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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 27, 2017

A Kid's Cry: Notice Me!!

Thursday afternoon, my son William called me after work.  "Dad, come watch me play golf."  I headed for the course and spent the next hour or so watching my son swing a club at a little ball.  As he played, he made sure to tell his golf ignorant father about each club and why it was used.  Most importantly, he looked over his shoulder regularly to be sure I was watching him play and not on my phone or daydreaming.

Even at 15, my son needs someone to notice him.  We all need this.  How much more is this a priority for young children?  The whole scene reminded me of what I'm learning in Conscious Discipline about Noticing and letting kids know through our specific words and actions that we really see them.  This is more than a quick "Good job," which is really a form of judgment.  Instead, when we notice a child, we let them know we see what they are doing.  "You jumped up in the air and your arms went like this."  "You started every sentence with a capital and ended with a period.  You did it." "You held the door so your friend could walk in.  That was helpful."

True noticing takes focus and work.  But it is what kids want and need from the adults in their lives.

This week, take time to really notice your kids.  It makes a difference.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Time to Read

"What books are you reading right now?"  When I ask this question, I normally get one of two responses.  Active readers will tell me about the latest book they are engrossed in and often share the lessons they are learning.  Inactive readers will look at me with a blank stare.  When I ask why they aren't reading regularly, the most common response is "I don't have time."  In this post, I hope to address that excuse with a well-worn solution that still bears repeating.

The first question that must be addressed is, "If reading is so important, how can someone on a busy schedule make time to do it?" One of the easiest ways I've found is to set either a length of time to read or a minimum number of pages.  For example, if a person reads 10 minutes a day every day, they will have read 3,640 minutes in a year. That's the equivalent of 60 hours.  If you read as little as 25 pages an hour, that's 1500 pages or five 300 page books in a year.  Not bad for someone who hasn't read in a while.  

If a person instead chooses to read just 10 pages a day in a good book, that's 3650 pages in a year, or twelve 300 page books.  Imagine the effect of reading twelve great books in a year, especially if you put what you've learned into practice.

Where does the time come from?  The main way I've found to create time for reading is to change my TV habits.  I hate to say it, but on demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu can be reading killers.  Especially if you start binge watching programs.  So, what about taking 10 minutes of TV time and turning that into reading time?  You could read during the halftime show. Better yet, how about 30 minutes, the length of a typical sitcom?  Do that every night and you'll gain 182 hours of reading time each year.

Another time I've found to read is in the restroom.  It may not sound glorious, but it allows a few minutes each day.  Just don't take too long or people may start banging on the door. If you ride public transportation, use that time for reading.  What about Facebook time?  Could you spare 10 to 30 minutes each day off of social media to read a good book?

Setting up a particular time of day to read is also helpful. For example, I like to read right before I go to bed. My house is quiet and I can focus on my book.  Others wake up early to read or read during lunch.

Even the busiest people can find down time in their day that can be used for reading.  It may mean altering schedules or giving up some habit, but the benefit is worth the sacrifice.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Panda Planner Part 2 #30DaysBlogging

It's been about 10 days since I started using the Panda Planner.  In my first post on the Panda Planner, I said I would be doing periodic updates about how it is helping (or not helping) me in my quest for a more productive day and better time management.  So far, I'm happy to report that the results have been positive.  I'm accomplishing more at work and home as well as developing some healthy habits.  In the video below, I discuss some of the positives and lessons learned over the last ten days.

There is really nothing unique about the parts of the Panda Planner.  Each aspect can be found in other planning tools. What makes it useful and different, at least for me, is the structure.  All of the tools and processes that I want to use are in one location.  For example, I don't have to think about reflecting because the reflection piece is on each daily page.  I just have to do the work.  Remembering to plan out my week is not an issue because the process is laid out in the Weekly section.  All I have to do is take the time and effort to make it happen.  My priorities for each month, week, and day are laid out before me.  I just have to focus on these priorities.

Since I started using the Panda Planner, I've seen my productivity increase simply because I have my highest priority activities in front of me each day.  I just make my daily schedule match these priorities as much as possible.

Aside from the time management aspects, my favorite part of using the Panda Planner has been the daily and weekly reviews.  While completing these, I get the chance to zero in on the positives of the day or week as well as where I can get better. I also get to really think about my day before it happens and decide what I'm excited about in the upcoming hours.  Being excited about accomplishments and growth opportunities make them even more special when they occur.

