Priorities

How many decisions did you make today? This week? This year?

Were they the right ones? How do you know?

Better question, when will you know?

Are we basing our answers on short-term test and assessment scores? Do they measure what we really are about?

Schools are measuring what did the students learn. I understand that. I was part of a team that worked with the Senate HELP committee while ESSA was being drafted. Our focus was on assessments, and how the new law could possibly correct what we believed were flaws in NCLB that led to SBAC, PAARC and an overemphasis on short-term, high stakes testing. We celebrated when ESSA was signed into law by President Obama. We didn’t get all we wanted, but we understood that politics is the art of compromise. While we didn’t necessarily agree with the language of ESSA, we realized that is was an improvement over NCLB, doors leading toward authentic and competency-based assessements have been created.

While schools are asking what students learned, the world we are preparing our students for is asking can students learn.  There is a bit of a difference in priorities.

Luis E. Torres, an amazing educator and leader, recently reminded me that for many of his students, as with many of mine throughout my career, education is, at best, the 5th priority in their lives. It follows food, shelter, safety, and health. That is their reality. For too many of us, we believe that education should be the 1st priority in their lives. Someday, we will realize that we have to take care of the Maslow stuff before we can really worry about the Bloom stuff. We are now raising our students as much as we are teaching them, and many of us were not trained to do that. It isn’t in the Common Core, and it isn’t assessed in the annual School Improvement Plan.

We work at “engaging” our students, hoping to excite them about our content, our interests, and curricula that we know to be important.

School is no longer about passing the tests. It’s about survival. It’s about life.

I suggest that until we see our schools as the people who need us most see them, we are never going to be able to engage them.

This was brought home to me while listening to a TED talk presented by Kasim Reed, Mayor of the City of Atlanta. He shared a story about a visit to a home located in a rather interesting Atlanta neighborhood while he was running for the office. He gave Mrs. Owens his elevator speech about the booming Atlanta economy, how the city was home to the busiest passenger airport in the world, and was proud of the many fine restaurants located all over the city.

Sidebar – as a former resident of suburban Atlanta, I can vouch for his elevator speech, I could move back there in a heartbeat. End of Sidebar.

Mrs. Owens then invited the candidate to see the Atlanta she knew. She pointed to the city park across the street from her house, noting the boys shooting dice in a swimming pool that should have been filled with water, and the gang graffitied gazebo. She told Mr. Reed that she was a pretty good cook, so she didn’t eat at any of the fine restaurants, and didn’t feel very safe riding the bus after dark. She also didn’t fly, so the airport really didn’t matter to her. Mr. Reed left her house feeling that he didn’t get her vote. But he changed his approach, and won the election.

We need to change our approach.

With apologies to those of us who follow Charlotte Danielson, Robert Marzano, et al, we don’t need engaged students, we need empowered students.

We need to see our schools through their eyes, giving them the knowledge and skills to pursue their passions, their interests, and enable them to become the architects of their futures. We need to play with them in their world, not expect them to play with us in our world.

We empower others by listening to them. We need to listen to our students. And we need to listen to those who will eventually hire them. They don’t care as much about what kids know as they care about what kids can learn and do.

Ian Jukes captured it in his book Living on the Future Edge, “In a world where change is constant, you can’t trust your eyes. You think they are showing you reality, when, in fact, they are showing you history.”

And so it goes…

Reflection On a Year Not Yet Completed

At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, I retired as a full-time administrator. After a summer off without thinking about the upcoming school year, I found a position as an Academic Assistant in a local public charter school. I am now working with students in grades 6-12 in a high poverty school. And absolutely loving it! We are a college prep charter located in the poorest performing school district in our state. Our leadership has “broken the mold.” We have a 5-year graduation rate of 96%, 100% of those attending post-secondary school in the fall after graduation, and they all return as sophomores. With a couple of exceptions, everyone I work with is younger than my children. It is a gas watching them work!

I recently shared the following with them:

“To Staff.

 I am finishing year 40 something as a professional educator. One of the definitions of veteran teachers is that they have been hit by the same pendulum numerous times. I have seen a lot of stuff come and go, and come back.  I have those bumps and bruises. I also have several of what I call “self-inflicted scars,” gained because of changing the rules of the game and doing the right things instead of doing things the right way. My schools have changed the rules for everybody. From 1987-2006, every school or district I worked in was a either a state, national, or international model. I am humbled and honored to be part of this staff, working in another one.

