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. 

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.