All in all, I've seen growth since I started using the Panda Planner and expect to see even more in the weeks ahead.  I'll continue to reflect and provide more videos on my journey in the weeks ahead.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Great Connector

This subject of this post has nothing to do with being an educator.  At the same time, it has everything to do with it.  This post is about food.  Namely, the connecting power of food.  Since 1998, I've either visited or lived in 10 countries outside of the United States.  In most of these, I had the chance to spend time with local families, often in their homes.  I also observed lots of westerners, particularly Americans, during these visits.  Most of these travelers stayed at 5 star hotels and ate at the best restaurants.  In contrast, my wife and I stayed in homes or cheap hotel rooms near the city centre and usually ate with families or in the local eating spots, particularly night markets.

It makes a difference. If you are just in a place to sightsee, eat wherever you like. If you want to connect with people, eat with them and, even more importantly, eat what they eat.  I can't count the relationships that I have made with people simply because I was willing to sit in their home and eat what they had cooked.  It was always amusing to see people grin and comment about how you really liked their food. It was honoring to them, just as it is honoring to have a guests eat at my own home.  It brings joy to both the giver and receiver.

For many people, eating unknown food is scary.  I've seen people who were literally afraid to eat what others had carefully prepared.  One fellow who traveled with us for a time loaded his suitcase with beef jerky so he didn't have to eat local food.  On a home visit in Southeast Asia, the grandmother took pity on him and hand prepared him chicken strips so he wouldn't go hungry.  Another man refused to eat at the night market and instead made his way down the street to Pizza Hut each evening.  Both missed opportunities to build relationships with people in the most natural way possible, over a meal.
In my travels, I've eaten foods that were amazing and others that did not agree with me.  It didn't matter because it wasn't about the food, it was about the people.  The food was just a connector.  This was brought back to mind this week when an Indian student's mother found out I had lived in parts of Asia.  She made me a plate of flat bread and green curry sauce that was to die for.  That simple gesture was a reflection of the relationship I am building with her family.

I could write all night about food, what does it have to do with education?  Lots.  As educators, we have to be willing to step into our student's and families world in order to build relationships with them.  Maybe that won't be through food, but instead finding out what they enjoy and then doing it with them.  It may mean finding out which kids are on the little league team and then going and sitting in the stands watching them.  It may mean finding out their favorite game and playing with them.  When parents visit the school, we can find out their interests and spend time talking with them about it. When we are out shopping or in the community, take the time to visit with parents and their kids.  If you are invited to their home, accept the invitation.  Whatever we do, we must find a way to connect that is honoring to the other person and use that to build a relationship.  The means is not what is important.  The relationship is.  In my case, I just hope it involves food.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Panda Planner (Initial Thoughts) #30DaysBlogging

One of my goals for the new year is to find or formulate a better system of time management.  With an every increasing amount of responsibilities, it is imperative that I use my time more productively.  I've written before on this topic before (Getting Things Done) and still use the strategies from that post.  Now, more is needed.  That is where my search began. I've been reviewing several different time management systems and most are more difficult than helpful, particularly with my "keep it simple" personality.   I stumbled onto the Panda Planner online and after reading several reviews and watching videos decided to give it a try.  The main reason I wanted to use it is that it appears to help you focus more readily on specific projects and has reflection built in.  It is also designed to focus on the positive, even when looking at areas to improve. I already do these things, but not often enough in writing.  That should change as I use the Panda Planner.  The plan is to use it for the four months that this copy allows and write reviews along the way.  I've included my introduction in the video shown below.  (Next time, I'll turn the camera.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Beasts of the Southern Wild #30daysblogging

Last night, I watched the film Beasts of the Southern Wild.  If you are unfamiliar, the plot revolves around a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy who lives with her father in a group of islands called The Bathtub.  It appears to be somewhere off of the coast of Louisiana. Hushpuppy and her father live a very simple existence in what we might describe as abject poverty.  The film follows the lives of these two characters as they face various trials and triumphs. It is both inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.

As an educator, watching this film opened my eyes to the fact that I don't always know the background of many of my students.  In the film, neither Hushpuppy nor her friends appear to go to school, although there may be one somewhere in the Bathtub.  However, she is recieving an education on how to survive in her world from her father and the other residents.  She learns skills such as how to catch a catfish with her bare hands, start an oven with a blowtorch, boil and eat a crab, and clean and cook a chicken.

As the film progresses, we are given a glimpse of the depths of Hushpuppy's feelings and the love she has for her father along with the steps she will take to demonstrate this love.  It is a powerful film that leaves a lasting impression.

As I was watching, I was asking myself questions like:

* If Hushpuppy were a student in my school, would I look at her as lacking or appreciate and build on the vivid life lessons she brings?

* How would I view her father if he came to the campus?

* Do I see each person as having value and dignity and what am I doing to demonstrate this? If not, what changes do I need to make?

