5 Educators I’m Thankful to Know – 2K17 Edition

Since the inception of my blog, I have shared stories of hundreds of educators from around the world who are really going at it and are making a difference. From aggressive technology implementation to calculated, brilliant writing, there are so many people I am thankful to know in our craft.  Here are five of them.

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Kevin Blondina – I mentioned Kevin in a post earlier this year, but I really can’t put into words how great of a person this man is.  On a board of education from Northern NJ, Kevin is a board member for all the right reasons–no axes to grind, no political objectives, just one of the nicest people I’ve ever met who cares deeply about his community and only wants to have the best available for the residents of his town. His wisdom, experience, and insight into the role of a board president are priceless.  Thank you, Kevin, for always being willing to listen and share.

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Rebecca Coda / Rick Jetter – OK, this is two people, but not really!  Coda & Jetter put out one of the most powerful, meaningful books in education that is an essential read for today’s leaders. The book is more than a collection of stories; it brings people of all walks, ages, and positions together and allows them to bond, grow stronger, and move forward. I took a good “dunking” this past year from what I called an “education coup.”  It turns out that I am far from the only one who was in such a position. Coda & Jetter helped me refocus, recharge, and reemerge as the educational game changer for which I have been nationally recognized.  I am, and will always be, eternally thankful for them. You can follow Rebecca on Twitter at @RebeccaCoda and Rick at @RickJetter.  You can order their best-selling book here.

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David Culberhouse –  I “met” David via Twitter a few years ago when I was exposed to his blog and tweets about the interchangings of school leadership and how schools, as we know them, are evolving. His writing is both infectious and brilliant. David is one of the most personable, dynamic, and powerful writers out there, period. You can follow him on Twitter at @DCulberhouse and read his blog here.

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Carl Hooker – Carl is one of the coolest dudes around.  Why?  You can read all about it here. I’m beyond thankful for Carl’s commitment to education, his passion for technology, and his knack for finding out all things awesome in education. One of the best conferences I went to this past year was #iPadalooza, and I am beyond excited to see what he pumps out next.  And, yes, his last name is Hooker. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrhooker.

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Nancy Horvat – Nancy is a first-year administrator but had a prior life as an educator.  (If you’re an administrator, you understand this; if you’re not, there is a slight transformation process, to say the least). Nancy and I also worked together for a few years in another district. From our lengthy and comical conversations about “the land of make-believe,” to dealing with important staffing issues, to helping her navigate her first year as an administrator, it’s been a blast to say the least.  One of the qualities for which I am thankful is her insight and knowledge about how unprofessional (and quite frankly, dumb) it is to spread and report incorrect information, especially to vendors and staff.  We’ve seen it happen too many times and know how embarrassing it is to a school and/or the person doing it.  Knowing that she doesn’t go around and talk before things are done is a blessing and one of her biggest attributes. I am also thankful for her never-ending supply of candy and her anti-attitude of “throwing people under the bus.”  Keep at it!

I’m wishing everyone a wonderful, happy, healthy Thanksgiving.

Onward!

 

 

 

 

Straight Outta Worksheets

A few summers ago, the blockbuster movie “Straight Outta Compton” was everywhere. Besides bringing back a whole wave of great memories of music I grew up with, people had quite a bit of fun with meme action. I saw almost every town and every object inserted after “Straight Outta.” One meme in particular caught my attention: “Straight Outta Worksheets.”

I first saw this on a T-shirt of presenter Carl Hooker. Yes, his last name is Hooker, and you can find him on Twitter sharing some amazing things. I first met Mr. Hooker at the 2017 PETE & C conference in Hershey, PA, after he keynoted the opening session and offered some workshops. He told me about a conference he held in Austin, TX, called iPadaPalooza. I hope you get the focal idea of the conference (I went this past summer; amazing was an understatement). In the opening kickoff, Mr. Hooker donned the “Straight Outta Worksheets” T-shirt. The crowd went wild. I loved the shirt so much that I ordered one on eBay.

