Complacency Kills

I just finished reading one of the best books ever. The Operator by Robert O’Neill is the story of the Navy SEAL who dedicated a good chunk of his life fighting for American freedoms. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, it should; he’s the SEAL who fired three rounds into Osama Bin Laden.

The boy from Butte, Montana, gave his all for all of us for over 16 years. He didn’t stay 20 years (20 years gives a pension and benefits); he left after 16. He left for a myriad of reasons, but the biggest factor was how he was becoming complacent when he was going on missions. He shared about one specific mission where he was so lax that he was smoking cigars a few minutes before a planned ambush of terrorists. After the ambush, he was hanging out with guys who were tossing around damaged RPG heads as if they were nerf balls. O’Neill said flat out that if he kept up his complacent ways, it would literally kill him, which had me thinking.

What about those in education who become complacent? The teacher who is waiting until 25 years? The principal who won’t do anything that would “rock the boat”? The superintendent who is just trying to keep everyone happy? All of these complacent actions are killing the creativity of both staff and students and dashing the hopes of some, keeping them from being the best they can really be.

We’ve all seen these so-called educators in our schools. We’ve either subjected to them as a student, worked with them as coworkers, or even supervised them. If you think that none of them are where you work, you’re being foolish. They are everywhere. Some are placed in positions that have the least student contact, some have positions created for them (or a position is created to keep them occupied and out of everyone’s hair), some become lapdogs for administrators, and some even brainwash an entire community into thinking that they are so important that whatever they do is equally important. What these people project versus what these people do is just flat out sad. Their complacent attitudes end up just wasting space and tax-payer dollars.

I once worked with one who was the master of complacency. The stars aligned–a volunteer on multiple district committees to feel and look important, overseeing a program that was created because the individual was awful on other positions (tenured, of course), and didn’t even have a schedule. The teacher literally did whatever, whenever and was the laughing stock of the district by both teachers and administrators. Don’t be fooled, though.  The person was seen as a savior in the community, because when you have nothing else to do but brainwash, why wouldn’t you? I couldn’t tell you how many times, when something was needed or the name was brought up, it was followed by either laughter or, “That person does nothing! How do I get that job?” All I could ask myself is how could the complacency of a do-nothing person be tolerated by peers and supervisors alike?

To an extent, I don’t blame the person. I really blame the immediate administrator who coddled for so long and the central administrator who continuously looked the other way when this person was championing everything BUT educating students. It was petty and pathetic.

In no way am I trying to compare the valor and bravery of SEAL O’Neill to what we do in schools. However, his point about getting out before becoming ineffective or complacent really hit home.  As school leaders (from superintendents to supervisors to aides), we need to step up when we see others becoming complacent. The complacency is killing creativity and positivity, deterring others from being the best they can be, and promoting a culture of letting kids only partially succeed because it’s not what the complacent person wants to do or isn’t aligned with a fundraiser or field trip.

Twenty Years Ago

I still can't believe that I graduated Union High School 20 years ago this year. 1997 was a fun year–a senior in high school, not a care in the world. Then again, it was a different world.

My superintendent, Dr. Jakubowski (with whom I still speak), made two prominent points at our graduation.

1. Don't get into a stranger's car.

2. Don't use the internet.

Today, I use the internet to get into a stranger's car.

Twenty years ago, I had to call Domino's Pizza and order a large pie and have cash on hand.

Today, I can tweet, use my watch, tell Alexa to order me one, text an emoji, and, yes, still call. Cash is discouraged.

Twenty years ago, I needed a travel agent to get to college and have a paper course guide in hand while being prepared to stand in line for hours to pick classes.

Today, it's all done in a matter of clicks.

Twenty years ago, most of my classes were heralded by teachers going right out of a textbook, with desks in rows and giving out so many worksheets that I probably had a tree's worth.

Today, in many classrooms, that practice still continues. Why hasn't that changed?

