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…

Start With the End in Mind

This will be the first of several posts where I will describe my ideal school.

“The general purpose of education is to increase the probability of success for our students post-education. Until we embrace that notion, no radical change is going to happen.” Joe Harless, Ph.D., author, “The Eden Conspiracy”

This is the cornerstone for my school, preparing our learners for what’s next in the educational progression, or life. Focus will be given to the traditional transition years; grades 5-6, 8-9, and graduation to either post-secondary or directly to career.

“Education” is what takes place in a school. School is a concept wherein students are welcome to learn and enhance the quality of their lives without fear of intimidation or safety for their lives, guided by hospitable and caring people in a clean and orderly environment.

Guiding questions for my school, also asked by other evolving and improving schools:

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

2. What must our learners do in order to succeed in the world beyond our school?

3. What must our learners be like in order to succeed in the world beyond our school?

My school is designed to bridge the gap between what is and what should be, what the literature describes as Adaptive Challenge, which requires a response outside the usual repertoire of most schools.

I will close this introduction with what my school will not be. It will not be one-size-fits-all. As educators, we serve a very diverse population of learners. No one model is “our best” for all of them. While everything in my school already exists, either in schools I have visited, or schools where I have worked. The status quo will not necessarily be honored.

Life is different;

Work is different;

What learners must know and be able to do is different, so…

Learning must be different;

Teaching must be different;

Tools must be different; and

Leadership must be different.

Subsequent posts will focus specifically on “elementary” and “secondary” programs.

May the words of my mouth comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

And so it goes…

Personal Growth – You Can’t Cross a Chasm in Two Small Leaps

The March topic for the Compelled Tribe is to write about a potential change and possible growth that may be ahead for each of us as we get closer to spring.

In 1993-1994, I was completing the coursework for the Superintendent of Schools endorsement on my state license.

My district was very socio-economically “challenged”, to say the least.

When we looked at our student performance data, and how well were doing/not doing on meeting the expectations of our State Department Accreditation Performance Targets, we were among the lowest in the state for districts with similar characteristics.

Yet we were doing everything “right” according to the literature on how to increase student performance for our demographics.

Yes, there is a difference between doing things right and doing the right things.

Working with our staff and community, we had to re-imagine what we were about and how we conducted our business. In other words, for the benefit of our students, we had to start doing the right things, not just do things right.

Which brings me to the Compelled Tribe topic. We started with a clean white board, dreamed big dreams, and decided to “boldly go where no (few) had gone before.”

We took some incredibly large risks, since we had few, if any, models to follow. There really wasn’t any “best practice” to build upon. Upside was huge, but the consequences of failure were enormous. Not only would our students suffer, but financially, we had the resources to only try something once, and we couldn’t invest in processes that did not yield the returns we needed.

In one of the papers in my program, I spoke about what we were planning. I remarked that it would have been very easy to do what had always been done, making incremental improvements in policy and practice, and I would have continued to make a very comfortable living to support my wife, children, and the lifestyle we had come to enjoy.

Was I willing to risk all that in an effort to “leap the chasm” and try some things that were not part of any of our preparation programs, but showed tremendous promise to positively impact our learners? I was willing to accept the risk for me and my career, but also risking the welfare of my family.

Spoiler alert – at all worked. Exceptionally well. And we not only made history, we changed the rules for everyone else.

So my response to the Compelled Tribe topic is to start with a clean white board and design my ideal school. From the ground up. What the physical structure will look like. What will happen both inside and outside the physical structure. And why.

On this site, I will be publishing my thoughts, for my school, over the next several weeks. Would love to have as many readers of this tripe join in and share your thoughts.

As before, I will dream big and in color.