I will never forget our CEO’s words to start this year. We are not just “teaching kids,” we are working for a movement. We exist as a challenge to the soft discrimination of low expectations. We have accepted the calling of all professional educators, to nurture hope and keep dreams alive. Our tools are weapons of mass instruction.

As teachers in a revolutionary school, you realize, as did other teachers I have worked with, that your jobs are too small for your spirits. You do not want to work for a school, you want to work for something that has a larger meaning and gives you a sense of purpose about what you are doing.

You have a desire for more meaning and purpose. We all want our lives, and consequently our work to matter, to be part of a larger vision. And to feel that we are contributing to it, for ourselves and the lives of the kids we touch every day. Our kids will be successful because of us and what we do with them, not despite their time spent here. I have worked in a district where the cars in the student lots at the high schools were a lot nicer than the cars in the faculty lots. I did not get the feeling that what I did mattered to the kids all that much. Going to school was becoming a job. So, I moved on.

It is never an easy task, not even “back in the day.” If it were, anybody could do it. But you have accepted the challenge by being here, and I for one am thankful and grateful that you have.

If I had to sum up our year in one minute, it would look like this:

“These people back here, that’s why I come to work. That’s why I build airplanes in the sky. We’re not just building a plane here; we’re building a dream. We don’t get a lot of thanks up here, but when I look over there and I see that little kid, the look in his eyes, that’s all the thanks I need.”

Pretty much sums it up for me, this year, and every other year.

I recently visited with a couple of high school students. There is a good chance you know them.

I noticed that one had logged in to a class at 1:14am. I asked what was going on that prompted him “coming to school” at 1:14am. His reply took my breath away: “I want to do well here and pass my classes, and while I was awake, I wanted to do something productive with my time.” This student is currently not threatening the honor roll list. I am sure his missing work report contains several entries. But at this point, we can’t help it that the work wasn’t turned in “on time.” What blew me away is that this student cares enough to be losing sleep about his work and showing up at 1:14am to make a difference.

I asked the other student what she wanted to be once she left high school. Not what she wanted to do, that is a completely different question. I shared with her that when I was in high school, I wanted to be happy as an adult. Then I could prepare for a career that would make me happy. I have been successful, so far.

Her response was not one that I expected. “I want to be stable. I have never been in the same school for more than 2 years. My Mom and my Aunt are the only ones in my house that help me, and I don’t want to go through that anymore.”

We all want stability. And every teacher is a counselor. We have staff that help our kids with college admissions, but that is a totally different job description than being a counselor for them. For us, that means showing up. Every day. Not just from 7:30-4:15. It means that a student can come to school at 1:14am and know that someone is “there” who cares for and about him.

I love to hike. A few years ago, I went on a sojourn with several friends in Rocky Mountain National Park. We walked across a joining of three streams, each about a foot wide, and could say that we were seeing the source of the Colorado River. As that water flows downstream, it will narrow and widen, flow around some rocks and over others, and the little stream we saw as about a foot wide will form the Grand Canyon. To me, that is the essence of what we do as educators. Our kids are energy in search of adventure. They all have many obstacles to overcome as they grow and mature, and we will help them navigate through many of them. Sometimes we wonder, “What can one person do? What difference will my effort make?” Great victories are won when ordinary people execute their assigned tasks. We will each continue to show up, every day, and be the stability that our kids are looking for. And with our help, they will also accomplish Grand things.

By training, I am a musician. My undergraduate transcript says that music was my major, education was my minor. So, if you have read this far, I will leave you with a song. Please pay attention to the lyrics. Particularly, the first 4 minutes or so.  And remember, we teach kids, not a subject. Our calling is to nurture hope and keep dreams alive. We must see the world through their eyes, not through ours, if we are to meet that calling.

Thank you for allowing me to be part of this special place, and for letting me do my part as we all matter in the lives of our students.

And may we always hear the Children of Sanchez.”

And so it goes…

Rendezvous With Yesterday

We live in a different world today that the world we lived in 12 months ago. As much as we like to reminisce about how the grass was greener then, the skies were bluer, and the smiles were brighter, out world will never again be what it was.

