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.

Amazon, iTunes & Fake News

I’m pleased to share with everyone that my first podcast, ThE TuB, was published! We had a great time making it; you can check it out on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Libsyn.

I’m also pleased to announce the first of EitnerEDU’s flash-reads called “Closing The Door.”  Flash-reads are a new concept for me–ten pages or less, offered at either 99 cents or free. You can find them on Amazon, the iBook store, and the Barnes & Noble Nook website.

Last but not least, I have come to terms with “fake news” and how easily it can dominate a conversation, movement, or person. What was once libel, slander, and even character assassination is now merely accepted in talk radio, forums, chat rooms, tweets, and even in print.

With the release of the EitnerEDU flash-reads and podcasts, I am vowing that all content will be factual and practical. There will be no words taken out of context or content fabrication. All information will be presented that has applicable meaning that you can use as you grow, learn, and move forward.

Ride (not swim) the wave!

I’m writing from the glorious D-terminal in Hartsfield-Jackson airport. I was lucky enough to find a plug by my gate, so why not tap a vein for a bit.

Conference season for education professionals is upon us. Almost every week, there is a conference dedicated to educational pedagogy, technology, practice, or all aforementioned. Don’t be fooled, the first year of conferences is fun and exciting; going around the country, trying new foods, seeing new things. But after the second year, it gets old. Quick.

This will be my 5th year of crossing the country for various conferences. Some I look forward to, some I don’t. They are long, long days filled with meetings, workshops, salesman shoving things down your throat, and lots of food and beverages. I can’t even do the food and beverages anymore since my bypass surgery.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very thankful and fortunate to do what I do, see what I see, and meet who I meet. However, many people don’t see the negatives of this; time away from home. Flying is still a royal pain, your hotel bed is not your bed, and seeing your kids via FaceTime is not the same as hugging your kids.

Moreover, when you hold a public position, many think that a conference is some vacation on the taxpayer dime. As I said earlier, maybe the first conference one goes to. Now, it’s work, with longer hours and not getting to come home.

Some members of the public go further and don’t want conferences to be funded. I can totally understand that; there are some fools who just go for booze and pool time. It stinks because it ruins it for everyone else. What the public needs to understand about conferences is that the ones I choose to go to are on the forefront of what’s happening in education and where education is going. Skeptical Board Members and weary taxpayers need to see the value in ascertaining information at the time so we aren’t allocating more resources to get to the spot that’s being offered. I often use the saying of  “Do you want to ride the education wave or spend thousands of hours and dollars trying to catch up to it?” The school districts that are trying to catch up are the ones that never get anything done, and when they finally get there, it’s too late and it’s off to the next wave.

School districts need leaders that are willing to take the time to ride the wave. Districts and boards who invest in time-punchers will do just that, and you’re left out at sea.

So, as I wait for my flight to take off, I’ll be riding the wave once again. As much as conference season sucks, it’s the time for the game-changers to show who we are and why we are who we are.

Until next time…safe flights everyone!

To The Moon

I always go into a school looking to see what our future is creating. Seeing students show their progress and intellect is, by far, one of the best parts of my job. Much student work I get to see is the result of class projects. I was introduced to a class project that was a bit different last year; out of the box is an understatement. I was approached by a science teacher who said we can send a science project to space. For real; we can send a science project to SPACE!

It took me a good three days to process that statement. Upon doing some research, we found out it would cost quite a bit. $23,000.00. That’s quite a bit.

After further reviewing the project, there is an opportunity within the program that partners us with a national foundation who does a great deal of soliciting on a national level. Out of $23,000.00, national companies have allocated $11,000.00. National companies, who don’t me, my schools, or my district, have allocated thousands to a project that has nothing to do with them. I find that to be amazing in itself. However, we still have $11,000.00 to raise.

The teacher and I began collaborating immediately. This was going to be more than a bake sale and selling some magazines. While we have been fortunate enough to have a dedicated Home & School Association and a community that is constantly being solicited, they keep responding. We are going to do some unique fundraisers, including collecting lightly worn shoes, selling poinsettias and fruitcakes, and some tricks up our sleeve. All in the name of science. All I’m the name of space!

We  are also seeking crowd funding. Over the years, crowdfunding has contributed to some wonderful projects. While there are many websites, we went with GoFundMe. Feel free to donate to our cause by clicking this link.

Any and all donations would be appreciated!

Thanks for reading, and thanks for helping us get to space!

Mic Dropping (again)

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Never did I ever think there would be a “part deux” to  blogging about speaking in the White House, until it happened again. Most people don’t get invited to the White House even once, let alone twice.  It’s humbling; it’s surreal.  It’s one of those experiences that you get to share with your kids and their kids.

About a month ago, I received an invitation from the Office of Science & Technology to attend both the #CSforAll forum and a PD session on what other districts from around the US and its territories are doing.  These meetings are the results of numerous initiatives from the President with the goal of getting computer science classes, programs, clubs, activities, or all of these into all schools.  If it sounds like a very broad and ambitious goal, it is.  To give every student the skills needed in order to succeed in today’s society has always been prized as a local initiative.  However, when the President of the United States sets an initiative, you want to follow through on it and use every resource you can.

The morning workshop was fantastic!  It contained leaders, teachers, government officials, and students from around the country, US territories, and Native American tribes.  I was able to hear about how uber wealthy, dirt poor, gigantic, and minuscule districts all had students writing code from grades K to 12.  I heard how a southern California high school rolled out a series of CS classes and how a school district in Florida started an hour of code and turned it into a massive community outpouring.  I was floored with how a tribe in Oklahoma has kindergarten students coding on the reservation. Meeting students where they are is an understatement.

