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Friday, July 5, 2019

The Words We Speak & the Power They Hold

Have you ever considered that the words we speak create reality? Our words are like bits in a horse's mouth. They are like a rudder on a boat that you steer on a lake. They are like a spark that creates a raging fire. Notice the previous analogies and how each is disproportionately powerful, like our tongue or words we speak. Just think of books, blogs, tweets, that you have read and some of the impact that they had on you. On Twitter, we follow those that we agree with or that inspire us— from their words. There are educators on Twitter that have made a significant difference in their careers, all as a result of the words they tweet.
As teachers, we are or should be held to a very high standard.

Our words often define us. I know you are saying, Hal, it's our actions that are more important than our words. That we must walk our talk. I even say in my book that a parent in my last district told me, "Hal, you walk your talk." And I followed that saying that it might have been the best compliment I have had. Again, those words had a massive impact on me.

We judge our leaders by the words they say. Gossip is powerful, only from the spoken word. When I was hiring educators, I would Google the candidates, looked at their Twitter feeds, Instagram stories to see what kind of words they used.

Words can abuse. When someone is emotionally abused, as I see it, is because of the words spoken to them. One word spoken in the wrong place can burn a soul. I once tweeted that I felt educators should never use sarcasm in their classroom. The first definition of sarcasm that comes up online is "a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain" If you look further and from the origin, in the Greek, it means literally "to strip off the flesh!" I had many on Twitter that disagreed with me and felt that sarcasm could be used in the right way and would not harm. I have to say be VERY careful if you choose to use sarcasm in the classroom or to any student. I venture to say that most cigarettes tossed out of a car do not cause a fire, but it only takes one to create a wildfire.

Words can also bring fire to the winter of your soul. Have you ever thought that the tongue can do what nature cannot? Our words can both bless and curse. They can soothe and cause pain.  Your words can inspire or cut down.  However, in nature, this is not true. A freshwater spring cannot turn into a saltwater spring. An olive tree cannot produce apples.

The quality of your words should match the value of the person you are speaking to. Consider the difference between a hummingbird and a buzzard. The buzzard will fly all over the living and focus on the death of one animal. The hummingbird will fly all over a desert to find one living flower. Words can honor and encourage. I'm sure each of you can remember a teacher that you made you feel special, by the words spoken to you.

I remember in my very first teaching job when my principal during my summative conference shared that he thought one day I would make a good administrator. I was a middle school teacher and coach. All I ever wanted was to become a head coach in football. But those words stuck with me, and eventually I was fortunate to serve as a superintendent.

Remember out of the overflow of your heart, the mouth speaks.

There are three powerful blessings that you can give, simply by your spoken word.
You have what it takes.
You are forgiven
God used you in my life

When you accept people of who they are; extend grace or forgive; tell others that they are valuable or that they matter; and love the one in front of you. As a believer, I am all of those four words. I am accepted into God's family; I am forgiven; I am valuable and am worth His son; and I am loved. I am defined by those.

Friday, March 15, 2019

An Unexpected Chapter

An Unexpected Chapter

Most of you know when one says, “I’m beginning a new chapter in my life.” that it is usually planned, a goal met, maybe a change in professions. The one I am about to share is one that I not only did not plan but made the decision in about five minutes as I was about to help my older sister to settle in her house after her back surgery. 
You see, her friends and daughter had warned me, you are NOT ready to see what she lives in. My sister even told me, just be ready when you get there. When I notified her friends that is she is being discharged from her rehab facility (earlier than expected) one of them texted me, “that house is not ready for her!” She, her friend, had even bought her a new mattress and box springs while she was in rehab. As I drove in her driveway, I began to understand. The trailer had overgrown vegetation, had “stuff” all over the place, looks like had never been painted…  But the worst was yet to come. If you have ever seen the TV show “Hoarders,” that is what I walked into. One friend was there to help her and had on a hospital mask! I began to bring her clothes, toilitries, etc. in, and I was met with not only was it dark, but musty, no flooring, and then I looked at her furniture that was covered in trash, garbage, …I won’t go into further detail, but I actually felt sorry for her dog that had to live there while she was away, that her friends and neighbors cared for.

With tears in my eyes, I told her, I am not going to leave here without you. One of her friends told her, I”m going to call Adult Protective Services if you stay here. I replied, “If she does not, I will.” My sister has a plethora of medical issues and living in those conditions, I can understand why. She replied, “I have been living here for years and I can’t leave Matilda (her dog) here again.” We finally convinced her to come to our house to recover from here surgery and get better. How long and what we will do to address her living conditions is still up in the air. My wife asked me last night, “What have you decided to do after the doctor’s appointment Tuesday?” I replied, “I haven’t got that far yet.”

I’m writing this blog to say that you literally never know what tomorrow brings. Celebrate the now. Be thankful for the blessings in your life. for the last several years, my wife and I pray together each night before going to sleep. We hold hands and remember the “moments” of that day. Some examples of those are, watching TV, cooking together, grocery shopping together, going to a movie, or one of favorite is going to watch a professional sporting event. We are careful to pray for others in our life group (Sunday school class) at church. And finally we both say how thankful we are for having each other in lives. We also try to find ways to serve each other in some way every day. I’m saying be thankful for the small things in life to really “stop and smell the roses.”

Most all of you here on Twitter I have come to know you, I have met personally, others through your tweets seem to know your personality and your love for kids,  and just know you inspire me everyday. We all know how important that creating safe and healthy relationships is the foundation of what we do.  NEVER take those relationships for granted! Cultivate those here on Twitter. As you come to cross paths, you will find that everyone is what they are here. The ones I have met face to face (you know who you are, and I’m afraid to list as I might miss some) I truly thank you for your friendship, your inspiration, your help, and most of all your impact on kids’ lives that you touch every day. Thank you for your support through the four or so years here on Twitter. As Angela Maiers says, “You matter to me!”

