Disappointment

I have been told no, more than I have been told yes. Job interview after job interview. “No. I am sorry. We have someone else in mind.” Discouraging doesn’t even scratch the surface at times.

It is hard to not to think that it’s me. I wasn’t good enough for that job or this job. For some jobs, maybe I wasn’t good enough. It can be demoralizing. Doubts. Second guessing the interviews. What could I have done better? The answer most of the time is nothing.

But look at where I am. I would not be where I am if I hadn’t dusted myself off every time I was told no and kept interviewing. Failure?

“The only failure is not to try.” – George Clooney

“The same thing holds true for a positive outlook, however. Color your mind with the right thoughts, color them with what’s possible, and then whatever you’re trying to do—whether it’s trying to start a company or salvage a relationship or lose twenty pounds or quit drinking or make partner at your law firm—you’ll be able to manage it.” Daily Stoic newsletter, April 26, 2021

I believe I am ready for the next step in my career. It is my job then to keep a positive outlook and to color my mind with what’s possible. Will I continue to be told no? 100%. I will not allow those voices to then become my internal voice.

I will continue to be me. I will continue to let others know what I believe, not what I think they want to hear. One day the right opportunity will come along, and I will be ready.

Anger

I’m no raving lunatic. Don’t get me wrong. Especially in a professional setting I can hold it together. At some point though I can feel IT overtaking me. Once that happens I find it difficult to dial it back.

I don’t know when IT is going to happen. IT just happens. I wouldn’t say there is some special trigger. It can be anything. It can be an innocent comment that just hits me the wrong way.

Unfortunately at that moment I am prone to saying things that I regret. Then, after it’s all over, the guilt washes over me.

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle. Some things are within your control. And some things are not.” – Epictetus

How do I do better in the moment between stimulus and response? How do I stop anger from taking over me? Or how do I get better at controlling my anger and using it to my advantage?

Anger is an emotion like any other emotion. It is neither good nor bad. It can be unhealthy. It can also be unhealthy to hold it back and not express it. Anger has its place just like every other emotion.

“If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.” – Epictetus

On The Daily Stoic podcast, Ryan Holliday interviewed the author Robert Greene. One of the topics they discussed was harnessing your anger.

Ryan Holliday used the example of coaches who get angry to invigorate their team through a difficult time in a game or season. As a former coach I have seen this done very well, and I have seen it done very poorly.

Robert Greene discussed how whether it goes well or poorly depends on if the coach has self-control and self-awareness. Can they step back and analyze their anger? Can they use it strategically to get the results they are after?

He goes on to say that only those people, that can pause in the moment between stimulus and response to analyze their emotions, are able to get the results they want. Only those that can channel their anger productively after analyzing why they’re angry will get the results they are after.

I am by no means there yet. However this is one of the things that I am really working on. I am sure if you ask my family, friends, and colleagues they may say it is not going so well, but I am a work in progress.

I must be more cognizant of the space between stimulus and response. Not everything needs an immediate reaction. I need to take the time to analyze my anger to see if it is justified and then if it is use it productively.

You can’t force children to learn.

“[Y]ou can’t force kids to learn. You can only inspire them to do so.” – David Perrell, Monday Musings, 8/17/20

Why do we continue to try to force children to learn?

We can blame state testing, but that is a cop out. It’s been going on since I was in HS. I grew up in an era where the only high stakes testing was the SAT.

I grew up hating English class. I disliked reading and writing. I came to realize that I hated reading and writing what the teacher wanted me to read and write.

I remember only one project in HS English. We had to do a poetry study. We could choose anyone we wanted. I chose Jim Morrison, partly out of being a smart ass. “I’m going to show her. No stuffy poets for me.” But also because I love music. There is not a day in my life that I don’t listen to music for at least 1 to 2 hours.

The book I used was Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison. What I realized during the project was that I really didn’t hate poetry. I hated the poets that we were required to read.

It was English for me, but it is another subject for someone else. The point is that unless we try to get students personally involved in the content they will shut us out in subjects that they don’t like.

