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.

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.


 

Believe in Magic

When people talk about childhood idols & heroes, I always say David Copperfield.  No, not the character from Dickens.  The other character:

 

davidcopperfield0608
image credit: vegas.com

If you don’t know of the man above, David Copperfield is an international illusionist who has performed all over the world.  He did a series of specials in the 80’s and 90’s on television and currently performs daily in Las Vegas.

David Copperfield wasn’t just simple magic. There was spectacle; there were music and lights; there was a story; there was the attractive girl; there was the impossible becoming possible in a few minutes.  Illusions were almost performed like MTV music videos.  I was obsessed.

My love for illusions and magic was instantaneous. There was a magic shop in town that I was stopping in every day after school to either learn a trick or save up lunch money (sorry Mom) and buy a new trick each week.  At one point, I had a duffle bag full of all sorts of tricks.

AsI got older, I tried to break out into the entertainment scene.  I had  a clown costume and a mime outfit.  I tried rocking out some tricks and entertainment at street fairs and local township events.  I thought I had something really special in 6th-grade until I bombed two magic tricks on stage. I didn’t really generate much business in 7th and 8th grade, but I did manage to start a clown ministry program at my church. It was cool, but high school came along, and my bag of tricks retired to the attic.

Fast forward about 14 years to my first administrative position as an Assistant Principal in a middle school.  Truly a job where you will never know what will happen, I came across a special 6th-grade student named Max. Max had school phobia to the worst degree.  On many days in the beginning of the year, Max refused to leave the car. On the days he did, he was so reluctant to come in, he would be crying and sometimes even screaming. I was determined to find a way to get Max into school in a safe and quiet manner.

And then it happened. Like magic.

I went home that day and searched all over for my bag of magic tricks. I found it. Like riding a bike, the magic tricks came back after a few tries. I practiced on my wife and my dog.  I was determined to get the patter (a magic term for story) down and if there were any movements as well.  The next day that Max was refusing to get out of the car, I had my magic bag. While some Child Study Team members looked at me oddly for performing the vanishing coloring book trick to a 6th-grader who was kicking the door so I couldn;t open it, he was hooked.  Eventually, he asked how I did it.  That’s when I broke the magician’s code. I told Max I would show him how the trick works IF he came in. Just like that…magic.

Once a week, I would teach Max a new trick that he could try on his classmates and family members at home, but only if he could come in without fuss and go right to class. WE did this for about 2 months, and then he didn’t want the magic anymore; he just wanted to come into class.

I got to use the bag of tricks with a few more students in LAC, and even where I am now. The same deal is reached; if you {come to school} or {behave} or {get all of your homework done}, you can learn a new trick. Believe in the power of magic; it works wonders in lives of all ages.

 

Which guy?

imgres.png
image credit: newgrounds.com
So… here we are again…another summer that flies by, another school year ready to kick off, and another few weeks of thoughts swirling in my head about what exactly to say to the hundreds of staff members who wait for my every last breathYou know the last sentence was sarcasm, right?  I used to despise listening to administrators giving speeches to begin the school year.  As a teacher, I already had so much to do, a classroom to set up, curriculum and IEP’s to look over, etc. The last thing I wanted to do was be herded in like cattle to sit and listen to some know-it-all administrator tell me how I’m going to do my job and how wonderful I am, even though he had never met me.

 

that-guy_340_414_90
image credit: shamelessmag.com

And now I am “that guy.”   I don’t like being “that guy.”  You know… “That guy” who cuts in front of you in the lunch line, “’that guy” who just has to have the last word, “that guy”’ who has been the gift to education since he stepped into a classroom and knows absolutely everything.

I don’t like the labels “good guy” or “bad guy” either.  My job isn’t a movie plot or a professional wrestling storyline.  However, some will correlate good guy and bad guy, because that’s what was always done.

Some people will call me a good guy, some a bad guy, or, even worse, “that guy.”  While I don’t think I fit any of these personas, I’ll tell you what I think I am. I am the guy.

