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.
And so it goes…
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…
Questions I Have Before We Start Back To School
Last Spring, I wrote a post with questions about how our schools may be changed due to the current pandemic.
Two weeks from today, I and my colleagues return to our school for the 2020-2021 school year. Our school leadership has been incredibly transparent with us, our students and our parents. They are following the guidelines issued by the CDC and our state health department, with the safety and well being of students and staff as a priority. I am extremely proud of the work they have done, and how it has been communicated to all.
Like most schools, we are opening with a hybrid in-class/blended online model. Our administration has taken the relatively rare step of having the education conversation before having the technology conversation. I was thrilled when one of our principals let me know that he has completed the Critical Skills for Online Teaching and Effective Strategies for Online Classrooms courses offered by the VHS Learning, who happens to be the organization who created the online teaching/learning model in 1996. Our professional development will be much more comprehensive that just putting assignments into a LMS, and I can’t wait to be part of it.
What follows is more specific about the challenges we will face as we open the school year than my prior post. None of it is original, my son shared it on his facebook wall. I don’t know the original author, but I would love to hear some answers from those at the state and federal levels who have been elected or appointed to provide the requisite leadership for us.
Betsy DeVos and the Repub. Admin, we have a few questions for you:
• If a teacher tests positive for COVID-19 are they required to quarantine for 2-3 weeks? Is their sick leave covered, paid?
• If that teacher has 5 classes a day with 30 students each, do all 150 of those students need to then stay home and quarantine for 14 days?
• Do all 150 of those students now have to get tested? Who pays for those tests? Are they happening at school? How are the parents being notified? Does everyone in each of those kids’ families need to get tested? Who pays for that?
• What if someone who lives in the same house as a teacher tests positive? Does that teacher now need to take 14 days off of work to quarantine? Is that time off covered? Paid?
• Where is the district going to find a substitute teacher who will work in a classroom full of exposed, possibly infected students for substitute pay?
• Substitutes teach in multiple schools. What if they are diagnosed with COVID-19? Do all the kids in each school now have to quarantine and get tested? Who is going to pay for that?
• What if a student in your kid’s class tests positive? What if your kid tests positive? Does every other student and teacher they have been around quarantine? Do we all get notified who is infected and when? Or because of HIPAA regulations are parents and teachers just going to get mysterious “may have been in contact” emails all year long?
• What is this stress going to do to our teachers? How does it affect their health and well-being? How does it affect their ability to teach? How does it affect the quality of education they are able to provide? What is it going to do to our kids? What are the long-term effects of consistently being stressed out?
• How will it affect students and faculty when the first teacher in their school dies from this? The first parent of a student who brought it home? The first kid?
• How many more people are going to die, that otherwise would not have if we had stayed home longer?
30% of the teachers in the US are over 50. About 16% of the total deaths in the US are people between the ages of 45-65.
We are choosing to put our teachers in danger.
We’re not paying them more.
We aren’t spending anywhere near the right amount to protect them. And in turn, we are putting ourselves and our kids in danger.
And so it goes…
Reflection on Summer, 2020. So far…
In the 1960’s, we got our news from the three networks, we saw only what the three networks broadcast, whatever the managing editor of the evening news chose to show. The executive producer was the censor and the arbiter of what was reported, just as the editor of the newspaper chose which still photographs were published. The networks and the newspapers were in the business of earning a profit for their stockholders as much as they were in the business of presenting the news and informing the public. They were driven by the interests of their advertisers as much as they driven by the interests of their viewers and readers. In the 2020’s, we don’t get our news from the three networks, there is no executive producer to filter what we see and hear.
Social media policies, and those who create and enforce them, are now the “executive producers” and “editors” of what we see and hear. They may not have chosen this role when the platforms were created, but they must accept the responsibility for the influence the platforms carry.
A valuable lesson I learned as an aspiring administrator was “Never argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrel or paper by the ton.” They determine what is seen and heard by the public, and thus, how opinions are shaped. And you will always lose those arguments.
With great power to influence comes great responsibility. We know that as educators, working daily with captive audiences of young minds. We have the power to create and nurture dreams, to shape lives. We take it very seriously.
Hopefully, others with great power to literally take lives away take it seriously as well.
And so it goes.
The Future Is Not What It Was
We are an excellent school, and will remain one. The habits that made us great will keep us great.