Personalizing your course content is not easy. It requires much more planning, and is much more difficult to execute. But isn’t the payoff worth it?

We all feel our content is important, and it is. We all get upset when students blow off our work. If we want students to work within our content areas we have to help them see the usefulness of what we teach.

It is important that students learn how to think differently. Tackling a problem scientifically is different that tackling it mathematically or historically. The problems aren’t getting easier so being able to approach them from many different angles will be important to solving them.

So if students blow off your class because they are not interested then how are you helping them develop their problem solving skills?

. . . or worse, the end of the world as they knew it.

That is a line from Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle is the Way. How often has that been said throughout history? This statement is heard daily during 2020, but does that mean that “the end of the world as they knew it” is a bad thing?

There are many things in education that can and need to be changed. Fortunately pandemic teaching has brought many of these issues to the forefront. The question is do we have the courage to change them.

Change is never popular and is always difficult. It is especially difficult in “easy” times, times when things are humming along. These times lead us to the mantra “but that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

I don’t think any of us would label the times we are living in as easy. Hopefully educators at all levels have taken, are taking, and will take the time to reflect on what positive changes we can take out of pandemic teaching.

It could be meeting more students where they are rather than where we would like them to be. It could be moving towards standards based grading. It could be empowering students to have more control over what they learn and we teach.

Nothing will ever be the same, but that is just life in general. The changes brought on by the pandemic have been more abrupt than say some in the past, but the world is constantly evolving. We need to take this opportunity to create positive change.

Will we take “the end of the world as they knew it” and make the world better than it was before?

“If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You Always Get What You’ve Always Gotten.” – Jessie Potter taken from Robert Glazer’s Friday Forward email newsletter 12/18/2020

If You Only Have Friends, You Aren’t Doing Anything New

“No Enemy” poem written by Charles Mackay.

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.

Anyone who does anything of substance creates enemies. Most people enjoy the status quo. It’s easy. It’s safe. It’s also never led to progress of any kind.

Progress come from pushing the envelope. Progress comes from being uncomfortable. Both of these things can elicit a visceral negative reaction from people.

Education is all about the status quo. Many teachers are still teaching the way they were taught. To suggest any type of new pedagogy is often met with fear and trepidation, even if it is backed by research.

Such pushback to new ideas can lead to creating enemies. If all you want is friends in life then you will never do anything new. Now that doesn’t mean you have to be negative or aggressive with your ideas. It doesn’t mean you should attack others who disagree with you.

It does mean you have to be comfortable walking alone for a while. It means you have to be willing to hear negative things said about you. It means you have to be ok with having enemies.

Are you willing to create enemies to do what is right for your students?

Reasoned Choice

“You don’t have to get ready for the 2020-21 school year this weekend- just Monday. Make mistakes, learn a lot, regroup- then, Tuesday.” – Mark Savage, @MSavageWCPSS, Twitter

This quote rings just as true now as it did in August and September. The world of educating children in a COVID world changes on a dime. Who is quarantined? How do teachers teach or students learn from home when everyone else is in school? How can we make the best decision for the health and safety of students and staff on limited information? However we don’t have to have all the answers on Monday.

“A good person is invincible, for they don’t rush into contests in which they aren’t the strongest . . . For the only contest the good person enters is that of their own reasoned choice. How can such a person not be invincible?” – Epictetus, Discourses, 3.6 5-7

We have to take the facts that we have and make the best decision for the most people. These decisions may not be the easiest decisions or the most popular decisions, but must be the most reasoned decisions. We must make the best decision for the most people. Reasoned choice.

We cannot control outside events. We can only control our reaction to what is put in our way. We can only control our decisions on how to deal with the obstacles thrown at us. Reasoned choice.

I think we can all agree. Kids need to be in school for social, emotional, and academic reasons. We are proving that with reasoned choice in the protocols we put in place in person school can be done safely even during a pandemic. We can do this not by being blown about by every negative news story, Tweet, or Facebook post. But by looking at what is actually going on in our schools and adjusting what we do if need be to keep student and staff healthy and safe.