  • I’m the guy who was appointed by the Board of Education to lead a school district down numerous avenues, sometimes even trailblazing.
  • I’m the guy who is charged with leading principals, supervisors, managers, teachers, and all employees in any and all school interactions, as I have oversight of, either directly or indirectly, every district employee, all school programs, and all facilities.
  • I’m the guy who signs the checks, approves the bills, and makes sure we are getting the best that money can buy.
  • I’m the guy who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Board of Education and am responsible for the administration and supervision of the school district in accordance with Board policies and New Jersey Statutes.
  • I’m the guy who will inspire, lead, guide and direct every member of the administrative, instructional, and support services team in setting and achieving the highest standards of excellence, so that each individual student enrolled in our district may be provided with a completely valuable, meaningful and personally rewarding education.
  • I’m the guy who is an ex-officio member of the Board of Education and serves on every committee, like it or not.
  • I’m the guy who advises the Board on the need for new or revised policy and prepares drafts for Policy Committee review.
  • I’m the guy who supervises the effective implementation of all constitutional or statutory laws, state regulations, and Board policies. Some love that, and some loathe it.
  •  I’m the guy who recommends for promotion, appointment, or employment all employees of the Board and assigns, transfers and recommends for dismissal any and all employees of the Board.
  • I’m the guy who assumes ultimate administrative responsibility for the health, safety, welfare, discipline, assignment, promotion and retention of all students.
  • I’m the guy who will report to the Board of Education on the conditions and needs of the school system and effectiveness of the policies and regulations under which the system is operating.
  • I’m the guy who supervises the physical operation of the school plant and its facilities and makes appropriate recommendations.
  • I’m the guy who is responsible for the general supervision of the instructional programs as well as the one who supervises research essential to the efficient operation of the school system and the improvement of instruction.
  • I’m the guy who makes recommendations to the Board of Education for its adoption of all courses for students as well as the purchase of textbooks, instructional supplies, and equipment.
  • I’m the guy who schedules meetings and professional development for school staff as necessary for the improvement and welfare of the school district.
  • I’m the guy who makes the call for the opening or closing of school during emergency situations.
  • I’m the guy who has to enforce Board policies and implement Board goals whether I like them or not.

I could go on and on for another 8 gazillion bullets, but, hopefully, you get the point.  Bottom line: If it has to deal with school, from a broken pipe to a broken link on the website, I have something to do with it at some point.

You can love me, you can loathe me, or anything in between and outside of the scope of that, but know that this guy is here for your kids.  Kids first! Always!

I think I just finished by back-to-school address.  Here goes nothing.  If it hits home to one person, awesome.  If not, I have Dave Burgess to fall back on this year! 😉

Here’s to all having a great back-to-school year!

Second Hand News

url.jpg

Summer is a time for relaxation, recharging, and for some, regrouping. I’m a big fan of just zoning out on the beach to some tunes. One of my favorite bands, Fleetwood Mac, was just on with their hit “Second Hand News”. I know the song has nothing to do with school, but the title sure does.

As a Superintendent, I am constantly addressing the rumor mill and second-hand news.  There’s not a day that does not go by where I don’t hear “well I heard that…” or “someone told me that…” or “is it true that…” To be clear almost every administrator goes through this. In no way, shape, or form is this unique to me.

Once you think you hear it all, something else comes along.  It’s constant, but almost expected.

Why would I waste time blogging about this? Simple; others folks in my position need to know it’s not just you, your district, or location. It’s everywhere. What you need to do is simply laugh it off and keep moving along. The only time I address rumors is when someone is personally being scrutinized for something.

Will rumors ever stop? Never. Will they dictate my life or my leadership. Absolutely not. Rumors are rumors, and peddling, laughing, and rolling with them is just as much a apart of school culture as snacks in the faculty room.

5 ways to use Pokemon Go in your classroom

imgres
image credit: pokemongo.com

 

Disclaimer: Before you think I’m jumping on the bandwagon, I’m not.  This is intended to be used as another tool in the shed of an educator that connects to today’s learner. 

 

History does indeed come full circle. Pokemon is back in the news. When I first heard it over the weekend, I thought I was hearing things. Pokemon?? For real?!