We started by asking, and answering the following: What has worked for us in the past? Why has it worked? What has worked, but can be improved? How do we improve it? What has not worked well for us at all? Why didn’t it work?
We are excellent because we successfully connect with our students. We understand that we must successfully address the Maslow stuff before we can effectively address the Bloom stuff. We also recognize that the environments of teaching and learning have forever changed, in dramatic ways. And we acknowledge that it will never again be what it once was.
How do we continue to work on the Maslow stuff remotely?
We know that we will not see the same students who left us a short time ago. As they were shaped by their home environments at the time of the last dismissal bell, they are still shaped by their home environments today. But they have changed, and we have to change with them.
We will see more of them with parents out of work, and stresses at home will increase. More of them will qualify for free-reduced meals, many for the first time in their school careers, and that will be a monumental challenge for them and their families. Even though the “official” numbers will not be known until after school starts next fall, the impacts are very real today.
We recognize that “poverty” impacts learning, and we realize that what worked well with kids in the past may not work as well with them today.
Broadband access and appropriate tools for remote/online learning have taken on new significance. The “poverty” of students who have never had them, or who will now lose them has also taken on greater significance. While the concept of “digital native” is a myth, the inequitable access of the digital divide is very real.
The inequities of food, shelter, safety, health, and access to technologies cannot be seen or felt through the screen.
But we will address them through our new professional development/training programs. Because we have found that while google apps, You Tube channels, and Kahn Academy work, they will not keep us at the levels of excellence we have grown accustomed to, and those that our parents, teachers, students, and communities continue to expect. We understand that they do not adequately address the 3 C’s of Educational Technology and Instruction; Connect, Collaborate, and Create. And we know we can do better.
Many things that we have taken for granted will have to be re-evaluated and modified as we work through the impact of COVID-19.
Schools are both political and social institutions. This disease will not “go away” soon, if ever. There will a second wave later this spring/summer. And another wave in the fall.
So we will take a look at where we must maintain an appropriate physical distance. Those include, but are not limited to: start/dismissal times; student transportation; assemblies; passing periods; grading practices: custodial services; cafeteria services, including preparation, serving, and eating; class sizes and seating arrangements. Changes in Food Service, Transportation, Instruction, and Maintenance all have significant budget considerations. And all of these can have a profound impact on teaching and learning.
We are excellent because our communities tend to trust us, and the decisions we make. In order to maintain excellence, we will have to propose some significant changes. Do we have the political capital to pull them off? Our decisions will be evaluated through a political lens as well as an educational lens. We should expect to bear the brunt of parent and community frustrations over many factors no longer under their control. Recognize it, and respond accordingly, empathetically, and appropriately. Where do our school leaders fall on the “trust scale” with national, state, and other local leaders? Do people trust us, and our messages? How do we know?
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR ALL
All stakeholders/constituent groups MUST be included. We cannot assume that we can make the needed changes without the involvement, and support, of all. To be most effective, the trainings must be tailored to the unique needs, interests, and agendas in each group. A tall order, but we are excellent because we individualize for the needs of our kids. Now, we will expand that practice to include everybody. Not every district will pull it off. And not every district will transition successfully to the “new future.”
Back in the day, we helped “invent” a lot of what people are trying to do today. We didn’t have templates to follow, we had to create them as we went along. So professional development agendas on the topics of teaching in an online/blended format was pretty much “by guess and by golly.”
But now we have things like National Standards for Online Teaching, which we helped create. They follow: A. Teacher knows the primary concepts and structures of effective online instruction and is able to create online learning experiences to enable student success. B. Teacher understands and is able to use a range of technologies, both existing and emerging, that effectively support student learning and engagement. C. Teacher plans, designs and incorporates strategies to encourage active learning, application, interaction, participation, and collaboration in the learning environment. D. Teacher promotes student success through clear expectations, prompt response and regular feedback. E. Teacher models, guides, and encourages legal, ethical, and safe behavior related to technology use. F. Teacher is cognizant of the diversity of student academic needs and incorporates accommodations into the online environment. G. Teacher demonstrates competencies in creating and implementing assessments in online learning environments in ways that ensure validity and reliability of the instruments and procedures. H. Teacher developers and delivers assessments, projects, and assignments that meet standards-based learning goals and assesses learning progress by measuring student achievement of the learning goals. I. Teacher demonstrates competency in using data from assessments and other data sources to modify content and to guide student learning. J. Teacher interacts in a professional, effective manner with colleagues, parents, and other members of the community to support students’ success. K. Teacher arranges media and content to help students and teachers transfer knowledge most effectively in the online environment.