Reasoned choice.

Powerful Learning First, Technology Second

This is the title of chapter 9 in George Couros’s book The Innovator’s Mindset. Many people feel that technology is the answer. The answer to inequity. The answer to reopening schools. I disagree. Technology is a tool. How we use technology is part of the answer.

“Giving kids iPads or allowing them to film homework assignments on YouTube prepares them for the high-technology economy about as much as playing with Hot Wheels would prepare them to thrive as auto mechanics. “ – Cal Newport, Deep Work

We have to get away from using iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, etc. as expensive replacements for the worksheets many teachers rely on. This is where the powerful learning comes in. We, as educators, have to design experiences that allow students to think critically, collaborate, and create. Even more powerful than that, let the students design the learning experiences.

“And yet educators at schools where personalized learning is viewed as an overarching philosophy, rather than a digital panacea, say that adapting to the pandemic has been relatively painless, and that students are continuing to progress in their studies. The key difference between their approach and the popular narrative around personalized learning is that these educators have built their schools around the idea of student agency.” – Ainsley Harris, “Learning Gets Personal,” Fast Company, September 2020.

We have no choice but to give students more freedom in their learning. Students will be home either every day, three times per week, or every other day for at least the near future. We cannot assume that how we engaged students before will work now. In many cases what we were doing before wasn’t working any way.

We need to leverage the technology to make education better. We have to teach students to be creators. For that to happen our teachers need to be creators. It’s not enough that they move their PowerPoints to Google and provide a Form at the end of the lesson as an assessment. We need to fundamentally rethink what and how we educate our students.

We have an opportunity to remake education, so that our students now and in the future come out of this stronger, not weaker than before. Powerful Learning before technology.

Empowerment

All three of the ideas I have spoken about in my last three blog posts, passion, inquiry, and understanding, have brought me to this final idea of empowerment. Wouldn’t now be the right time to empower teachers and students to remake education into what it could and should be?

You might say: Now? The right time? With all the uncertainty? Well there never is a right time. We always wait until the right time, but it never comes. We push things off because it’s not the right time, and then guess what nothing ever happens. But isn’t now as good a time as any?

Uncertainty is the rule, not the exception. It’s how we respond to the uncertainty that matters. That is a major tenet of Stoicism. We need to make teachers and students feel safe in taking risks in adjusting their teaching and learning in response to this uncertainty.

Whether we are in schools or in remote learning, the only people who really know what is going on in any classroom are the teacher and the students. Shouldn’t we empower them to make the decisions that are best for them?

We must allow them to use their passions to make classrooms and learning relevant. Empower them to look at curriculum through their lens and make adjustments that personalize the learning to them.

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek via The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

We also must encourage our teachers and students to question everything. Powerful questions are what drives innovation in any industry. Teachers and students should be asking questions that further their own teaching and learning. They are at the ground level of what can be done to make our classrooms, either virtual or in person, better.

“You don’t have to hold a position of authority to ask a powerful question.” – Polly Le Barre via A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

If teachers and students are encouraged to us their passions and ask their own questions, they will develop a deeper understanding of whatever they are studying. They can use that understanding to push education forward toward what we envision: equity in opportunities for all children. They will also be happier in the process. What will you do this year to empower teachers and students to make education better?

“I encourage you to commit to empowering the people you serve to be part of the process of finding and solving problems.” – George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset

Understanding

Inquiry and understanding go hand in hand. You can’t truly understand something without asking questions. Unfortunately in our day to day lives we are made to believe that we have to have all the answers. Or do we?

We have created an illusion in our society that you are a expert by having all the answers. Having all the answers limits progress. If you have all the answers then you aren’t asking the right questions.

Nothing could demonstrate that more than the situation we find ourselves in right now, trying to figure out what is the best way to start school in September. I am not sure there are right answers, but there are a lot of questions. Whatever decisions are made will be questioned in the future. Always remember hindsight is 20/20.

Is it really that different from any other year? Sure it is more pronounced due to the health risks, but shouldn’t we come into every year having more questions than answers? We are all aware that the educational system needs to be fixed but yet we continue doing the same old, same old.