Besides loving the idea, I was chuckling to myself on how it would be received in some schools. I’ve worked in places where worksheets are so frequent that the paper changes color by the end of the year because their order of white paper runs out. When I taught, we had someone from Xerox who was paid just to run our copies. If we had bulk items, they were to be sent to central office to the duplicating room. I’ve also seen schools where you’re given one pack of paper for the entire school year. Depending on the district, some teachers would laugh and high-five the T-shirt; other places would file 6 grievances and seek an affirmative action investigation because they found the shirt offensive.

The message to the attendees was clear: what good does scads of worksheets do? Do you save them to reference the following school year? Are the worksheets going to change your life? Will they be the catalyst to get you a job or succeed in life?

Friends don’t let friends give worksheets. Pass it on. It’s time to really drill down and harness the power of technology that students use daily. Save a tree, and save our future learners from nebulous work just because you’ve always done it that way..

Onward!

Seattle: Students & Space

In early October, the AASA Digital Consortium once again met for collaboration, inspiration, and readiness for the future of our students. We have been fortunate enough to travel around the country to see just exactly how schools, businesses, and communities are doing to ensure that their learners are ready for the future. We’ve been privileged to see some incredible developments, and, on this trip, we headed to Seattle, Washington.

Seattle is an amazing city with most notoriety going to Amazon, Starbucks, and Boeing. That being said, it’s just like any other American city and includes those who are impoverished and are in need. The public schools in the Seattle area are, as well, similar to those of other American cities: transient, poverty, high-minority, low-performing, lack of meaningful resources.

Do me a favor; forget that last sentence, because, while you would expect the same characteristics, there was a very different vibe going on in the Seattle-area Highline Public Schools.

Under the leadership of colleague and friend Dr. Susan Enfield, the Highline Public Schools embrace all socioeconomic levels and deal with all other pitfalls that face schools today. One of the aspects that makes Highline stand out is the business in the area. Boeing is literally in their backyard. The Museum Of Flight is about ten feet away from the edge of the first school we toured, Raisbeck Aviation High School.

Raisbeck started as a magnet-like school with students writings scads of essays and completing a myriad of other components in order to be accepted and attend. Today, it’s lottery-based, and some students even fly in every day to go to school. Let that soak in–kids flying to school. That’s how impressive this school is. While it certainly circulates around the aerospace field, all academics are covered and other offerings are given. Most, however, choose to go into the field of flight.

We started off by finding a spirit squad at the front door that high-fives every student and adult who enters. That little tidbit alone sets this school apart from many others. There are a student body and a staff who want to go to school, not play at doing so.

We then headed to Chinook Middle School located in SeaTac. The school has seen its challenges over the years–safety concerns from students, a high-transient population, and a staff that was not all on the same page, not to mention it’s a middle school, so tack the middle-school problems on as well. (I don’t care where you live, every middle school has middle-school issues). The vibe inside radiated positivity and integrity and fostered a collaborative mindset.

This was beyond clear in the media center, which was in the cocooning phase, morphing into a maker-space with learning materials to support the thought process. It was beyond cool to see how one person (the principal in this case) was working tirelessly with her staff to make the school a place where all wanted to go and was also providing the current resources needed for success. This was further evidenced when I sat in on a 7th-grade ELA class where students were brainstorming and writing their ideas on a Wordle cloud.

Our last school stop was at Midway Elementary School, a beautiful facility laced with natural light, smiling students, and student technology. As we toured the facilities, we heard several languages but saw the universal language of technology integration happening. I was most happy to see both ST Math and myON reading taking place in classrooms. I’m a bit biased towards both programs, as they have been essential in helping students make tangible progress in both math and reading comprehension.

We ended our time in Seattle with a tour of the Boeing factory, where around 520 planes are assembled each month. Each factory is the size of around nine football fields. You, too, can have your own commercial plane at the starting price of about 80 million. (There is a five-year waiting period and you need to put down 1/3 in cash; no credit is taken.)