The afternoon was a summit with national partners that highlighted how students, companies, colleges, public & private schools, and the government have come together to promote computer science for all.   From the Girl Scouts to Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, it was a fascinating afternoon.

The event was live on whitehouse.gov; you can watch the summit here:

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/hiZLuHfvvYI

We finished the day with a student exhibit in the Old Executive Office Building.  Besides seeing our future working on computer science projects that would take me days to figure out, we were also treated to some White House cupcakes.  Hey, cupcakes are cupcakes, but they are much cooler when the seal of the President is on them.

Three takeaways from another fantastic day in the world of education…

1. Computer Science is real, and it is easy for all ages.  Like all things new, it takes a bit of time to adjust.  CS classes are no longer “dehumanizing” (as one teacher from the forum put it) and can be injected into kindergarten classes.

2. Socioeconomic factors are finally starting to “not count” when it comes to trends in education.  The fact that Native American tribal schools are achieving success with kids from 5-15 should be a giant wake-up call to all blue-collar & white-collar school districts that say, “They can’t do that,” or “We don’t have the resources.”  Newsflash: They can, and the last time I checked, free resources don’t cost anything.

3. Regardless of who becomes President next, this project will continue to move forward.  It was adamantly clear that regardless of what happens in November, the star power and drive of so many Americans is obvious.  Computer science is a skill set for all learners and will only become more important as we move on in the future. 

 

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With Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States

5 ways to use Pokemon Go in your classroom

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

The Educators Lead Podcast is amazing!

I was recently featured on the Educators Lead podcast talking about how I worked my way up to become a Superintendent here in New Jersey. I always find it a little odd to listen to yourself, and I say the sound “uhhh” way too much, but overall, it was a great conversation with Jay Willis.

Check it out!

iTunes Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/educators-lead-jay-willis/id1068590753

Stitcher Link: http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=79340&refid=stpr

Google Play Link: http://www.educatorslead.com/googleplay

 

Armchair Quarterbacking 

Like most of you, I have kept tabs on the shooting of Harambe that occurred at the Cincinnati  Zoo. We have heard opinion after opinion, expert after expert, share their thoughts on what should or should not have been done. Then comes public opinion and what others would have done if they were in the same situation. This practice is often referred to “armchair quarterbacking,” the practice of trying to be an expert on something the individual knows only a modicum at best.

While it is certainly a part of our First Amendment rights to speak freely, we often get lost in what actually happened.

An incident occurred and professionals responded.

We often forget this before criticizing. We see it daily in the news from police procedures to government responses. While we may not agree with the way things are handled, in most situations, professionals are trained to deal with the incident.

When I was teaching, I often heard from non-teaching friends about how easy the job is, how we get the summers off, how they would teach and make our schools better. My response was (and will always be)

If teaching is as simplistic and uncomplicated as you make it out to be, get your cert and walk in my shoes for a day. Then we’ll talk.

In my current role as a superintendent, I’m the main target when it comes to criticism in schools. It’s a part of the job. No matter what happens, you can’t make everyone happy, and you’ll burn yourself out if you try. Just as when I was teaching, I tell folks the same thing when they start criticizing every move I make: get the cert and help those of us in these positions fix the problem. 

Sometimes my biggest criticizers are fellow educators. In a previous district, there was a small pocket of folks where, if I said the sky was blue, they would be the first to disagree. While that wasn’t bothersome, what was is that they spent 24/7 talking about whatever it was. They tried to sour colleagues, parents, and stakeholders; they tried to take anything I said and twist it into something else. Their paranoia or guilt drove them to do or say anything and use their own time doing it. Why would I care if it’s their own time? Those educators (not in my current district) could have actually invested in their lesson plans or their students to make their classroom an amazing avenue of learning.

I close with this.

Before you start criticizing something you have no relevant background in, think about the professionals who are charged with making the decisions. Yes, it’s not going to work out every time, and, yes, mistakes or intentional actions will be made on occasion, but those professionals are trained and are experienced, whether you like it or not.

Put your energy into something positive and productive. Those who surround you will thank you.

Partnerships: the sky is the limit.

I took this beautiful sky picture in Tampa around 2012.

Hopefully in your educational career you have heard of a partnership with some type of group.  It can be as local as a store in town and as international at a for-profit business.  Regardless of whom it’s with, the goal of the partnership should be beneficial to the learners you serve.

Note:  This is not that “shared-partnership” nonsense.  If a board president ever contacts you with that concept, contact the board attorney immediately. 

While I have been fortunate enough to see many partnerships, I’m always a fan of seeing state organizations partnering in schools.  Recently, Liberty Science Center agreed to come to my current district to “push in” a series of science lessons, experiments, and curriculum.  Better yet, Camden County College might be picking up the tab.  Why is this great?  Two reasons.  Every district loves the word “free,” and it’s great for our students who never have the chance to go there. We are about 45 minutes from Philadelphia, so, not to knock any Philly museums, this is the go-to spot for most in our area.  Having additional exposure to other programming is really nice.

The second partnership is with Montclair State University and their gifted and talented program.  MSU is working hard to inject their courses, programming, and activities into all schools, not just local.  Again, students being exposed  from other external opportunities?  Fantastic!

Don’t think it can’t be done where you work?  Start exploring options.  Most places would be more than willing, and it won’t break the bank either.  Poke around and see what’s out there.  Your students will truly appreciate your efforts.