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Monday, April 13, 2020

Your classroom is the only level playing field.
…Now what? Thank you, COVID-19!
I said in a few faculty meetings, “Your classroom is the only level playing field. When they get home, the field begins to tilt. Be careful when you assign homework.” Honestly, I do not know how many thought about it beyond my words when they went about assigning homework, projects, research papers, etc. from that point. 

We are now living a “new normal” now. It has now been about 4-5 weeks since we have been physically separated from our students. For many of us, it is creating a plethora of issues. I participated in Zoom/Twitter chat a couple of weekends ago when we discussed many of these issues. How do we maintain relationships? What is the best video app to use to reach my students? How do we assess? Should it be summative…formative? Do we have “office hours?” How do we fulfill my students’ IEPs? Should SEL be a priority?

I served in many different districts and campuses, either as a principal or superintendent. The demographics in each of these were unique. I often considered the kids in the “Economically disadvantaged” category since this group often caused me the most consternation. I often would use the example, “Emily Roberts goes home to two parents, each with two degrees, that has technology and internet, high expectations, and an excellent place to study. Then there is Joe Poverty, who may or may not have two parents, maybe not at home but job number two, with no technology, and little expectations. Oh, and maybe Joe has to care for his siblings when he arrives. Oh, and perhaps Joe arrives around 11:00 from a job he must have to contribute to supporting his family. Or maybe he is just arriving late from some extra-curricular activity. Is the same homework assignment fair or equitable? 

So, when you are planning your lesson that you are going to present (or assign) today or this evening on your Zoom/Google Hangout video app, and you determine how your students are going to “turn in” their work in your Google classroom. How do you assure that all your students are on the same “playing field?” I just read on Facebook from Chromebook Classroom, “Online learning provides a tremendous amount of flexibility.” The last bullet said, “Hold everyone accountable to the objectives covered in the lesson.” Whoa!!! I say that even when all of your students have internet, devices, and time, there is still no level playing field. What is going on in the house at the time of your Zoom meeting, or whenever they are watching your lesson being taught? Are there other family members/students who “meet” at the same time? Could there be crying babies? What does their “classroom” look like when they are on your call/completing your assignment? What about their parents, who are now working from home, using the same wifi bandwidth that they need most of the day? Or maybe the house that has both parents working now outside of their home with only a babysitter or no adult supervision? Or maybe you are responsible for “homeschooling” your child(ren), and their teacher is facing the same issues. Do you consider students getting answers from their parents, peers, Google…?  

I’m going to throw a kink in this blog and say that maybe worksheets/packets are the only things close to a level playing field! We all know (before this new normal) what we all thought about worksheets. Before you say, “No way, will I stoop to sending worksheets!” You are now even thinking, “Hal, how the heck do I even get worksheets to my students?” One district I know has packets available at 17 different locations that students can pick up packets. The packets have two weeks of work and can be turned in at the same location.

Neuroscience says that there is little to no learning when the brain is stressed. How much stress is each of your students under at the time of your “class” or the assignment that you give? Do you or can you know how stressed their young brains are? Oh, and how about the phrase we all love to use that goes something like this, “We must meet Maslow before we can address Bloom.?” How about the students that are on free/reduced breakfast/lunch that counted on their school for their meals? Or, both parents are medical professionals and your students are worried that one or both will contract COVID-19? 

I understand that most of you reading this have thought about most of these issues. I know beyond a shadow of doubt that those who use Twitter or Facebook as a learning platform, are way ahead of me on all of these issues. But maybe you know of an educator that might learn or glean a little information from this blog. Will you pass it on to them? Obviously, this dried up  superintendent does not have all the answers. But I think I have some decent questions that need a pretty good answer for your students.

Monday, January 6, 2020

#OneWord Significance

Strive for Significance Over Greatness

by Hal Roberts, author of Make Waves!

We all want to attain greatness, but what about significance? Many of you may be asking, what is the difference, is there any difference, or what's the big deal about significance? I believe we are called not to be great, but to be significant. When we focus on significance, success and greatness are part of the package.

You see, when we add value to us, it is greatness. When we add value to others, it is significance. In my first principal job, I thought it was important for my teachers to have a slogan, a credo, a manifesto that we could use as a guide for us. I came up with "Side by Side — We Enhance the Lives of the Students We Teach." I got this idea from two very different sources. One was a teenage Christian singer from Australia whom I had the privilege of "chauffeuring" for the couple of days she sang at a youth camp where I was working. Rebecca St. James later became quite famous in the Christian music scene. She sang her song "Side by Side" at the camp. The lyrics that stuck with me were, 
"Side by Side by Side by Side Walking together is the way it should be, Side by Side by Side by Side When you're needing somebody Depend upon me, We'll travel on this journey of life Side by Side." 
I just thought, as a faculty, we could serve our students together, working together on the journey of adding value to our students. The other source was Harry Wong. When I heard him speak at a conference, he told us that any educator should have a business card. Under our name should read, "Professional Educator — I Enhance the Lives of the Students I Teach." I put the two together. (I'm good at borrowing others' ideas.)

I also believe that it is in serving where we add value to others. Whenever we can put others' needs before ours, we add value to them. When you can do something for someone who can do nothing in return, that is real service. Over my 30 years of leadership experience, I learned a lot about the needs of others. Here are four questions that everyone you influence will ask. 
  1. Do you like me?
  2. Can/will you help me?
  3. Can I trust you?
  4. Will you add value to my life/profession?

I hope that you realize that the answer to each of these is YES! Life is a series of choices. How you invest your time, value your resources, use your talents, and value your relationships will determine your destiny or significance. One of the first books I read that made a significant impact on me was "See You at the Top" by the late Zig Ziglar. I was blessed to have met him, sat under his teaching, and got to know him early in his career as an author and one of the best motivational speakers of our time. I learned from him that "You can have anything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want." I believe always choose to heal not to hurt, to forgive not to despise, to persevere not to quit, to smile not to frown, and to love not to hate. In the end, it is not what we bought but what we built, not what we got, but what we shared, not our competence but our character, not our success but our significance. Live a life that matters; one that is adding value to others. In Rick Warren's book "A Purpose Driven Life," he said that everyone has five needs:
  1. purpose to live for — passion or service
  2. People to live for — relationships
  3. Principles to live by — integrity
  4. Profession to live out — vision/mission
  5. Power to live on & guide you — faith

You have 180 days in education each year to make a difference in the trajectory of the rest of the life of those you influence. The great thing about education is that every day matters. The scary thing about education is that every day matters. We should prepare the students for the path, not the path for the student.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you chose not to do than the things you did. It will be the relationships that you decided not to enhance or cultivate. 

Add value to others, and you will live a life of significance!