The sheer magnitude of the entire operation can’t really be put into words. What can be are some of the simple facts:

  • Boeing is expanding rapidly.
  • Boeing is looking to hire 30,000 engineers over the next five years.
  • Boeing is trying to convey to schools in and out of the area that they need workers of all levels of education.
  • Boeing will pay 95% of your schooling.
  • Boeing will commit to you if you commit to them.

After the Boeing tour and their comments about schools today, it was crystal clear to me that many schools are not providing the skills that are needed for today’s workplace and society. Highline is bucking the trend and is doing all that it can to get our students ready. While we all don’t have Boeing in our backyards, we do have other factories, colleges, or farms.

We all should be mindful of whom we are serving and get them ready for today’s challenges, not those from 5 or 50 years ago. It is the Digital Consortium that not only reminds me of this but gives me ideas and opportunities that I can bring back to my own students and staff, and that’s why we are in the jobs we are in–to help all grow, learn, and continue to move…. wait for it…

Onward!

The Blue Whale

As savvy as I think I am with being ‘in the know’ about trends on the Internet, I was horrified when I came across a recent trend pertaining to suicide. The following article was published through the VICE Motherboard and was originally published on the VICE Italy website. The original post can be found at: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/mgmwbn/the-truth-about-blue-whale-an-online-game-that-tells-teens-to-self-harm

On May 14, 2017 an episode of the satirical Italian TV program Le Iene (or “Reservoir Dogs” in English) aired a report dedicated to the ‘Blue Whale game’ (or ‘challenge’), a type of online game that came to life in different forums and groups on VKontakte, the most popular social network in Russia. In the game, players shared photos and videos of acts of self-harm that gradually became more serious.

According to a report conducted by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, there should be a link between the Blue Whale game and numerous cases of teenage suicide in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan between November 2015 and April 2016: The victims had been members of VK groups dedicated to the game. However, in at least one of the cases cited—the suicide of a nineteen year-old Kazakh, Marat Aitkazin—the nature of the connection to the game can’t be confirmed. In fact, after taking a closer look at the Blue Whale phenomenon, it seems less like the shocking story Novaya Gazeta initially reported, and more like a perfect storm of internet creepypasta, media hysteria, and the very real and serious issue teenage suicide.

The story rapidly exploded in the media and arrived in Europe with rather alarmist tones, to the extent that it drove a comedy television show like Le Iene to discuss it. What remains to be seen is the line that separates mass hysteria from the genuine, actual danger of the phenomenon.

Image via The Siberian Times

The first possible instance of the Blue Whale game occurred in 2015, when a 17-year-old Russian girl named Rina Palenkova shared a selfie on VKontakte right before throwing herself in front of a train. Like the Marat Aitkazin case, nothing in the Palenkova one is certain: It happened before people started hearing about the game and before its rules started showing up online, but the girl’s selfie became a sort of meme in forums dedicated to depression and suicide.

It wasn’t until 2016, with the publication of the Novaya Gazeta report—which asserted that the game was responsible for another 130 cases of suicide among Russian adolescents—that Blue Whale started making news in Russia.

Of all the cases, the one that perhaps resonated the most was that of Yulia Konstantinova, age 15, and Veronika Volkova, age 16, both of whom—at the end of last February—jumped from a 14-story building in Ust-Ilimsk, a small town in the Irkutsk region of Eastern Siberia. A few days before, Konstantinova had posted the image of a blue whale on Instagram, while Volkova had shared depressive messages. According to the Siberian Times, the two boys who filmed the suicide were arrested at the scene of the incident on charges of incitement to suicide.

In November 2016, one of the presumed founders of the game, a 21-year-old psychology student named Philipp Budeikin, was arrested on charges of instigation to suicide. In an interview, Budeikin refuted the numbers reported in the Novaya Gazeta survey—and confessed to having personally induced 17 of those people to suicide.