Many reasons. Some teachers don't know any better, some administrators refuse to budge on allowing other pedagogues besides the ones that worked for them, and some boards show defiance as well as their lack of knowledge and insight. Often, it's a combination of all three groups interchanging all three characteristics.

This is just downright sad. There are establishments and cultures in place where mediocrity is encouraged and heaven forbid someone goes rogue and tries meeting learners where they are today. There are school districts in place (from the BOE down to the staff) where the same ol' same ol' is practiced, hence producing he same ol' same ol' student. Towns and people who accept this are going to get what they've always had, but we now have students who are ready to change the world in 2017 instead of 1997. Is this fair for the future students who will eventually be taking care of us?

An education union representative once told me that "education has changed more in the past 6 years than the past 60." If everyone is cognizant of it, why fight the inevitable?

We all get it; change sucks. People love to say "change" but don't want to change, especially if it affects them. However, in today's times where today's students have had internet access and have been exposed to social media & apps for their entire scholarly lives, how can those in the educational field continually maintain past practice damn well knowing it's going to hurt our future?

Twenty years ago, I didn't know my career path, let alone knew that the path I chose has a broken system that is still frequently embraced. Today, I'm well aware of it and refuse to stop advocating for those who don't know any better.

I'm here for our future. Are you?

Onward.

Is It Me?

These past four years have been the hardest years of my career thus far. While they have taken me places I would never have thought I would go, both academically and physically, I do admit they’ve taken a toll on me.  Yes, I’m admitting it; being a superintendent is draining.

I knew it going in, but like all jobs, you don’t really know until you live it.

Has it been rewarding?  The best job in the world.

Has it been challenging? LOL, yes.

Is it everything I thought it would be? Oh, yea. And then some! 

Would I have gone down this path knowing what has and could happen? Absolutely.

Would I have done it all the same exact way, step by step? Of course not! I’m human; I make mistakes like everyone else.

Would I have taken the same jobs in the same places knowing what I know now? No doubt. I’ve learned so much about communities, family, and life!

I came from a blue-collar family. My dad was a CNC Machinist; my mom was a secretary. I was the first in my family (on both sides) to graduate college. While I went to a very expensive university, I never forgot my roots. It’s what made me. That being said, I spent most of my educational and administrative career in very affluent school districts where money was never a problem (but don’t be fooled, as the rapper B.I.G. said, mo’ money, mo’ problems – and different kinds of problems).

When I became a superintendent, I went to South Jersey. The 856. The land of hoagies, Eagle nation,  “pork roll,” and scrapple.  Why do I say all of these things? Ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t know, there is a very, very big difference between North & South Jersey. And while I can scapegoat to the map below and blame it on this:

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It’s nothing to do with that.

It’s  really this:

I’m the guy who willingly came into no-man’s-land, and I say that because people down there like it that way.  When I became a superintendent, I was hired (twice) in very small districts because they wanted someone from the outside and they wanted change.  Change they got. Do people really want change?  I have found in my career that people love to throw the word change around, but wanting to change…

The higher you move up the totem pole, the bigger your target gets. I knew that going in.  So, why even do it?

Because I can. Because I was made to do this. Because my passion is infectious. Because I don’t care about the size, money, or what you have or don’t have. Because I’m hell bent on proving that a zip code will not determine an education of a student. Because I have no problem not being everyone’s friend and don’t believe in playing politics to keep a job. Because I don’t mind having the hard conversations. Because I expose; I expose the great things going on in a school and also expose the bad stuff because no district is perfect. Because I am relentless and will never bow down to the old boys club or special interests. Because I know those who know me know that I will show everyone, everything. Because I never have anything to hide.

Is it me? Yep. Im a Superintendent. Deal with it.

Onward.

 

 

GO SMALL!

I have shared blog posts from Dave Burgess with you before, but this post is rather important.  Sometimes, changing the littlest thing will bring the biggest result. Read below on how to do it in a school. The original post can be found here: http://daveburgess.com/go-small/ )


Go BIG! Take a leap! Shoot for the moon! Jump in with both feet!