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

One word for 2019


Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. ~Desmond Tutu

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning. ~Brad Henry

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence. ~Helen Keller

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.” 

I believe that ultimately it is our job to kindle hope. We must be merchants of hope!We should strive to make hope building pervasive for every student, every day, and in every period. Regarding hope, Barak Obama might have said it best, 

The 2017 Student Gallup Poll says this about hope:
“Hopeful students are 2.8x more likely to say they get better grades than their discouraged peers. Hope: The ideas and energy students have for the future. Hope has also been linked to student success in school. Hopeful students are positive about the future, goal-oriented and can overcome obstacles in the learning process, enabling them to navigate a pathway to achieve their goals.
Among the 808,521 2017 Gallup Student Poll participants, 38% STRONGLY AGREE that the adults at school care about them. Of students who participated in 2017, 4 in 10 students STRONGLY AGREE they feel safe in their school”!  

Dr. Amy Fast (@fastcrayon) an assistant principal at McMinnnville High School in Oregon tweeted, “Our school is a high poverty school. And thus, many of our kids face more than I can imagine. Yet, they constantly outperform districts around the state on traditional measures. It can’t be a coincidence that the % of students who indicate they’re hopeful is also off the charts.” You see, our students are not looking for miracles; they are looking for hope. They only get that when they struggle and make the choice to keep going. We need to help them make that choice — to persevere when adversity is in their lives. Brene Brown, author of Dare to Lead says hope is not an emotion but rather a behavioral process born from overcoming adversity — a habit of mind founded in resilience. So when we talk about fostering hope in our classes and schools, we should not mistake that with making everything easy or running away from struggle. Hope is not a soft nebulous option; it is what we do inside ourselves, the inner work of clearing the disappointment, fear, hopelessness, choosing hope over despair, and making the effort when it feels the hopeless creeping in.

Hope is the belief that our tomorrows can be better than our todays. Hope is not magic; hope is work. The importance of giving hope, especially to students from poverty is that, “Hope changes brain chemistry, which influences the decisions and actions that we take.” Hope involves the spirit in us. It is the belief that something will turn out better, regardless of the outcome. You see, the poor often feel less in control; therefore, building hope is powerful. We should be relentless in building hope with our students. Do not want think that hope is just  a rainbows and flowers kind of attitude. It is not just giving pep talks with words like “You can be the next president, a rocket scientist, or an NBA star!” But instead say to your students, “You have goals and dreams, and that is a great beginning. It’s going to take grit and hard work. I will be by your side every day and I will do everything I can to help you achieve your greatest potential and dreams. Let’s go for it!”

In my initial faculty meeting as Principal of two high schools and district convocation when I was Superintendent, I made a point of saying,“I believe in the three As of education: advanced academics, arts, and athletics.” Those three provide a balanced curriculum, it is like a three legged stool. If you take away one of those, it is out of balance and will not stand. In almost every high performing school, high expectations, (no matter the demographics) include a complex, challenging curriculum, including arts (performing, musical, and media), athletics (including as many sports as possible) and advanced academic classes. However leaders also added support to each student that needed it. A great example of this kind of support is AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a college readiness system for students in Kindergarten through 12th grade. AVID provides a curriculum in the AVID Elective class that includes Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, and Reading (WICOR) strategies to help students become college ready. AVID also provides teacher training in every subject which enhances the college-going culture of the school. 

When you teach the whole child, (mind, body and spirit) you help them obtain hope. If you take away any one of these you are cheating the student. This includes free play at recess when kids learn creativeness in making up games and also how to fend for themselves. The arts and a rigorous curriculum enhances learning skills and cognition. Athletics, recess, and physical education classes help the brain grow neurons (neurogenesis) and decreases depression. Therefore, every school should include athletics and physical activity, arts, and advanced academic curriculum in every school day.This curriculum is in addition to any gifted & talented program that might be in place. A rigorous curriculum is needed for every student. 

Hope is the inner fire that warms us, the inner light that gives us direction, the fuel that gives us the energy to keep moving forward. It is born out of meaning and purpose and in turn creates meaning in for our lives. Hope is a powerful force that can change the trajectory of each student that it touches. 

As I continue to ponder hope, I am inclined to think that it originates with love. Maybe the most important things I looked for when I was interviewing educators was, do they love kids — all kids. I believe that this love is a choice. It reminds me of Who I believe is the greatest teacher and leader and how He addressed love.“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, ’Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22: 36-39 NIV

I find it interest3ing that neighbor is not defined. I believe this was intentional so that we could not qualify who our neighbor is. Isn’t it a huge relief that we do not have to create a list of who our neighbor is and maybe more importantly who we do not have to love. You see we are commanded to love both the lovable and unloveable, the smart and the not so smart, the clean and the dirty, the athlete and the thespian, the black, brown, white, and all color of kids. I want to make it simple — just love the one in front of you. Our school is a neighborhood. Mr. Rogers said or should I say sung it best. 
“It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
It's a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So let's make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we're together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?
Won't you please, won't you please,
Please won't you be my neighbor?” —  Won’t You Be My Neighbor by Fred M. Rogers. © The McFeely-Rogers Foundation

     In one of my presentations, I use Walt Disney World and Disneyland great examples of culture. The motto for Walt Disney World is “The Most Magical Place on Earth.” The motto for Disneyland is “The Happiest Place on Earth.” If we have a culture of happiness or magic, we will kindle hope and give love. A classroom or campus where a student feels magical or happy will experience hope and love every day. Let’s try to have that kind of culture in every classroom, every period, for every child.