“There are people and then there [are] scum, in other words, people who bring absolutely no value to society and who only do harm. I have cleansed society of these people,” Budeikin said. “It began in 2013. I created F57—” one of the groups on VK in which the game came to life “—In order to see what would happen. I filled it with shocking content and it started to attract people. It was banned in 2014. For a while, I would laugh along as I watched while everyone tried to understand what ‘F57’ meant. It’s simple: F is for Philipp, my name, and 57 were the last digits of my telephone number at the time. I thought of this idea over the course of five years. You might say that I had prepared it. I thought the entire project up, the different levels and the different steps. It was necessary to separate the normal people from the scum.”

In addition to Novaya Gazeta, other Russian newspapers have addressed the subject. The newspaper Meduza, in particular, criticized the article in Novaya Gazeta, arguing that the correlation between the game and the suicides is difficult to prove and that it would be more correct to argue that depressed teenagers with suicidal tendencies simply end up visiting the same online groups.

Still, given the considerable attention from the Russian press, the story was picked up by various international newspapers shortly thereafter, starting with the English edition of The Sun. It then spread throughout the entire world, where, because of its emotional nature, the story was widely covered in the media.

Around this time, the complete rules of the game appeared on Reddit for the first time ever. Apparently, in order to start playing, one needed only to express online their desire to take part in the game using the hashtag #f57—the name of Budeikin’s original VK group where the game had first been conceived, dedicated to self-harm and to inciting suicide—and wait to be contacted by “a master.”

After that, a person playing would have to undergo 50 days of “missions” to be considered accomplished enough to take on their final mission: killing him- or herself by throwing themselves off the highest building in their own city. According to various international newspapers that recently covered the story and the Reddit thread discussing the game, the tasks range from watching horror films, listening to disturbing noises, committing acts of self-harm such as carving a whale into one’s own skin, killing animals, and waking up at 4:20 AM (the game’s secondary name is “Wake Me Up At 4:20“), in a sort of all-consuming brainwashing process.

Each of the 50 tasks must be documented with a photo or video and sent to the administrator with whom the player is in contact, who would emotionally blackmail the player by threatening to harm the people they hold most dear. According to other theories circulated on the internet, the game might also involve the use of a specific app that “hacks” the victim’s telephone, but this hypothesis already seems to have been discredited.

As reported by the Italian website The Submarine, which does an extensive reconstruction of the events of Russian and foreign news reports on the matter, the Blue Whale spread widely throughout the west as of February 2017, and was cited in several cases of suicide in Spain, Argentina, Brazil, and (according to Le Iene) Italy as well.

The story from Le Iene is predicated on the case of a 15-year-old boy who jumped off the roof of a 26-story building in his home city of Livorno last March. It wasn’t until a reporter from Le Iene spoke to one of the boy’s classmates, whose statement indicated that the boy’s death was linked to the game, that it became clear he was the first alleged Italian victim of the Blue Whale.

Outside of Russia, the principal outlets for the game seem to be Instagram and Tumblr, where the hashtag #f57 has started to appear. Countermeasures have already been taken on both social networks to diffuse the game and the corresponding hashtag: for example, if you type #f57 into Instagram, you’ll get a notification offering help.

Between February and April 2017, the hacker collective Anonymous also decided to take action against the administrators of this game. They launched a movement called ‘#OpBlueWhale,’ which explicitly encourages young people to avoid getting involved with the game on number of occasions.

But this isn’t actually the first time a game was created—or at least disseminated online—that was based on psychological manipulation and has led to serious consequences amongst young people. The game “Fire Fairy,” for example, which also seems to have had origins in Russia, drove a five-year-old girl to leave the gas running at night, under the promise that she would become a “pixie” the following morning.

Several years ago, the “choking game” also made the news. The premise was that a person would suffocate, or be voluntarily suffocated by someone else, in order to deprive their brain of oxygen and consequently produce a “high” without using drugs or alcohol. Because of this, it was also called “the good boys’ game.” The choking game was treated in the media as the “latest online trend” among young people, whereas in reality they were dealing with something much older: as VICE reported at the time, the first death statements for this type of “accidental” asphyxiation actually date back to the 1930s.