The pandemic has claimed over 500,000 lives in the U.S. in the last year. It has touched every aspect and segment of our society. Most of us acknowledged the existence of the coronavirus, the implications and consequences of contreacting it or transmitting it to others. Many of us changed our attitudes and behaviors, sacrificed short-term activities for long-term security. Most of us have accepted that how we live our lives today is not how we lived our lives in March, 2020, and we are adapting to the realities of the post-pandemic world.

Yet some of us still deny it, and are on the path toward a rendezvous with yesterday.

In our schools today, 21st century kids are being taught by 20th century adults using 19th century curricula and schedules on an 18th century calendar.

A bit of hyperbole, but not much. The course/curriculum sequence of the Committee of Ten is still the prevalent model, Frederick Taylor’s bell schedule still powers a time-driven system, Andrew Carnegie’s units continue to ensure that time is the constant, learning, and the application of it, is the variable in our schools.

Consider this schedule: age 8am you arrive at work. You are immediately busy with a quick problem needing to be solved. You get after it, but you have only about 3 minutes to complete it. Your focus is broken as you receive instruction for the next half hour or so, then it is off to another task. There may be a bit of discussion with a small group of people that you get to work with, but you are typically on task, dedicated, and usually working on your own.

After about an hour, you pack up your materials and move to a different work space where the process repeats itself, only around a different set of topics.

By the end of the day, you will change rooms, change focus, change tasks, change environments, and change peers around 6 times a day.

After work, you have several tasks that must be completed overnight. I won’t mention weekends…

The supervisors who oversee your various hourly commitments don’t really communicate with each other. Each treats their tasks as the number one priority in your life, not merely for that hour, but for that day. Overlapping is ignored.

This work schedule is “high school,” and in many places, middle school. For both students and teachers.

If you think this is not realistic in your school, ask your students how many times they have multiple tests on the same day. Then ask them what they did on the night before they have the multiple tests. How many of them are involved in school and/or family activities that make if difficult to adequately prepare for one exam the next day, let along several.

What other employer would regularly or realistically impose multiple deadlines on several major, discreet and unrelated projects on the same day?

Talk among yourselves. And make a point of starting to see your school through the eyes of your students. And let’s start listening to their voices.

“As society rapidly changes, individuals will have to be able to function comfortably in a world that is always in flux. Knowledge will continue to increase at a dizzying rate. This means that content-based curriculum, with a set body of information to be imparted to students, is entirely inappropriate as a means of preparing children for their adult roles.” John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.

Is this an indictment of the current system of American education and those who work in it> Absolutely not! Indeed, the current system of American education is doing exactly what it was designed for. It is effectively educating the masses.

For a world that no longer exists.

We are married to a system that has not been properly re-evaluated for 21st century capabilities and capacities.

High school is still broken into silos of subjects called departments – English, math, science, social studies, arts, career-tech – but without viable links to how these departments fit into the students world after graduation. The result is a mess; individual departments attempting to simultaneously provide a broad overview of every major field and a narrow foundation for future specialized study at the post-secondary level. And we attempt to do this all at once, a little bit of everything, every day, for four years.

Skills become subjects.

Yet the skills each student is building are not unique to any one subject. Writing is not just a part of the English department scope and sequence. It is necessary in all classes. The same is true of reading and math. But in my experiences, they are seldom integrated across all content areas. There are few, if any, discussions across a building faculty about acceptable conventions, so what is acceptable work in one class, or department, is not acceptable in another.

Teachers tend to hold tightly onto what has worked for them in the past. So the traditions continue…

Having violated the Biblical injunction against casting the first stone, let me propose a solution.

Let’s use our transition into the post-pandemic world to move our schools from a focus on education (teaching) to a focus on learning.

It is interesting that most school leaders don’t put learning first. Instead, they start with state mandates, or standardized test scores, or parent mandates, and then try to figure out how to fit the processes of learning into reaching those outcomes.

Let’s build our new Holy Strategic Plans and annual School Improvement Plans on a foundation of our beliefs about how students learn most powerfully and deeply.

And then worked to figure out how to fit the tests, mandates, and expectations into the process of reaching those learning goals?

Been there, done that, still have some t-shirts from those schools.

As a few of my coaches used to teach, take care of the fundamentals of playing the game and the score will take care of itself. They taught us to shoot at the rim, not at the scoreboard.

