 days on campus.  That's close to six weeks.  We've also had two WatchDOGS events, a fall pizza kickoff and spring breakfast, that have brought more men onto the campus than the principal says has seen in her roughly 30 years at the school. (Notice that food, a required element for guys, is front and center.)

But, honestly, the best part of WatchDOGS is the difference it is making for our kids.  They are excited when a WatchDOG is on campus, particularly if it is their 'dad'.  Kids who struggle to read and write will often work diligently for a WatchDOGS 'dad' where they might give up quickly without that one-on-one attention.  For our kids who don't have a positive male role model in their lives, these men help fill that void while oftentimes strengthening the relationship with their own child.

If you haven't noticed, I'm sold on the WatchDOGS program.  I've seen firsthand the difference positive male role models can make.  As a busy leader, I'm also sold on the fact that the program is simple to implement and maintain if you follow their time-tested strategies.  Before WatchDOGS, I had a hard time believing  men  would take a day off from work and spend it on a school campus. Now I know that, if you invite them and help them see they are part of something bigger than themselves, men will answer the call.  If you are looking for a  program that gets men actively involved in the school, I would highly recommend looking into WatchDOGS.  It's worth it!!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The importance of Persistence

I was visiting my mother's house over the holidays when she mentioned that her water heater needed to be drained.  Being the dutiful son that I am, I took the hint and proceeded to the task.  Draining the heater was easy.  Getting it re-lit was not.  For what seemed like an eternity, I attempted to light the pilot with no success.  The operating instructions were followed to a tee and the manufacturer was called, but with no success.  After consulting the internet, I realized I needed to use a mirror to see if the unit was sparking.  It was.  Hope was in the air.  After over an hour, a flame finally appeared.  The directions said to hold the gas down for one minute.  I let go at 55 seconds.  The flame extinguished.  More attempts were made and finally another flame appeared.  It went out as well after I was startled and again released the gas early.  Finally, after another 10 minutes, another flame was created and this time, not willing to suffer defeat again, I held the gas down for a full 90 seconds.  The pilot flame remained on and I was able to start the heater once again.

Throughout this experience, I was tempted multiple times give up and call a serviceman to come and light the heater for me.  Yet, I knew I was following the instructions exactly as written and was determined to get the heater lit.  Thankfully, persistence paid off.  

After this experience, I began to ponder how, as educators, it is so easy to give up when persistence and tenacity can eventually bring positive results.  Working with people, both children and adults, requires that we stick with the task, adjusting as needed, until we see the desired results.  While reflecting, I identified three areas where persistence can eventually provide positive results:   

Student behavior plans:  Behavioral changes take time and effort.  There is rarely a quick fix, especially for deep-seated issues.   In many cases, it will take six weeks or more for a behavior plan to be effective.  In fact, often very little change is seen early on.  It is in these early stages that we are most likely to give up.  Doing so can prove detrimental to lasting results.  A prime example occurred recently when I helped a teacher develop a behavior plan for a child who was acting out every day, often causing a complete shut down of learning in the room.  We developed a behavior chart that she would complete and discuss with the child each day, while at the same time encouraging the student and avoiding any unnecessary triggers.  For the first three weeks, it was a daily struggle and I had to encourage this teacher to just keep plugging away.  After three weeks, we started seeing some positive results.  The number of negative behaviors started slowly dropping and positive behaviors began to increase.  We still kept at it, refusing to lose the positive ground we had gained.  Each successive day brought more positive results.  Finally, after about 9 weeks, you would not have realized that this child was ever on a behavior plan. However, had we stopped at any time during this process, we would not have seen the results we received.  

Lessons: How many times have you had a lesson that you just knew was going to be great and it flopped?  When I was in the classroom, this happened more times than I can remember.  It was so tempting to throw the whole thing out and start from scratch.  However, usually I discovered after reflecting on the lesson, that it just needed a little adjusting and it would work as planned.  As a Science teacher, this happened multiple times with lab experiences.  The first time we would do a new lab, it would be a disaster.  The students would make multiple mistakes on the lab instructions, end up not understanding the concept, and both of us would be frustrated.  I learned over time, however, that the best thing to do in these cases was to just do the lab again the next day.  The first time I tried this I was amazed at how the students not only followed the instructions more accurately, but they also learned the concept at a much deeper level.  

Professional Development: So many times, schools and districts approach professional development as a one-off event and then wonder why they are not seeing the new learning being applied consistently.  To be effective, PD should be a persistent effort involving initial training followed by time for application and reflection.  More training should follow with time again allowed for application and reflection,  This process should be followed until the learning becomes second nature. Without this persistence, the initial training becomes, for the most part, a waste of time.  

In education, as with water heaters, persistence is key. We cannot afford to give up before we see the results that we need, especially when we realize that we are affecting the lives of children, possibly for years to come.  

I would love to hear of other examples of persistence in education.  Feel free to comment.