The Slender Man—a fictitious character created in 2009 during an online competition in a forum on the humor website Something Awful, one that rapidly became a mysterious internet legend—was cited as a motive in a case of attempted homicide in 2014 in Wisconsin, when two 12-year-olds lured their friend into the woods and stabbed her 19 times in order to “impress the Slender Man.”

It’s worth noting that in all of the cases outside Russia, no occurrence of the game has been definitively demonstrated. The real correlation between teenage suicides and the game seems limited to a number of cases.

In general, it’s difficult to identify if information we receive about this is truly linked to the game, its imitations, or simply other pro-suicide groups, as there’s a slew of these on the dark web.

Dr. Shannon Barnett, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Motherboard in an email that while this game exemplifies the risk of someone taking advantage of youth who are emotionally distressed, there is no one reason for adolescents to feel so bad that they have suicidal thoughts and/or thoughts of harming themselves.”The majority of teenagers with these thoughts have untreated mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety disorders,” Barnett said. She added that while it might be helpful for teens to seek help and validation from other teens online, the danger is that the peers on these websites do not have the skill set to help other teenagers. “Adolescents with thoughts of suicide or who engage in self-injury need to be encouraged to seek treatment from a mental health provider,” she said.

As The Submarine continues to highlight, and as we’ve previously written on Motherboard, there’s still corners of the deep web where suicide is discussed openly. Most of the time, they represent an unusual but effective service—a sort of outlet where people can seek help or vent. If one thing is certain, it’s that the debate on such a delicate topic shouldn’t be subject to reckless media hysteria, as is currently the case with Blue Whale.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone around you is exhibiting suicidal tendencies or self-harm please reach out to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

Click Barns, Sock Puppets & Troll Factories

The 2017 YouTube video #Socialnomics has recently reported that we are preparing almost 30% of students for jobs that don’t exist yet.  I’ve always wondered what kind of jobs they could be.  Sadly, we are learning about them in today’s times.

I was exposed to three new terms this year that didn’t exist years ago:

  • Click Barns
  • Sock Puppeting
  • Troll Factories

For those that don’t know about these, I wanted to share them, as these terms are creeping into education practices, but have been more prevalent in politics and news.

 

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A clickfarm.| image credit: bbc.co.uk

 

Ever wonder how something gets so many website hits or how it’s ‘liked’ by so many people? Look no further than a click farm. Click farms are offices/apartments that house hundreds of cell phones and thousands of SIM cards.  People and/or businesses that are looking to have search terms rise or fall can get click farms to change how you view products or people. Knowing that 90% of people do no go past the first page when a google search is conducted (Wressics, 2016), “pushing down” a search term is easier than ever.  Here’s the catch – it’s illegal; you’re manipulating data to reflect a false impression.  There are people now dedicated to finding the patterns of this practice and working with police to eliminate them.

 

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Sock puppets in action. |image credit: showtime.com/homeland 

 

If you ever watched the Showtime television series Homeland, you heard about sock puppets in the 2016 season.  Sock puppets are groups of people hired to create accounts (like the click farms above) of every rang of social media known to us as we know it, and then comment on various articles, news websites, blogs, and other topics to boost a search topic or sway an image. This may sound familiar, as Russia has been accused of doing this to sway the 2016 presidential election. You can watch sock puppets in action by clicking here.

 

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A troll farm in Europe. | image credit: reuters.com

 

The third term that has and is causing quite a problem in the online world is troll farm. Troll farms are like sock puppets, but their goal is not to just sway opinion, but incite hatred or anger. Troll farm employees are hired to deliberately cause/create conflict on a website, blog, or online forum. They do this by posting comments that are provocative or inflammatory. Troll farms have been confirmed on national news websites that typically show news in one angle (i.e. Fox News, MSNBC) and have been found to be at local news online stories as well. It should also be no surprise that all of the names that are created are just that; names. Less than 2% of people use their actual name as a username online.