Not even a week ago at this point, Ninentndo introduced a new app called “Pokemon Go” that has swept a country by storm.  Five days into its’ release, it’s scheduled to have more downloads and users than Twitter. You read that right; more users than twitter in five days.

Why? Sheer nostalgia meets a game that one can play with ease.

The goal of the game? Capture Pokemon creatures. Get Points. Get ranked. The epitome of gamification.

 

imgres-1
image credit: pokemonfanatics.com

As mentioned earlier, this has become such a hit that it recently crashed a server because too many people were using it.  It also has received a ridiculous amount of press in a very short time, with not all of it being good.

Click here to watch a 3:00 report on NBC World News (for real, NBC WORLD NEWS!)

If you don’t know the basics of Pokémon,  it stems from the hobby of insect collecting. Players of the games are designated as Pokémon Trainer, and in the main series Pokémon games, these trainers have two general goals. These are to complete the Pokédex by collecting all of the available Pokémon species found in the fictional region where that game takes place and to train a team of powerful Pokémon from those they have caught to compete against teams owned by other Trainers, and eventually win the fictional Pokémon League. These themes of collecting, training, and battling are present in almost every version of the Pokémon franchise.

When playing the game, a Trainer that encounters a wild Pokémon is able to capture that Pokémon by throwing a tool called a Poké Ball at it. If the Pokémon is unable to escape, it is officially considered to be under the ownership of that Trainer. If a Pokémon fully defeats an opponent in battle so that the opponent is knocked out, the winning Pokémon gains experience points and may level up. When leveling up, the Pokémon’s statistics of battling aptitude increase, such as Attack and Speed. From time to time, the Pokémon may also learn new moves, which are techniques used in battle.

 

Ingress_Logo_vector.svg-1
image credit: wikipedia.org

I immediately thought of another game that has the same exact concept of moving around to collect things: Ingress. If you haven’t heard of ingress, it was created by the same company that created Pokemon Go – Niantic.  In Ingress, the competition in Ingress is between the two opposing teams rather than between individual players, and players never interact directly in the game or suffer any kind of damage. The gameplay consists of capturing “portals” at places of cultural significance, such as public art, landmarks, monuments, etc., and linking them to create virtual triangular “control fields” over geographical areas. Progress in the game is measured by the number of “mind units” captured. The necessary links between portals may range in length from meters to hundreds of miles. Gameplay relies heavily on the player physically moving about the community in order to interact with portals.

 

images
image credit: citycapture.org 

Now that you have this crazy description, there has to be a way to inject this into classes; surely there is!  Below are 5 ways to capitalize on the craze:

Map Reading.  Starting in 3rd grade, per Common Core standard ERI.3.7, students should be able to use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur). While we all rely on GPS and mapquest, viewing and reading a map is paramount for anyone. PokemonGo is based off of maps; this would be a great way to teach direction and to incorporate the 5 themes of geography.

Digital Citizenship and Safety. I’m sure you have heard or read the headlines; the game has lead to people strolling into traffic, finding weapons and dead bodies, and has even lead people to muggings. Using real-time news and scenarios, you can easily inject the game into the importance of being safe in your surroundings, meeting strangers on the internet, etc.

 Probability. Pokemon is a game based on location, but also a game that circulates around rarity. It’s like fishing in a way; you never know what you’re going to catch. A lesson on the probability of catching a certain species to another species could be one of the best hooks that you can use for your students… and it’s compliant with 6th grade  CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.SP.A.1.

 Local & Cultural Exploration. PokemonGo has brought people out and about.  Gatherings. Meetups. Excitement.  Not just in a park, but at art galleries, restaurants, sights, and more. The way the app works allows folks to truly explore their surroundings. You have a whole new level of engagement and urge for exploration that many did not have before.  Why not inject local history, art, music, and culture into this craze?

A perfect opportunity for research.   Tying into the exploration lab above, having students conduct research on the game, the fad, and the places they have gone in the process is an easy and simplistic way to engage as student in research practices.  If a student is interested in it, why not have them engaged in it?

Again, I certainly won’t be pushing a PokemonGo classroom next year, but teachers would be silly not to capitalize on the craze like everyone else has.