We hear this type of advice all the time, and quite frankly, I’m often somebody who gives it. It can be a motivational and inspirational message for some (hopefully!), and it may be just what they need to hear to make major breakthroughs in their lives and career.

For others, it is perhaps overwhelming.

It’s easy to look at all the amazing and innovative developments in education that have taken place over the last few years and to get a major case of “analysis paralysis.” Where do I start? What do I tackle first? How can I make all of these changes all at once? How can I possibly learn everything I need to know to do this? The year has already started, so how can I change course mid-stream? What if students flounder under all this new freedom and autonomy? Am I qualified to lead my students in this new direction?

The struggle is real! I get it…I really do. We see rockstar teachers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and presenting at conferences who have created UNBELIEVABLY empowering classes for their students, and it is easy to feel as if what we are doing is less than adequate. It’s hard to live up to the Pinterest boards and still keep some sort of balance and sanity. How did they get this awesome?

The answer may surprise you, because they often fail to share the most critical part of the journey. The struggle. These classrooms are the product of what is usually a continuous search for new and better, for a mindset of being willing to make small shifts and adjustments in order to test out and experiment with innovative new practices. You are just looking at the end result and feeling overwhelmed but not seeing that each step along the way, when broken down, is very approachable. All of this stuff is doable!

Makeover shows are wildly popular because they show the before and after…PLUS  the journey to transformation. It is in that journey where the real fun and adventure lie. That’s the part that pulls us in. If only a teacher who has traveled this path of the classroom and pedagogical transformation would share the whole story and break it down and just be fully transparent…

It has happened!

Joy Kirr is an unbelievably amazing 7th-grade teacher from Illinois who has been prolifically sharing her ideas and resources for YEARS! Many people who have wanted to jump into the Genius Hour world, for example, have successfully done so using her curated resources. She has truly empowered her students and has designed a learning environment that is not only highly successful…it is flat-out inspirational to behold.

She is that rock-star teacher we were talking about earlier…except that wasn’t always the case. It was a process of making many very small and gradual shifts, all totally doable, over a period of time. We have convinced Joy to swing open the doors of her classroom…the doors of her career…and openly share these shifts and how they have changed her as an educator and, more importantly, changed the class experience for her kids. We have just released her long-awaited book project, Shift This: How to Implement Gradual Changes for MASSIVE Impact In Your Classroom. This is powerful stuff! Classroom set-up and environment, grading practices, homework, class work, student-directed learning, Genius Hour…it ‘s all here. You will be fascinated by her journey and also inspired to take your own.

You can check out Shift This on Amazon (34% off!) here:
https://goo.gl/B59V3Y

Or Barnes & Noble (34% off!) here:
https://goo.gl/gGmV23

When educators who are connected to Joy on social media found out this project was happening, the response was almost universal. “Yes! I want that! She has helped me many times and deserves more recognition for how long she has selflessly served the community.” I hope you will support this new project.  Follow Joy if you aren’t already and tap into the #ShiftThis hashtag on Twitter to continue the discussion.


 

Slut Shaming – Part II

 

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image credit: netflix.com

 

If you haven’t heard the buzz, the Netflix mini-series “13 Reasons Why” has taken over many conversations in the educational community.  Based on the book by Jay Asher,  it focuses on high schoolers (set in today’s educational environment) with the usual cliques (cool kids, preppies, honors kids, jocks, band kids, and…). A student at their school, Hannah, takes her own life, and another student, Clay, returns home from school to find that he has received a package in the mail containing seven double-sided cassette tapes from Hannah, each tape detailing an incident and a person that played into why she killed herself.  They had been sent to several others before arriving at Clay’s door.  There were 13 parts on Netflix, and, after watching each segment, I had a nasty knot in my stomach. Some knots were from my own awkward high-school experiences; others were from the blatant evil that today’s students can be subjected to or can utilize.