A New Jersey Education Association executive once told me that education has changed more in the past 6 years than 60. I thought it said a lot coming from her; educators, in general, don’t like to acknowledge change, especially when they are comfortable in a routine (I know firsthand, I was one). With these new job creations, we all need to be cognizant of these changes so that our learners are aware of these things. The learner today has had the internet and social media presence in their lives for 100%. Scary as it may be, it is what it is, and we must be ready; our future depends on it.

 

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Ever since he was small, John Robison had longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother in them)—had earned him the label “social deviant.” No guidance came from his mother, who conversed with light fixtures, or his father, who spent evenings pickling himself in sherry. It was no wonder he gravitated to machines, which could, at least, be counted on.

After fleeing his parents and dropping out of high school, his savant-like ability to visualize electronic circuits landed him a gig with KISS, for whom he created their…

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I’m Watching (Part III)

I have previously blogged on two occasions about how I am fascinated with online data and what it tells us as educators. With what we send out or publish, there are just tons of opportunities to see what people are doing and how they are doing it. For most of my educational career, data and school were a poisonous combination. Data was tedious, most times ending up in a quagmire of educational gobbledy-gook.  It also didn’t help that, while the data was always there and accessible, nobody really knew how to read it. Eventually, I did learn one key piece about data itself–you can spin it to make it look fabulous in almost every situation. While not ethical to blatantly make it appear to be something else, using a few keywords often help soften the blow if the data is a hard punch to the gut.  Don’t be fooled, though; data is sometimes needed to be that punch to the gut.

While some of my favorite data goldmines have been the analytics offered through Smore and WordPress (the host of this blog), my most recent data goldmine has been the social media website LinkedIn. If you haven’t heard of or don’t use LinkedIn, think of Facebook, but for business and professional networking. LinkedIn is very business- and employment-oriented. You can post your resume, share updates on your job, and be introduced to new professional opportunities. LinkedIn boasts that it has “over 500 million members where you can manage your professional identity, build and engage with your professional network, and access knowledge, insights, and opportunities.” (LinkedIn, 2017)      Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 09.40.39Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 09.43.07

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Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 09.46.18Back to the data.  Not only can I see what people are looking at, I can also see who is looking at me, their job, and even what company they are from. While one can enact some privacy enablers, it operates on different levels.  I can still see the business or the job title they have, and then I can click and see a list of people (more often the list that populates you know the person than not). Not only can this tell me who is looking at what, it can prepare me for an upcoming sales call or an upcoming opportunity, or even help me pinpoint who is talking to whom so I can address whatever is being talked about.

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Recently, I have been using LinkedIn to thank those who are donating or doing business with my district.  While a letter or a tweet is great, saying thank you on a forum that is used for professional purposes is, well, professional.

Why is this important in schools?

If school systems are not cognizant of the brand they are producing or the reputation they are creating among stakeholders, they are at a disadvantage.  We, as educators, have more tools than ever to communicate and solve problems, especially image problems. Even today, there are districts, schools, and individuals who do not embrace the free tools that we have that are used by stakeholders. If we are not meeting where our stakeholders are in today’s times, we are doing a disservice to everyone associated with it. We are no longer paralyzed by the gossip mill of aisle 5 in the supermarket or the soccer field. We can be proactive instead of being reactive. Harness the power of social media and such analytics to tell your story, or others will, and you most likely won’t like their version.

Data today is free and easy to understand.  Why not use it to help you? Having a mind at ease and working smarter, not harder, can help you grow, learn, and move forward.

Onward!

 

 

 

Voice & Choice

We have seen research over and over again that, when learners have a choice in identifying what to learn and how they want to learn it, it has produced academic success and allows creativity to flourish.

This is nothing new.  The way many teachers, schools, and districts are finally embracing it is.

About five years ago, I was introduced to the EdCamp professional development model, where educators not only choose what to attend, but they also teach it themselves and all have the ability to leave if they don’t like or understand what is being taught. Later, I blogged about the Northfield Community School and how Principal Glenn Robbins (now a superintendent) offered an elective-style period at the end of the day where middle schoolers (yes, students) were able to pick what class they wanted to attend.