Hard questions that need some real answers.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is worth the watch and as educators, it is a great film to use to reflect on the difference life circumstances of the children we see each day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Free Reading #30DaysBlogging

I love to read.  And, I love free stuff.  Fortunately, it is easy to satisfy these two cravings with little effort.  There is always a public library, which I use liberally.  But, there are also many ways to get free reading material online or downloadable for your iDevice or tablet.  Below are a few of my favorites:

Overdrive - Allows you to check out e-books from local libraries.  Simply download the Overdrive app to your portable device and find a library near you or go to their site to set up an account. It may require getting a library card or going to the library's web site, but you can check out any e-books or audio books they have purchased and made available.

  BookBub - This site sends a daily e-mail of free or reduced price audiobooks. Click on the link to register and set up a profile.  After that, you'll receive a daily listing of available books based on your preferences.  You can also search the site for deals.

Podbean - Podbean is a podcasting app featuring audiobooks of classic literature.  I listen to these during my walks. Download from the App Store/Google Play or follow the link.

Read.gov - Classic literature with the actual books scanned in.  A walk through both reading and history. www.read.gov/books

Project Gutenberg - Over 53,000 books from the public domain.  The site asks for a small donation to keep them going, but it is not a requirement for use.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library - This site has links to hundreds of Christian books and authors in the public domain.

Epic! - Epic! is a reading app for kids that is free for Elementary teachers and librarians.  While I don't normally read books here, our students devour them and use them during the Read to Self or Listen to Reading portion of Daily 5.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My One Word 2017

Okay, I finally did it.  I've joined the #OneWord bandwagon.  One word to define the change you want to see in yourself.  My One Word for 2017 is HERE.  This came to me as I was sitting at the table with my in-laws with one hand on my phone, checking e-mails, while trying to listen to them.  It dawned on me that, while my body was in the room, I wasn't HERE.

Over the last year, my wife and son have both pointed out that I seem distant, as though I am focused on something else.  Truth is, I am.  I'm focused on work, students, what I need to accomplish tomorrow, that conversation I had today.  Everything but what is right here in front of me.  This is not helped by all of the media that is available.  Cell phones, tablets, TV, Apple Watches.  Useful devices, yes, but not good at helping one focus.  In many cases, I miss out on what is happening right in front of me because I am so focused on what I need to be doing somewhere else.

So, my one word is HERE.  What that means to me is that I will focus on what is happening in the moment I am in right now.  I will focus on the HERE and now.  I can focus on what needs to happen later when the time comes.  Honestly, there is nothing I can do about those other things anyway, so why expend energy on them.  Put up the electronics and be in the moment. Close e-mails and news and see the person in front of me.  Clear my mind of those things out of my control at that moment and enjoy what is going on now.

My goal is to live life HERE, focusing on the present and what I can do right now, letting other things come in the proper time. Isn't that how life is supposed to be lived?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Curious George and the power of adult action

I've never read a Curious George book.  This thought struck me recently.  My son and I went to see the movie and watched the TV show on PBS, but I never read the books. They just weren't for me, I would say.  After reflecting, I realized the probable reason.

Let's take a trip back to 1971.  An excited 1st grader walks with his class into his first book fair with money burning a hole in his pocket.  The book fair was held in the music room because the library wasn't big enough.  As this little boy enters, his eyes move around the room, filled with stacks of books larger than he's ever seen.  There are books everywhere.  As an beginning reader, it is like a candy store of words, waiting to be tasted.  Glancing to the right, he sees a table with several books that he recognizes from his aunt's house. Curious George. He has heard his aunt talk about the silly monkey during his visits. The little boy quickly makes a bee line to the table.  As he is quietly thumbing through the first one, marveling at the pictures of the man in yellow and the little monkey, a gruff adult voice comes from behind.  "Those aren't for you," the woman said.  "You need to get a book from over here."  The little boy dutifully walks to where he is directed and with no enthusiasm, picks out a book from "his" table.  He doesn't remember the name of the book he got that day, but he does remember that Curious George wasn't "for him."  At least that was the excuse he used when given the opportunity to read the H.A. and Margret Rey classics.

I can still remember that scene clearly.  The woman who directed me to the other table and told me those books weren't for me was probably just a volunteer doing what she was told.  But for the next 45 years, I did not read a Curious George book.

Adults have great power in the lives of children.  As an educator, I am often reminded of the need to build them up and encourage them, not take the wind out of their sails.  They come to school each day, eager to learn and grow.  They want to be challenged and to make choices on their own, As the adults in their lives, we are charged with guiding them and helping them to grow in a loving, nurturing environment where they can safely take chances.  In order to do this, we have to carefully monitor our own words and actions, always aware of the potential long term consequences.

Did this Curious George incidence turn me into a non-reader?  No. I usually read 20+ books a year.  Did it have dire effects on my psyche? I hope not.  But it was powerful enough for me to remember the details years later and to miss the chance to enjoy some of the world's most famous children's literature.

Now, I'm heading to the library because it's never too late to start.