Of course, this requires that we be clear about what we mean when we say learning. That we have some coherent, community-wide understanding of what it is, how it happens, and how to measure and evaluate it. That our system is built on a solid foundation of developing and nourishing engaged and literate learners who can navigate their lives, and the world, in innovative and impactful ways. We must redefine “success” of our graduates. At every level, primary to middle, middle to secondary, secondary to post-secondary.

Successful innovation starts by identifying a problem to be solved. Raising test scores, increasing the number or percentage of graduates, meeting state mandates do not stimulate innovation. Providing more “technology” by itself will not solve a problem, only create more.

Schools are first and foremost about people. The only way I know to change an organization is by changing the attitudes, beliefs and actions of the people who make up the organization.

One of the lessons I learned from the Total Quality movement, back when that was the BIG THING, (which has now evolved in to Data Driven Decision Making, so I guess it had legs), is that you can change the people, or you need to change the people. In other words, change the attitudes, beliefs and actions of the people, or get different people.

As we look at what schools, and learning should be, let’s accept that we need new ways of thinking, new actions, new beliefs and attitudes, new ways of doing old things, and indeed, new things to do.

Let’s find and nurture the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. As Apple once taught us.

Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.

There is no history lesson more crucial than this: Yesterday’s methods can only yield yesterday’s results.

That’s why we must focus on new growth and new opportunities. From the certainty of all that has been, we must launch into the not yet discovered, the not yet achieved, the not yet mastered.

What the future holds is a shining new destiny for those with the courage to embrace change, seize the opportunities of the here and now, and welcome the dawning of a new day.

During my tenure, I have been fortunate to work in a couple of forward-thinking, innovative districts and schools. I was able to meet, learn from, and work with other believers in our cause. I must thank Ian Jukes, Will Richardson, Guy Kawasaki, copywriters at an ad agency contracted by Apple when it was still a computer company, Willard Daggett, and the late John Taylor Gatto for inspiring me to do the right things instead of doing things right. Their thoughts and words have been influences in my career, and are embedded in this post.

May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe we can make a difference in this world, so we can do what other claim cannot be done.

And so it goes…

COVID Slide

I am a career educator, currently in year 42 as this is written, who is not buying in to the COVID slide.

Our kids are only falling behind on a scale that adults are defining for them – a scale determined by these scores and achievement measures that were designed decades ago to sort kids by their potential future impacts on the economy.

Kids are falling behind only if we choose to measure them on scales that have been broken for decades, and we refuse to change them, even during a pandemic.

Dr. William Daggett, President of the International Center for Leadership in Education, states that the most rapidly improving schools ask themselves three important questions.

1. What do our students need to know to be successful in the world beyond school?

2. What must our students need to do to succeed in the world beyond school?

3. What must our students be like to succeed in the world beyond school? Not just after graduation, but tomorrow?

I have written several times that the first job title a graduate will have is “employee.” Employers continuously train employees in the technical skills needed to perform their tasks.

I believe we should focus more on the “soft skills,” or “work ethic traits” that employers tell us they look for in employees. The remote learning environment we are in is the ideal laboratory for us to make the transition from assessments of outcomes as measures of successful schools to assessments of process as measures of successful schools.

I am not saying that we ignore assessing for the right answers. I am saying that too many of the right answers can be found with a simple search, a smart speaker, or photo math. A conversation about authentic assessments, and relevance of lessons is for another time.

Can we effectively and objectively teach and assess the soft skills and work ethic traits? Yes! Been there, done that, have a t-shirt from a school which does it.

All of us share the common vision of creating lifelong learners, yet we feel trapped by high stakes assessments designed to measure short-term goals. I have found that by focusing our efforts on the soft skills required in the workplace, meeting our short-term goals took care of itself.

Our kids aren’t falling behind, they are adapting. They are learning new skills They are overcoming. They are surviving a pandemic that has shaken their world before they even understand it.

I will not try to talk I about the jobs our graduates will fill, many of them haven’t been created yet. So let’s concede that we don’t have a strong grasp of the technical skills needed to fill them. But I am fairly certain that assessments of skills that have not changed significantly during my tenure in the profession are probably not the best predictors of how well prepared our kids are to enter into the world of careers.

It isn’t about what is wrong with our schools this year, it’s about what has happened to them this year. We owe it to ourselves, and to our students, to spend more time shooting at the rim and less time shooting at the scoreboard.

A mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions. I am not worried about the COVID slide with our kids. I am worried that our schools will slide back to what they were in March, 2020. And we will have wasted this opportunity to transition ourselves to better meet the needs of our kids and our communities.

And so it goes…

A Useful Crisis

In his blog, Seth Godin defined a useful crisis as a chance to get a lot of us involved. He wrote that “the Cuban Missile Crisis was an actual crisis”, the world was quite close to annihilation. Since then, we “have invented and exploited crises on a regular basis, often at the expense of focusing our attention on the chronic conditions , which are the real challenges. We notice the amplified moments in a crisis but it is what happens, and what changes over the long haul that matters. (Emphasis mine) A useful crisis provides the opportunity to do things that were not possible before. The long haul, the challenge, is the persistent posture of creation and possibility.”

Many of us in the profession of education accept that we are involved in a Useful Crisis today. AS the eminent American philosopher, and Hall of Fame baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Some of us have already begun to re-examine the Sacred Language of the Holy Strategic Plan from the perspective that we are being impacted by all 6 Forces described by Michael Porter and Andrew Groves. And it is way past time for us to question our business fundamentals, how we have always done things, in order to meet the changing expectations being placed on our graduates.

There is no “one size fits all” solution. The needs of individual schools vary greatly. Schools reflect the cultures, values, and circumstances of their communities. Solutions must honor and respect that.

But I will start with a common end in mind. The first job title assigned to most every graduate is “employee.” So why don’t we take a look at what skills “employers” are looking for in the post-pandemic workplace?

An article posted in “Fast Company” on 10/27/2020 shared that “the pandemic has created enormous changes in the workplace. Regardless of their jobs, employees need to adapt rapidly to massive changes, ranging from working remotely to changes in operation and fulfillment. But job skills were changing even before the pandemic.”

“Gartner data found that the number of skills required for a simple job was increasing by 10% a year. And one-third of the skills in an average 2017 job posting would not be relevant by 2021. Gartner also found that role-based skills planning wasn’t helping organizations develop the right employee skill sets. Grouping unrelated skills doesn’t build the skills that will create competitive advantage.” (Emphasis mine)

So what are the necessary skills for the future?

As organizations continue to operate in a pandemic and plan for the future, here are some of the essential skills employers will need, as identified by those who will someday hire our graduates. They will not be learned by osmosis, each of you can determine who well you are teaching them, and how successful you believe your graduates will be when they hit the job market.

  1. Self-direction: in the midst of so much change, employees are going to need to take ownership of their roles and be highly self-directed.
  2. Digital Capabilities: employees are not only going to need to be comfortable using digital technologies, ranging form collaboration software to videoconferencing, but they’re also going to need to accept its role in evaluating metrics. Analytics was the No. 1 digital investment for HR executives.
  3. Empathy: the ability to understand the challenges other employees and organizations are facing and help management is also a skill that employers seek and need.
  4. Communication Management: communication skills now need to extend across platforms. Employees have to know when to use which platform and how to use audio, video, and digital communication in ways that won’t create “Zoom fatigue” or lack of engagement.
  5. Adaptability: as many workplaces evolve to hybrid models or have other significant changes in how they operate, adaptability is an increasingly necessary skill.
  6. Motivational Skills: in addition to the intellectual ability to do the job, ability to adapt to change, and communication skills, motivation and persuasion also play a big role. Being able to self-motivate and inspire other to see your vision could be the catalyst to inertia in the face of uncertainty.

Bit of a challenge for some of us, I’m sure. But in one of the elite schools I worked in, we partnered with our business community and gained their support in implementing a Work Ethic curriculum. Every student, in every class, every day, received a score in each of the following traits:

  1. Attendance
  2. Character
  3. Teamwork
  4. Appearance
  5. Attitude
  6. Productivity
  7. Organization Skills
  8. Communication
  9. Cooperation
  10. Respect

The Work Ethic score appeared separately from the academic scores on both the report card and transcript. It was one of the keys to our success. A powerful message was sent to our kids each semester when potential employers explained it to our new students, and assured them that they cared more about the Work Ethic score than they did the class rank or GPA.

It can be done. But not if we continue to implement the text-teach-test model driven by compliance more than empowerment. In that model, it is easy to say that a student has learned something. But has it been something worth learning?