I think the first step forward is focusing on inquiry. Our schools should be places where everyone, students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents, feel comfortable asking questions about why and how things are done. By asking questions of each other we can build a common understanding.

We should be using our questions, especially student questions, to build a deeper understanding of our schools and ourselves. Teachers should help students find their own questions that will help them build their own understanding.

We are at a crossroads right now. We can continue to do the same thing we have done for the last 100 years with the only exception of doing it remotely. Or we can take this opportunity to ask questions of each other and create an understanding of what education can become for our 21st century learners.

Inquiry

Our lives are nothing but questions right now. When will we return to “normal?” If we don’t return to normal, what will the new “normal” look like? Will we be able to have students and teachers in schools in the fall? If we have to do distance learning how do we improve on what we did this spring?

Here’s the thing. This time of uncertainty is nothing new. We had just become comfortable and complacent. Our future is always nothing but questions and uncertainty.

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, that’s why it is called the present.” -Bill Keane

Rather than going through life with certainty we should attack each day with an open mind ready to learn. The best way to learn is to ask as many questions as possible. It doesn’t matter if you are an adult or a student

We need to embrace uncertainty. Rather than thinking we have all the answers we need to question everything. Life as we knew it is over. We will not get through this upheaval as individuals. We will need to lean on each other, and the best way to find out what someone else knows and how they can help you is to ask a question.

As we plan for September inquiry should be the centerpiece of what our schools look like going forward. Our classrooms should be places where we teach children to question everything, not just regurgitate facts. No one cares if you have the answers to old questions. They care if you can find things that need to be changed, ask questions that help to identify the best way forward, and then implement the changes that need to be made.

We have an opportunity to totally remake education in a positive way. I think we all have seen that our system needs to be more adaptable. We become more adaptable when we question everything rather than thinking we know everything.

Passion

I have a son, Brendon. Brendon is a curious kid and has been passionate about various things in his life. First it was the planets, then the Presidents, now it is football, specifically the NFL. He is also your typical iGen kid who only watches the occasional TV show but can’t get enough of YouTube.

Recently he has started to combine these two interests. He has created a YouTube channel where he looks at football from his own unique perspective. Below is a link to his video looking at the epic game between Miami and San Diego in 1982:

I realize that he is my son, but I was extremely impressed by the professional appearance of this video, and his knowledge of the historical significance of this game or the fact this game even existed, since it was before he was born. I think that the most impressive thing is that he did it all on his own. He didn’t learn it at school, and he certainly didn’t learn it from me.

What I am getting at is the power of passion to motivate people to learn. He spent his own time to find the programs and then to learn how to use them. He then markets himself on various social media, all on his own.

What could we get out of our students in school if we tapped into their passions? I am certain we wouldn’t hear, “Why do we have to learn this?” When we are self-motivated learning isn’t a chore. As a matter of fact we don’t even think about the fact that we are learning.

As the Director of Science and Engineering Technology, I helped create the STEM Academy. This Academy allows student who are passionate about STEM to follow those passions. Students can pick between science, engineering, mathematics, and computer science.

In their freshman and sophomore years, our teachers provide them a broad experience in STEM to refine their passions. In their junior year they refine these passions into a two-year research project. In their senior year, we will help them find an internship with a local business or research facility that will help them use their skills and passions in real world scenarios.

The STEM Academy is not for everyone. It is for those who have a passion for STEM. We do not have minimum grade requirements to enter. The only thing a student needs is to show us their passion for STEM in an essay that is included in their application. Students can come in and out of the program as their passions change. We want students who want to be there.

It is my hope that now that I have moved into a district office position that I can help create more of these academies using our STEM Academy template. I would love to see students who are passionate about the Humanities, the Arts, Business, Physical Education, etc. be able to follow those passions as well. What a glorious day it will be when students walk into school excited about learning because they care about the curriculum because the curriculum cares about them.

What is essential in education?