A dream supplies meaning and intensive value. It is our deepest expression of what we want, a declaration of a desired future. A dream is an ideal involving a sense of possibilities rather than probabilities, of potential rather than limits. The passion is missing when we work with only our rational left brain. Without passion, there is little enthusiasm and vitality. A dream is a wellspring of passion, giving us direction and pointing us to lofty heights. It is an expression of optimism, hope and values lofty enough to capture the imagination and engage the spirit. Dreams are capable of lifting us to new heights and overcoming self-imposed limitations. Dreams aren’t limited by what you think can or cannot be done, or by what your rational mind tells you is or isn’t possible. It represents something that you really want, as opposed to what you think you can get. Goals are tangible, but dreams are intangible. Dr. King said, “I have a dream.” He did not say, “I have a strategic plan.”

But my dreams are grounded in the reality that school will go on while we are under construction…

Building Airplanes in the Sky

And so it goes…

Innocence and Priorities

At breakfast this morning, got to watch 2 year old Mr. Man catching sunbeams streaming through our curtains. Love God for sharing with us the innocence of being 2 years old, the joy in his eyes and on his face as he captured them, the wonder and exploration of a child, the reminder that He has everything under control, and letting me know I need to slow down and appreciate the things in life that truly matter. Thanks be to God!

One Word 2019

Better late than never, with thanks to the many cliches I have heard, and “drive by” quotes in many presentations. A few many even be semi-original thoughts…

My One Word for 2019 is ONE. As in, sometimes, “first.” Words of wisdom for the year:

For many students, you may be the most stable adult presence in their lives. Just by showing up every day, setting boundaries, believing in them, showing a genuine interest, being “on their case,” demanding their very best, you just may have a positive impact. Even on your worst day, you are still some child’s best hope. It only takes one teacher to change a child’s life. Some children will come to school today because of that one teacher. Be that teacher.

Children must have at least one person who believes in them. Be that person.

Every winning streak starts with the first win. Win the first one.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tip toe if you must, but take that step.

You are one decision away from a totally different life. Don’t let your dreams die within the walls of your comfort zone. Call your shot.

Tell the story of the mountains you have climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.

One day, you will just be a memory to some people. Do your best to be a good one.

You are the person God is preparing as the answer to someone’s prayers. Be there for them.

Remember the words of songwriter Sam Cooke, as performed by Louis Armstrong in “(What A) Wonderful World,” talking about our children, “They will learn much more than I will ever know.” The one day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit. Keep moving forward and know that all the hard work you are putting in, day in and day out, will produce the results you are looking for.

And so it goes…for 2019.

A Short Course in Human Relations

The 6 most important words are: “I admit I made a mistake.”

The 5 most important words are: “I am proud of you.”

The 4 most important words are: “What is your opinion.”

The 3 most important words are: “If you please.”

The 2 most important words are: “Thank you.”

The one most important word is: “We.”

Reflection on Martin Luther King Day, and the current state of affairs

Every year, I re-read the I Have a Dream speech and the Letter from the Birmingham Jail on Martin Luther King Day. It is interesting to see which of his words strike my chords of relevance during this annual reflection, based on what is happening in the larger world at the time, and my feelings about it.

These are them, today, from I Have a Dream:

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

In a conversation last week, Vice President Pence compared the work of President Trump to the work of Dr. King by quoting another line of this speech, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

My question is a simple one.

Do the ends justify the means?

And so it goes…until next year.

Back In The Saddle Again

I recently retired after a 38 year career in public education. The last 11 years, I worked as an administrator for a district in Montana. I was not “a good fit” there. In a blog post written when I retired, I stated that “the best days of my life haven’t happened yet, and I don’t intend to spend them growing old.” I concluded that post, “Maybe, someplace, I will again be ‘a good fit.”

I have found that place, and am back in the game!

I am a Teacher Assistant at a local public charter school. We are a PK-12 school, I am working at the MS/HS campus.

So what does it mean to be “a good fit?”

Ask yourself these questions:

* When was the last time you felt really listened to?

* When was the last time you felt that anything you said made a meaningful difference?

* When was the last time the work you did felt really valued?

* When was the last time you felt that your efforts contributed to winning?

* When was the last time you could connect your specific actions to school results?