Many of us will utilize the opportunities of this Useful Crisis to transition into a model of teach-apply the learning. In an authentic assessment, in a manner relevant to the student. The primary purpose of school is to prepare students for a world we cannot imagine, so that when they are stuck with something they have never seen before, they can choose to think rather than just remember.

A foundation of this model is building teaching and assessment around what we call the 3 C’s: 1) Connected – the work is accessible on any device, not just the school issued device and Google classroom; 2) Collaborative – who will the student collaborate with doing the work that would not be possible in a traditional model; 3) Create – what product will the student create that would not be possible outside this model.

You can do this, many schools already are. They turned loose of the traditions of past practice and embraced new traditions. They understood that when the rate of change outside your organization is happening faster than the rate of change inside your organization, your organization is in trouble.

I sincerely hope that we will never return to what we were in March, 2020. We all have experienced many new things, different ways to teach, learn, and assess. As Oliver Wendel Holmes said, “A mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.” The same is true of organizations.

There is no history lesson more crucial than this, “Yesterday’s methods can only yield yesterday’s results.”

That’s why we need to exploit this Useful Crisis, to focus on new growth, new opportunities, whole new dimensions in quality, productivity, and the absolute satisfaction of our customers.

From the certainty of all that has been, we can launch into the not yet discovered, the not yet achieved, the not yet mastered.

What the future holds is a shiny new destiny for those with the courage to embrace change, to seize the opportunities of the here and now, and to welcome the dawning of a new day.

And so it goes…

One Word – Thrive

My One Word for this year is Thrive.

Most things that we thought we knew about schools, teaching, and learning, have changed. I, for one, hope we never return to what we were in March, 2020. It’s time for many of us to rethink the Holy Strategic Plan and start over from Square 1.

There is no history lesson more crucial that this: “Yesterday’s methods can only yield yesterday’s results.”

That’s why we must focus on new growth, new opportunities, whole new dimensions in quality, productivity, and the absolute satisfaction of our customers.

From the certainty of all that has been, we launch into the not yet discovered, the not yet achieved, the not yet mastered.

What the future holds is a shining new destiny for those with the courage to embrace change, to seize the opportunities of the here and now, and to welcome the dawning of a new day.

I will not just survive in this year, I will thrive.

And so it goes…

We Are Getting Better At This

As we continue to learn and grow in the world of remote learning, let us not forget that there is more to it than putting assignments into the LMS, having video chats, grading the work and calling it good. Back in the day, we talked about using the power of the new tools to allow our kids to connect, collaborate, and create (the 3 C’s) in new and different ways. We need to move away from “putting new wine into old wine skins,” we can do so much more if we allow ourselves to open up our imaginations, and those of our kids, to embrace the new possibilities. We are “first year teachers” again, give ourselves permission to fail, and grow. It is the only way we learn.

My Newest Favorite Book

Disclaimer – What you think are the best parts of this post are either original thoughts, or ideas stolen from others.

We have been asked to share a book recommendation and why we loved the book so much. That happens in this post, but not right away.

Instead, I start with a quote from a book I trust we all have read, “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway. “If people bring so much courage to this world the world the world has to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

Pessimistic? Absolutely! And metaphors abound.

I see us in the second sentence, broken, but stronger because of it. We don’t just survive, we thrive.

For many of us, this has been a transitional, frustrating, anxiety-filled year. Every year is challenging, but it has been exponentially magnified this year as we have tried to do our work under a traditional schedule; a hybrid schedule, some of our kids working from home full time while others are in class everyday; cohort schedule, in class a day or two a week, remote the other days.

Or some other combination.

Many of us are changing instructional models within a few weeks. And each model requires different skills from teachers and learners in order to be effective.

Allow yourself to be a beginner. Nobody starts out being excellent.

Again, our work seems to be dictated more by which direction the winds of politics are blowing today rather than by what we consider to be in the best interests of our students. For those of us who have done this for a few years, this isn’t the first time our work has been guided more by politics and popular opinion.

Nor will it be the last.

We are Professional Educators. We went to college to earn our degrees and certifications, often while working, parenting, otherwise building our lives when we are away from school. We have endured state testing. We have been fingerprinted and background checked. We model lifelong learning. We have sacrificed time, sleep, and family. We have sacrificed our own money because our school budgets fall short of meeting the needs of our kids. While most people slept, we were correcting papers and tests, researching, creating, building, and enduring phone calls and emails from parents with grace and professionalism.