I don’t want to give away the entire story, but it starts with an incident that I blogged about last spring–slut shaming.  (On a side note, that post gained a bit of traction when someone became completely paranoid and thought he/she was the only one who received it. This is not sexual harassment; this is educational information.) Hannah has a picture taken of her with a boy on a “date” which is seen by the boy’s friend and taken completely out of context.  His friend grabs the phone and then sends the picture out to an entire class, which eventually makes it around the entire school.

Topics include the aforementioned slut shaming, rape, sexual assault, cover-ups, and societal acceptance–the daily grind of what high-school life is today. High school is an interesting navigation as is.  Throw in today’s technology, and you have a whole new world–a world where previous generations can’t even begin to fathom what is happening in school anymore.  It’s no longer passing notes and settling the score at the flagpole over some stolen milk money.

Teen suicide is the second largest cause of death in the US. For every teen who commits suicide, at least six others are thinking about following that same path. Despite such a terrible statistic, conversations are happening every single day about getting people the help they need. While the series has launched a multitude of proactive stances and resources, it has also caused some copy-cat incidents and some concerns from mental health experts.

Thankfully, 13RW is a fictional story. It is meant to raise awareness of suicide and is not based on any single or real person. However, while Hannah’s story is not real, students often do have similar experiences and thoughts to those of the characters and identify with those they see on TV or in movies. Therefore, it is important to remember that there are healthy ways to cope with the topics covered in this series, and acting on suicidal thoughts is not one of them.

If you have watched the show and feel that you need support or someone to talk to, reach out. Talk with a friend, family member, counselor, or therapist. There is always someone who will listen. Suicide should never be a response to life’s challenges or adversities. The vast majority of people who experience bullying, the death of a friend, or any other crisis addressed in 13RW do not die by suicide. In fact, most do reach out, talk to others, seek help, or find other productive ways of coping. They go on to lead healthy, normal lives.

Suicide is never a heroic or romantic act. Although some might watch 13RW and see Hannah in that light, there is nothing heroic at all. In fact, 13RW can be viewed as a tragedy. It is important to know that, in spite of the portrayal of a serious treatment failure in 13RW, there are many treatment options for all types of distress and mental illness.  Treatment works.

Suicide affects everyone, and we all can do something to help if we see or hear warning signs that someone is at risk.  Talking openly and honestly about emotional distress and suicide is okay.  It will not make others more suicidal or put the idea of suicide into their minds. If you are concerned about someone, ask him/her about it. Knowing how to acknowledge and respond to those who share their thoughts of emotional distress or suicide with you is important. Don’t judge them or their thoughts. Listen. Be caring and kind. Offer to stay with them. Offer to go with them to get help or to contact a crisis line.

In my opinion, how the counselor responded in this series is not appropriate and not typical of most counselors. School counselors are professionals and are a trustworthy source for help. While not everyone will know what to say or have a helpful reaction, there are people who do, so keep trying to find someone who will help you. If someone tells you that he/she is suicidal, take that information seriously and get help.

Leaving messages from beyond the grave is a dramatization produced in Hollywood and is not possible in real life. Memorializing someone who died by suicide is not a recommended practice. Decorating someone’s locker who died by suicide and/or taking selfies in front of such a memorial is not appropriate and does not honor the life of the person who died by suicide. Hannah’s suicide blames other people for her death.

Suicide is never the fault of survivors of suicide loss. There are resources and support groups for suicide-loss survivors. If you are immediately concerned about yourself or a friend, reach out for help by texting 741741 or visiting  http://www.crisistextline.org/. You can also learn about emotional health and how to support a friend by going to https://www.jedfoundation.org/help, and you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 | En Espanol: 1-888-628-9454 | Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889 or by visiting Suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

The Do-Over

Sitting on a plane is typically not my favorite thing to do. However, it’s been a great time for me to catch up on reading. I have no excuses not to; no screaming kids (that are mine), no texts, and I even try to refrain from Netflix. 