As we, in New York, now know that we are not going to see our students face to face until September at the earliest, I think it is the perfect time to reflect on what we do as educators. Distance learning will cause some fundamental changes in how we teach our students, but we have to ensure we are focusing on the positive changes to what we do, not just the fads.

In essentialism, Greg McKeown defines essentialism as, “less but better.” We do a lot in our classrooms, not all of it better. We have started to see politicians make grand pronouncements about what they think education should look like going forward. As Mr. McKeown states, “we can either make the hard choices for ourselves or allow others . . . to decide for us.”

My first draft of what I think are essential to education is this:

  • Passion – we have to help children identify what they are passionate about and use that to personalize their learning.
  • Empowerment – we have to empower students to take control of their own learning, which means we have to give up control.
  • Inquiry – we have to help students understand that life is about asking questions not about having all the answers. 
  • Understanding – we need to help students truly understand and be able to apply what they learn to novel situations.

That’s my short list. I realize that these are four very broad ideas. However, I think they are a good start. I would love to hear what you think about how pandemic learning can change what we do for the better. Please answer one or more of the questions below or make your own list of essentials in education in the comments.

How will distance learning change what we do permanently? What do you think is essential in education? What are the core values we should be using to guide what we do in classrooms across America?

52

As the person who is in charge of hiring for my district, I come across a lot of email addresses. A good portion of these email addresses have numbers in them. Every time I see an email with a number, it makes me wonder what’s the significance? I realize that some are just random numbers that were assigned when the person signed up for the account. However I think for a good portion of these people that number has some significance.

I am one of those people with a number in my email address. The number 52 is not a random number assigned when I signed up for my account. It is my jersey number from my days playing college football at Hampton Sydney College.

I know a lot of people will say, “Oh, he’s one of those guys, who can’t let go of past glory days.” True, but more important to me is the fact that this number reminds me every day all of the things that sports taught me growing up that I think are really important for the development of every generation of young men and women.

Sports taught me:

  • Failure – I probably lost more games than I won. Sports taught me that there is always another game, another season to prepare for. If you live inside your head for two long, perseverating on a loss, then you will end up losing next week.
  • Resilience – the old adage you can’t win them all is certainly true. So after a loss or a failure, what do you do? Well. You learn from your mistakes and keep going.
  • Grit – Angela Duckworth in her book of the same name, defines grit as passion and perseverance. It is so much easier to keep going when you love what you are doing. It also helps to have other passionate people around you for support.
  • Teamwork – No one achieves success in sports or life by themselves. We rely on our teammates to pick us up when we are down and vice versa.

Unfortunately due to our current situation, sports have been shut down. As educators we are trying to continue the learning the best we can, but the fields of play have gone silent. I would say that 50% of what I learned, that has made me successful, has been from sports. As we move forward to a new “normal,” let’s not forget the impact that sports have in young people’s lives in preparing them to be the leaders of the future. Let’s make sure that they can get back out on the field as soon as it is safe.

Why?

After I read Simon Sinek’s Start With Why I believe that before you do anything in life you need to know your why. Why did I start this blog? Well here it is.

I never saw myself as a writer. As a matter of fact I was your prototypical math/science kid. I didn’t enjoy reading or writing for pleasure. I saw it as something that I had to do to get good grades, and even then it was like pulling teeth. As I got older and was able to choose what I read, reading became a passion. Several years ago I was going through a rough time and turned to journaling to cope with my own emotions. I have written in my journal almost every day for the last 8 years and have found it very therapeutic. I have also found it very helpful in organizing my thoughts about what I believe in life and education. Just recently as the Executive Director of Human Resources, I have started an internal “blog” to our entire staff to try to help them stay positive in these uncertain times. I try to incorporate what I am reading and my own writing style. These emails got me thinking that maybe I could spread some of this positivity to a wider audience and share my ideas about education in this time of huge change.

I am not sure where this blog will go. I’m writing this blog because I’m passionate about education, and I have some ideas that I think will help make students become inquirers and empower them to take control of their own learning. I don’t know if I will say anything profound or if my ideas are worthwhile. I would love to know what you think.