We teach the kids who live down the street. We teach the kids who have been bailed out of jail, whose home situations you could not imagine in your worst nightmares. We teach all kids, regardless of socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, medical/psychiatric conditions, good or poor attitudes, or family circumstances.

We need to give ourselves all due credit for the work we do, the sacrifices we make, and the accomplishments of our students. And we need to worry less about what others, who don’t walk in our footsteps, think of us.

As Theodore Roosevelt so eloquently spoke: “It is not just the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…”

It is time for us to become selfish, and accept our selfishness. Call it self-care, life balance, looking out for #1. But do some things for yourself, and don’t feel guilty about doing them.

I was invited into the Magenta Teacher community last spring. It has been a blessing. It grew from the book I recommend for us all –

“Teaching in Magenta” by James Sturtevant.

From amazon.com, and author notes: “Teaching in Magenta means creating magnificent days. It’s a refreshing approach to teaching that puts your joy and well being first so you can share those attributes with your students. Veteran teacher and author James Sturtevant shares 100 paths for living and teaching in an authentic, enthusiastic and relevant way.

The book is divided into 5 Sections:

1. Magenta Teachers Show Compassion

2.Magenta Teachers Embrace Optimism

3. Magenta Teachers Pursue Balance

4. Magenta Teachers Adapt

5. Magenta Teachers Find Contentment

Each section focuses on translating and inserting one of these attributes into your classroom.

You don’t need to read this book in a linear fashion. Read a page or two each day. It will only take a few minutes, but the impact on you and your students could be life changing.

It is meant to be consumed slowly. Think of it as a journey of discovery with 100 different paths to explore.“

It is an amazing companion read to “Teaching With Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach.”

I have been fortunate to spend most of my career in the Rocky Mountain West. I try to spend as much time as I can sojourning in the woods, where I can lose my mind and find my soul. The books help me accomplish the same thing.

While you are reading, join the Magenta Teacher Community. It’s always fun to share your journeys with others.

Metaphors abound.

And so it goes…

Bullseye Values

In an Ed Psych class in my teacher preparation program, we had been discussing values, both personal and professional.

At the beginning of class one day, we were all given an archery target. Our task was to place our values inside the various rings of the target: the least important to us were placed in the outermost ring, the ones we believed in most fervently, and would not negotiate, were placed in the bullseye.

Our instructor told us that there would be many times in our careers that our values would be challenged, questioned, and changed. We would base our decisions on them, our perspective on most of them would evolve as we grew in wisdom and experience.

But our bullseye values were the foundations of our lives and beliefs. They would never change. He told us that at some point in our careers, those values would be confronted, and in order to keep our jobs, we would surrender the values. Or resign our position.

He was right.

I resigned from my position.

As I write this, it is election day, 2020. I long ago achieved AARP status, and Medicare is a mere few months away. This isn’t my first rodeo in a voting booth.

I cannot recall an election when the differences on issues and character between the candidates and parties they represent has been so clear and distinct.

I am not talking about different perspectives on things like how to best address climate change, how to fix our healthcare system, how to reduce the national debt, how to nurture and care for our environment. While important, we can have constructive debate on these topics and agree to disagree.

I am talking about character, one of my bullseye beliefs.

In my humble opinion, after the past four years, alignment with the sitting president means you are fundamentally disconnected on what is morally acceptable. Your reaffirmation of this president speaks openly of your disregard for the lives of people of color, about your opinion of women, your opinion of science, about your faith, and disrespect for basic truth.

These are obviously not your bullseye beliefs, your morality is bendable and conditional. I have to wonder, what other compromises are you willing to make? To gain what?

In my life, devaluing the lives of people of color is not an opinion. Acceptance of repeated and willful lies is not negotiable. Denial and defiance of facts in a pandemic that has already claimed over 200,000 lives, with no end in sight, is not acceptable. Hostility toward immigrants, whom, like most of us, I can thank for seeing to it that I am here, and hostility toward those whose lifestyle is different from mine is a heart issue.

Among the Bible verses I had to memorize in Sunday School was Matthew 25:40, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily, I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.”

This scripture helped form my character belief in childhood, it still does in adulthood.

I am a child of the 1960’s. I have made a career out of disagreeing with people and challenging the status quo, particularly in public education. I have dedicated my career to impacting the lives of other human beings, hopefully in a positive way.