I read a book review of Do Over by Jon Acuff a few weeks back and couldn’t help but to laugh.  The review spoke about how people dread Mondays, their current job, and how people feel stuck in their Groundhog-Day-like jobs (if you don’t get the reference, you need to watch this). Being that I’m always talking or tweeting about how people should leave their job if they are not happy, I was intrigued.

The book eventually delved into a myriad of issues that deal with relationships, skills, character, and hustle. These four qualities help you shape your entire career and how you will proceed.

Some great quotes and takeaways from the book include:

Relationships get you your first job; your skills get you your second. There’s so much truth to that.  Think of your first career or non-career job.  What did you know? Nothing until you stepped into that job. You got that job because you sold yourself as being the best person for that job.  You really learned how to do it once you started it.  And yes, this includes EVERY job in the education field.

When it comes to career relationships, invest in those that you want to keep. Sure, you think everyone one you work with is wonderful at the lunch table (kidding). Yes, you have a circle of friends you keep around but are they REALLY your friends?  If they are, take the time to really know them. They will be with you on your entire journey, whether it be in the same place or not.

Foes are everywhere but limit your defintion. Chances are, people are not out to kill you. Yes, some will try to make your life miserable, are jealous of you, and even will lie about you so they can succeed.  You can’t obsess over them, and you can’t compare the ones that are online to the ones in real life.  As the author states, “if the internet foes were in person, you’d ignore them.”

Miserable foes love company, and also recruits it. Don’t get sucked into foolishness; come in, do your job, do a good one, and proceed with your life.

Don’t burn every bridge you can. Acuff admits that his hands are soaked in gasoline and has done his fair amount of bridge burning.  In fact, we all have burned a bridge or two. But just because you can, do you have to? The workplace is getting smaller and smaller thanks to the internet; chances are you’ll see someone from a burning incident down the line.

When you ignore someone face to face with your phone or computer, you’ve put that person on pause and have made them feel like they don’t matter. I’m guilty of this and have been told more than once occasion to focus.  I blame ADD, but it’s really me just trying to get everything done. Not cool.  Your relationships are the most important things in life, not technology.

Overall, this was a great read that all employees should check out.  This book applies to all walks of life, not just those in education. Your job is what you make of it.  Speaking of, it’s time for a glass of lemonade, not sour lemons.

@EitnerEDU Launches a New Podcast…from the Hot Tub!

Eitner Education debuts in its’ new podcast called “The Tub”! Each episode will feature a trend in schools, a trending book in education, and something to turnkey into your educational lifestyle. This podcast is for all leaders, teachers, and everyone in between.

My first podcast features Rebecca Coda and Rick Jetter, co-authors of “Escaping the School Leaders Dunk Tank”, which is available on amazon, Barnes & Noble, and classy bookstores everywhere!

I hope you enjoy this; thanks for coming on the journey with me!

About The Authors

Dr.  Rick Jetter  is an Educational Consultant, Speaker & Trainer, and Multi-Genre Author. He was a solid “D+” student in 7th grade and he has a cool dog, named George Jetter. Dr. J. also types faster (with two index fingers) than he talks. Dr. J. is interested in all types of topics–especially the ones that no one wants to truly take on (even though they say they do while their fingers are crossed behind their backs).

For more information about the book, Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank: How to Prevail When Others Want to See You Drown, visit http://www.leadershipdunktank.com

Dr. J. has also successfully worked with other authors on their ideas and creative concepts by offering book concept and writing strategies through his own unique coaching process.

He is the founder of and lead consultant at RJ Consultants.

Rebecca Coda is the founder of the Digital Native Network. http://www.digitalnativenetwork.net She currently serves as a STEM Coach, weekly contributing columnist for School Leader’s Now, and article contributor on LinkedIn. She has over 18 years’ experience in education as a teacher, ELA curriculum and assessment writer, and technology program leader. Rebecca is a National Board Certified Teacher & Arizona K12 Center Master Teacher. She is a Christian and lives each day by faith, hope, and love.

Interested in hopping into the tub? Join me on my podcasting journey!