Nothing new in these topics, we covered them all in traditional teacher preparation courses. But doing them in an online environment is a totally different set of processes and skills. It is an entirely new way of teaching, which explains why the Virtual High School training capstone is a supervised student teaching experience. The rubrics are in place for those who have the desire and commitment.
But if you believe you already know everything you need to know about online/blended teaching, and you can’t can’t admit that you don’t yet know what you don’t know yet about it, none of this really matters.
We are facing immediate challenges never before seen in American public education. But we are excellent in part because we know that challenges are nothing more than opportunities to succeed in new and different ways.
What can we do now that we could not do before? What else to we want to accomplish?
We have the opportunity to expand our work beyond the Sacred Goals of the Holy Strategic Plan.
Alternatives are now on the table. The same alternatives that were previously overlooked because what we were doing was working. We are still creating schools designed to prepare our students to be successful when they are our age. But our blueprint has changed. We have some precedents to copy, templates have been created by the online pioneers of our profession. While we can turn to them for guidance, they were not working with our people in our communities. Let us have the humility to recognize and honor their work. And the confidence that we can emulate it for us.
Here and now, we face a dawning of a new day. What we bring as individuals, and as a whole, is a body of knowledge and experiences gleaned from all that has gone before us. The struggles, the setbacks, the victories. There is no history lesson more crucial than this: “Yesterdays lessons can only yield yesterdays 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 must 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…
Truth! And the person would realize that most schools haven’t changed much, nor are they thrilled about letting kids use the amazing device in their pockets as part of the curricula of said schools. We used to see schools as a place to quest for more knowledge, not be limited in how we find it…Had the honor of visiting, twice, with Dr. Thomas Sutherland, a Colorado State University professor who was held hostage in Lebanon for 6 1/2 years. He had little to no access to any news of world events for that time. It was a thrill to talk to him about “change” and how fast it is happening, and how we adapt, or fail, to adapt to it. Was fun to ask a man of his intellect about what amazed him after being “out of touch” for a long period of time. Treasured memories, and in all seriousness, we certainly waste a lot of opportunities by digging in our heels and clinging to the past, all the while forgetting about why we are here.
As I prepare to start year 40 in the game, I have decided to change the name of this drivel from “Reflections and Rants from the Assistant Principal” to “Living Outside the Box.”
Have a few reasons for making the change.
1. I am no longer an assistant principal. After 32 years as an administrator, the last 5 as an AP, I retired and moved from Montana to Denver. My last 5 years working in the Big Sky, my title was Assistant Principal. Had several different titles during the first 26 years in the office, from Principal to Director to Instructional Systems Specialist to Superintendent. And from 1987-2006, every school or district that I worked in was either a state, national, or international model. Was able to help write state and national legislation impacting education during that time as well. Thought it was part of the job description. Guess I was lucky enough to pick great people and places to work. But I got bored with “retirement,” so I am now a teacher assistant at a local charter school. And loving it. Again, part of a state model school. Go figure.
2. In the high flyer schools where I worked, a standing rule was to question the status quo. Conventional wisdom didn’t mean much to us. So we made a point of working “outside of the box.” The district where I worked as Superintendent of Schools during the period from 1993-1997 was a founding district of the Virtual High School Global Consortium. Which meant we got into the ed tech game way before most. We were the only district in Colorado to be part of that consortia. As we “innovated” our policies and practices to reflect new ways to teach and learn, we sometimes came up with questions for our state Department of Ed that were not addressed in the current accreditation guidelines. We had a champion working for us, the Deputy Commissioner of Ed. When I was leaving Colorado to join the Department of Defense Education Activity, I met him for lunch, and asked how the Department had felt about us. His response was, “We knew you were working outside the box, we just hope you remembered that there was a box at one time.” I wear that as a Badge of Honor.
3. Which meant that for the period of my career that I worked in a tradition-bound district, I was a Peacock in the Land of Penguins. Also, to me, a Badge of Honor.
So in the time I have left in the game, I will be writing about things that may challenge the status quo, and the way things have always been done. It made for a great career, and I hope the 3 or 4 of you who regularly read this enjoy it.
And so it goes…