These were my bullseye values in 1975. They are still in my bullseye. I believe in the value and humanity of other people that God created in His image. I believe in doing no harm. I believe in, and look for, the best in us. And I built my career on those qualities.

This is the first election in my voting life that directly challenges my bullseye values.

Those of us who voted made choices. I made mine based on my values and beliefs. I am sure that everyone else did as well. I trust that we remember that every choice carries consequences. For all of us.

And so it goes…

DAY OF REFLECTION

When I walked into my office on the morning of September 11, 2001, I had two job titles.

I was working for the Department of Defense Education Activity, assigned to the school system located on Fort Knox, Kentucky.

One title was Instructional Systems Specialist for Curriculum and Staff Development. My college preparation and experiences prepared me well for that role.

I was also the Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Officer for the school district. My college preparation didn’t begin to prepare me for that day, or the weeks that followed.

So I was taught by women and men who see the world through filters we don’t imagine within the four walls of the school buildings.

They are one of the few essential professions who make less money that we do in education. Like us, they volunteer for the job. For the same reasons we do. And like us, they don’t run from the challenges and difficult situations, they run toward them.

They are currently being questioned by some about their motivation for volunteering to do their jobs, their dedication, loyalty, and courage.

They don’t have to respond to those who question them, their actions speak louder than their words ever can.

Watching them at work that day, and the weeks that followed filled me with pride. And does so today.

A lot to reflect on tomorrow. Saw many things, heard many things, made many decisions that I never expected to be part of my school career. It was a day filled with unforgettable events.

Even though I would like to forget some of them.

And so it goes…

HOW I BE

With thanks to John Pavlovitz, Aaron Sorkin, Bill Preston, and Ted Logan, who have the words that I have been struggling to find…

I have witnessed many thing things, but nothing as bodacious as what is happening now. I can’t find anything that explains the lack of common sense and rejection of reason, logic, and science from many very smart, but obviously gullible people. Nothing completely accounts for them instantly embracing the most nonsensical of conspiracies. Nothing truly prepared me for the explosion, in words and deeds, of racism. Nothing connects the dots between their past goodness and their present ugliness.

Did I fail to pass along the values and virtues that are most important to me? Did I not know them well enough to understand what is important to them?

We’re not just being pulled apart along political lines, but the fragile, time-woven fabric of our most intimate connections with people are being torn in two right now. Families, life-long friendships, faith communities, and social circles that survived every previous assault from within and without may not survive this presidency.

And the worst part is, the election results won’t fix this. There will be more silent disconnections, more aborted family gatherings, and cold silences with our neighbors.

I imagine some relationships will survive beyond this November – if we invest in them, if we keep listening, if we are willing participants in mutual understanding- but others will not, and that’s probably necessary. Maybe we’ve simply seen too much about the deepest contents of people’s hearts to ever feel safety in their presence again. Maybe we’ll never feel like they are home for us anymore.

Either way, we need to name and reckon with this very specific grieving: the accumulating losses of people we love who are still here, the death of our relationships.

It’s a national tragedy.

All the research, data, books, polls, and think pieces don’t fully explain how once rational, otherwise decent, educated people are fully taking leave of their senses – people I may never feel close to again.

It’s one thing to be a good-hearted but flawed human being who sometimes says something stupid, occasionally has an error in judgment, or simply gets it wrong. Most of us fall under that category. We’re not any kind of evil, we’re just imperfect, emotional people, so we fail and fall – sometimes slightly and sometimes spectacularly.

It’s something else entirely to be an inherently malevolent person; to be incapable of empathy, defiantly unwilling to admit mistakes; to wake up everyday willing to harm others to get what you want and feeling no remorse for it. Because the ones you hurt do not deserve your empathy or your remorse.

I respect people who care about others as they care about themselves; who can humble themselves for the greater good of all; who are filled with compassion; who are willing to listen to different viewpoints; capable of evolving; and both willing and able to admit their mistakes. I respect people who love deeply, mourn greatly, give fully, who see others as more important than themselves.

I’m tired of it, year after year after year, having to choose between the lessor of “who cares.” I’m tired of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences. I’m tired of setting the bar so low that I can hardly look at it.

Kindness, respect, responsibility for all. Take the high road, I’m tired of traveling the low road. Let’s lift each other up, not just those who look and/or think like us.

I call it integrity.

This is How I Be.

And so it goes…