If your answers don’t excite you, you are not alone. Only 30% of employees are fully engaged (Gallup Annual Employee Poll). The vast majority of our human talent is not showing up to innovate, create, build, change, and find better ways of doing things.

During my tenure in Montana, I was part of the 70%. And I was not a good fit.

What would happen if we reversed the numbers? Think of teams you have been on, and meetings you have been in, where the majority of the people were fully immersed and engaged. How productive were you and the team? How much faster did tasks get completed? How much fun did you have?

Prior to moving to Montana, I was part of some elite schools and districts. The paragraph above describes what it was like to work in those positions. I was a good fit, then.

And I am once again, “a good fit.”

The school is quite different from where I worked in Montana, but not very different from one of the elite schools I led elsewhere in Colorado.

According to the Opportunity Atlas: Mapping Childhood Roots of Social Mobility, recently published by researchers from Harvard and Brown Universities, and the US Census Bureau, median family income in our attendance area for Hispanic families, which make up 95% of our enrollment, is $30,000/year. College graduate rate is 24%, employment rate is 73%. Given the income level, the jobs don’t pay exceedingly well.

The local public school district where we are located has been on the Colorado Department of Education Watch List for the last 8 years, and recently became the first district in state history to be ordered by the Colorado State Board of Education to find an outside management group to take over district operations. Obviously, they have not been doing very well with their students, despite the best efforts of a whole bunch of well-meaning people.

Our school opened in 2005. As an open, public charter school, any student in the local district is eligible to enroll with us. Our current demographics: Total enrollment just under 1,000. 94% are Hispanic, 86% qualify for free/reduced meals, (as such, both breakfast and lunch are free for all students), 74% are identified ELL.

On the most recent Colorado Measures of Academic Success, the state report card, our school significantly outperformed the local public district on every measure, and exceeded state averages on virtually all measures at every grade level, including PSAT and SAT scores. Needless to say, we have more than a few “Championship Banners” decorating our buildings.

And there is a waiting list of students wanting to be enrolled with us.

Obviously, we are not a typical school. Our students, and their environment, require that some things must be done differently in order to be effective. If the traditional, typical practices worked, the local district would not be currently negotiating with someone to come on board and take over.

Not really different that what we were looking at in 1993 when we created the Student Centered School program in Center, Colorado.

We don’t look like very many other schools. And I am fine with that. We don’t have their enrollments. What we are doing is working for us.

We are built around an environment of academic success. Every senior is required to apply to multiple colleges, our Commons Area is now decorated with pictures of the senior class, along with the names of the various colleges where they have already received acceptance letters. In addition to our academic focus, we also focus on the the Traits of: Character; Excellence; Nobility; Vision; and Valor. One of them is stressed each week, each school day starts with an assembly where the trait of the week highlighted. Not unlike the Work Ethic Skills that we emphasized at the Central Educational Center when I led the high school programs there and we were a National Model High School.

We are blessed with a wonderful staff who believe in our learners and what we do. It is not an easy place to work, our kids bring a bit more than completed homework with them in their backpacks every morning. But we know that we can, and are, doing all we must to break the cycles of poverty that surround us.

We are led by two very capable, young, and energetic administrators who have high expectations for all of us, and give us the resources we need to achieve them. They realize that both the adults in the building and the adolescents in the building can and will rise to the level of expectation, or fall to the level of what is tolerated. Be that a formal dress code or a level of consistently high academic performance. The key words that describe them to me are “young” and “energetic.” It is pleasure to work with them.

They see to it that I am “a good fit.” I can once again answer yes to the questions at the top of this post.

We are once again empowering our learners to become the architects of their futures rather than the victims of fate. We are once again working for a movement, not a school. Not all of us have what it takes to work in that environment, it is not for the faint of heart. While we pay it lip service, it takes a serious commitment to nurture hope and keep dreams alive in our neighborhood.

But we will continue to evolve and find success. We will end the circle of poverty that I first learned from James Baldwin and Jesse Jackson. We will leave the world better than we found it.

I’m loving going back to school.

And honored to be “a good fit” again.

And so it goes…