Fast forward to today.  I recently observed arts teachers in one of my schools take part in the same model with students in grades 4 and 5. Students had the chance to choose from six different art-themed classes, in addition to the ones they already had during the week, ranging from musical theater to ballet.

While the school itself is unique in that it has been created to circulate around artistic infusion while students receive their elementary education, it also has embraced current, meaningful educational research that indeed shows that student voice and student choice are factors in obtaining an education that will serve students of today’s times, not the school that you and I went to.

Again, saying that we need to be cognizant of today’s times is nothing new and far from groundbreaking. It’s the fact that teachers and administrators not only understand but follow through and implement, so that our students have a chance to take part in today’s society, not be a product of the 70’s / 80’s / 90’s that just collects & completes piles of worksheets (that are all thrown out at the end of the year) and is known by a state testing identification number.

To all those who are embracing voice & choice in your classrooms, schools, and districts, thank you.

Onward!

 

My Mom’s House

img_0902A few weeks ago, I received the call that no one ever wants nor expects.  My brother called me during a meeting, and I sent it right to voicemail. I have the voicemail translation feature, and I briefly saw that he was the caller and didn’t call back.  Then he called again at 11:30. Again, I let it go to voicemail, but then listened to the first message, and was miffed. Surely the message of “Jason, Mom’s house has burnt to the ground,” couldn’t be. But it was.img_0897

My mom had lit a memorial candle for my late father and fell asleep, waking up in a sea of flames. She was actually rescued by a police officer, as she was so disoriented from the situation and had panicked looking for pets. Sadly, the cats did not survive, but Mom did, unscathed, with only smoke inhalation and a burn the size of a pencil eraser.

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Almost everything in the house was lost, a few knick-knacks and a handful of items on the second floor left at best. Looking at the big picture, though, Mom is okay, and most of the stuff inside was, well, stuff, much of which can be replaced.

What does this have to do with school?

img_0898Every October, schools across the country partake in National Fire Prevention Month. The activities range from checking out the gear on a fire truck to essay & poster contests to the local fire department passing out smoke detectors and issuing reminders. To be honest, I’ve also thought of this to just be a part of the yearly motions of school, along with bullying prevention week, red ribbon week, and every other week you can run off of the top of your head just as, when it comes to being a parent, you really don’t have a connection until it directly affects you. I’m still amazed that my mom is okay, and, from now on, I’ll always think about the effects of candles in the house.

img_0901 Below are some links that you can use for resources for Fire Prevention Month:

Here’s to a safe school year; being prepared is a part of it.

Onward!

Punch Her Face

It’s hard to believe that violence in the workplace still exists in schools. Sadly, there are still incidents that require leadership to step up and alleviate it. With national Violence Prevention in the Workplace month coming up, I wanted to touch on one issue that I had to deal with.

A few years ago, we decided to go with a computer program that required quite a bit of training and recalibration. Needless to say, some were not happy with the switch, as it required starting from scratch in a variety of ways. One of the seasoned secretaries was just having a rough go at all of the change. While a myriad of training both online and in-person was offered, the secretary just could not understand.  During one session over the summer, a representative from the company came to the school to conduct in-person training. The representative entered into the office to find a group of people around the secretary’s desk trying to assist with the program. When the representative signed in and asked where to go, the secretary responded with, “You’re here for this training? I’d sure like to punch you in the face.

The representative was taken back, and rightfully so. Never had she, or I either, heard a secretary say she’d like to punch her in the face. The representative conducted her training without a hitch. A few hours later, the CEO of the company called me at the office to inform me what happened. I was furious. I was upset. I was shocked.

I immediately contacted the secretary’s supervisor and asked for an immediate investigation. Naturally, the secretary denied her actions, but the representative had recorded the entire conversation and had it on tape. The secretary was relieved of the position that afternoon.

No association, union, or group will advocate for a member who engages in workplace violence. No leadership will tolerate such behavior, and, if they do, they should be removed as well.

As the saying goes, “If you see something, say something.” Don’t be a bystander to violence in the workplace. There is no excuse for it.

Onward!